Reflections on the lamentations of Alison-Madueke

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 19 Aug 2007

Our female ministers‘ emotional expression of our collective sadness as a people is purgative. A few months ago, an ex-Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, shed tears for our decaying school system. Now, the tear glands of the Minister of Transport, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, are almost filled. Recently, the woman experienced the bitter taste of travelling on Benin-Ore Road. She was so moved that she had to apologise to the nation over the deplorable state of most federal roads. 

But, dilapidated roads are not the only problem with our transport system. Most vehicles plying these roads are coffins. Motorists are also subjected to the risk of bumping into the carcasses of burnt cars abandoned for ages on these roads. In Lagos especially, most drivers are impatient. Miscreants (Area Boys) are always on the prowl. Commuters are at the mercy of one-chance, pickpockets and sundry criminals.

The rails are no better alternative. They are not well developed. The Chinese once came to refurbish some of them. When they left, petty traders took over and converted some of them to shops. Water and air transportation have their problems. Even atheists cannot avoid saying a prayer of protection when they are airborne.

We have heard of metro line in Lagos, London taxis in Abuja and Odili taxis in Port Harcourt. Most state governments had also launched mass transit buses in the past. Today, motorcycles (okada) are the major means of transportation in these cities.

We often hear about billions of naira earmarked for road rehabilitation. Most times, some of the earmarks do not translate into ‘eye-marks.‘ Former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and former Works Minister, Tony Anenih, once quarrelled over alleged misappropriation of billions of naira meant for road maintenance. Today, nobody remembers to ask past Ministers of Works to give account of their stewardship.

There is no need recalling the wear and tear bad roads subject vehicles to. There is no point painting the atrocities armed robbers use these pothole-ridden roads to commit. And it‘s of no use counting the cost of human lives wasted on account of this official negligence. In December 2004, I lost close relatives to the craters on Benin-Ore Road. Some of those who survived the accident now contend with permanent disabilities.

We will soon enter the so-called ‘ember‘ months – the months when luxury bus drivers work almost 24 hours without rest; the months when people bring out more coughing vehicles in preparation for Christmas; the months when more souls will likely perish in avoidable accidents. Why do we place less premium on our lives?

In March last year, a drunk fell asleep on a railway line in Surrey, England. Neither the sounds of passing trains nor the police helicopter could wake him. Consequently, railway authorities turned power off. Trains stopped running. Police and other emergency crews moved in. Happily, Kevin Craswell was rescued alive. Last December the court fined him £560 and gave him 180 hours of community service.

Mobilising emergency crews to rescue one drunk, again, demonstrates the value British authorities place on human lives. This is why intercity bus drivers in the UK, most times, have about 30 minutes rest for a three to four-hour journey. Priority seats are given to the disabled, the elderly and those carrying babies.

Transport companies cannot even afford to misbehave because competition is stiff. And they operate on a franchise basis. This means they pay certain amount of money to the government and have exclusive rights to operate designated routes. Last week, for instance, National Express won the bid to operate the main London to Scotland rail route. The company will pay £1.4bn to the Treasury to operate the franchise until the end of March 2015.

The beauty of the British transport system is that there are alternatives. If you feel that travelling by bus will waste your time, the trains are there. They are faster but more expensive. If you are not in a hurry, it is cheaper to book early online. For instance, a normal journey from Cardiff to London is about £35. But if you book one month ahead online, you could get the ticket for £2.

In all my intra and intercity travels in the UK, I have never bothered to pay the optional fee for insurance. What do I really need the insurance for? The vehicles are well maintained. The roads are all tarred. Even the remotest of villages on mountainsides have tarred roads running through them. No potholes. No gullies. And no armed robbers on road rampage.

If any crack appears on any road, it is immediately marked and repaired. This maintenance culture permeates through the entire system. Houses that need renovation are renovated. Household equipment that have gone bad are replaced. And overgrown grasses and flowers are trimmed.

Maintenance culture in Nigeria lies in taking our shoes to cobblers and torn dresses to mobile tailors every month. To our leaders at various levels, the roads can go bad. No problem, as long as there are allocations and security votes to pocket. In saner societies, the immediate past commissioners and ministers of works will be facing panels of enquiry by now.

That ours is still a developing country is understandable. But instead of progressing to catch up with the developed world, we have chosen to continuously move down the development ladder. Why can‘t the federal and state ministries of works conduct an annual inspection of roads, mark bad portions and repair them immediately? Why should sharing allocations and paying salaries be the main function of local councils? Can‘t they maintain small roads within their territories?

Dear Die (my abbreviation of Diezani), the task before you is enormous. May your positive dreams never die prematurely! May your apologies bring forth tears of joy for our transport system.

Feedback

Hello Casmir, I am an ardent reader of your column and I really enjoy every bit of it. Your articles are very incisive, educating and humorous. The article on the activities of rainmakers sent me sprawling with laughter, especially their disappointment on the day of your grandmother‘s burial rites. Where I stay (Badagry, Lagos State), their activities are very common, but I really do not believe them.

Hundeyin Seyon, Search4amaka@yahoo.com

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