The recent resolution of the House of Representatives on the need for a declaration of a state of emergency on our roads is in order. Many of these roads are dilapidated and have become death traps. They portray Nigerians as a people who lack discipline and a good maintenance culture. The embarrassing state of these roads is not, however, a recent development. This has been the situation of our highways since we abandoned the colonial legacy of an effective public works department, which served us very well until the First Republic.
Some of the roads listed by the legislators to have fallen into disrepair include Abuja-Okene-Lokoja; Auchi-Ekpoma-Benin; Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; Okigwe-Umuahia; Enugu-Awka-Onitsha; Owo-Ikare-Kabba; Ikare-Isua-Ibillo-Okene; Okene-Obajana; Mokwa-Kontangora, and a whole host of other roads. In truth, how many roads are actually in a good condition that is worthy of mention in the country?
However, the effort to fix these roads, especially the federal highways, must start with our lawmakers. The over-centralisation of functions and resources at the centre has not served the nation well. Even with the roads, you have the anomaly of too many roads in the states being labeled as federal roads, which are to be appropriated for and maintained by the federal authorities. These federal institutions are too far away and are, therefore, unable to appreciate the plight of the people using the roads. The legislators also have to work towards an increase in the ridiculously low allocations for roads in our budgets. A case in point is the dispute over the substantially reduced allocations for key road projects in the 2017 budget.
However, we commend the initiative of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, who sometime ago undertook a nation-wide tour to assess the pace of work on some of the roads undergoing reconstruction in the country. As a former governor, he definitely knows where the shoe pitches. Part of the problem, as we have noted, is the convoluted federal structure which puts certain core responsibilities on the exclusive legislative list and then saddles other tiers of government with the baggage. For example, an abiding feature of our distorted federal structure is the repeated instances of states committing their scarce resources to fix so-called federal roads, after waiting for so long to have them fixed. Yet, they have serious problems getting refunds of the money they spent. In other instances, some states, possibly on account of political differences and other extraneous considerations, fail to get the approval of federal authorities to fix federal roads in their domain.
This unworkable federal structure leaves the nation badly deficient in public infrastructure. The resources and logistics required to build and maintain an effective road network throughout the country are far above the capabilities of any one tier of government. In fact, it would require innovative solutions from all stakeholders and alternative financing models like the Road Trust Fund which the Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved. It will also require the devolvement of power to the states on critical issues like roads. There should also be innovative solutions, including Public-Private Partnership (PPP), for the rehabilitation of the roads. Government should not continue to pay lip-service to this very important national resource or play politics with the wellbeing of the country.
We must see the poor state of our roads as a clear measure of our underdevelopment and a bane to our economy. Year after year, data from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) link the excessively high number of accidents on our roads to their very bad condition. The poor state of our roads also significantly contributes to our poor rating on the Ease-of-doing-business index. It is also a contributor to the increasing security challenges on our highways, especially banditry and kidnapping. The Kaduna –Abuja Expressway and the Abuja-Lokoja-Okene Expressway are just two notorious examples. These roads are dens of kidnappers, armed robbers and sundry criminals whose dastardly activities put a dent on our collective security and national image.