By Dapo Thomas
There is a particular road in the south west that tells the story of a leader that lacks vision, that has no style nor the grit and wits of leadership. This leader is not sagacious or dynamic nor does he have the capacity for service delivery. That road is the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. For the purpose of convenience, and possibly, some poetic mischief, let us call it LIE.
In order to put the story of LIE in perspective, let us do a re-cap of its recent journey into decline. In May 2009, the Yar’Adua administration concessioned the road to Wale Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney and for almost four years the company exhibited its incompetence in road construction and its efficiency in propaganda management by installing bill-boards with nauseating and deceitful messages at different locations along the road. The bill-boards on the road were more than the workmen at the site. Press statements were more than asphalt. Visits to stakeholders to solicit their cooperation were more than the number of project inspections. The company was engaged in series of conflicts with the Ogun State government, a major stakeholder in the project. The company was visible, the CEO was ubiquitous. Wale Babalakin made so much noise in newspapers and appeared on so many T.V talk-shows flaunting his credentials for road construction and his company’s capacity to fund the project. It was not long before the entire nation came to discover that Bi-Courtney’s claim that it possessed the professional and financial capability to fix LIE was nothing but corporate lie.
In November last year, the federal government told the nation the whole truth about LIE. The government not only revoked the agreement between it and the company, it went ahead to award the contract to Julius Berger and RCC even though the details were not made known. Since then nothing has been heard or done about LIE until about two weeks ago when the federal Ministry of Works ran a full page advertorial in some national newspapers to explain the situation to the nation. It reminded the people that the federal Government has not reneged on its promise to fix the road but that the delay in fixing it has been caused by government’s adherence to due process. Going by this advertorial, the nation should not expect any major work on the road this year. Because the next advertorial by the government will try to justify why the contract cannot be awarded during rainy season or why major work cannot commence on the road this year.
LIE, as it is today, is a good narrative of national decay, leadership deficit and vacuity, contractual betrayal and failed promises, infrastructural paucity and visible depravity, political deception and economic declivities. Every inch of LIE soars in falsehood. It is meant to be an expressway but this is the most obvious lie about LIE. There is nothing ‘express’ about the road. The truth is that it has become a glorified service road for the scattered settlements and communities that line along its routes. And if we indulge ourselves in conventional delusion by calling it “expressway”, cant Jonathan see that this ‘express’ is in serious distress? What is ‘express’ about a road on which motorists spend 3 to 4 hours on a regular basis for a trip that should not take more than 10 to 15 minutes? Or what is the distance between Mowe and Alausa that workers who live in Mowe and work in Lagos secretariat, Alausa will be spending 2 to 3 hours before getting to their office?
What is “express” in a road that people cross every minute? Since there is no pedestrian bridge, it is a common sight to see people living in the communities crossing the road as soon as they are discharged on the road by the commuter buses. It is only normal for motorists to reduce their speed or stop for the people to cross. The situation becomes alarming during major programmes by any of the churches along the road. What is “express” about a road which the various settlements and communities along it use for their market day or where street traders hawk fried snails, plantain chips and other assortment of snacks?
In which civilized country do you find an expressway with 20 to 25 bus stops in its first 50 kilometres? Between the Lagos toll gate and the Redemption Camp, which is a distance of 46 kilometres, you have virtually every settlement along the road having its own bus stop with “Berger”, Warewa, Arepo, Magboro, Ibafo, Asese and Mowe being the major ones. What can one also say about the trailers and tankers that park negligently and arrogantly on the road while the government feigns ignorance and helplessness.
In which country do you find an expressway with such volume of traffic that is as high as 15 to 20 vehicles per kilometre? The rate of accidents on that road both major and minor is conservatively put at 5 to 7 per day. And in most cases when there is a major accident involving trailers or fuel tankers, the traffic is always at a standstill for hours with motorists on the alert to sprint in case of any explosion. I am sure the Federal Road Safety Commission would have lost count of the number of innocent souls that had been lost on that road.
LIE is a strategic road of carnage ambience. LIE is a congested road of trucking carnival. LIE connects the South West to other geo-political zones. LIE unites the diverse nationalities in commerce, politics and facilitates social networking between the citizens in the North and the citizens in the South.
The Fulani herdsman in the North moves its cows to the Yoruba man in the South West through LIE. The Igboman in the East moves his goods to the sales points in Lagos through LIE. Tankers from Lagos conveying fuel to other parts of the country do so through LIE. LIE has become an embarrassing emblem of unity binding us together as citizens of this country and bonding us to one another. LIE has become a metaphor of false oneness that makes it difficult for us to tell our leaders the truth about the sickening condition of LIE.
For Jonathan, LIE is a symbol of failure. Those who flatter Jonathan with extraordinary wits need to see the condition of LIE in order to come to terms with the reality of Jonathan’s caducity. No serious nation, nay, no serious leadership that is desirous of development will watch helplessly for many years the deterioration of a road as strategic as LIE. On a daily basis, citizens waste many man-hours on that road because the government has refused to fix it appropriately. When a road as strategic as LIE drains between 4 to 6 hours of citizens’ productive time, there is a direct consequence of this on national productivity and the nation’s GDP. A responsible and responsive leadership should know that its economy is in serious jeopardy if its infrastructure is in a state of decay with no immediate remedy in sight. Between the government and the citizens, LIE is an incontrovertible evidence of a breach of social contract.
This is the price a leader pays when he decides to play politics with citizens welfare. What stops Jonathan from conveying a stakeholders’ parley comprising the presidency, the governors of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Edo, for the purpose of proffering viable solutions to the menace of the road? But Jonathan has decided to play the superman by trying to fix it all alone forgetting that LIE is a national burden that has held us hostage irrespective of our geo-political identities. And until we unlock the truth about LIE, everyone of us will remain captive to stagnation and hostage to progress.
Agreed that LIE is a federal road but are these states not part of the federation? So, what does Jonathan stand to lose if the federal government and these states come together to fix the road to international standard? Now, the greed and zeal to take the credit alone has caused him credibility deduction with citizens particularly those who use the road regularly tagging his administration a monumental failure for its inability to perfect an ordinary LIE.
Of recent, I have developed an inexplicable fascination for roads, I mean good roads. This possibly explains why I have suddenly become an adventurous tourist visiting some of the states that have embarked on massive road constructions. I have gone round most of the roads in Lagos, Osun, Ekiti and Oyo. I am yet to go to Edo, Ogun and Ondo. But from what I have seen that the governors of Lagos, Osun, Oyo and Ekiti have done on roads, I am convinced that if President Jonathan shoves politics and meets with these governors, the whole problem of LIE will become history. For him to know that one is not exaggerating the performance of these governors in road constuction, let him pay a visit to the Lagos-Badagry expressway and see the magic Babatunde Fashola is working on that road. He will marvel at the transformation of a federal road by the Lagos state Government.
A quarter of the energy and attention that Jonathan invests in the politics of Bayelsa and Rivers States could have been channeled to the rehabilitation or total re-construction of LIE. When a leader engages in diversionary activities by shifting focus from what is concrete to frivolities, it is either he has no idea of what to do or he has completely lost his bearing as a leader. All the distractions that Jonathan creates for himself show that he does not appreciate the enormity of leading a nation that is as complex as Nigeria. The challenges facing the nation are too daunting and do not in anyway leave space for the President to while away his time in scaffolding politics. Without attempting to exculpate Jonathan from his own unfitness, it is a shame that fourteen years into democracy, Nigeria has no template for responsible governance and dynamic leadership that could liberate the nation from the bondage of LIE.
–– Thomas, a former Special Aide to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, teaches History and International Studies at the Lagos State University.