The Country Director of the World Bank in Nigeria, Mr. Shubham Chaudhuri, has stated that 87 per cent of Nigeria’s rural roads are in deplorable condition. Chaudhuri made this disclosure in Abuja at the Presidential inauguration of the Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project. The 87 per cent of the deplorable rural road network represents only 40,000km rural roads that are usable out of the 200,000km rural roads across the country.
Even with the current scale-up of rural roads by the government and some partners, Chaudhuri says, Nigeria is still in gross deficit of what is required to achieve functional rural roads as most of the rural roads are in terrible, inaccessible and decrepit condition. To change the narrative, Nigeria needs sustainable institutional structures that will constantly ensure that rural roads are given priority attention through huge financial investment, construction of high quality roads, rather than the present low-quality grade of most of the roads, as well as regular maintenance.
Unarguably, Chaudhuri has hit the nail on the head. Roads are vital public assets that can deliver higher economic returns on investment than any other infrastructure. Since the larger part of the population live in the rural areas, having durable and accessible roads will enhance evacuation of farm products from rural areas to urban centres.
The poor state of the rural roads should no longer be neglected. According to available statistics, rural roads constitute the largest road network in the country. Their deterioration is hindering economic productivity, particularly in the agricultural sector, which contributes about 40 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Besides, agriculture employs over 50 per cent of the population. It is time to give rural roads the needed facelift and make them accessible. Doing so will help to reduce the growing poverty in the country. Out of the 133 million Nigerians, who are multi-dimensionally poor, about 74 percent of them live in the rural areas.
Putting the rural roads in good condition will stimulate economic activities that will encourage growth. The correlation between a country’s economic development and the quality of its road network, especially the rural roads, is not in doubt. That is why the government must pay urgent attention to the development of rural roads. The poor state of the rural roads is hindering the production of food by smallholder farmers. The near absence of the third tier of government might be responsible for the deplorable condition of our rural roads. Although all the states control the resources of the local governments, they still pay scant attention to the development of rural roads and alleviation of rural poverty. Often the states complain of paucity of financial resources to attend to these problems. It is in a bid to address the condition of rural roads that the Rural Access and Mobility Project II, a World Bank assisted programme, was established in the first place.
It is aimed to, among others, develop and rehabilitate rural transport infrastructure, ensure maintenance and strengthen the project management capacities. Unfortunately, this noble project has suffered setbacks due to politics. While due attention is accorded to some federal roads, we hasten to add that rural roads will not be neglected.
Only recently, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd embarked on the inspection of 21 critical federal roads of over 1,804km it funded with N621billion. The GMD of the company, Mele Kyari, pledged N1trillion more investment in road infrastructure in the coming years. Sadly, none of these roads are in the rural areas. Not long ago, President Muhammadu Buhari issued Executive Order Number 6, which allows some firms to convert their taxes to fund public projects through the Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme. The timeline is for ten years.
We suggest that part of this fund will be deployed to the construction and rehabilitation of selected rural roads across the country. Last year, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and National Gas Workers (NUPENG), and the Petroleum Tanker Drivers Association (PTDA) protested the poor state of both rural and urban roads, which had stalled fuel distribution across the country.
In June this year, the Federal Government, World Bank and the French Development Agency signed an agreement to commit $575 million for the construction of rural roads in 13 states of the country. The money would finance the construction of rural roads of 53,730km. In addition, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has expressed its readiness to offer both financial and technical assistance to the rural roads project. We advise that the money for the rural roads project should be judiciously used. Most rural roads in the country are in decrepit condition and deserve urgent attention.