culled from THISDAY, October 30, 2006
Beyond the current statistics of growth rates and foreign reserves, the reform agenda of the Obasanjo administration will be measured retrospectively in a few months time by some glaring indices. Unfortunately, the verdict may not be complimentary. We are talking here of issues that relate directly to the quality of lives of the people.
Prominent among the indices are those of job-creation, resolving the energy crisis as well as revamping infrastructure. The implementation of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) was projected to create seven million jobs. Yet, regardless of the official play on statistics joblessness remains the socio-economic scourge of our time. It would be great if a good mix of policies can still create a few thousands of jobs more before the end of this administration in about six month time. The administration says its the power sector reform will meet the targets of generating 10, 000 mega warts only at the end of next year. Experts who should know tell us that the full benefits of the power sector reform might not be within the reach of electricity consumers until possibly five years from now. After almost six years of deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry, fuel is still being imported with official warnings that pump prices might be raised again next year. There are no news yet of private refineries swinging into operation.
Maybe it is too late for the administration to consummate its reforms in some areas. It is, however, not too late for the administration to still “do something” about the decaying infrastructure.
To be sure, no one expects any magic wand from the Obasanjo administration to solve all problems before it takes its exit. But the state of physical infrastructure demands urgent attention in the remaining days of this government’s tenure. It is no idle talk to ask the government to halt the decay.
In this respect the state of our roads stands out like a sore thumb. The roads are collapsing. In different areas of the country, the roads are dangerous to ply. The national picture of the roads is simply scandalous. President Olusegun Obasanjo himself once said he was ashamed of federal roads. Today that would be putting the matter mildly. The media have been awash with mind-boggling photographs and pathetic stories of hapless road users. For instance, there is the story of a funeral party that was trapped with the corpse at a point on the terrible road between Lagos and the east for two days. Some parts of the east have reportedly become inaccessible by road. Such is the excruciating experience of those who helplessly use the bad roads. In the last few months a pothole on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway near Ibafo has claimed several lives including those all the members of a family, in one instance, before those responsible for road maintenance woke up to do their job. There are many of such deadly spots on highways across the country.
The state of these highways is a narrative of poor maintenance. The other day Works Minister Chief Cornelius Adebayo inspected federal roads in Lagos. It would be interesting to know what went on in his mind as he was driven on the roads leading to the premier seaport and the international airport. How did he feel about the portion of the federal road at a central point like Ojuelegba?
The good news is that Adebayo said his ministry was only waiting for rains to begin work on these roads. Even with the few months remaining to make a difference, he should be encouraged to roll up his sleeves. Let him aspire to leave the roads better than he met them. After all, General Murtala Muhammed is remembered today for the difference he made with just six months of governance. That is the point to stress. There is the temptation to give up on the government saying that with politics thick in the air, there may be little or no room for delivering on governance. As we await the census figures, party primaries and eventual elections, there is a lot that can still be done to mitigate the disaster that many of the roads have become. This is a challenge to Adebayo. Good enough he is not known to be aspiring to any elective office and he is not engaged in any running battle with his state governor. So he can face the job squarely and win some credits for the Obasanjo administration with what is possible to be done about the roads in the next few months.
Really, the riddle about state of the roads is that although so much has been spent officially on them, yet the condition gets worse in many places. According to the President in his review of this year’s budget, as at August 31, government ‘had released N52 billion or 71% of the N73 billion appropriated for capital works for the construction, rehabilitation and repairs of roads nationwide” The outlook is even more optimistic in the proposed budget for next year. The allocation for works is N191 billion which amounts to 110% increase over the allocation for the current financial year. The Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) is to be provided with N17 billion for jobs to be done. Provisions have also been made for important roads such as the East-West Road in the Niger Delta (N36 billion), the Kano-Maiduguri Road (N21 billion) and Abuja-Lokoja Road (N6 billion). So a lot of funds have been earmarked for the works. And in fulfilment of the policy contained in its NEEDS document; the administration is seeking private sector investments in the road sector. The NEEDS envisages the “adoption of build-operate-transfer” in the road sector among others. The President said in his budget speech at the National Assembly a fortnight ago that proposals from the private sector are being appraised for the construction of the second Niger Bridge and a bridge across River Benue. Evidently, the virtual collapse of infrastructure is not due to lack of budgetary allocations to be bring them back to live.
In the particular case of roads, if the federal allocations on maintenance and construction are judiciously spent and state and local governments perform their own responsibilities in making roads motorable, the picture wont be as dismal as we have it today. Some state governments seem satisfied making a fetish of filling a few potholes here and there. They should take road construction and maintenance as a development challenge. The conditions of the roads nationwide call for a more honest approach from all tiers of government.
An economic strategy cannot be said to be working when roads are impassable.