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Agenda, Opinion

Buhari And Federal Roads

Posted: Jul 8, 2015 at 6:09 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Soyombo Opeyemi, a media practitioner, submits that Nigeria will be better off if the Federal Government  devolves most of its current responsibilities, especially the federal roads to the states and revenue allocation formula is titled in favour of the federating states.

The carnage witnessed last week along Benin-Ore road was not an isolated incident. It has become the permanent feature of the federal highways. Over 90 per cent of the federal roads in Nigeria are in ruins. My neighbour escaped death by the skin of his teeth on one of the federal roads, but his wife was not so lucky. In trying to avoid a dangerous crater on the highway, you run the risk of skidding straight into the river or colliding with another vehicle. I often shake my head in pity anytime I drive on these death traps that are called federal highways: How can anyone avoid fatal accidents on these roads? Even the most careful driver is prone to accident! 

Being a new administration, nobody will hold President Muhammadu Buhari responsible for the derelict state of these motorways. But once his government marks one year or two in office, Nigerians will forget that he inherited the dilapidated highways and an empty treasury. It is just about a month that the new government was sworn in and some smart guys are already attempting to deflect attention away from the malfeasance of the last administration. But a word first on the purse of the central government.

It would seem an understatement for President Muhammadu Buhari to speak of inheriting an empty treasury. I think we should thank God that the President even met a treasury at all. With the monetary bonanza, bazaar and lottery that characterized the electioneering of the ruling party in the last general elections, we should be grateful to the almighty that both the purse and its contents had not disappeared altogether. With the sincerity of purpose, prudence in public finance management, transparency and accountability that will hallmark the Buhari administration (and we can see the signs already), I believe money will begin to flow back into the empty government purse and will ultimately be filled once more.

But I have some worries. A friend once told me a story that has stuck to my memory. His disciplined, prudent and industrious secondary school principal ensured those sterling qualities rubbed off on the academy, resulting in the students passing their exams with flying colours and a buoyant school till. However, within a few years of graduation, the principal was transferred and replaced by a footloose and spendthrift head. The treasury was emptied in no time, and indiscipline soon began to take its toll on the performance of the students. The school eventually became a shadow of its former self.

As the saying goes, a man may leave behind a gargantuan fortune, there is no guarantee those coming after him will be wise. As it stands today, the politics of Nigeria is so fluid and there is no certainty about anything.  No one needed a prophet to predict that the present ruling party would undergo one form of crisis or the other. That would be taken for granted in any concourse of people with different or disparate backgrounds. But no political seer could have predicted the recent events in the National Assembly. They left every mouth agape in shock, bewilderment and horror. Dangerous politics, brinkmanship, defiance! Perhaps, I misread the whole thing. My take-away remains – Nigerian politics is fluid; there’s no certitude about anything!

I have employed every public space in the last decade to discuss the menace of federal roads in Nigeria. I did so many times in relation to our unitary system, often disguised as federalism and the Revenue Allocation Formula, which gives 52 per cent to the Federal Government, 26 per cent to all the 36 states and 20 per cent to the local councils. FG is also in charge of the balance of 2 per cent. Clearly, the Federal Government is carrying a load that is heavier than that of the 36 states. No, it should be the other way round. Is it proper for the FG, in a federation, to travel thousands of miles from Abuja in order to sink a borehole in a village or renovate a health centre, a primary school in a far-flung community when there is a state government that is in touch with such people on a daily basis, and will perform these responsibilities at a lower cost, since funds will move directly to where they are needed?

In one instance, it was observed: “It is cheaper for states to own these federal roads. For instance, the ongoing repair work on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos has continued to consume avoidable administrative costs. The Minister of Works and other federal officials who come all the way from Abuja to supervise and inspect the road will certainly collect allowances running into millions of naira, whereas it would have amounted to a routine duty for the Lagos Commissioner for Works and other officials. And when you consider that the Abuja officials will have to do the same thing again and again in all the 36 states of the federation, the preventable wastage of tax-payers’ money stares you in the face.

Contiguous states to these federal roads will naturally collaborate to reconstruct and maintain them at far cheaper costs than moving money and officials first from Abuja to the regional office, and from the regional office to the states. There is so much wastage of public funds in Nigeria.”

And in my widely publicised piece in April, 2014, Between Abeokuta and Abuja, I submitted: “Despite the gargantuan 52 per cent being collected by the Federal Government, virtually all the federal roads in Ogun State are in tatters: Atan-Agbara road (Agbara is an industrial hub in Nigeria), Owode-Ilaro road, Ikorodu-Sagamu highway, etc. I’m sure the Minister of Works has never heard the names of some of these roads let alone know their locations… from the meagre 0.3 per cent Ogun receives from the Federation Account, the police are also being funded!…  Imagine the amount the state government spent to repair parts of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and several other federal roads that criss-cross the state! This is because the masses don’t like to differentiate between federal and state roads. Once any road is in Ogun territory, then Amosun is looked up to for its maintenance and reconstruction!”

I call on the President and the National Assembly to ensure these federal roads revert to the states without much delay. The Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission and National Assembly should ensure that in the new Revenue Allocation template, each of the 36 states receives at least 1.5 per cent from the Federation Account. This is a win-win situation for the Federal Government and all the 36 states of the federation. And if a state governor decides to steal his state’s money rather than invest in social services, then his own people who see how some other governors have judiciously spent their own funds will one day rise up against the governor. If, for instance, you visit Ogun for an event and you see the international standard roads, the flyovers, etc.; you are aware that there is security, free education, etc.; and you also know that the governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, receives a pittance from the Federation Account, will you not ask what your own governor has done with your state’s money?

With 25 per cent, the Federal Ggovernment should now concentrate on core federal matters such as foreign affairs, currency, maritime shipping, defence, etc. while most of the responsibilities are devolved to the states. This will make the FG stronger and efficient, a beacon of excellent service delivery and an exemplar of institutional development. The President will even have the rest of mind to make Nigeria a major player in international affairs.