Kakistocracy – 2

Road works

The Blackwall Tunnel is a road tunnel that runs underneath the bed of the River Thames. The tunnel was started in 1892 and was officially opened by the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) on 22 May 1897. I make reference to this piece of archaic news because it is just that – archaic.

To put things in chronological perspective, construction on this tunnel commenced 116 years ago. It was opened 111 years ago. This feat of technology simply described, is like a badger’s burrow under the bed of the River Thames – from one bank to the other. I do not wish to simplify the technology behind this astonishing work of science, it is indeed remarkable.

What perhaps is equally deserving of attention, is that this “feat” has been oft repeated in other parts of the world – the Hudson River has a couple that I know about (there may be more than two). There is the Drogden Tunnel, which links Sweden and Denmark – and that is one superlative example of the use of this technology. And, lest I forget, there is the Eurotunnel!

This is not a treatise on tunnels and sea crossings, so I’ll cease to elaborate on these for now. However, each time I am driven through or think about these tunnels, I marvel at the capacity of the Nigerian leadership for the continuous display of ineptitude on a colossal scale. I ask why 111 years after someone in some other part of the world successfully built a road beneath a river bed; we have yet to construct roads in Nigeria that do not flood every July?! I am confounded and do not see the reason why road construction technology that could be bought over the shelf is not used when building roads in Nigeria.

Every year, ordinary citizens of the country die in needless road accidents. Many are wont to lay the blame for these accidents on poor driving habits and I would not disagree with them; however the major factor for this continuous ritual of road carnage would be the virtually non-existent road networks in Nigeria. You would have to be a commercial bus driver to consider the Lagos-Ibadan “expressway” as your primary means of getting to Ibadan from Lagos. On this route, man-holes have replaced street lights and charred remains of vehicles reign in place of road signs. Many folks have devised alternate routes via Epe, Abeokuta, and the various Ijebu and Remo settlements just to avoid the embarrassing nightmare called Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The same story holds for Sagamu-Benin Expressway (which by the way, does not exist any more). The Sagamu-Benin expressway is a national calamity; but then, what would a “kakistocrat” know about calamities? Patani-Yenagoa “expressway”? You can catch mudskippers on the road at certain times of the year, just make sure you have your fisherman’s gear in place. Ago Iwoye / Ilisan? If you don’t want to tumble down a ravine, do not try that route at night.

Where by congruence of personal avarice and political expedience, roads are built, they become tragicomic lessons in national resource wastage. Roads are built without road signs, roads are built without thoughts for expansion, roads are built without drainage and roads are built without considering the weights of vehicles that would use them. Most of these roads are laughable to say the least. Roads (with due respect to the civil engineers involved), “au Nigeria”, are barely more than bitumen-tattooed strips of land, with very little consideration for the drivers or other users. Reinforced road beds? That’s used only in Julius Berger’s premises. Road markings; never heard of them. Street lights? Who needs them when your headlights work. Road shoulders? What are those? You can park in the inner lane when your vehicle breaks down. Side railings? Let the cars plunge to the side joo if they have accidents!

Oh by the way, good roads have no significance in the national economic scheme. We have a very vibrant rail network. It runs from Kano to the major ports cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt. The only snag is that it is a narrow gauge (by 21st century standards only) and last worked when I was in secondary school. So, whilst the supermarket at Knightsbridge can expect the timely delivery of vegetables before it opens for business at 7am on Monday, the bags of cement that are due at the construction site in Lanlate may never get there because the haulage trailer overturned at Ajebo on Lagos-Ibadan “expressway”. One country gets developed, the other remains non-aligned.

But then, if a nation is governed by those who are incapable of aspiring to greatness, by those unqualified to distinguish between decay and development, perhaps the finer points of having a good road system may be too much to ask…

To be continued… Kakistocracy 3


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