Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Enugu-Onitsha Expressway: shame of a Nation

A key part of my work as a development communicator involves travelling. Some of my friends who know about this equate travelling with ‘enjoyment’. They tell me that I have to travel for free, spend nights in cozy hotels and digest exquisite continental meals. But as a matter of fact my friends are right: you sleep in cozy hotels but the opportunity cost comes with those nights away from the comfort of your family. You even have to sleep on beds on which more than a thousand persons who you do not know have slept.  Add that to the fact of some of us have delicate digestive systems: those so-called exquisite continental and local dishes therefore become poisonous substances. On many occasions, I had had the honour of having to dash straight to the toilet from meetings.

Travel on Nigerian roads gives an ironic education. Depending on where I sit in the vehicle, and the camaraderie I strike with fellow commuters, I usually get entertainment and information into the bargain.  Fortunately therefore, this often separates me from any league of armchair critics and thrusts me in full glare with the sun. I see things in HD and in primetime. But as a matter of fact, what travelling on Nigerian roads affords you is this unscheduled opportunity to meet your maker. I would dwell on this a little afterwards, after I take you back to an article I did here a few months ago. It was titled Truth About Edo Roads. As a matter of fact, Truth About Edo Roads was a sequel to another wherein I had protested about Edo roads. Of course it drew flak but I stuck to my guns. A reader said he would appreciate me more if I focused on my state Delta, a state that can’t boast of any quality road in spite of trillions of naira that has accrued to the state over the years. I agreed with him that I have to look at Delta State as well but wouldn’t wait until I get to Delta state to say that nearly every road in Nigeria is deathtrap.

And so as I travelled to Lagos from Benin last week, I got stuck at Ore.  Yes the famous Ore nightmare was simply impassable and has taken a turn for the worse: our driver told us that two days before, they had no choice but sleep on the highway, and were lucky to escape with their lives after robbers attacked. To escape the ordeal they had passed through, we were forced to take a detour through a village where certain young ones collected toll to let us pass. But it was on the journey to Enugu that I really got wind of the calamity that is the lot of roads in Nigeria, and for which a minister in the Buhari administration paid the supreme price early this year. If you could say that at least that the Lagos-Benin-Ore road resembles a road, what then can we use to describe the Enugu-Onitsha ‘Expressway’? Yes, I know – it’s the Grand Canyon, that mass of famous and disheveled rocks and craters which Americans are proud of as a relic of unnaturalness. Because we had been held up at the Ore Road, we only managed to get to this ‘expressway’ by 7pm, a time when the armed robbers were just waking up from sleep and cocking their guns to resume work. How we managed to meander through that mishmash and nightmare is a matter for another day.

As I began to put my thoughts together to try to make sense of this Nigerian road, my mind went back to the chap who told me to focus on roads in my state. But if I had any reservations about speaking up, the Guardian editorial of Friday 23rd September, 2016, titled State of Nigeria’s Roads, pushed those reservations to the recesses of my faculties. Certain people I had the privilege of speaking to said that the government was already trying to do something about the Enugu-Onitsha Road, and so I should hold my horses. But for how long are Nigerians going to wait? A 2016 Federal Capital Budget of the South-East Central States geo political zone, published by the Centre for Social Justice, CSJ, indicates that for the three years wherein that road has been in that state of yamayama, the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has been budgeting over N80million for the repair of the yamayama that is the Oye Ukpo to Orafia-Oranto Enugu-Onitsha expressway.  Who is pocketing those monies? Where is the Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA? Enugu state has people representing Enugu at the Senate and the House of Representatives. Can anyone of these people truthfully say they are not aware of that ‘expressway’, or that they have not passed through that road en-route home for Christmas in three years? Why are they mum?