Babatunde Fashola. Minister for Works and Housing

The grossly inexcusable and highly debilitating traffic gridlock which has become the new normal on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is a most unfortunate development. This disruption of normal life and living has very sadly come to represent an expression of the way we are as a people, but even more ominously, it is yet another sad commentary of the lack of vision and failure of our governance architecture.

Government exists to create an enabling environment for a better life for the people, which includes, but is not limited to, the provision of basic infrastructure and the protection of lives and property. In our society, in spite of the huge deficit in all of these areas, there has also been something akin to an attitude of deliberate nonchalance on the part of government towards issues that have to do with the well-being of the citizenry. Little wonder then, it is a common sight to witness the anguish and suffering of many of our people who commute this large and extensive swathe of highway.

Almost nothing else graphically explains the deep chasm between the people and government than the mental torture, psychological trauma and loss of cash and man-hours (with sweeping implications for the economy) which the incessant traffic gridlock on the Lagos- Ibadan expressway has brought upon commuters.

It is clearly being short on vision and long on poor leadership that for decades, no other alternative route has been conceived and provided for the huge numbers of road users in spite of the fact that the highway in question is arguably the busiest in Nigeria, if not all of Africa, and clearly also the most important for the conduct of business and economic activities in Nigeria.

There are many problems that derive from the core challenge under consideration, including the fact that while it is common knowledge that the capacity of the highway has long been overstretched, no major renovation has taken place on this all important route in the past two decades. Where there have been a few of such reconstruction efforts, they have at best being a mere scratching of the surface, and not really enough to guarantee the proper facelift that was needed.

It is within this framework then that the current road rehabilitation effort began and was greeted with fairly loud applause by observers. However, some of the challenges identified by more discerning observers as likely to occur when work begins or is intensified have also now emerged with the most prominent being that far too many cars would be boxed into the few lanes spared by the construction workers. This has now translated into the current disruption to commuters’ lives being witnessed on a daily basis. Most times, a drive from the Redeemed Christian Church of God Campgrounds abutting Mowe which ordinarily should take just 25 minutes from Ojodu-Berger often now takes as much as four to five hours.

In this very disturbing state of chaos also, there are equally no systems to properly address medical and other emergencies arising from accidents, commuters’ health reactions to extreme weather conditions as excessive heat and sudden illness that require ambulance services.

There should also have been the provision of emergency services to meet the aftershocks of the severe heat that now accompanies many a ride on the road. Only last week, it was reported that two deaths were recorded – all accident-related – as they were trying to navigate their way out of the gridlock. There have also been reports of at least one induced labour. Till date, no government official has properly explained to the bewildered public why a simple matter as road re-construction should cause so much anguish, havoc and pain to the people.

On the security flank, it is also most worrisome that robbers have started cashing in on the unending gridlock to dispossess motorists and commuters of their valuables.

Just last week Tuesday, hoodlums were reportedly seen attacking motorists and commuters as the gridlock intensified on account of the narrowing of the road by the construction firm, Julius Berger Plc.

It is the view of this newspaper that the federal government should urgently do more to expedite action towards the speedy conclusion of work on the road in order to put an end to sorrow, tears and mental trauma occasioned by the gridlock. If the truth is to be told, the crisis is very much a product of contractor negligence as it is of ill-planning from the regulatory ministry. It is indeed a lack of rigour, criminal indifference and lack of discipline on the part of the federal ministry in charge of the highway that such a major life-threatening project could go on without a simulated study on how practically it would affect commuters and the economy. If this had been done, perhaps, work on the road would not have been approved to commence at this time and under the currently most commuter-insensitive terms of engagement. This is in addition to the fact that there are no adequate alternative roads corridors that should have been provided before now, as well as the fact that construction workers also do not undertake night-time duties! And then, the state of anguish of suffering commuters is particularly also being reinforced by the fact that the public is yet to see or hear of any serious supervision and oversight on the project.

Even beyond the pains of the moment however, this newspaper counsels a holistic review of the extant infrastructure mechanisms in the country. The notion of federal and state roads is an anachronism that has to be constitutionally addressed. The tendency also to budget for roads and other infrastructure from what remains after paying for recurrent expenditure and debt servicing is also anomalous; more so when, from our experience, there has practically almost been nothing left in the past decade and counting! The people are the reason why government exists and their interests and needs must take 99 percent of the time, talent and resources available to the country. The long-suffering people of this country deserve a better deal.