By Sunny Awhefeada
The road constitutes a metaphor of life’s journey for Africans. It is central to the configuration and understanding of the metaphysical nexus between the abode of the dead and that of the living which we call life. The metaphoric and metaphysical essence of the road also mediates life’s journey and its uncertain twists and turns. The road is benign as it connects people and places. The road is also cruel as it has thrown people and places into mourning.
The road consumes humanity. It engenders loss. African literature in its depiction of the African predicament whether it is physical or existential has remained the most fertile site for the plural manifestations of the essence of the road. Wole Soyinka wrote The Road and You Must Set Forth at Dawn, Ben Okri wrote The Famished Road, and just this year Niyi Osundare wrote If Only the Road Could Talk. The four works contain in between their pages the grimness of how life is lived in Nigeria and much of Africa.
In spite of the romantic and tragic essence of the road, a feature that should have earned it fascination and dread in equal measure, it has remained the most abused, denigrated and degraded aspect of our national life in Nigeria. Every day that we wake up to takes us to the road. We slap the face of the road with our feet.
Vehicles ride roughshod over its surface and potholes and craters have become permanent features of it in Nigeria. We seem to be waging an undeclared war against our roads. Nigerian roads are in truth no roads. We have degraded and denigrated our roads from Warri to Wukari and Calabar to Kano. It is in Osundare’s title If Only the Road Could Talk that one can draw a significant link with the physical state of Nigerian roads and what the response of the roads would be if only they could talk.
Although, Osundare’s title is a poetic metaphor which accentuates the poet’s interaction with the world arising from his travels, the title when transposed on the physical state of Nigerian roads would be an apt reflection of what the response of the roads would have been if only they had the instrumentally of speech. But our roads have spoken time and again.
The many accidents on our roads, tragic and near tragic, bespeak the roads’ silent anger over the degradation to which they have been subjected. Each time an accident occurs on our roads, it is in part a reflection of what they have become; death traps sending citizens to untimely graves. The lucky ones lose limbs and stay alive deformed, but thankful that once there is life there is hope.
The present condition of Nigerian roads is alarming and I am sure that if a categorization of the world’s worst roads were to be done, Nigeria would clinch the tag of that which is the most terrible. Is Nigeria, after all, not the global capital of poverty and Lagos the third most dangerous city in the world? Is Nigeria also not among the three most dangerous countries for women to give birth? Is Nigeria not one of the countries with the highest number of out of school children? So, it shouldn’t be surprising if Nigeria adds the tag of worst roads to her medals of infamy.
Traveling, once upon a time, was a hobby in Nigeria. But now only those with the kind of nerves approximating lunacy will still see traveling as a hobby or favourite pastime.
People now travel out of compulsion. Traveling has become risky. The bad roads, kidnappers, security agents that are worse than armed robbers and other indices have contrived to make traveling a tortuous experience in Nigeria. There is hardly any road journey that offers a therapeutic experience. A few kilometers of smooth ride often yields ten times much longer torture of driving on bad stretches of roads.
The sad reality of the situation is the indifference of successive ruling elite who should be held responsible for the state of our roads. What has been budgeted for Nigerian roads since 1999 should be enough to build all the roads in Africa. Yet, Nigeria cuts the picture of a nation without roads.
When the present government was inaugurated in 2015 many Nigerians had thought that the many promises made by the new party in power would crystallize in the construction of good roads among other basic indices of national development. The government received plaudit when it appointed a man famed for achieving results as the minister in charge of works. All that hope is gone with the wind.
Our roads remain the death traps our rulers intended them to be. A journey of thirty minutes can sometimes take three or more hours. The ruling class, playing the escapist game, resorts to traveling by air thus avoiding the menace which our roads have become knowing that we are actually a nation without roads.
The people should begin a movement to reclaim our roads. The thrust of the movement should be the people’s proscription of air travel for government officials at levels and watch if our roads will not be fixed in a year so that we can become a nation with roads. The time has come for Nigerians to shake off their lethargy and take regenerative steps in the remaking of Nigeria.