By AYODELE AKINKUOTU
Akin Joye, coordinator of the Save the Masses and Children Heart Association, has made a suggestion to President Goodluck Jonathan on how to fix the nation’s dilapidated highways. The President should compel the ministers of interior and works to perpetually travel by road within the country until all the federal highways across the nation have become totally motorable. Today, majority of these roads are nothing more than death traps. Another minister who should be on that list is the one in charge of transportation. By so doing they will taste first-hand the harrowing experience of Nigerians who use the nation’s pothole littered expressways, which have in the main become a national embarrassment. It is doubtful whether the President would buy that suggestion.
In 2007, Diezani Alison-Madueke, as minister of transportation under late President Umaru Yar’Adua, undertook a tour of the Benin/Shagamu Expressway. She was a few weeks old in the ministry at the time. What she saw then, over 60 bad portions; resulted in her shedding tears for the pains long-suffering Nigerians bear with equanimity. That was the era when a vehicle going to Benin from Lagos, a distance of about 300 kilometres took a whole day. The traffic jams involving trailers, fuel tankers, luxury buses, SUVs, cars of all shades would stretch for many kilometres all striving for the right of way. And you know Nigerians are not the most patient of people when it comes to driving. We usually compound the dire situation of the highways with our poor road ethics, which border on selfishness. There were harrowing tales of hundreds of vehicles getting stuck on the road for days. And at night the passengers were at the mercy of marauders. The wonder was why such a vital link between Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, and other parts of the country should be allowed to degenerate to that extent. Thanks to Alison-Madueke’s efforts, and may be tears, that road today has enjoyed some rehabilitation. Perhaps, that was why she later landed the petroleum resources portfolio, where she now holds sway.
In spite of that rehabilitation, however, today a short stretch of that road right inside Ore town is giving travellers fresh nightmares. And it has been so since the rains began. This bad patch is not more than three kilometres; yet vehicles get stuck there for hours. And many are the tales of travellers from Lagos who after spending hours at the spot and totally frustrated find ways and means to do a u-turn and return to base, mission unaccomplished. Yet this is a country that has a government. That nothing has been done to repair this portion of the expressway is a clear example of why 12 years of civil rule has left the nation further prostrate. Immediately those who get our mandate get into power, they become blind and deaf to the people’s needs. Their only concern is how to “chop”, apologies to late SM Afolabi, former internal affairs minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo.
In an altercation with late Bola Ige, Afolabi, then a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, said Ige, who was of the Alliance for Democracy, had been invited into government to “come and chop”. Ige riposted that as attorney-general and minister of justice, he was unaware what Afolabi was chopping in government. Ige said he was in Obasanjo’s government then to serve.
Perhaps, the “come and chop” philosophy is why the ruling party is yet to make any impact on the citizenry after 12 years in power. What Nigerians see year in year out are fiscal budgets that do not translate into better life for the ordinary man. We thought, however, that going by the pan-Nigerian mandate Jonathan got in April his era will be different. While it may be too early to judge his presidency, what we are seeing this early morning of the era is not in the least inspiring.
Two weeks ago, a wristwatch hawker in Ore laid the blame of the traffic jam in the town, due to the bad stretch of the road, at the doorstep of Jonathan. He ignored the roaring business coming the way of the itinerant traders like him due to the traffic jams. All manner of drinks and fruits are there for the asking. To the hawkers this is some kind of “Christmas” period when hay should be made when the sun is still shining. Even the fast-food outlets based in Ore are not left out of this trading on the expressway. In spite of the money they are making, however, the wristwatch hawker thinks Mr. President is too “slow and soft” in addressing the problem at Ore, and by extension other fundamental issues of development. So far, this presidency is yet to sparkle. Jonathan seems not to be passionate about the job. Since he recognises the shortness of his four-year tenure, many expected him to hit the ground running May 29. He has failed to do that. While he has identified the nation’s numerous problems, we are yet to see any meaningful drive to solving them from his end. Before he knows it, his four-year tenure may pass and all the nation may get from it may be shattered dreams.
However, it is not too late in the day to turn a new leaf. All Jonathan needs is the will to make a difference. He should not just be president in name, he should act same. This is a country in a race against time. In the first 50 years of independence, our leaders failed to husband our human and natural resources to achieve growth and development. On what side of history shall posterity find the Jonathan presidency when the nation marks its centenary in 2060? By that time, it is only the history of these times that would be left for generations yet unborn to contend with. Just like we are talking about national icons like Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello today, the eras of Murtala Muhammed, Obasanjo, Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha will stir many discourses. There are many of our leaders still living whom we have forgotten they were ever in power, because they made no impact on our lives. Even before they join their ancestors, they already know the verdict of history on their tenures. It will never be kind to them. So, will history be kind to Goodluck Jonathan? To achieve that feat, he should take Joye’s advice to heart by gripping the bull of his presidency by the horns.