Road construction contracts are excessively inflated and yet the quality of roads often delivered fall far below global standards
The poor state of roads in Nigeria has remained, for many years, an unremitting source of risk for travellers and transporters. Road accidents which are a direct fall-out of bad roads and careless driving habits have also been a major and worrisome source of untimely deaths and destruction of valuable goods in the country. Statistics of such deaths are frightening indeed. In 2009, for example, the nation lost 7,000 people to road accidents, 969 of them were children. The figures dropped slightly to 5,279 in 2010. In 2012, 11 persons were killed each day through accidents on the roads, according to statistics from the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC. More than 20,000 people sustained various degrees of injuries, some of the injuries bad enough to render the victims invalid for the rest of their lives, from about 6, 269 cases of road accidents recoded that year by the FRSC. Goods worth billions of Naira perish frequently through accidents.
Cases of road accidents being reported daily in the news media paint very grim and pathetic pictures of this ugly development. There have been too many instances of fatalities on the nation’s roads recently. Factors responsible for this unfortunate trend include impatience on the roads on the part of drivers, driving under the influence of alcohol and other dangerous drugs and non-adherence to speed limit prescriptions. But the bigger and more disturbing factor is the bad state of most of the roads which make driving not only tedious but hazardous.
The number of vehicles on Nigerian roads has been on a steady rise since the 70s but without corresponding policies that can make driving safe and comfortable. Between 1990 and 2006, vehicles on our roads rose from 700,000 to about six million. As at today, the figure has gone close to ten million. Ordinarily, this is a healthy development in terms of making travelling for commuters and transportation of goods easier, safer and more comfortable. But sadly, that has not been the case. Rather, the rise in vehicular density has increased the risk of deaths and destruction of valuables goods on the roads.
Recently, these factors that have turned Nigerian roads into killing fields, especially the poor state of roads, attracted the attention of the Senate through a motion sponsored by an overwhelming number of 90 out of its total membership of 109 senators. The motion was moved by Dino Melaye, representing Kogi West. Most senators who contributed to the debate on the motion decried the frequency of road accidents and the high number of deaths that often result from them. The debate was particularly instructive. It brought out a lot more facts on the disaster on our roads.
Besides that, the passion that dictated the trend of discussion at that session of the Senate eventually led to the decision of members to declare a state of emergency on our roads. The idea is to help draw the attention of all departments and agencies of government to the problem that our roads constitute to lives, properties and economic development generally, and to encourage them to think of special steps that need to be taken to remediate the situation.
The Senate, at that session, also took the very important step of identifying major Nigerian highways that are in the worst state of maintenance, that are also worse scenes of motor vehicle accidents and that are in need of urgent attention by the Federal Government. These include Lagos-Ibadan-Shaga- mu expressway, Abuja- Lokoja, Nyanya-Maraba, Maiduguri-Monguno-Marte-Dikwa, Makurdi- Otukpo and Benin-Ore-Shagamu roads. The senators also noted in their resolution on the matter that the entire road infrastructure in Nigeria was at the point of total collapse. They emphasised the point that been the most disturbing attitude in government and which has crippled progress in various areas of development – that all the trillions of Naira that government had spent on roads construction and maintenance since 1999 has made no commensurate impact. That is, no doubt, a valid observation.
The truth which the senators perhaps knew but failed to add to their observation is that most of the funds recorded as having been spent on roads construction and maintenance were used as election campaign funds while some also went into the private pockets of government officials that superintended road projects during that period. This is a major problem that future policies on road construction and development must address squarely for significant progress to be made.
Another area of unhealthy development to watch is the fact that road projects in Nigeria are about the most costly in the whole world. Road construction contracts are excessively inflated and yet the quality of roads often delivered fall far below global standards. The meaning of this trend is that Nigeria spends more on road construction and maintenance and gets no commensurate value for it.
We agree with the Senate that our road infrastructure is a disaster and suggest that its rehabilitation should be identified by the present government and treated as an emergency. This means, government must accord more than normal attention towards road construction and maintenance. Corruption has rendered the Federal Ministry of Works and the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, incapable of making the impact required to turn around the ugly state of our roads. The two of them need to be cured of their malady as part of the new dispensation of re-jigging our strategy for achieving the desired national goals in road construction and maintenance.