Roads and railways all over the world are an integral part of the nation’s economic and social development that brings communities, local and state institutions, and sometimes, nations together. They help to create employment, create easier access to education, and open doors for industries for millions of people that live across borders as they commute goods and people on the roads and rail lines. Good roads and railways help to open up hamlets, villages, and towns and encourage the movement of goods, trade, and services. They also help to reduce migration to urban centres and curb conflict, wars, and the security risk that follows. It also reduces the threat to food security and will empower the people, the farming community, and especially women. Railway lines and stations passing though the hinterlands also contributed to the development of the informal sector of the economy. THAT WAS THE NIGERIA I KNEW. Those were the roads and railways that I knew operated in Nigeria in the 50s.
It became the people’s project and belonged to the people. The communities carried out the maintenance and security of the rail lines and it was the responsibility of the community to clear and secure the lands 24/7. Anytime a tree fell across the line, it was also the responsibility of the community to clear it, anytime there was a derailment, the community took it upon themselves to report to the divisional headquarters and follow up until repairs were done. Therefore, the community maintained the stations with very little authority from the divisional headquarters and it was done on a daily basis. Many of the workforces were local farmers that had their farms along the rail lines and earned daily wages to enable them to attend to their farm plant during the farming season. Only very few of the workforce maintaining the railways were under the civil service practice. All that was needed by the community were lamps (special lamps), boots, and uniforms. Each community took charge of the stretch of the rail line that fell in their community leading up to the next community, they all knew themselves and exchanged responsibilities because the security of the rail line was of paramount importance to all the communities.
Now to the next most important infrastructure to the community, The Roads. The roads were categorized as Trunk “A” and Trunk “B” roads. The Trunk A-roads were built and known as Federal roads that connected all the Regions in the country whereas the Trunk B-roads were the divisional and provisional roads but all roads were built by the Federal Government. This scenario is what is obtained all over the world. There were road overseers in every community unlike in the case of the railways, the roads were people’s projects because they brought them development. Every road overseer usually from the communities was given an advance to buy a bicycle and sometimes given between 40 – 50 miles stretch or to the next community to maintain.
The road overseer was responsible for riding through the stretch of the road every day and reporting any cracks, erosion, flooding, or overgrown grass by the edges of the road and would report to the headquarters to be empowered to mend the cracks before it becomes a pothole, to dig some gutters to stop the erosion and sometimes prepare a drainage structure to take care of flooding.
There were people – many people – that traveled the roads of the country from North to South, East to West, sometimes with our families because it was a way of knowing our country and integrating despite our diversity making it possible for every Nigerian to live anywhere irrespective of our ‘states of origin.’ I lived and worked in Mubi, Adamawa State, and fished in Lake Chad when it was a big ocean. I lived and worked in Talata Mafara in Sokoto. I lived and worked in Ijebu Igbo. I lived and worked in Warri and Sapele in the then mid-west building bridges in the 1700s.
Today’s Nigeria is so different and unfortunate for our children and grandchildren because we cannot expose them to the once beautiful albeit imperfect country I knew. One that gave me so much in education, so much in adventurism and so much in building friendships across boundaries. Very sad to note that with all that is happening on our roads and railways, the only answer and solution from the authorities is to send security agencies to occupy and take over villages and hamlets looking for bandits, terrorists, and the unknown gunmen.
My children and grandchildren that came to visit me in Delta state where I now reside came by air and on their flight back to Lagos, the flight was delayed for almost five hours, that was the time it took us when they were very young to drive from Lagos to my hometown because in most cases, it was like a picnic and it was also like knowing your country driving through four states to my hometown.
So what happened to my Nigeria? What happens to most Nigerians that cannot afford Air travel which now seems to be the safest means for millions that want to move themselves, their goods and services, across the nation?
The only way, therefore, is to rethink the ways of governance and accountability we owe the people, especially now that those wanting to govern us are not known to the people because they cannot move around their constituencies by road or by train. Even with their private jets, we do not have airports in many localities where they can land. Therefore, the roads and the rails must work even if it means giving back the roads and railways to the communities.
I still cannot comprehend and accept that the Nation Nigeria that was emerging soon after the civil war that lasted 3 years (1966- 1970) can now become a failed nation despite the immense human and natural resources that followed the introduction of the 3Rs (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation) that was promised the nation by the then Head of State General Yakubu Gowon. Most times, Nations rebuild and reconcile better after wars, till date we have not been able to rebuild, reconcile and rehabilitate instead we have had many coups, many flood sensors, and elections followed by political rascality that is now responsible for different types of wars all over.