By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Traveling from Lagos through the East-West Road to Warri is a nightmare for commuters. This is because travelers are compelled to waste three to six hours on the two kilometer-road stretch in the small sleepy town of Ologbo because the road has simply failed. Perhaps failed is an understatement. There is no road. There is no road in a place that used to be the envy of other road users, a road that was commissioned in 2007 amidst fanfare.
There are gullies and craters, filled with rainwater in that section of the expressway. Expressway? I refer to what used to be an expressway! The ground is marshy. But the first shock on that road starts from the by-pass end of Benin City. It was reported weeks ago that the vehicles of the Edo State governor got stuck there. What exactly is going on? The Benin bypass and the dualization of the Benin-Sapele-Warri highway was commissioned in 2007 by President Olusegun Obasanjo, and it cost N11.8 billion naira. Generally, the road needs to be worked on. So, it is not only Ologbo that calls for urgent attention. The Delta State government had in the past intervened at the Sapele Warri end as well as the Oghara section of the road. But the elephant in the room is the almighty federal government!
Over five hundred products-moving tankers are stuck at the Ologbo end at any given time. Most bear petroleum products. If an explosion occurs in that chaotic scene, too many lives and property would be lost. Yet anyone who sits through the ordeal feels the degree of danger in the whole environment. It is a story of the jungle – no order, no control, no authority. We return to the base nature of man. The pervasive authority is that of hopelessness, the kind of hopelessness that makes desperation a way of life! Survival of the fittest is the rule. Tempers flare up, sometimes. There are curses rained on the absent federal government. Curses are rained on the Edo and Delta States governments by some too. Travelers argue that the governors of both states ought to synergize and lift the burden off their citizens. The road is federal government owned. Edo State government has put up a sign board which announces to the world that the road is the property of the federal government. Delta State section is not as affected. Yet, the road is a nightmare to any commuter who is returning to the oil-bearing zone of Delta State.
Sometimes, agberos do what could pass for traffic control. Sometimes a big man shows up and his police orderlies clear the way for him. He then zooms off, leaving the ordinary people in utter bewilderment. An army officer in his official vehicle shows up. His men clear the way, using threats and threats of violence. Small and medium sized vehicles belonging to the private citizens, or which are used for commercial transportation take a beating. How did this expressway degenerate into a death trap for all travelers to Warri on the East-West Road? Why is the Niger Delta, the goose which lays the golden egg for Nigeria, so neglected, abandoned, and denigrated? Minority agitation will never go away as long as we have acts of injustice!
Sadly, this is the only route available for travelers going from Lagos to Warri. Some other travelers connect to Port Harcourt and Aba through this route especially if they want to beat the Monday sit-at-home order in the southeast. The strategic importance of this road to the economy of the region cannot be overemphasized. Warri is home to a dormant oil refinery. The road leads to oil wells in the Delta region without which the nation will crumble. Ologbo where the road has failed completely is in Edo State. Last year, the youths of that community vented their frustration on travelers when they blocked the road to catch the attention of the federal government. Nothing has changed.
The road should be declared an emergency. Senators and other federal legislators from the region should take this upon themselves and act on behalf of the citizenry. President Tinubu will never travel on that road. He may not be aware of the condition of the road. Representatives of Edo and Delta states in Abuja must rise to the occasion. Of course, the Number One person must be the State governors whose duty it is to cajole the federal government into saving the poor commuters on this fundamental artery in the body of the region.
This kind of failure exists in some other parts of the country. I once traveled by road from Abuja to Minna and was appalled that a town that plays host to two former Heads of State could be that terrible. Fundamental to this conversation is whether the federal government has any business controlling roads within the geographical space of states. What sense does it make to say that the portion of the road in question which is inside Benin belongs to the federal government? What sense does it make to say that the Oshodi-Mile Two Expressway is federal government property? A federal government that is already overwhelmed by the heavy burden of governing amorphous territories with an inefficient bureaucracy cannot deliver on road construction. The FG is too far from the scene of disastrous roads. This is an anachronism from our days of big government which we believed has the resources to do just about everything. The notion, interpretation and practice of federalism should be revisited. This is the time to remind President Tinubu about his promise to tinker with certain aspects of the 1999 Federal Constitution. There should be devolution of power to the constituent parts of the federation. He has been an advocate of this move since his days as a senator and later as governor. With a stroke of the pen as it were, states would no longer be incapacitated in managing their affairs because of an obnoxious provision in the Constitution.
Sixty odd years after independence, no road in the country should be in such a state of debilitating disrepair. It impacts the economy negatively. It is a risk to lives. It is dangerous to health. It lengthens the time for goods delivery. It also increases the cost of doing business in that axis. It is another indication of failed leadership. It is something we should be ashamed of. If the federal roads concept must be retained, we should restore road camps which will make urgent intervention possible.
Finally, the Benin-Sapele-Warri Road deserves urgent attention both for the sake of the economy and the lives of the thousands of commuters who are compelled to travel that road daily or weekly. The state governors, elected and appointed representatives from the region should ensure that this nightmare ends. Whereas they can afford to fly in and out of the towns, the millions of ordinary folks from the area cannot afford that luxury!