Road Misfortune: Only in Niger Delta?

Good governance means fighting corruption, protection of lives and property, attendance to the rule of law and voice, fiscal accountability, political stability, absence of violence, government effectiveness, and regulatory quality. A government who can deny these ideal factors is a lofty make-up. When we think in that dimension; we put our Nigerian citizens into consideration.

The problems with Nigeria government approach is that they are neither intended to be devised to work for the nation’s better future or contradictory to the wellbeing of our people. If the framework of elected politicians were to pack money without thinking about bettering Nigerian society, there is a need to draw a negative view about politics and its orderliness inside Nigeria as a nation. If you feel I am becoming loquacious, let us check our steward as an administrator of a Nigerian community. How many social amenities have you avail for your people as a government administrator? If alright! Why do we complain about no (poor) roads situation while you are there heading government? Who made Nigeria roads unfit for motorists , even when we are rich in natural resources?

Think of this: The Niger Delta is mangrove region of the nation. Most houses are mounted on concrete piles to keep from sinking. Surprisingly, for most of the year, the driving is excellent. The road in Port harcourt, Warri, Akwa Ibom, Abia state among others are so water-logged that the road begins to wear. It is only in this rainy season that the roads become impassable.

Believe or not, the Niger Delta is actually cut off from the nation much of the time during the rainy season. In a story I read about a 2010 flood caused by the overflowing the creek Rivers, it said some Niger Delta community does not even have road! This means that in the summer when it rains, Niger Delta is virtually inaccessible except by car or plane.

And even the boats are not much help…. the creek Rivers is impassable for large stretches of the year when it is full of loose swamp, or when the mud cover is not sufficiently thick to support traffic, or when the water level is high and the river turbulent with spring flooding.

The situation explains the mud road fiasco which you are about to witness. When it rains in this part of Nigeria, it pours! And the rains turn the Road in this area into a quagmire.

Unfortunately, this major artery does not have an asphalt surface even though it is a vital Federal highway. Attempts have been made to put down a proper surface, but the road immediately turns to mush the moment it thaws making repairs impossible. Consequently, in the summer, every time it rains, hundreds of cars become stuck in the mud. Some places in the area are mud-frost. The East-west under dualization has remained on snail-pace – that makes it impossible to build usual roads (using asphalt or concrete) there.

It becomes even better than usual soil roads, but that is little consolation to those stuck in the summertime mud. Ultimately about 20 cars got stuck there. In other words, as bad as things are in the situation you may think of, they only hint at how impossible the conditions can really be.

A car can be trapped in the quagmire for days. According to witnesses, hunger and lack of the fuel are all part of these mud traps. One woman even gave birth to a child right in the public bus she was riding because no ambulance could possibly get to her.

The problem of bad roads in the Niger Delta has become an embarrassing stigma. In many parts of this region, normal interaction has been frustrated by bad roads. Vehicle owners are in distress as their vehicles are not used optimally. Moreover, the very many potholes and detours mean that vehicles keep breaking down so that on many of these roads emergency mechanics have sprung up to assist stranded commuters sometimes with disastrous consequences.

There is the problem of erosion impacting on the road network. Whole sections of our roads are being washed away by erosion and poorly planned or non-existent drainage system. Additionally there are many bridges without any warning signs and no handrails. Vehicles have been known to plunge into the river with grave consequences

For each year, tollgates collections alone were much higher than the total funds released for road maintenance. Third is the excessive use of the road network, given the undeveloped state of waterways and the poor state of the railways, which are alternative transport modes. In particular, the railways serve the purpose of transporting bulky goods, which are not good for road haulage. Fourth, information from the Chief Highway Engineers showed that there is no articulated programme for road maintenance. Road maintenance decisions are taken at the headquarters and are in most cases influenced by politics and not necessarily on the actual maintenance needs. For this reason most of the roads have been neglected. The introduction of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) led to the rehabilitation of some roads, though some of the rehabilitation works were not completed because the contractors were not fully paid.

From the South-South Zone housing Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States. It has a total Federal highway network of 4,150.89Km. The roads in this zone are in fairly good condition as it benefited immensely from the current road rehabilitation/expansion programme. However, the states in the zone were not evenly favoured as the bulk of the projects that have been completed/substantially completed are in Beyelsa, Edo, Delta and Rivers. Akwa Ibom and Cross River were not that favoured. My area, Oyigbo, a suburb of Rivers State is already written off.

At South-East Zone embodying the states within the South-East geo-political zone are: Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi and Abia. The total road network in the area is 3,121.7 kilometres of Federal highways. Most of the roads are in very poor condition with potholes, gullies and erosion affecting them. This is due mainly to lack of maintenance, as many of them have not been rehabilitated for over 30 years. The survey revealed that: Owerri-Onitsha highway is in a very bad condition with gullies and ditches adorning the whole stretch of the road. As a result, traffic flow on the highway is very slow and unsafe. A ride through the 90.5 kilometres of roads takes about 5 to 6 hours on a very bad day. Though contract was recently awarded for the rehabilitation of the road, work had not yet started. Abakaliki-Enugu road is in fairly good condition, though there is need for some maintenance work to be carried out in some parts of it. Enugu-Onitsha road is badly in need of rehabilitation as a recent one has peeled off, indicating poor quality work. Owerri-Umuahia road is in bad condition. There are potholes and peel- offs that need to be refilled to make traffic flow better. Urnuahia-Bende road is presently under rehabilitation. However, a portion of the road collapsed due to erosion. The workers on site claimed that it had always been like that.

