Every year, road travellers to the eastern parts of the country go through a hectic time that tasks even the most resilient spirit. For those travelling from the North and Abuja, the hellish time starts from Gwagwalada in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) through Lokoja in Kogi State. For others travelling from Lagos, the pains start as early as from Ore in Ondo State and climax at the Asaba-Onitsha head bridge on the Benin-Asaba expressway.
This year, the situation is no different. And this in spite of assurances from the Ministry of Works and security agencies like the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). The two roads - Abuja-Lokoja and Ore-Benin-Asaba - are some of the busiest in the country and the challenges they pose to road users, particularly at this time of the year, are familiar to the authorities whose responsibility it is to make them free and safe. Yet the problems recur, frustratingly, every year, raising the question about the integrity of those in charge of governance in the country.
Reports from traffic watchers this yuletide period indicate that, as usual, holidaymakers are having a hectic time as a result of the unbearable road gridlock, especially at the River Niger head bridge on the Benin-Asaba expressway. That this was likely to happen was well known to the authorities. Yet it manages to take them by surprise due, mainly, to a lack of commitment and corruption. There has been much talk of a second bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha as one of the ways of relieving the pressure on road users. But until date, it has remained a platitude, receiving at best lip service from officialdom. At a point, there was talk of using the public-private partnership (PPP) option to get work on the bridge underway. That, too, has been bogged down by bureaucracy.
Invariably, the saying that necessity is the mother of invention is beginning to play out as the people living in the area try to creatively take advantage of the situation, which, with adequate support, may turn out to be a panacea to the problem.
Some smart business-minded people are reported to have provided an alternative means of transportation across the Niger from Asaba in Delta State to Onitsha in Anambra State. Passengers are said to be patronising the services of marine transporters, who provide speedboats for grateful travellers for as little as N300.
We hail this development, which, in our opinion, could be an unintended effort to resuscitate water transportation popular in the area in years past. We urge the government agency in charge of inland waterways to pick up the gauntlet and ensure that water transportation as an alternative means in those areas is explored and exploited on a sustainable basis. The pressure on the roads is because the government, for many years, abandoned rail and marine transportation. A change of policy in that direction would help the nation, travellers mostly.