Against the backdrop of the deplorable condition of roads infrastructure across the country, the request by the 36 state governors to President Muhammadu Buhari to hand over federal roads in their states to them for reconstruction, maintenance and control would have been sensible if the states had been credibly exemplary in maintaining the roads in their jurisdictions.
This is one area of Nigeria's socio-economic life in which governments at all levels have indeed failed the people. Our roads have the same decrepit features all over the nation as we ply federal, state or local government routes. All the roads are death traps. They are among the worst in the world as people go through hell moving from one part of the country to another. It is embarrassing.
Unfortunately, every year, the Nigeria's Economic Summit Group (NESG) pinpoints this as part of the discussion points on ease of doing business in the country. They mentioned this again yesterday at the 23rd NESG parley in Abuja in a panel discussion involving Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The authorities that were urged to consider public private partnership (PPP) initiative on the critical infrastructure deficit - economic and community routes again promised implementation.
Not too long ago, it was reported that Nigeria has lost a whooping N2.9 trillion in asset value to poor road conditions. This newspaper then frowned at the development as the loss implies wasted opportunities and businesses at a time the country needs a boost in her economy. Such a huge loss should reawaken consciousness in the country's leaders who should daily pay attention to the economy without which politics will be meaningless.
As a major import dependent country, a good road system from the ports to the various cities across the country is essential for seamless transportation system. Besides, the farmers and other small and medium scale entrepreneurs need good roads to move their goods to the markets. But unfortunately, our leaders don't care a hoot about this as they all fly over all the bad roads to their various constituencies.
The governors may have just woken up from slumber, though belatedly, yet a lot depends on whether they have had some cognitive restructuring to really act differently this time. The reason for this cynicism is that most of the governors in this country have not performed to show themselves approved for this strategic switch. Yet it is necessary for the issue of the moment: devolution of powers in a pure federation.
It should be noted, however, that the governors tabled the significant request at a recent National Economic Council (NEC) meeting presided over by the Vice President in Abuja. At the meeting the governors reportedly agreed to take over the construction and maintenance of some federal roads under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. This would have been hailed if the big stakeholders had had a history of discipline of execution.
And so, the decision of NEC to submit a strategic plan to the president that would guide the handover and management process, including a strategy to regulate the weight of heavy-duty trucks plying the nation's highways should not be delayed. Heavy-duty trucks carrying mostly fuel are deemed to be responsible for the collapse of the highways.
Without regulation and in the absence of railway, trucks with axial load of more than 35 tones destroy the roads faster. That explains why highways collapse after six months of fixing.
Under the new proposal, the governors want some of the roads to be given to states to fix through investors and toll them. There is an example of this on Lagos-Lekki-Epe axis, although most observers and road users have been criticising the high toll on this busy route.
Curiously, that state governments that have not been able to fix their own roads would be asking for additional responsibility. But since they have asked for this, it should be given to them. Maybe, this added responsibility may push them to renew their minds and show commitment to fixing state and inner-city, inter-city and rural roads. The benefits to the people are enormous.
Roads management, like the railways, is a constitutional issue, which can create a bottleneck. The first step is to deal with the constitutional impediment. That is to say, the National Assembly should be the first port of call for sensitisation on the expediency of legalising this process. There should be an amendment bill to the federal legislature to change aspects of the organic law that deal with exclusive legislative list on roads. That may be an easier way to achieve this objective.
All told, what the governors have requested is an ideal that can enhance current quest for true federalism. It can be a good starting point, in this regard. In the United States, for instance, the Federal-aid highway programme, which began in 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson, allows states to maintain the highways based on the concept that the states own and operate the roads.
Thus, inter-state highways are owned and built by the state highway agencies with Federal funding assistance and oversight. The long-standing premise is that the states would maintain the highways.These are indeed some of the progressive ingredients found in a functional federal system.
Therefore, the president and the governors should brace up to ensure that they remove the odium that poor roads infrastructure has brought upon us as a nation. This memorandum of understanding that can enhance development of all the federating units is a good blueprint that should not be abandoned as they have always done.