The nation's highways need more attention
At an elaborate ceremony last week, the federal government announced the release of N100 billion Sukuk bonds to pay some contractors to facilitate the construction and rehabilitation of 25 priority road projects across the six geopolitical zones in the country. "The roads will ease commuting, spur economic activities across the country and further close our infrastructural gap," said the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun after presenting the cheque to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola.
While we consider the development an important one, we must nonetheless say that the money involved is still a far cry from the huge investment that needs to be made if we must revamp the decaying road infrastructure in Nigeria. From the north-east and north-west to the south-south, south-east and south-west to north-central, the story is the same: most of the roads have become death traps. As things stand today, trips that ordinarily should take no more than a few minutes now take hours and at times days because of the conditions of most of the major access roads.
Meanwhile, in unveiling his plan for federal roads in December 2015, Fashola had promised that the federal government would re-introduce highway tolling to raise additional funds to finance road infrastructure and ensure efficient road maintenance. Tolling, according to Fashola, was necessary to support government funding. "So, it will not be too much if we ask every road user to pay little to augment government funding for road maintenance. It is eminent commonsense for us to find that money. We will use technology; so if we don't pay cash, you will pay by tokens or tickets and the money is accountable and it will go to the right place", said Fashola who added that the nation's road infrastructure would also generate job opportunities and reduce unemployment in the country.
Against the background that a drive through many of the nation's major roads is now a nightmare, we had wholeheartedly endorsed the Fashola plan at the time. But almost two years after the plan was unfolded, Nigerians are still waiting for any concrete action in that direction. Some roads in the south-south, south-east and south-west are particularly in a sorry shape apparently because of the impact and damage the rains had on them. Most affected roads in the south-east include the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Bende-Ohafia-Arochukwu road, Aba-Ikot Ekpene-Calabar road, Enugu-Awka-Onitsha road and Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road.
Even in Lagos, the roads leading to Apapa, the strategic port city where hundreds of millions of naira are made daily by the government and others, are embarrassing. Over the years, billions of naira had been poured on the Oshodi-Apapa road but it is still in a shambles, crater-ridden and looking more like a war-ravaged area. Even the road to the international airport in the nation's commercial capital is an eyesore, even though it was recently handed over to the Lagos State Government.
Last week, Fashola called on investors to "invest in infrastructure that the public will use" so as to benefit from some tax relief under an arrangement that is still not very clear. Are businessmen now to adopt just any roads and build by their own specifications? What is the role of the Infrastructure Concession Commission in the arrangement?
In as much as we concede the fact that we need bold initiatives if we are to fix our major highways, ad hoc arrangements will not do, given the enormity of the challenge in the sector. We therefore call on the federal government to put in motion a comprehensive plan by which we can rebuild the critical road infrastructure in Nigeria.