For the sake of being polite and not using appropriately abusive language, the best way to describe the state of the nation’s highways is to use words such as deplorable, terrible, awful, dreadful, shocking, lamentable, disgraceful, shameful and unpardonable.
If there is one single factor that indicates the imperative to restructure the nation’s finances and politics and bring government closer to the people, it’s the unpardonable state of the nation’s federal road network.
It’s unpardonable simply because the nation is structured in such a manner that the Executive and National Assembly allocate to themselves a disproportionate share of the budget, while serially failing to alleviate the suffering of ordinary citizens.
It simply doesn’t make sense to expect anyone sitting down in Abuja to have any idea of the atrocious conditions of so called “federal roads” nationwide. What is worse is that in most states of the federation, these federal roads are the major roads, which the federal government has neither capacity, nor plan to repair, leaving citizens to suffer unconscionably.
The abysmal conditions of federal roads are a stain on the reputation of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA). However, to be fair, FERMA officials have said time and again that the budget needed to maintain federal roads nationwide is approximately four times what is allocated. In 2020, they claimed they needed N125 Billion not the N36 Billion earmarked in the budget. For reasons best known to the federal government and officials of the Federal Ministry of Works, the cost of constructing and maintaining roads in Nigeria is much higher than in other African countries. Even if there are justifiable reasons for this anomaly, federal government’s excuse that there is no money for road maintenance is not tenable. An analogy is in order. Consider the case of a family man who insists on consuming two bottles of beer and fish-head pepper soup daily as his self-granted reward for being head of the family. If such a man claims he has no money to pay his children’s school fees or his wife’s hospital bill, would he not be called irresponsible? This is akin to the federal government’s attitude towards providing for citizens welfare. They design lopsided budgets to ensure funds are available to maintain luxurious presidential jets to galivant all over the world, sometimes on unofficial jaunts, ensure there are fleets of brand new multi-million Naira executive jeeps to carry assorted self-important political office holders to social functions nationwide, and ensure there are private jets to carry governors and political godfathers around the country to attend their children’s weddings. After this they take foreign loans to construct railway lines to other countries, and universities in rural areas which cannot boast of 100 qualified secondary school leavers annually. The truth is that the federal government has money; what political leaders lack is compassion towards mass suffering and a willingness to sacrifice their personal comfort for the public good. The African Development Bank’s 2018 report on Nigeria’s economic outlook stated that over 80 percent of the population lives on less than N1,000 per day. Yet in the 2020 budget, N2.5 billion was allocated for the President’s local and international travels, and N98 million for catering and foodstuff supplies. Astoundingly, the budget for refreshments and meals in the Presidency is approximately N68,000 per day! The totally inappropriate budgeting at federal level is highlighted by the fact that total revenue cannot cover recurrent expenditure. Nevertheless, rather than tighten their belt, government is increasing its allocations to itself! In 2020, the National Assembly’s budget was increased by N3 billion to N128 billion. Despite this, there is also a budgetary provision for N36 billion to “renovate” their luxurious offices! In addition to government preferring to spend money on itself rather than on road maintenance and citizens’ welfare, there are several other important reasons why Nigerian roads routinely fall into disrepair. Whenever the Minister of Works talks about the rainy season, one would think that perhaps it’s a new phenomenon. It isn’t and should not be used as an excuse for the collapse of roads. The fact is that there are many nations worldwide in which it rains almost daily, yet their roads are in good shape. Cost cutting measures are allegedly standard practice when constructing Nigerian roads which are poorly designed without adequate drainage. Corruptly constructed at the cost of billions they were never designed to stand the test of time. Whereas in Germany, all roads are laid with a concrete base and are higher in the centre than the edge to ensure that water drains naturally off the road, Nigerian roads are flat ensuring that even the newest ones hold water and quickly develop potholes. In addition to defective design, another important consideration is overloaded trailers. When Nigerian “Express Roads” were built, there were weighbridges which trailers had to pass through before commencing their journey. All that has gone by the wayside and anyone who travels by roads can testify to the carnage done by overloaded trailers.
They turn small potholes into large craters, and convert tarred roads into laterite swamps within no time. It seems nothing short of unwise if not foolhardy for government to even consider building new roads when existing ones are in such a state. US President Trump is loved by Nigerians simply because he says there is no country run by a black man which is an example of how to manage the nation’s finances prudently and in a principled fashion to place citizens’ welfare in the front-burner. The nation has been on edge over the ill-advised and contentious Water Resources Bill which seeks to invest control over water resource in the entire geographical landscape of the federation on the federal government. Nigerians should ask themselves what efficiency or competence government has shown in managing other resources or maintaining infrastructure that it has any business arrogating to itself more responsibilities? It’s time federal government got a grip on reality and prove that they are not bereft of a permanent solution to the problem of federal roads. Nigerians are weary of inappropriate self-centred budgeting which increases the cost of governance, without alleviating hardship among citizens. Perhaps Nigerians will have to wait until 2023 to get a federal government with a sensible feasible plan to put an end, once and for all, to what has become the routinely deplorable state of federal roads.