The admission made by the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) last Thursday, has confirmed to everyone in the South East and South South what we have all known about the state of roads in the two regions. The condition of roads in the South East in particular is at best decrepit, unspeakable and appalling. At worst, the roads could be described as distressing and painful.
We must be grateful that, for once, a minister of the Federal Republic admitted openly the level of injustice that has been done to people in the South East and South South. Fashola must be commended for his forthrightness. His statement represents the beginning of the Federal Government’s careful consideration of the dilapidated state of roads in the two regions.
When he appeared before the Senate committee last week, Fashola acknowledged that the roads had been neglected for too long. He pointed out that some of the major federal roads in the 11 states in the two regions were built 50 years ago. Worst still, the roads have not undergone any significant repairs till date.
I am not persuaded by Fashola’s frankness owing to the reasons outlined below. Fashola tried to assure the Senate committee members when he said his ministry had concluded plans to commence quick and urgent repairs on the roads. That assurance will not impress people who have suffered for so long because of the poor condition of the roads, including families that lost their beloved sons and daughters through accidents. The pledge has come a tad too late. It is more like a doctor administering medicine long after a patient has passed away.
Every year, millions of naira are set aside in the budget for road repairs across the country. At the end of each budget year, neither the President nor the ordinary citizen holds the ministers to account for the money allocated to their ministries. What the senators who scrutinised Fashola should have done was to ask the minister to present a detailed (if you like, blow-by-blow) account of how his ministry expended all the money it received over the past two years that he has been in government.
Fashola should tell the senators and indeed the nation how the money was used, the projects that were completed, how long it took to conclude those projects, and how much money was spent on the projects. He should also provide a detailed list of projects that remain uncompleted, including projects that have been abandoned and why. Answers to these questions should help us to understand how our ministers operate, their record of achievement, and the level of accountability and responsibility that politicians have shown toward the people they were appointed to serve. Citizens who drive every day through the roads in the South East and South South have never stopped narrating their dreadful experiences on the roads. When you see some of the roads, you have to wonder whether there is indeed a government in Nigeria.
I have often wondered whether there is a systematic procedure instituted by President Muhammadu Buhari to scrutinise all ministers and heads of departments. Such a procedure would require the ministers to render account of their service at the end of every financial year. That is what we call accountability and transparency. It is not just a matter of government pumping out money endlessly. Ministers and other officials of government who are assigned specific tasks are also given money to perform various tasks. They must account for what they did with the money or why they did not achieve anything with the money. It is a simple requirement that is unfortunately generally overlooked by those whose responsibility it is to govern the country.
In his response to queries put to him by members of the Senate committee, Fashola said reassuringly: “When we did the audit of our roads, we discovered some sections are bad. Many roads have outlived their lifespan. Many roads in the South East and South South were built before the civil war. They are among the worst in the country. They need to be replaced… We will try and repair the roads before people start travelling for the festivities in December. We are doing something about that.” What Fashola told the senators echoed a similar promise made nine years ago by a former administration. That was when Goodluck Jonathan served as Vice President under the government of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Incidentally, in late April 2009, the former Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Investigation of Transport Sector said, after a visit to the South East, that the state of roads in the region was “the worst in the country.” That description captured the horrifying state of roads in the South East. Chairperson of the committee, Heineken Lokpobiri, said at the time that the “deplorable condition of roads” in the South East meant that previous federal governments did not regard road rehabilitation and reconstruction as priority projects in the region.
In the face of all the rhetoric, one must ask the question: Where did all the money budgeted for road construction and repairs go all these years? Failure of government officials to account for money set aside for specific capital projects makes nonsense of government’s policy of financial accountability and transparency.
Re: Jonathan: Uneasy lies head that lost the crown
Thank you for the beautiful piece you delivered on Tuesday, November 21, 2017, on the back page of the Daily Sun. Jonathan went to the Presidency about 10 years before time. He was deputy governor to the former governor of Bayelsa State, D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha. When President Olusegun Obasanjo violently removed Alamieyeseigha from office, Jonathan became governor. Before we knew it, Obasanjo crowned him Vice-President. In a matter of months he became President following the demise of President Yar’Adua.
Jonathan, a good man without much experience and training, became the President of a very complex nation. As we now know, most people who worked in his government took advantage of his meekness, naivety, and lack of exposure to run Nigeria dry, as evidenced by massive corruption. Jonathan should go ahead and tell all in a book; this will go a long way to offer him healing and also enrich our democracy.
Buhari inherited this massive rape of the Nigerian nation. He came in angry and bitter. His ill health made matters worse. The cabal took over and almost destroyed the nation. I thank God that a lot of Nigerians rose up to oppose the cabal. It appears that Buhari has come to his senses and mellowed down. If his government truly repents from the current state policy of nepotism, tribalism and tacit support for killer-herdsmen, then we may be lucky and move on positively. Nevertheless, Buhari must be challenged on all sides.
•Col. R.N. Oputa (retd.), Consultant Endocrinologist/Fulbright Scholar, Owerri, Imo State.