Hell will officially be visiting Nigeria via the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway from August 3, 2019. And the Federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Power, which should work in the general interest of Nigerians, says that is exactly where the people should be.
In a report published in The PUNCH on Monday, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos State, Mr Adedamola Kuti, insisted that nothing would stop plans for the partial closure of the road for four months. He suggested that Nigerians would have to bear the pains if the road must be ready ahead of the heavier traffic envisaged at Christmas.
At the time of the Monday report, neither the fact that a multitude would be travelling via this expressway for the upcoming Sallah celebrations about the middle of August nor the usual heavy vehicular movement that attends activities of two Christian bodies in the very week of the closure was in consideration.
Thank goodness some sense prevailed later on Monday to the extent that Kuti and Julius Berger Nigeria, the construction company in charge of the section of the road from old Lagos Toll Gate to the Sagamu Interchange, promised to relax the closure during these predictably busy periods.
But that this discussion only came up after Nigerians raised objections to the plans to shut down the roads speaks to the failure of adequate planning as well as the authorities’ disregard for consultations with the people before decisions are taken.
This mindset, which has become a mode of operation for governments in Nigeria, comes from the misconception that government officials are doing Nigerians a favour in the fulfilment of the obligations they willingly took up. Entitled Nigerian leaders, who have assumed the positions of benefactor overlords rather than servants, think they owe the citizens no explanations for the “favours” they do them. They want no questions asked and expect the people to accept whatever comes with joy or grumble without recompense. That is the irony that government has become in Nigeria. It is the reason for the disconnect between the leader and the led and essentially, the harbinger of most of the confusion in the polity.
It is of course possible to argue that religious festivities and programmes should not hamper the work of government. And that may be right. At least, to the extent that such governmental duties do not infringe on the rights of the people. Those who are involved in these religious activities are Nigerians who deserve the nurture of their country and the respect of officials that they pay to do public work. They also have the right to worship God whenever and wherever they choose as long as they do not impair the rights of other citizens.
In any case, the Nigerian government has always given so much allowance and deference to religions and religious activities and that cannot change now. What’s more? The event under discussion will be attended by a government sanctioned two-day holiday! How then do you expect people who have always known these moments as opportunities to travel across the country in honour of religious and family obligations to reconsider or travel under the tough conditions? Especially as there had been no period of deliberate stakeholder engagement between government and its people?
Then, public officials must seriously watch the way they talk down on Nigerians. Nothing other than the interest of the public must be paramount on the minds of public servants. And if anything makes that impossible, it must be communicated and discussed with the people and not imposed on them. Such conversations must also be accompanied with a total sense of deference to the citizenry and empathy for their pains. But that is not the way of this Kuti, the ministry that he represents and those contracted to execute these contracts treat Nigerians.
There are however far more weightier pointers that Nigerians are being taken for granted than the numerous intemperate messaging of those involved in the rehabilitation of this all-important national highway. Virtually all the government bodies involved in this project have sent out daily advertisements on how road users should consider travelling via alternative routes in the pendency of the construction for a few weeks now. But they are not speaking about the condition of the so-called available alternatives! Do they not know? Why should they not know? And if there has been any conversation with stakeholders, would they not have been brought to speed about the state of the roads?
There have been references to the Ikorodu-Sagamu route for instance. But users of the axis know that this road has been in a state of continuous dilapidation. There is also the Epe-Sagamu access, which is not in any less poor state. Between the long bridge on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway and the Kara Bridge where construction work is about to resume this weekend, there are two possible alternative routes on either side of the road. But even these routes are in very deplorable and near-impassable states. Yet, government officials talk about providing routes that will alleviate the confusion that closing a portion of the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway would impose.
This is where Nigeria and its officials would continue to amaze the world. Elsewhere, the rehabilitation of all alternative routes would precede the grandstanding, warning, blackmail and what have you that have taken over the airwaves lately. But neither government officials nor the construction company undertaking this project has shown any genuine interest in reducing Nigerians’ discomfort to the barest minimum. On the contrary, government and its people are generally more interested in the vainglory that comes with completion of projects like this one than the well-being or welfare of the people.
A sad testimony to the total lack of care of those who represent government on this project and the contractors is the state of the intersection that links the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway to the Isheri/Ojodu road inbound Lagos. Although it lies less than 10 metres to the new Julius Berger Construction site, it is filled with huge potholes that ridicule the international status of this construction company and the competence of those at the Federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Power. One is just forced to believe that the lack of care that Nigerians get from Julius Berger and companies like it is a product of the government’s disregard for its own people.
Something however points to the fact that this contempt for the poorest Nigerians is deliberate. A couple of years back when government had to shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, there were weeks of conversations with a variety of stakeholders. There were even invitations from the National Assembly to many of those who hold top positions in the aviation sector. And at the end of it all, viable alternatives that have become permanent features in the nation’s infrastructural development were instituted before the closure. One of these is the Abuja-Kaduna railway line.
In addition to that, government ensured that the Kaduna International Airport received an upgrade, which brought it at par with other international airports in the country. Roads in the area were also fixed even as security was stepped up to ensure the safety of air travellers who had to commute from Kaduna to Abuja in the period that the reconstruction lasted. Now that the construction of the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway is concerned, it’s all quiet. This is because most leaders do not feel the pains that Nigerians go through in the horrendous traffic and exposure to crimes, ranging from the petty to the violent, that follow the closure of this highway anytime it happens. And when they do, they move with the compliments of high-sounding sirens and security agents that treat common road users like sub-humans.
But the tragedy of this attitude shows more than a contempt for Nigerians. It also tells of the disdain that the country and its leaders have for industry and development. That road, 127.6-kilometre in length and said to be the busiest in Africa and undoubtedly the most important to Nigeria’s economy, given the near non-existent rail infrastructure in the country, is one that should not experience the kind of shutdown that is currently being proposed. But then, this is Nigeria, where anything goes, and the people have learned to cope with the hell that the leaders they asked to improve their lives impose on them often. One of such visits again in two days. May the people of Nigeria one day know truly people-centric management.