Nigeria: Fashola's Gaffe On Federal Roads

11 November 2019
editorial

On Wednesday last week, Minister of Works and Housing Mr Babatunde Fashola made a statement that utterly displeased his countrymen and women. He said Nigerian roads are not as bad as they are portrayed. Fashola, who spoke to reporters soon after the Federal Executive Council [FEC] meeting, said "the roads (in the country) are not as bad as they are often portrayed. I know that this is going to be your headline, but the roads are not that bad."

His statement, which came a week after his Agriculture counterpart Mohammed Sabo Nanono said there is no hunger in Nigeria, came across to Nigerians as untrue and insensitive. It elicited a firestorm of criticism and it threatens to join the ranks of the most insensitive remarks ever made by Nigerian public officials. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) latched on Fashola's statement and asked the Minister to resign immediately and apologize to Nigerians over "this unpardonable comment." House of Representatives member Bamidele Salam challenged Fashola to shun air travel in the next 90 days and patronize the roads instead, in order to understand what Nigerians are saying about the poor state of roads in the country.

Said Salam, "I found this statement, which had been repeated by the Honourable Minister at least on two previous occasions as a clear indication that some of us in public offices are not at all in tune with the horrendous realities of our fellow citizens' daily experience. Appreciating what Nigerians go through on our bad roads daily requires that public office holders put themselves in the shoes of the average Nigerian and get a firsthand experience of how Nigerians survive on a daily basis."An NGO also offered Fashola an all-expenses-paid trip across Nigeria by road, in order to acquaint him with their deplorable state.

Minister Fashola later tried to deny the statement. Speaking at Ilara-Mokin in Ondo state while commissioning four privately funded township roads built by Toyota Nigeria Chairman Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, Fashola said he was misquoted. He said contrary to insinuations on social media, he had traveled around the country on roads to access their condition. He added that the federal government would fix its bad roads based on the priority list.

The statement Fashola was said to have made caused outrage because almost all the key federal roads in most parts of the country are currently in a deplorable state. These include Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja-Kaduna-Kano, Enugu-Onitsha, Gombe-Numan,Damaturu-Biu, Biu-Gombe, Kontagora-Yauri-Jega,Numan-Jalingo, Otukpo-Obolloafor,Suleja-Minna, Lambata-Lapai-Agaie-Bida, Lokoja-Ajaokuta-Itobe, Lagos-Cotonou and Oyo-Ogbomoso, among others. Repair work is on-going in some of them but many of them are still untouched. The truth is that this is the worst time to travel by road in Nigeria. Federal roads have not been in this deplorable state for a long time, no thanks to the comatose state of the railway which makes heavy duty vehicles to haul goods from the ports to the hinterland and vice versa.

We could understand Fashola's predicament because top administration officials always blame their predecessors when confronted with failure. In his case, he has been the Minister of Works since November 2015, so he cannot credibly blame anyone else for the deplorable state of federal roads. Apart from the falsity of denying that the roads are in bad shape, citizens' anger at Fashola's statement was augmented by the fear that we are not even on the road to a solution if the minister in charge of the roads denies that they are in bad shape.

The minister made another statement at Ilara-Mokin, that the federal government would not reimburse state governments that undertake repair of federal roads. Again, this is very unwise. Some state governments undertook this task out of desperation, not because they have too much money in their purses. Rather than discourage them, the federal government should instead insist on prior approval, giving specifications and strict monitoring of the work as condition for repayment.

As it has joined the unenviable statements of disdain by federal government officials for the same people they ought to serve. He is not the first. During the military era, a former Minister of Communications, Brigadier General David Mark said that "telephone isn't for the poor."

Former Minister of Transportation in the 2nd Republic, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, came close to Fashola. As Nigeria faced one OF its worst economic crisis characterised by widespread hunger and spiraling inflation, Dikko was asked by a journalist about the grim situation. His response was to claim ignorance of hunger in the land since Nigerians were not "eating from the dustbin."

On Monday, October 14, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, described the cry by some Nigerians of hunger as laughable, insisting that there was no hunger in Nigeria. "In this country, it is fairly cheap to buy food," he stated.

It is puzzling that the Minister made the statement in the first instance. This is because it shows he hardly travels on the roads he is supposed to superintend. If he does, he will be shocked by their decrepitating decrepitude. And if the Minister of Works is saying that Nigerian roads are not that bad, then, the nation has entered into the era of permanent impassable roads ahead. Perhaps, President Muhammadu Buhari should order all his Ministers and senior aides to stop flying within Nigeria for just six months. That way, they would experience the dilapidation the roads have become.

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