December 7, 2023

Dear Minister,

I hope this letter, hopefully not an irritant, meets you well. I also hope that your family is well, and that work is going smoothly.

About work, I am thankful that the presidential campaign of your “great party” spared you from the rigours of electioneering. It is gratifying that the party has allowed you to continue in the service of Nigerians without the distractions of politics.

Speaking about service, thank you for the good work you seem to do. You always speak, with admirable pride, about so so thousands of kilometres of roads the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari(retd.) has built across the country. Sometime in October, you said you had constructed 8,352.94 kilometres of roads and created 339,955 jobs in six years. This is indeed heart-warming.

Even though I do not consider road construction and rehabilitation a badge of pride for any government, Nigerian roads have been neglected forever. Interventions like yours are therefore, critical.

So, we should allow you to have your moments in the sun, even though thousands of kilometres of other roads remain death traps as we speak. I imagine you have not travelled on some of these roads since reports once quoted you as saying that Nigerian roads were not “that bad.”

 As offensive as this sounded, that you are doing something—and something innovative is consoling. Examples of the creativity you have brought into the management of Nigerian roads are manifest in the model adopted for the Apapa-Oshodi-Tollgate Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge, among others.

However, every time you speak, I get the sense that you think you are doing Nigerians a favour with this “good work.” You also give the impression that you are infallible, too perfect to make mistakes or receive caution from citizens. Awkward.

 Sometimes these utterances are not from you directly. Some officials of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing also come off with the impression that Nigerians are an incorrigible people and that those at the FMW know it all! I am going to give you an example of this in a moment, but permit me to say before then that you and your officials are wrong on both scores.

In justifying my position, I intend to draw illustrations from the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, about which I have written in the past.

 A couple of weeks back, Director, South-West, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Adedamola Kuti, was on Channels Television.

He dismissed complaints about how long people get stuck on this road, put the blame on unruly Nigerians who drive against traffic and concluded that if everyone stayed in lane, they would be out of the traffic, starting from the OPIC end of the road in 15 minutes. I found that condescending and an attempt to beg the issue.

 The first thing is that the average drive time from the start to the end of the long bridge takes between two and four hours. Sometimes, people are on the stretch for five hours!

 It is wrong for people to drive against traffic, but Nigerians take the law into their hands when the government fails in its duty. In addition, the elite also pull their motorcades on the other side road, so the people only follow.

 When people elect leaders, they give them a power of attorney over their affairs. It is when the government fails in this expectation that people seek self-help, as we see in the very unfortunate and unsafe act of driving against traffic.

 Government officials also speak from their high horses, like Nigerians were some low primates in human skins. But I must make this point. People all over the world will descend to the base state in the face of government irresponsibility, as we frequently see in Nigeria.

Whether it is in America, the United Kingdom, Ghana, or China, the survival instinct of man takes over in desperate situations. We are all humans.

 So, when the government fixes roads without humane project management structures, the people find a way to survive. The instinct to arrive early and set about other things drives people into unacceptable and dangerous behaviours. Nigeria is currently like a country without citizens. No one shows loyalty to a country that disrespects them like Nigeria does.

 We agree, Minister, that rebuilding this road will help Nigerians in the long run, but things can run better.

 How do you fix a road the magnitude of this expressway without providing alternatives? The Ikorodu-Sagamu Route is dilapidated. Just as the Epe-Sagamu access is in no better condition. Between the Long and Kara bridges, there are two alternative routes on either side of the road. But no! Contractors and government officials blocked these routes, supposedly to stop people from driving against traffic around the OPIC axis.

Over the past couple of months, parents whose children attend school in Lagos leave their homes between 4 and 5 A.M. to arrive on time. Do we consider the effect of the stress on the parents and their children? What about safety when people must be on the road with their children so early? People have reported some deaths, robberies and abductions since this rehabilitation started. We must do better as a society.

 Dear Minister, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway traffic situation also tells of the country and its leaders’ disdain for industry and development.

 This 127.6-kilometre road is undoubtedly the most important to Nigeria’s economy. Given the insignificant level of rail transportation in the corridor, people, including commercial drivers pursuing their livelihoods, should not encounter the type of lockdown on the road. This is more so with the cost of buying fuel and vehicle maintenance. Ultimately, the delays and inactivity people suffer on this road reflect on their productivity and the national economy. Do we factor all these things into planning, sir?

 Something about how this situation puts a dent on Nigeria’s image. With the traffic congestion and resulting driving against traffic, which continues because of compromises made by law enforcement agents, would anyone take Nigeria seriously?

This, dear minister, is not to take anything away from the good work you say you are doing; but Nigerians should not get punished because their country wants to fix roads or because they desire to earn a living in a country that does not care.  We must build a humane society where people feel like human beings through the deliberate actions and utterances of their leaders. The contemptuous relationships between the governors and governed is why the country is bleeding. We must put a stop to this.

 And I do not think this is rocket science. Some simple interventions will reduce the pains on this road. One of such is the simple provision of palliative works at the OPIC junction, where bad patches and potholes currently make people slow down to negotiate the road. It is inconceivable that neither the contractors nor the supervisory ministry think fixing the bad patch at OPIC could impact the traffic situation.

 We are closer to concluding work on this road than when we started, but your intervention can still do a lot to alleviate the suffering of road users. The contractors work according to schedule and get quality and round-the-clock supervision. The people of Nigeria deserve nothing less, and I hope you get the point.

 Thank you for your time.

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