Most of the deaths that occur on our roads all over the country never get reported. It is only when a high profile person is involved or a large number of people that such deaths are reported or carried by the press. Some time ago, I was travelling between Lagos and my home town in Delta state by road and somewhere between Ore and Benin, we noticed a gathering of people and some cars parked by the side of the bridge. There was also a crane by the bridge and the story from an eye witness was that luxurious bus full of passengers had lost control, smashed the bridge barriers and plunged into the river some 20m below. They said it happened the day before and that it had taken the local people a whole day to organise the crane.
So, I decided to wait and be part of the crowd and soon, the local volunteer divers made their way below with ropes tied to their waist and the hook from the crane. Within a few minutes, the divers were able to attach the hook to the vehicle and pulled it out. The vehicle had some dead bodies in it but turned out not to be the bus that had fallen into the river the day before. We waited some more as the divers went in again to keep searching for the bus, people had started yelling and crying, yet the bus was not forthcoming.
I became a bit sick and some of us waiting started to leave. From what we saw, the vehicle that was collected from the river must have been submerged weeks or even months before. For me, it was a big story but I didn’t see it reported anywhere.
All through my professional engagement in the building industries during the sixties the seventies and the eighties, I drove myself all over the federation and beyond; day and night. Driving myself was the only option as in those days having a driver was a big luxury that I could not afford. There were very few double carriageways, mostly single lanes and this was the same road design with most West African highways. The few double lane carriageways were tolls like the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Accra to Tema expressway in Ghana and later, the Ijora causeway. The latter was not toll.
I had a young family and I took them with me especially during weekends and public holidays. Driving to Lome Togo and Accra, Ghana during extended public holidays was a treat for the family; we also enjoyed driving to home town then Bendel State, now known as Delta state. No University in the world would have given me and my children the kind of education we acquired over a twenty-year period driving occasionally across the country and continent. Nowadays, such trips would be very difficult. There are deaths on almost every road and highways in the country so, I am not able to extend to my grandchildren the kind of education or pass on the good and wonderful exposures that I had during my travels.
Today, I cannot drive from Victoria Island in Lagos where I live to visit my son in Apapa where he lives without considering the congestion I may be subjected to. The last time I attempted it, it took me six hours to go there and return, a drive that was done in twenty minutes few years ago because of the Apapa gridlock and heavy trucks that have taken over major parts of the highways. The Lagos Ibadan is a nightmare because you can never tell what may befall you on the way. On a good day, you can make Ibadan from Lagos in two hours but some days it could take close to six or seven hours because of the state of the roads and the church programmes that take over a good part of the road during their conventions. As a result of the bad road works, accidents occur all the time and bandits take advantage of the situation to rob and kill. The Ijebu Ode, Ore to Benin road has become headquarters for the bandits and there have been some high profile killings along that road. These are just killings that got reported in all the press; most of the other killings are never reported. Traffic, bad roads and bandits are not the only hurdles we face on our roads. These roads also are often littered with hundreds of checkpoints by the different security agencies, harassing motorists for their ‘daily bread’. Lest we forget to mention, there is also the Abuja-Kaduna road and the killings that go on there too.
If my children and grandchildren cannot ply the roads the way I did, why are we building the roads? This is not a new topic for me as I have talked about it in previous articles. The most recent one was entitled ‘A drive to Apapa’. Apart from bandit, robbery, accident and kidnapping which is now everywhere, the roads are not maintained. It is normal for cracks to appear on the road from time to time due to the heavy loads that are put on the roads coupled with the high temperature they are exposed to. When it rains, water gets into the cracks and the cracks soon become potholes and from potholes, they become gullies. This is what is happening to all our roads, old and new.
In the days gone by, we had those known as roads overseers, in every community. Every ten miles on major highways and in major urban centres, these overseers could be sighted. They were given bicycles to carry out their duties and their main job specification was to ply their part of the road from time to time and where a crack is noticed in the road, they were to make a report to the Local Government. They were also made to check any highway or road abuse like encroachment and street invaders. From the report, bitumen would be sent to the location with a manual roller and the crack mended before it develops any further into a major pothole. By doing this, you minimize the cost of carrying major repairs and reconstruction of roads.
It was also the practice and still is in many developed cities around the world to put aside 5% of the cost of any structure for the maintenance on a yearly basis no matter how well built the structure is. In most developed economies, you retain the contractor for a period ranging from six months to five years known as the defect liability period as it is known in most contracting business.