Whatever may be any other perceived shortcoming of President Muhammadu Buhari, one credit he cannot be denied is the impact on infrastructure, such as has not been felt since return to civilian rule in 1999. The infrastructure comprises mainly construction/reconstruction of major roads and bridges as well as laying of rail lines from the south to the north and back.
So far, noticeable efforts risk being diminished by what is emerging as the standard, more or less, outdated in any developing country. Nigeria’s first railway dates back to over 100 years. Therefore, the journey from Lagos to Abeokuta through mostly uninhabited remote areas typifies the outdated design featuring level crossing at strategic junctions like Oyingbo, Ebute Meta, Yaba Bus Stop, Ilupeju and Iju near the waterworks. Initially, these junctions were sparsely populated, if at all. Therefore, there was no danger to lives and property. In many cases, there was bush all round.
On the approach of any train, level crossings were secured with even wooden barriers or, at best, minor iron/metal sheet barriers. Despite that seeming safety measure, pedestrians still risk their lives with last-minute dash to cross before the arrival of the train. In unfortunate cases, they got crushed. In other cases, level crossings were barely secured and motor drivers of various grades got crushed. That was when vehicles in Nigeria, even in major cities, were not anywhere near scores of thousands as we have today around these junctions. Yet, those were the days of low population.
It is a different story today. For example, which part of Lagos State is not heavily populated, such that will allow railway level crossing and the attendant danger to lives and property? A major feature of each of these junctions today is heavy human traffic arising from commuters, residents, shoppers, market women, indusries and offices, all of them struggling with on-coming trains for right of way. In 1920, that would be possible without daily if not hourly risk of fatal train accidents. This is 2020 and Nigerians must face reality. A train service system of over a century ago should not be contemplated. Put succinctly, what is worth doing is worth doing well.
Be it Ilupeju, Oyingbo, Fela’s house, Yaba bus stop or Iju level crossings, the design for the current rail infrastructure should have factored in heavy human traffic. Oyingbo, in Lagos, now still installed withlevel crossing gate is one of the biggest location for business/marketing/shopping transactions in Nigeria today. At such a major location in the year 2020, the design of rail infrastructure should have been provided for underpass train crossing. The type of underpass for motorists at Maryland, for all traffic from Ikorodu Road heading straight to Ojota/Lagos-Ibadan expressway, while above, all traffic from Ikorodu Road proceed undisturbed towards Ikeja local airport.
There should even be no debate on the need for underpass rather than level crossing for the on-going rail infrastructure at Yaba bus stop. Seeing is believing. Tansportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi should choose a working day to visit Yaba bus stop for adequate assessment of both human and motor traffic. How trains would be travelling past on the old level crossing would be found to be undesirable if not impossible. And of course, the heavy human and motor traffic at Yaba bus stop and environs draws mostly from the level crossing at Fela’s house.
As heavy as the human/motor traffic at Yaba bus stop might be, it is still more of a town’s population compared to the human/motor traffic at Iju level crossing, where the population is evidently more than that of many a capital city of state in Nigeria. There is no exaggeration. Transport Minister Amaechi should visit Iju level crossing at any hour of any day of the week, including Sundays and public holiday. In the year 2020, operation of level crossing at Iju will not be possible withour constant fatal train accidents. Indeed, Yaba bus stop and Iju level crossing wii be great rivals in recording constant and heavier fatal train accident casualties. Residents of Iju commute to Lagos Island and other parts of Ogun State. Hence, the heavy population. Only a visit will convince Amaechi.
Too late or expensive to re-design the rail infrastructure to provide for underpass rail lines at Iju and those other dangerous places like Yaba bus stop, Oyingbo, Fela’s house and Ilupeju? Whatever the extra cost should of necessity be accomodated. The entire rail infrastructure is on Chinese loan and at the end of the day, such loan should be seen by the beneficiaries to have been worth it. If the on-going Lagos-Ibadan expressway project could be re-designed to accommodate two major overhead bridges at MFN and Redeemed Church junctions, why should it be too late or expensive to re-design rail infrastructure to accommodate safety of commuters, residents and motorists vulnerable to fatal train accidents at heavily populated areas along the rail line?
Why was it not expensive to provide N25 billion for the purported renovation (yes, renovation) of the National Assembly complex? It is a question of priority. Which is more important, safety of Nigerians from inevitable if avoidable train accidents at outdated level crossings or obscenely luxurious parliament for politicians? Nigerians must join this debate and put pressure on Federal Government. What use is a rail infrastructure if only to endanger lives of innocent Nigerians? Only in Nigeria would rail level crossing be flaunted in 2020.
The danger on reconstructed road infrastructure like Lagos-Ibadan expressway is not as troubling, yet it remains a danger. Whatever the good intentions of reconstructing the expressway, completed portions of the highway and driving habits portend huge fatal accidents. To avoid this, all Works Minister Raji Fasola has to do is to ensure the demarcation of the reconstructed road into the number of lanes provided for in the design. This will compel motorists to keep to their lane instead of driving recklessly in full speed from extreme left to extreme right without even trafficating. Generally, highways are usually not demarcated in Nigeria.
Second, a major mistake made on the old road in 1981 must not be repeated, a poor judgment, which accelerated the deterioration of the road. Opened to traffic in 1981, there was never any alternative motorable road, such that all traffic from Lagos, private cars, heavy vehicles like oil tankers, trailers, lorries, big luxurious inter-state buses, all concentrated on the only new expressway.
It was not as if there were no alternative roads but the major ones, Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta road, Ikorodu-Sagamu road and Itoikin-Ejinrin-Sagamu expressway, were all left unrepaired and unmaintained or if contracts were awarded for maintenance no work was done. Yet, provisions were made in annual budget for maintenance of federal roads. Fasola must, therefore, aim at repairing the last two of these alternative roads so that newly-reconstructed Lagos-Ibadan expressway serves a long time.
Eventually, Burundi survives
In the East African country of Burundi, it is national grief following the sudden death of outgoing President Pierre Nkurunziza at the middle age of 55. Remarkably, even in dying, the man was controversial in not living to hand over to his hand-chosen elected successor. Such proper handing over in Africa always gives the semblance of glorious exit. Death was, therefore, unkind to the deceased president. May he rest in peace.
According to official announcement, Pierre Nkurunziza died of cardiac arrest. When a man dies, it should be all over with him. Yoruba (an ethnic group in Nigeria) put it best. A man loots and takes to his heels. The victim, in hot pursuit of the culprit, is more concerned about making the looter pay dearly for the crime, even after the looter dropped the booty. The inevitable question is what else the victim wants.
Much as the deceased president deserves sympathy, a more deserving sympathy goes to the orphans, widows and widowers of those massacred under his 15 years rule. They number up to tens of thousands. Burundi has miraculously survived for the bereaved. When President Nkurunziza of Burundi started the notorious prank of African political leaders in a determination to perpetuate himself in office, there was a special focus on him in this column. The rest is now history.
Are Togo and Cameroon paying any attention? In particular, the young man in Togo is hell-bent on breaking his late father’s over 40 years tenure as Togolese president.