Opinion: Fashola and the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway mess – By NIRAN ADEDOKUN
Next time, Minister of Work and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, tries to grandstand about the great job the guys at his ministry are doing, please remind him of the shameful mess that the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway has become.
Just as I sat down to write this piece, the following newsflash came in from cknnigeria.com: “The Lagos/Ibadan Expressway from MFM outbound Lagos is under total lockdown this morning with traffic stretching for hours. No reason has been given for the lockdown. Vehicles have been stuck at a spot for hours. Motorists are advised to seek alternative routes if you are heading to Ibadan, Benin, South-East, South-West and South-South via the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.” That has pretty much been the situation since Sunday, November 24!
For nearly 48 hours from Sunday afternoon, the six-or so kilometre journey from the community known as Magboro to the Berger end of the expressway took anything between four and six hours!
Car owners stood helpless for hours in the near-standstill traffic situation while scores of commuters defied the scorching sun of those days to complete their journeys on foot. People who left their homes early on Monday and Tuesday with the hope of beating the now regular slow flow of traffic were said to have been at the mercy of armed miscreants who exploited the combination of the immobile traffic situation and darkness of the early hours to inflict losses on innocent citizens. That all-important road has in short, become a tale, which should not be told about any serious-minded nation.
Yet, Fashola would reprimand those who speak up about these things like they were ungrateful children still grumbling after they had been fed from crumbs from their father’s plate. This mindset, which is the impression most of those voted or appointed into offices in Nigeria hold of the people, bred his recent comment about how “not all roads in Nigerian are that bad.” This minister, in particular, tends to feel so superior and speaks condescendingly when addressing these issues.
This was why the attempts to amend and explain away his November 6, 2019 gaffe that Nigerian roads are not as bad as people speak about them, sounded ridiculous. Nigerians, if they cast their minds back, will recall that this was not the first time Fashola suggested, as he did earlier this month.
In a keynote address he delivered at the United Nations-sponsored capacity building programme for the Federal Road Safety Corps on November 28, 2017, he was quoted as saying: “…With this background, I will now pose the question: How bad are our roads? Some have repeatedly said, ‘All the roads are bad.’ That is not true. We have good parts and bad parts caused by abuse and lack of maintenance.”
The background he referred to here is that roads are depreciating assets, Nigerian roads had suffered from neglect and lack of maintenance and that the Buhari administration was ready to fix things.
While the latter part of this background sounded heart-warming, the question arises to whether the readiness of the Buhari administration to fulfil the promised he made to Nigerians should be an invitation to the people to sleep on their rights to complain. This is exactly what Fashola seems to suggest when he sings about the fact that not all Nigerian roads are bad. The unspoken suggestion that Nigerians should be grateful that some roads are being fixed by any elected government is a misplaced affront on the people at the pleasure of whom these people serve.
A more important point to make however is that the role of government should not just end with performing its duties. It is, of course, important that government lives up to the expectations of its people but government functionaries must quickly come off the idea that they do the people a favour for which they must show appreciation when they glory over their achievements.
In the execution of projects, government, its contractors, collaborators and other proxies must show utmost respect for the people of the country. In addition to respect, there must be adequate consideration for their welfare and security. While it is true that a measure of inconvenience always attends projects like this, government owes it to the people to minimise their pains, something that is clearly not part of the planning for the rehabilitation of the nightmarish Lagos/Ibadan Expressway.
The first sign of disrespect is that there is no functional alternative route into Lagos as it currently stands. Although government pretends otherwise, nothing was done on the deplorable state of all the possible options to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The Ikorodu-Sagamu Road, Abeokuta-Ota Road as well as the Epe-Sagamu Road are even more dilapidated. The same with the two possible alternative routes on either sides of the Long Bridge that leads into Lagos on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway. In countries, where the time and sanity of people mean anything, government would have got the contractors to fix and make these alternative routes passable before commencing works on the main expressway.
Added to this is the lack of contingency plans for vehicular breakdowns on the portion of the road that has been narrowed down. Before work started on the road, government officials told of how a never-seen-before number of towing vehicles had been prepared to tackle incidents that may arise. It turns out that most of these promises were empty. The occasion of any breakdown on this road literarily brings down hell. Most of the time, rather than tow broken down vehicles off the road, those vehicles are fixed on the spot, while road safety officials, policemen and personnel of the Julius Berger mostly look on disinterested.
There is also the issue of security! Before now, the Kara and Long Bridge areas of this road were dreaded spots where criminals take advantage of people. So, it should be clear to those planning the reconstruction of this road that the build-up of traffic would make road users vulnerable, a reason for which arrangements should have been made for 24-hour security presence on the road. But no plan is visible in this direction. There is a huge concentration of security personnel at the Berger and OPIC ends of the road and that is where it ends. Road users are at the mercy of hoodlums in the very critical Long Bridge area.
And speaking about the concentration of security personnel, you will be shocked at the rate people drive against traffic between the Long Bridge and the OPIC Junction. It is of course condemnable that driving against traffic is the choice that people make in the circumstance that users of this road find themselves; but how they get away with it in spite of the presence of law enforcement agents at the terminal points remains a wonder. Just this last week, four people were said to have lost their lives to an accident resulting from people driving against traffic.
Fashola should note that it cannot be Uhuru until all roads in Nigeria are motorable and safe for citizens. But more than that, it is not just about fixing roads but showing consideration for the users of those roads. When government people fail to show such empathy, the foreign contractors they hire will also treat Nigerians shabbily, work at snail’s pace rather than round-the clock to deliver on the job and put the people at unimaginable levels of risk and discomfort. Punch