Acting on the strength of an invitation forwarded to me by a corporate body based in Delta, I made a trip recently. On that day, at that time and in that place, the Sienna Bus that we travelled in was filled to capacity and dotted with passengers from different backgrounds. Our conversation covered a wide range of issues. I listened to different comments from these prominent Nigerians. Our conversation ranged from the recent political developments in the country to the nation’s economy; from Social issues to religious and cultural affairs in the country.
At intervals, we ran into police checkpoints manned by men of the Nigerian Police Force. They were not only polite but highly civil in their approach. Majority of them demonstrated a people soaked in the quest to build a better Nigeria.
The journey processed without ‘glitches’ till we got to Benin Bypass.
For those unfamiliar with South South geopolitical zone of Nigeria, the referenced Benin bypass, Edo state, Nigeria, is a year 2002, N10.2 billion valued project by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, FMWH. It spans from the Ovia Bridge,(coming from Lagos to Benin City) connecting the Sapele Road end of the state capital, linking Upper Sokonba, Agbor Road, and Benin-Auchi Road. The bypass was constructed by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo led Federal Government.
Also relevant to the present discourse is the awareness that during its construction, ‘Benin people’ reportedly took on the Federal Government over the designated route for the project. Their grouse was that the chosen route will have an adverse impact on the environment of the ancient city of Benin. They argued that there is the Benin masterplan which provided for a Ring Road round Benin City and not a bypass.
The master plan was reportedly commissioned in 1991 and was approved and given force of law by the Edo State Government in 1998. The plan was said to have considered the 16km bypass route in 1966 and found it unsuitable and detrimental to the development and growth of Benin City. The plan also took cognizance of the fate which befell Sapele when a similar bypass was constructed leading to a decline in its economic and commercial life.
That was back in the days.
Today, despite Federal Government insistence on constructing the bypass, the current dilapidation and deplorable state of the bypass is not only destroying the nation’s economy but has led to crippling of individual businesses of Nigerians particularly in the South East and South South part of the country who import goods from abroad and have to move the goods from Lagos ports to their various business locations in the aforementioned locations. It is a statement of fact that goods that cumulatively worth millions of naira are daily destroyed arising from multiple accidents daily recorded on the bad portions of the road.
Also disturbing is the man-hour daily wasted on that portion of the road by commuters due to chaotic traffic situation orchestrated by the terrible state of the bypass. It is not in any ways a good commentary that as a nation, we have deliberately allowed our national mistake to dispatch wrong signal to the investing world that Nigeria is not a suitable location for investment.
More specifically, my experience at Benin bypass elicits the following posers; of what use is it constructing a road (bypass this time around) that is not maintained but left in ruin? What is the essence of struggling with the people of Edo state for the construction of the bypass whereas the Federal Government is aware that they are protractedly reputed for lack of maintenance culture? Most pathetically, instead of spending billions of Naira purchasing 2023 model SUVs for 360 members of the Federal House of Representatives, would it not have been better if such whooping sum was used for redesigning and reconstruction of the bypass?
Aside from recording many accidents and loss of lives as a result of its deplorable state, the current state of Benin bypass more than anything else portrays a nation that its leadership is unaware that infrastructure enables development and also provides the services that underpin the ability of people to be economically productive, for example via transport. “The transport sector has a huge role in connecting populations to where the work is,” says Ms Marchal.
Infrastructure investments help stem economic losses arising from problems such as power outages or traffic congestion. The World Bank estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa closing the infrastructure quantity and quality gap relative to the world’s best performers could raise GDP growth per head by 2.6 per cent annually.
So, using the above scenario as a dashboard to correct our leadership challenge which is gravitating towards becoming a culture, it will be important for us as a nation to openly admit and adopt both structural and managerial changes as it affects our approach to national infrastructure maintenance.
To catalyze this needed leadership philosophy, this piece holds the opinion that Nigerian leaders must commence contemplation of leadership vision/strategies that impose more discipline than conventional, and creating government institutions that are less extractive but more innovative in operation.
This shift in action is important as we cannot solve our socio-economic challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it. And this time is auspicious for our government to bring a change in leadership paradigm by switching over to a leadership style that is capable of making successful decisions built on a higher quality of information while dropping the age-long mentality which presents execution as more important than idea incubation.
Admittedly, it is evident that the responsibility of infrastructural provision in the country has become too heavy a burden for the government alone to shoulder, and will require partnership between the government and private sector.
However, in this race, it calls for a higher level of transparency on the part of the government. Transparency will remain the cornerstone as it will increase the confidence expected by these interventionists’ private sectors as well as the civil society groups who may not be disposed to investing in an environment that is devoid of transparency and accountability.
Very instructive also, finding urgent solution and fast to the national shame called Benin bypass and the entire East West road that connects the entire South South region to the rest of the nation should be considered as one of the pragmatic ways that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu could demonstrate his love for the people of the region.
Mr. President must do this not for political reasons but for the survival of our democracy and economy particularly that of the South East and South South geo-political zones.
God bless Nigeria!
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), L agos. He could be reached via;email@example.com/08032725374.