The second phase consists of long-term solution to road maintenance. In this phase, major contractors would be commissioned to maintain primary trunk roads on continuous basis while indigenous contractors are to execute special/emergency repairs on secondary roads as the need arises. Old maintenance districts were planned to remain resuscitated while new ones will be established where necessary. In the last phase, which involves direct labour, mechanized maintenance units would be established in each of the six geo-political zones of the federation, while a district unit was supposed to be set up in each state of the geopolitical zones. The Nigeria Road Maintenance Agency has become a cosmetic parastatal probably married to the much acclaimed NDDC in the Niger Delta that serves as an avenue to siphon public monies into private pockets.

However, if the economy improves and road maintenance improves, the increase in th

e volume of traffic would be much higher than 5 per cent and the realizable revenue would also be higher. It is note- worthy that increases in the rates, which means motorists will have to pay more for using tolled roads, would require the government giving assurance to the people that the revenue realized would be used judiciously in maintaining the roads. The other sources of revenue listed above would also be explored and used to augment toll gate collections. If the revenues are pulled together and paid directly into the FERMA account and managed efficiently, Nigerian roads will experience a face-lift.

Public financing does not hold the key for the reform of the road sector; the need to involve the road users and business community is vital; The real causes of problems associated with poor road maintenance policies were weak or unsuitable institutional arrangements for managing and financing roads; and Poor road maintenance policies are a subset of the underlying issues of managing and financing the road network as a whole. The above-mentioned insights point to the fact that a distinct body, which is relatively independent of Government and affiliated to the private sector, is indeed a vital tool in the efficient and sustainable management of road networks.

With the looming reestablishment of tollgate rate, the revenue would augment the proposed fuel tax. All these assume only a yearly increase of 5 per cent in the frequency of tollgates usage.

Proper road maintenance contributes to reliable transport at reduced cost, as there is a direct link between road condition and vehicle operating costs (VOC). An improperly maintained road can also represent an increased safety hazard to the user, leading to more accidents, with their associated human and property costs. Examples of ways in which different countries contract road maintenance services. In general, road maintenance activities can be broken into four categories:

* Routine works. These are works that are undertaken each year that are funded from the recurrent budget. Activities can be grouped into cyclic and reactive works types. Cyclic works are those undertaken where the maintenance standard indicates the frequency at which activities should be undertaken. Examples are verge cutting and culvert cleaning, both of which are dependent on environmental effects rather than on traffic levels. Reactive works are those where intervention levels, defined in the maintenance standard, are used to determine when maintenance is needed. An example is patching, which is carried out in response to the appearance of cracks or pot-holes.

* Periodic works. These include activities undertaken at intervals of several years to preserve the structural integrity of the road, or to enable the road to carry increased axle loadings. The category normally excludes those works that change the geometry of a road by widening or realignment. Works can be grouped into the works types of preventive, resurfacing, overlay and pavement reconstruction. Examples are resealing and overlay works, which are carried out in response to measured deterioration in road conditions. Periodic works are expected at regular, but relatively long, intervals. As such, they can be budgeted for on a regular basis and can be included in the recurrent budget. However, many countries consider these activities as discrete projects and fund them from the capital budget.

* Special works. These are activities whose need cannot be estimated with any certainty in advance. The activities include emergency works to repair landslides and washouts that result in the road being cut or made impassable. Winter maintenance works of snow removal or salting are also included under this heading. A contingency allowance is normally included within the recurrent budget to fund these works, although separate special contingency funds may also be provided.

* Development. These are construction works that are identified as part of the national development planning activity. As such, they are funded from the capital budget. Examples are the construction of by-passes, or the paving of unpaved roads in villages.

Another viable way of raising funds for highways maintenance is through the capital market, particularly, because the development of highways has a long gestation period and money markets funds are short-term in nature. The government or preferably a private firm therefore can float bonds in order to generate funds rather than depend on the traditional source of fund such as statutory allocations and internally generated revenue. This form of financing will among others, ease the problem of loans and interest payments and thus release more funds for road maintenance.

The huge amounts involved in the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of roads and the fact that provision of transport service directly affects the welfare of society have made government to singly shoulder this responsibility, which has not in any way promoted efficiency. The need to create a partnership between the government and the private sector to achieve the needed efficiency and effectiveness in the sector should be encouraged. Three areas have been identified where the private sector can participate in road transport business, they are: (1) Provision of services (consultancy, procurement, etc.) (2) Undertaking of works (maintenance, rehabilitation, etc.) (3) Financing (new works, rehabilitation, equipment etc) it is anticipated that if the private sector is allowed to be fully involved in all these areas, the needed efficiency will be realized and this will ultimately lead to economic development. This will also reduce to a minimum the amount lost due to lack of road maintenance.

The general poor state of the region roads and the failure of past efforts at establishing road maintenance machinery have led to the establishment of several failed strategies. President Jonathan’s government should produce a master plan for road enhancement and maintenance in Nigeria, either by improving the funding of highways or by establishing a Road Fund which will derive its funds from the following sources: Highway Tolls, Vehicle Taxes, Truck Weigh-Bridges, Parking Fees and Petroleum Tax (formerly collected by the defunct PTF). And again to drive the country’s economy, there is a need for government at all levels to develop a comprehensive transportation plan that would outlive successive regimes.

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