Road construction, road safety and nation-building

 

Google map estimates Lagos to Abuja to be approximately 756 kilometers (km) in length. The cogent question is how many years will it take Nigeria to construct a road less than 800 km when countries like India make highways of about 10,000 km within a year. India constructed 28 km a day between 2017 and 2018 and it increased to 30 km a day between 2018 to 2019. From 2016 and 2017 India constructed road measures of about 8,232 km. In addition, Google map estimates Lagos-Ibadan highway at an approximate distance of 131 km. The contract for the reconstruction of Lagos-Ibadan highway was awarded since July 2013 by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the work is still ongoing till date.

Another critical question that comes to mind is ‘if the incumbent government complained about lack of performance, corruption and ineptitude in the previous government, what yardstick can be used to measure its own performance?

Though different infrastructural projects are highlighted and ongoing under the current administration. However, travelling recently from Lagos to Osun, it is quite clear that the fraction of work done from Lagos to Ibadan is little or nothing compared to the rate of development in other African countries like Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, among others.

I wrote an article which was published recently by some media outlets about checking the excesses of trucks and heavy-duty vehicles on Nigerian roads. The article was addressed to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Raji Fashola. Just last week on May 23, 2019, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria directed that trucks causing gridlocks around the Apapa axis of Lagos be removed within a specific time frame. This is indeed a welcome development.

Sadly, on the same day the article was published, a close family friend of mine wrote to inform me that he lost his close friend in an automobile crash. It was such a disheartening news and it only goes to highlight that most deaths in Nigeria are due to mere negligence and lack of safety measures of our roads. A car driving at 100 km/hr will most likely have a burst tire and somersault if it hits a deadly pothole on the highway. While Nigeria is still struggling to construct a short distant highway from Lagos to Ibadan that is less than 132 km over a course of five years, other nations are thinking of building super smart highways that focus on illuminating roads with sustainable designs.

“The idea behind developing smart highways has led designers and engineers to work on improving methods to illuminate roads in sustainable and intelligent ways. Leveraging existing roadway infrastructure is a great way to reduce maintenance costs and eliminate unnecessary construction expenses associated with many highway improvement projects. The Smart Highway project is focused on ways to use light on public roadways to communicate traffic information directly with drivers. Many engineers and roadway safety managers believe that focusing on ways to improve vehicle navigation systems and onboard systems is only half of the equation” (Traffic Safety Store, retrieved online, June 20, 2019)

In order to build roads in Nigeria faster, effectively and efficiently, the following measures cannot be sidelined or overlooked. First, the government must prioritise safety in the process of construction and maintenance. Many a time, damaged roads are left untouched thereby resulting in ghastly road accidents which in turn cause needless injuries and deaths. Second, quality over quantity should be emphasized. After some roads are supposedly done, they become worse off within a year of completion. As such, contracts should only be awarded to contractors who can do excellent jobs. When contracts are awarded to companies that are overwhelmed with work, there are possibilities that they will ration the labour and equipment at different work sites. Third, new highways should be built to avoid traffic congestions as well as alternative roads to prevent the rapid deterioration of existing roads. Nigerians need more efficient highways with a minimum of five lanes to accommodate the exponential population growth.

Engineers, Urban and Rural Town Planners must be given extra training or sent overseas for training for a minimum of 6 months so they can learn best practices in road maintenance, repairs and construction. I suggest that at least 10,000 unemployed engineers be hired and fully mobilized to embark on nationwide road projects. These engineers should be trained on modern road construction and engineering using solar traffic lights, street lighting and cameras, etc. They must be familiar with state of the art construction tools and machines and they should be paid at least 70,000 Naira monthly as they work in teams with experienced project managers thus building their capacity and making them team players. Night and day shifts of 12 or 8 hours should be recorded for making payments and to also measure the quality and quantity of work done.

To enhance Nigerian roads and revolutionize the current state of our dilapidated infrastructure, we must pay the price for a better life now or we keep suffering for our ineptitude. Some countries use labour from third world countries to build railways, roads, monuments, and structures but Nigeria cannot afford to use such slave labour. Instead, it is advisable we engage the theoretical knowledge of our engineers and provide more training to give them practical skills necessary for nation building.

We must be ready to research into the best ways of building roads. Engineers and other stakeholders should have access to funds for collaborative research with their colleagues in other countries. I met a Nigerian PhD researcher who came to present a paper in a conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada some years ago with his professor from one of the universities in Ontario. This gentleman, like countless others, has a lot of noble ideas that can help us build our nation. He lamented on how he made numerous efforts to reach out to top government officials in Nigeria but to no avail. It is worth mentioning that he got numerous grants and awards during his PhD research from the Canadian government. However, the country that birthed him does not recognize his expertise. His PhD research includes using recycled materials for road construction. He discovered that roads built with recyclables are more durable and resistant to pressure and atmospheric conditions. His research buttresses the fact that constructing roads with recyclables is more cost effective and eco-friendly since most of the waste products are biodegradable.

Modern road networks must be developed and constructed with durable materials. South Africa, with the help of a Scottish company, is the first country in Africa to build roads with plastic. Nigeria can follow this example if the government is willing to toe the line of development. It is advisable for the government to build durable roads and follow cutting edge approaches to waste and environmental management in building future roads. This can be achieved by calling on stakeholders to invest in building sustainable highways with alternative measures and mounting toll gates at every 100 km interval to recover investors money over a period of time. These toll gates can also be incorporated with joint task forces of soldiers, police, road safety, firefighters and ambulance, etc. This will decongest the overcrowded barracks and also provide security on our highways to mitigate robberies and other social vices. Toll gates in places like Canada are equipped with street cameras and tickets are mailed to individual driver’s home address. Nigeria may not be able to do that yet, nevertheless, the highways can be manned with toll gates like those in Lekki.

Lastly, in order to ensure roads in Nigeria are more durable over time, we must invest in alternative ways of transportation such as railroads, air transport, and water transport which are cost-effective, cheap and easy to access.

Taiwo Tope Adetiloye
[email protected]

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