By Ray Morphy
I must make a confession right away. I am a frequent traveller and I love to travel by road.
I love to take off pretty early on road trips as I drive myself across this beautiful country of ours! Open roads do a lot for my psyche and those sunrise drives are a real tonic for this old soul.
So I know the roads of this our country pretty good. I have driven across them since 1982 when I drove cross-country from Enugu to Bida for my NYSC with my late mum’s Renault 12. Those were the days when a youth could take cross-country drives in safety, without fear of police or kidnappers. Then, there was nothing like kidnapping or highway carjacking, but that is a story for another day.
Since those my early days, I have driven in and through virtually every state of this large country! I have enjoyed Enugu to Onitsha road when it was indeed an expressway. Today, it is surely not! In parts, it is more like a gully and a roller coaster in others. In some other stretches, drivers have to veer into village tracks and farms before returning to the road as they navigate utterly impassable sections. Sadly, this former express road is one of the major arteries of commerce in Nigeria.
Likewise do I enjoy the Akwanga-Jos road. I have also driven on the Jos to Potoskum, to Maiduguri wing of that road. In those days, there was not one pothole visible or invisible on the entire 300 kilometers stretch of the road. Those days, Nigerian roads had furniture as well as markings and signs.
Do we see road furniture on our roads anymore? I am not so sure. One can drive for hundreds of kilometers nowadays without seeing one inch of road demarcation lines. I refer to that line in the middle of the road that helps drivers keep to their lanes, particularly at night.
All drivers know how important these lines are but it looks like contracts are now awarded and roads built without that!
And I am talking about Trunk A roads that bear the bulk of vehicular movement. If the absence of the white demarcation lines is the only problem, it won’t be so bad. The real problem is that we don’t have roads anymore. What we have now mostly don’t qualify to be described as roads!
Indeed, I am amazed that we don’t even have much more accidents than we do now! Driving the other day from Ikom to Calabar, I could count more than 10 failed culverts and there was no danger warning of any sort at the points where the culverts failed.
Then there is the menace of roads washed away by gully and sheet erosions. Some roads have been cut in half, some have been reduced to single lane roads by erosions, yet, no warning sign of any sort is given to drivers!
Some roads have been virtually overgrown by tall spear grasses growing along the road shoulders and center road islands. I could recall that these roads were under the supervision of Road Engineers who ensured that roads were basically maintained and warning signs put up. When I was a kid, one of my uncles was involved in road shoulder grass cutting.
I earned a naira or two by going along with him to supervise and pay the workers.
Has government sacked all those engineers or are there no staff charged with such basic duties as rescuing the roads from vociferous growth of spear grass and other bushes?
Another new phenomenon on Nigerian roads is speed bumps! Some of these bumps are so high that each time you slowly cross one; you can hear the crunch as the bottom of your car chassis shouts in protest. One understands that most drivers don’t slow down when they drive through villages but to have ten to fifteen high bumps in every single village is just a little too much.
Added to that is the ubiquitous check points that dot our highways. In some states you encounter them every few kilometers! These days, you have police, army, Immigration, NDLEA, VIO and the FRSC etc, all mounting checkpoints along the highways. Now add the revenue touts, the village vigilantes and you will get a picture of what road travel has become through much of our country.
Consider the fact that our rail system is still nothing to write home about in terms of percentage of goods and people moved, consider also that Nigerians hardly move cargo by air within the country, add the fact that there is virtually no water transport in Nigeria except in coastal areas, then you will understand how central and important unfettered and unhindered road transport is to the life and wellbeing of the country.
Roads are to a country what arteries and veins are to the human body. Clogged arteries lead to strokes and death while minor blocks lead to loss of circulation to those parts of the body that are thus starved.
Is anyone still in doubt about the core importance of roads and road transport in Nigeria? When you consider minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola’s statement recently, where he gave himself a pass mark on the state of our roads, then you can understand how much trouble we are in.
The fact today is that the majority of our roads are horrible. The roads we drive on in Nigeria would be considered impassable in any other country other than Nigeria! The simple truth is that enough is not being done to remedy those roads both for the sake of the people and the economy! No truly caring government would be happy with the state of our roads.
Granted that the roads’ negligence didn’t start today but government is a continuum. More effort and funds should go to the roads. Nigeria and Nigerians depend largely if not solely on roads for both human and cargo movement!
Any government that takes the roads as a priority and fixes them would have given the economy a major boost. We the people would be eternally grateful to such a government.