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Arresting a Culture of Neglect

Over the years, Nigeria’s infrastructure has suffered terrible decay because of lack of a maintenance culture. Can President Goodluck Jonathan halt the rot?

One area Nigeria has truly lagged behind and which President Goodluck  Jonathan needs to focus and improve upon is the nation’s infrastructure. In the last 50 years, most of its public facilities have either been dilapidated, outdated or malfunctioning. This is particularly evident in the transport sector encompassing road, water and railway  as well as other utilities such as public water works.

Appraising the state of Nigeria’s infrastructure in 2009, Richard Akinjide, former attorney-general and minister of justice, said it was nothing short of  a “national scandal.” That view remains true today. Many who have travelled round Nigeria by road in recent times, would attest to this fact. Whether in the East, West, North and South of  Nigeria, road travel even  with the recent rehabilitation efforts going on in some parts of the country, has been, for many, a nightmare.

“I love travelling by road because I love seeing the environment. But travelling to Lagos by road is like going through hell. You see accidents all the place because of bad roads, potholes, dangerous bends. It is most saddening and regrettable,” said Boniface Egboka, a professor and vice chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka.

Bad roads, potholes and dangerous bends are not restricted to the Lagos-Benin axis or even the Awka-Enugu expressway. It cuts across Nigeria. “It’s a tragedy that bad roads are a common feature of our existence, in this day and age despite our acknowledged wealth,” said Abdulkareen Ahmed, a resident of Ilorin.

But the failure of successive governments to construct or rehabilitate existing roads is not for lack of money. Conservative estimates put the amount of money spent by Nigerian governments on road rehabilitation or construction over the years into several  trillions of Naira. If the roads have been poorly maintained over the years, that of the railway is probably worse. Nigeria’s railway system is, at best, archaic. Its services have been skeletal for many years despite government’s efforts in the last two decades, to modernise the system. The Jonathan administration has recently procured new locomotive engines for some trains, in an attempt to reposition the sector and make it viable again. The president’s initiative is the latest in a series of government’s plans, in the past years, to revamp or modernise the railway system.

For instance, in the 1990s, a $500 million contract was awarded to a Chinese Company by the Sani Abacha administration to revamp the railway system. Earlier, the same company was awarded a contract worth $8.3 million by a previous government for the same purpose. Yet, the rail system still remained comatose.

Apart from the attempt by  the federal government over the years to revamp the railway system, the Kaduna State government, under the administration of Namadi Sambo, now vice-president, also refurbished abandoned trains and put them to use in the state. That decision earned it praises from some residents of the state who consider the rail service a cheaper and affordable means of transportation. But some others feel that, in this modern age, the government ought to have considered the option of using light rail system to connect the entire state as is done in many countries. Although many Nigerians wont to believe that the current state of the nation’s railway system says a lot about the neglect and decadence that had been the lot of the once popular means of transportation, the federal government insists that the journey to modernising the nation’s  railway system had since begun.

John Dottie, Lagos area district manager, Nigeria Railway Corporation, told Newswatch that there has been  a determined effort by  the Jonathan  administration to modernise the railway system in the country and also elevate it to the level found in developed countries with fast and efficient rail systems. This led to the acquisition of  25 new C25-EMPD locomotive engines that were delivered to the corporation from the General Electric, GE, in Brazil and South Africa late last year.  Dottie added that a lot of  transformation is taking place in the NRC and that, in the next few years, people would, prefer travelling  by  railway to road as was the case in the 60s and 70s. He said that apart from the 25 locomotive engines that were procured by the government, rehabilitation work has begun on some rail lines across the country.

One of them, he said, is the Lagos-Ibadan lane that was due to be completed by the end of May, this year. Another is the Lagos-Jebba route, scheduled for completion before July as well as the Kano-Jebba line which would be rehabilitated by the third quarter of this year. Dottie also revealed that work on the eastern lines had commenced after the contract was awarded to three contractors. The contract is expected to last  10 months.

According to Dottie, the Rail Mass Transit Scheme introduced by the Lagos district covering Lagos to Agbado and Jokko all in Ogun State, has continued to attract more patronage. The vision of the district, he said,  is to have a train  run  from Lagos  to Agbado and Jokko every  hour. At present, four trains convey passengers in the morning from Lagos to Ogun State and another four in the evening after office hours. Dottie  revealed that the corporation has taken a bold step  to reposition its workshop stations and marshalling yards for improved and quality repair and maintenance works on its waggons, coaching facilities and motive power. Accordingly, many quality tools and equipment have been purchased and delivered to the corporation.            

