MINISTER of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, sure will remember the phrase: “This is a federal road. Please, bear with us.” It was a message once placed at various locations in Lagos, especially on bad roads across the state. It was a message meant to explain to motorists and other road users that bad roads in Lagos State were Federal Government’s, a proof that the government at the centre at that time could not maintain roads under its jurisdiction, as it were. It was a statement to the effect that while Lagos State was doing its duty at ensuring that “state roads” were in good condition, the Federal Government neglected roads it initially constructed and ought to maintain regularly.
Indeed, at that time, the Lagos State, which was under the control of the Action Congress (AC)/Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Federal Government, which had a president elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), were not in good terms owing, mainly, to personality clashes between federal and state officials. To show the irresponsibility of the Federal Government, the Lagos State government played politics with bad roads. Every bad road in Lagos at that time was portrayed to be federal road. And as it lasted, the Lagos State government, nay Fashola, as Chief of Staff to then Governor Bola Tinubu or as Governor of Lagos State, enjoyed the attention brought about by the highlighting of bad federal roads.
Today, it appears that nemesis has caught up with Fashola. Perhaps, if Fashola knew that one day he would be the Minister of Works, whose duty would be to fix federal roads, maybe, he would have thought twice before erecting the sign, denigrating the Federal Government over bad roads in Lagos.
Perhaps, if Fashola knew that one day, the Federal Government and Lagos State government would be under the same party, he might not have painted a picture that the neglect of federal roads in Lagos was owing to the fact that the state was an act of punishment because Lagos was controlled by an opposition political party. Now, Fashola is in charge of federal roads, among other duties. Nigerians, therefore, are waiting to see what he would do. Yes, Nigerians are waiting to see how Fashola would, with a snap of the fingers, fix all federal roads across the nation. Nigerians are waiting to see the Fashola magic in road construction and maintenance.
These days, whenever I pass the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road, a federal road, I remember that Fashola and former officials of the Lagos State government had said that the road was in that terrible state because the Federal Government not only neglected it but also stopped Lagos State government from reconstructing it. Indeed, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road, Lagos, is an embarrassment.
A gateway to the country, the road is such an eyesore that potholes and flood, when it rains, dare motorists and other road users. Also, fuel tankers line up the road to complete the mess it has become. I can’t remember any country I have visited, whose important roads, especially the ones leading to the international airport, are like the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road. With the sorry state of the road, the first impression any first time visitor to Nigeria, coming through Lagos, would have is that ours is a dirty, disorganised and decrepit country. This is not a testimony for a supposed rich oil nation and one, which is aiming to be among the 20 biggest economies of the world.
Indeed, when Fashola was named Minister of Works, I had thought that the bad story of Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road would end in a jiffy. My optimism was hinged on the fact that the Lagos State government, in which Fashola served as Chief of Staff, first, and governor, thereafter, claimed that it had redesigned the road and actually mobilised to reconstruct and give it the look of a truly gateway. According to them, the Federal Ministry of Works, under the control of a PDP minister, who, incidentally, hails from Lagos State, had stopped the state government from executing the road contract on the excuse that it was a federal road.
Now that Fashola calls the shot, it would be taken for granted that he would fix the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road and the badly dilapidated, crater-infested Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in Lagos. Also, Lagos State does not have any excuse not to intervene, if Fashola fails to act, since it has always wished the road were in a condition befitting the state’s status. In any case, now that the All Progressives Congress (APC) controls both Lagos State and the Federal Government, dichotomy between them would not arise.
Do I need to remind Fashola about the politics of Dilion Street, in Kirikiri, Lagos, close to the Kirikiri Minimum/Maximum Prisons? This is a federal road, which could pass as the worst in the country. This stretch of road, which maybe about one kilometre, at best, is dotted by craters. As governor, Fashola could not reconstruct this road, because it is a Federal Government own. Lagos State government reconstructed Okodowa Street, which links Dilion Street, but left the latter unattended. Today, Dilion Street is not only bad but also a death trap. Container-laden articulated vehicles fall there almost on daily basis, as they struggle for right of way with commercial motorcyclists and cars. As Minister of Works, therefore, Fashola has no excuse not to fix Dilion Street?
Indeed, roads that Fashola has no excuse not to reconstruct are not restricted to Lagos. Across the country, federal roads in horrible condition stare us in the face. Go to the South East and you weep over state of federal roads. My trip through the five South-East states left me in anger. In the geopolitical zone, federal highways are so bad that using them is a call to trouble. The Awka-Enugu Expressway, for instance, is hell of a road. This expressway, or what is left of it, has been totally abandoned and only motorists, who do not know alternative routes apply it. And they always come out with regrets. Most parts of the dual-carriage expressway are now thick bushes. Some other parts have laterite, in the makeshift efforts to make the expressway passable.
Of course, the Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, a federal road, is in bad shape. A trip that would ordinarily take about 40 minutes, from Aba to Port Harcourt, now takes hours, owing to bad road. The Port Harcourt Road in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, is more of an erosion site than a road. When the rains come, no vehicle will pass through that road. The Lagos/Ibadan, the link between the West and the North, is in bad shape and the Federal Government has been playing politics with it. The Aba-Ikot Ekpene Road, the Calabar Expressway and many others are federal roads that are in terrible condition.
These are roads, which Fashola needs to reconstruct. With the budget now passed by the National Assembly, even as the nation awaits President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing should know that Nigerians will not take any excuse whatsoever for failure not to reconstruct the roads, just as Fashola did not when the Federal Government failed to take care of roads in Lagos.
However, as Fashola perfects his plan to make federal roads motorable, he may consider breaking the dichotomy between the Federal Government and states in construction and maintenance of roads. I had said in an article some years ago that the federal/state road policy is nonsense. If the Federal Government builds a road, with its capacity to handle bigger projects, it should hand over the road to the government of the state in which such road is constructed, which would take over the maintenance. With that, no road will be neglected, in the name of waiting for the Federal Government to take care of it. Just as the Federal Government can build roads in any part of the country, states should equally maintain the roads. The flexing of muscle between The Federal Government and state government should not arise at all. If Fashola could break the ice, he would have done much for roads in the country.