By Modestus Umenzekwe
I have in the last few months been travelling from Lagos to my hometown of Achina in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State at a high frequency for reasons which need not be stated here. I have been going by road because the road is today much better and safer than, say, this time last year. Another reason is to have a firsthand experience with a view to reporting to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, who always solicits for such frank reports with a view to taking appropriate action.
Whereas the Onitsha-Asaba-Benin-Ore sections of the Lagos to Onitsha Highway have in the last few years been generally good, the Lagos-Sagamu-Ore sections are in a mess. One is glad to report that tremendous reconstruction work is currently taking place in the worst of all the failed sections. Reynold Construction Company (RCC) has divided the Lagos-Sagamu-Ore sections into four parts and is working on them simultaneously in a rather frenetic manner, even in the rains.
In a fashion reminiscent of the mass attack style, RCC is reconstructing what remains of the Ondo State section of the highway, the Ijebu Ode part, the Sagamu end as well as the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. When I was driving from Anambra State to Lagos two days ago, I had to stop briefly at the Ijebu Ode site because what is going on there looks more like new construction rather than rehabilitation. Rev Sister Christy Okonkwo, an impressed Catholic nun who is from Nnewi in Anambra State and works with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus Congregation at Epe in Lagos State, remarked after watching the massive deployment of equipment, machines and human resources: “There is still hope for Nigeria”.
Until now, such massive reconstruction which always resulted in the closure of at least one side of the highway invariably led to traffic gridlock. Reverend Sister Christy narrated how she and her colleagues spent three hours on one spot while going for the funeral of a colleague’s relative. Like the rest of her colleagues, she consequently developed a phobia for travelling by road to the Southeast and South-south from Lagos. But this time traffic is directed professionally not just by the RCC workers and Federal Road Safety Commission officials but also by teams of police and army personnel whose presence has injected discipline and order in the heads of commercial motorists, especially those of minibuses whose irresponsible driving exacerbates traffic gridlock.
What is more, the conspicuous presence of soldiers in particular has driven away armed robbers and kidnappers from the highway. Capitalising on the failed portions which naturally forced motorists to stop, kidnappers on one occasion shot an Igbo priest with the Warri Catholic Diocese in the hand and took away a young boy with him; on another occasion, they abducted nuns of the St. Louis Congregation in Ondo State who were travelling on a bus and hid them in a thick forest for a whole 10 days. Today all this criminal nonsense has become history.
While driving through Benin, we noticed there were two awfully failed sections of this extraordinarily busy highway. One is directly opposite the NIPCO filling station on the Benin-Agbor section of the road while the other is on the Benin Bypass. Mr. Fashola was contacted on his personal phone, and he quickly began to ask questions about the exact locations, extent of failures and the impact on traffic. It was evident that the officials of the Federal Ministry of Works and the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) had yet to report the failed parts to him. When he was satisfied with details of the failed portions, he promised to immediately get in touch with the contractor to assess the rehabilitation and revert to him. Talk of responsive leadership. Talk of working with passion and commitment.
One thing about Fashola is that he executes every assignment as though his life depended on it. He is, to a considerable extent, the face of what the Catholic Church has in recent decades popularised as the common good. He is also a considerable representation of the concept of servant leadership. A few weeks ago when it was brought to his knowledge that the Asaba end of the Lagos-Onitsha Expressway had collapsed, he immediately directed Julius Berger which was working on another project in the neighbourhood to move to the site of the failed part. Work is going on there right now. This work is going on in the rainy season which interestingly has always been given as a reason by governments in Nigeria for suspending infrastructure work. But Fashola is a different kind of fish, as we have seen right from his days as the Lagos State governor.
One has not in the last few months been travelling to other parts of the country, but one understands that road reconstruction is taking place all over the federation everywhere there is a provision in the budget for it. Even the most awfully failed part of the Okija-Ihiala-Uli-Egbu-Oguta-Ahoada linking Anambra, Imo and Rivers states which is not captured in this year’s budget is being rehabilitated because it is considered a national emergency.
It has to be noted that RCC, Julius Berger and Integrated Services Ltd are among several companies which moved to sites before the release of the first quarter of this year’s budget. They went to work without the payment of mobilisation fees in these economically hard times because of their trust in the integrity of the minister. As management experts have long noted, integrity or character is a most invaluable asset in business transactions whether in the private or public sector. In other words, as more releases are made, both the scope and intensity of road work by the Federal Government will escalate.
Fashola assumed duties as the Minister of Power, Works and Housing only last November, that is, less than a year now. Before he could settle in office, take stock of things, make his own projections and then mobilise funds, critics had gone to town, with some wondering if he could run this enlarged ministry successfully. If Fashola could excel as the Lagos State governor in a way which earned him great praise and awards from the greatest global media and think tanks, he should be expected to continue on the trajectory of high service delivery. Now that work is going on even in the rainy season on federal roads, why have even the media been shy to report it? Well, if the media fail to report these developments, frequent road users like us who feel and experience the massive work daily cannot deny the evidence of our eyes.
Umenzekwe is immediate past President of the Odunade Building Materials Dealers Association in Orile-Coker, Lagos.