The water transport sector is another area that has suffered a lot of neglect in the past decades. Reflecting on the poor state of  Nigerian roads, Egboka, a professor of environmental sciences, said that the lifespan of most of the nation’s  roads could have been longer if other viable transport services such as railway and water systems were viable. Aware of this fact, the Umaru Yar’Adua administration, in 2009, awarded and flagged off the contract for the dredging of the lower River Niger. The event held at Lokoja, capital of Kogi State. 

Revealing the benefits of the dredging project whose cost was put at N36 billion, Yar’Adua said the scheme, “which covers a distance of 572 kilometres from Warri in Delta State to Baro in Niger State, will, when completed, ensure all year round navigability of the River Niger,” and “provide an attractive, cheaper and safer means of haulage of goods while engendering linkages and promoting commerce and trading activities among communities and people of the eight states adjoining the river.” The states are Kogi, Niger, Anambra, Imo, Rivers, Edo, Delta and Bayelsa.

Although the death of Yar’Adua did not halt the contract, Nigerians are yet to enjoy the benefits as the dredging project has not been completed. Reacting to a question recently on the project, Yusuf Suleiman, minister of transport, said that the Goodluck Jonathan administration  would continue the dredging of the lower River Niger and ensure that it is completed.

Another critical area  the Nigerian government has failed to meet the expectation of the people is in the provison of pipe borne water. Fifty years after independence, many Nigerian homes, whether in the rural or urban areas, have no access to potable water. This failure, in part, is due to poor maintainance culture that has left many water facilities decrepit and outdated. Water scarcity in recent years, has  been regularly witnessed in major towns like Onitsha, Enugu, Benin, Lagos, Kaduna and Abeokuta among others.

According to Funke Bamidele, a resident of Ipaja, Lagos, the water corporation in Lagos is hardly functional. This explains why people in “Lagos resort to boreholes and wells to have access to water and those who do not have wells in their houses go to those that have to fetch water for a token or for free.” The implication is that “people don’t depend on the water corporation to provide them water.”

In Owerri, Imo State capital, the water situation is chaotic. It is hardly regular. Although areas like Municipal, Orji and Egbu occasionally enjoy pipe borne water, the supply is rationed. While one area may get from  6.00 a.m. to 12 noon, another gets from 12.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. The situation was even worse last year  when the whole town was starved of pipe borne water for more than six months. The situation in Owerri today is different from what obtained during the late Sam Mbakwe era when residents of Owerri and environs  had regular access to tap water.

In the capital city of Kaduna, it was common, prior to May 1999,  to see  running tap water. Such sight is rare now. A resident of the state said that, before the civilian administration assumed to power in 1999, residents of the town didn’t have  need for reservoirs to store water. “Water was taken for granted because the tap was at  your service.” All these have become a thing of the past.  Around 2002,  pipe borne water supply became irregular. In 2003, it  got worse. Water was no longer flowing from taps. The situation forced many residents to seek alternative sources of water. As a result, water business began to boom. Said a source: “Few people bothered to question  the source of the water. Then people began to die of cholera.  Then the government quickly intervened to fix the water problem. But it was only a temporary solution as the problem has now returned in full scale.” In Kaduna today, some parts of the metropolis have not had tap water in the last three months. Outside the state capital, the situation is similar, if not worse.

Over the years, Enugu, capital of Enugu State, has experienced its share of water scarcity. The situation has not abated, but relief may soon be on the way. At the moment, an ongoing World Bank water project is disrupting water supply in some parts of the city. Alex Mebo, a secondary school teacher, in Enugu, told Newswatch that although the Achara Layout where he lives is not affected by water scarcity,  some parts of the city have not had regular pipe borne water because of the World Bank project. The project involves replacing old water pipes with new ones.

In his appraisal of the state of Nigeria’s infrastructure and the challenges before Jonathan, Isiaku Mallam, a resident of Jos, cited “poor maintainance culture  and corruption” as the main reasons why there has not been much improvement in infrastructural development in the country. “Corruption takes place when government officials embezzle money meant for projects,  when they insist on getting some percentage from approved contracts, such that the remaining sum may not be enough to execute a good job, or when the relevant authorities fail to appropriately monitor the contractors, thus leaving room for shoddy job,” he explained, adding that “a lot of our public utilities and infrastructure are in dire need of repair and Jonathan needs to fix them. That’s what he promised he would do during his campaigns, anyway.” 

 

Reported by Dike Onwuamaeze, Sebastine Obasi, Ishaya Ibrahim, Augustine Adah, Cinderalla Amos, Aisha Mohammed and Alexandra Akinyele

 

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