The deplorable state of Tsaragi-Patigi Road, the Mokwa-Jebba Road and the Bida-Nupeko Road have been trending since the collapse of the Talabu Bridge, Jebba. The inconvenience to road users can only be imagined. It tells the story of what is the situation on other major highways that are caving in due to overuse. These roads in question are among the busiest highways in the country as they link the South West to the Northern parts of the country.
However, a travel on the Enugu-Onitsha highway, Okigwe- Umuahia, Ore-Benin highways and the stretch on the Ajaokuta axis will paint a picture of the horror commuters have to endure in order to get to their destinations. Disrepair that is the status of the nation’s road network is having its negative impact on the economy generally as a result of man hours wasted and deaths recorded.
Decaying infrastructure is one of the deficiencies that every government in Nigeria, post-civil war, have had to cope with. The success achieved in that regard is limited even with the huge sums budgeted for the purpose.
The situation is made worse by a combination of factors that have to do with the near abandonment of the railway and inland waterway facilities until most recently as well as the elitist conception of the airline as a means of transportation. In terms of movement of goods and services, the road network put at approximately 120,546-miles provides a more dependable and readily available alternative. There are other sources that claim that the country has the largest road network in West Africa and the second largest south of the Sahara, with roughly 108,000 km of surfaced roads as at 1990. For most businesses, as bad as the roads are, they have come to be seen, in the circumstance, as a comparatively dependable ally. The quality of most of these roads is generally poor which aides their speedy decay. The poor quality of construction work is easily attributable to corruption on the part of government officials who collude with contractors to fleece the nation as contracts are perceived as quick means of making the megabucks. These poorly build roads crumble so fast because, in the main, they are equally poorly maintained. Heavy travel on major roads accelerate the wear and in the process vehicle accidents are common with very high fatality rate.
Even at the best of times, funding for repairs has not been sufficient to keep up with the rate at which these roads are crumbling. Adding to the deterioration is damage caused by flooding during the annual rainy season as well as other climatic conditions. With the roads in such poor state, when the risky driving habits of the average Nigerian driver is added to the mix, road travel, as inevitable as it is in the Nigerian context primarily because of its affordability, have tended to be perceived as extremely dangerous. It is the unarguable poor maintenance culture that is often cited as a major cause of the country’s high rate of traffic fatalities.
The Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) was set up essentially as a stop gap measure to make the roads relatively passable pending when there will be a comprehensive reconstruction. In 2004, for instance, it began to patch the 32,000-kilometre federal roads network, and moved up in 2005 to initiating a more substantial rehabilitation. The rainy season and poor equipment pose challenges to road maintenance. Recently, the Muhammadu Buhari administration approved N80 billion for construction of roads across 12 states. If well utilised, the money will provide a breather in the road infrastructure sector.
It may be convinient to argue that the roads are bad not necessarily because of a lack of effort on the part of the government to make them good. But because they are the only reliable means of transportation, they are over used and in some cases abused.
Heavy tonnage trucks with goods that would have been conveniently hauled by rail, use the roads and therefore put severe pressure on them. The Abuja – Lokoja highway is relatively new but a part of it is beginning to fail because of heavy traffic on it.
Ultimately, in our opinion, the solution to the observable shortcomings in the nation’s transportation system will be the exploration and expansion of other means of transportation such as inland waterways and, most importantly, the railway. While that is being pursued, the government must device a workable means of averting the disaster that is the Tsaragi-Patigi road and also its fellows in other parts of the country.