Three monsters of the highway

By Victoria Ngozi

No, I do not mean modern-day kidnappers and bandits on our highways. I am referring to the things you would encounter on a normal journey from the north, specifically from the north central zone to the south(south east or south western zone), all of which make it not a jolly good ride but a stressful, bumpy journey. Gone is the experience of the days of yore when you could have a smooth ride from Lagos to Maiduguri, all day and all night long, arriving at Maiduguri after a 36 hour drive without any encumbrances on the long stretches of road; you would not even encounter cows because the herders abided strictly to the mapped out grazing routes. These days however, a driver of a commercial vehicle or private car travelling  along the north’s  highways has to be doubly alert and watch out for herds of cows that would be criss-crossing the roads. They are not entirely to blame though because their grazing sites and routes of old have been overrun by the elites, all built up by them with houses.  It is a wake-up call for  cow rearers to step up their business and align it with 21st century practices. While some rich/elite cow breeders are doing this (ranching) to some extent, the average herder is incapacitated somehow by finance et al. Therefore, government should help upgrade their business from the current widespread traditional system that is breeding some bad blood to modern methods by availing them financial grants, training, etc. The argument that cattle breeding/herding is a private business that should be financed wholly by individuals involved in it smacks of malice. Help should be given freely where genuinely needed and not subject to unending intellectual debates. I am diverting from the day’s topic…..

Due to the hindrances that one meets on our major highways that connects states,  a 9,000 kilometre journey that should take nine hours driving at a speed of 100 kilometres per hour could take 12 hours rather than the normal time. Ditto a 12 hour travel that now takes some more time and so on. Thus it is practically impossible to calculate when you would arrive at your destination, even the best mathematician or seer cannot give an accurate answer here. They would have to frame their answer with the conditional phrase, ‘all things being normal’. But things are never normal on our trunk A highways these days and so no one born of a woman can predict when a journey from point A to point Z will end, its time frame, approximate time, it is always way off the mark.  Why? Because of encumbrances along the long stretch of our highways  which unnecessarily extend the travel time, delaying your journey. The first is bad roads, the second is obstruction by tankers/trucks and the third, countless checkpoints by the police/army/paramilitary. They can be regarded as the three monsters of Nigerian highways especially those from the North central zone (the middle belt that links the northern and southern parts of the country) to the south east or south west as for example, Abuja to the east, Lafia to the east, Lafia/Abuja to the west. These routes appear to have more than a fair share of these ‘monsters’. Could it be because of the high traffic on these routes? The fact that they lead to commercial and trading nerve centres and so are usually filled with a high proportion of heavy-duty vehicles?

The Makurdi to Enugu state and Enugu to Onitsha federal roads seem to be perpetually under construction for several, several years now. Same applies  to the Lagos to Benin to Onitsha federal road. It often baffles me how roads are constructed in Nigeria. You will see a section of the highway completed, then kilometers of same road will be left unattended and then they start another construction way, way in front, another long stretch of untarred portion follows and so on. Why don’t they do the tarring in a straight line rather than jumping parts of the highway to start elsewhere? I learnt that the reason for this is that the highway contract is awarded by sections to different contractors and that they all don’t work at same pace.  But even for portions of the road which construction or tarring had been completed, they fail sooner or latter, riddled with pot holes, bringing us back to square one. It appears like a vicious cycle —while portions are being tarred, sections of same road remain untarred and those that have been done soon become bad, thereby extending bad portions the more. This has lead to motorists abandoning the straight line Makurdi-Oturkpo to Obollo Afor highway to make detours through villages (state and local government roads), passing through streets in certain towns. Same is the case for Enugu to Awka journey. Why should many of our highways be undergoing constructions literally every year? Can’t roads constructed last for at least ten years? After all, we hear that some roads built during the Obafemi Awolowo era in the defunct western region are still in use to-date.  For the motorist the financial implication of bumpy rides over large sections of our highways for hours, arising from wear and tear on their vehicles is obvious. For passengers, including drivers, the accompanying bodily pains from the stressful hours-long journey can be imagined.

Road travelers are aware that the possibility of spending at least an extra hour on the road because of its blockage by tankers, trailers and other heavy duty trucks due to their breaking down from some faults are high.  This is not surprising given that over some 90 per cent of vehicles of all categories in Nigeria are second/third hand because brand new vehicles are over priced. Whereas cars and passenger buses can be pushed aside to make way for other road users when they break down on the highway in the case of heavy duty vehicles motorists and passengers have little option than to patiently wait in endurance while also considering already congested detours.

The third hindrance  for travelers is the multiplicity of security agents, including road safety officials manning numerous checkpoints on our roads particularly in the highways mentioned here. In many cases the security posts are just one kilometer or less apart. More often than not, they are more interested in extorting money from commercial motorists than doing any serious checking. These greatly slow down the journey. They have interestingly also relocated their checkpoints to alternative village  roads being used by motorists because of the very bad state of the express roads. After having maneuvered through these three monsters is it surprising that most people upon arrival at their destinations after such a long journey have to rest for several hours and take painkillers to regain their stability. Travelling through our highways on a long journey is indeed a headache.

Victoria Ngozi Ikeano writes via vikeano@yahoo.co.uk 08033077519
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