from The Guardian
All of October, we wrote about Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s President, including his visit to Germany to attend the partnership for Africa Summit.
And Olusegun Obasanjo, our former President, including how he surreptitiously inaugurated uncompleted power plants as his time ran out, to give the impression his government was getting things done.
We wrote about Patricia Etteh, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, now a sad symbol only of corruption and futility, swept away as October climaxed.
We wrote about Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan; I even wrote about his wife, Patricia Jonathan, and the questions of probity she has draped around her neck.
We wrote about governors: present and former, coming and going, rising and falling, running or hiding.
All month long, the mass media published furiously about the men and women in power and position. We are going to do so again this month. We are fascinated by, and love to quote the powerful.
Before we fire up the November engines, however, I invite you to revisit October, and come with me to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway (Route Zero). Yes, it is the same major national highway where Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s car broke down recently, and he had to be helped out in another.
On the morning of October 25, a deadly accident occurred in the Ogunmakin town area that involved a fallen petrol tanker and several unsuspecting vehicles that drove into it and were simply incinerated. About 17 lives were lost.
Three days later, at about 9 p.m. on October 28, another horrendous crash took place near the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) premises. At least 30 lives were lost, a number that may have climbed up by now, but we will never know because most Nigerian newspapers being remarkably irresponsible, they often lose interest as soon as the first report is filed.
Chris Alaba, a police officer, told journalists the tanker involved in the accident was trying to avoid a pothole on the road when it tipped over on its side. The spillage of petrol caught fire.
It is sad that we lose nearly 50 lives on the same stretch of road in three days, and no reporter asks even the Minister of Works about it. He does not visit the place, does not counsel survivors in any of the area hospitals, and does not utter a word of even of acknowledgement.
President Yar’Adua is quick to react to the Supreme Court’s firing of the governor of Rivers’ State, but he says nothing about the carnage on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
The President goes to Germany to speak about globalization, but says nothing during his visit, or in Nigeria, about the destruction of his citizens on our highways.
While in Germany, the President wisely awards himself a medical check-up. I mean, why subject his presidential self to a similar experience at the hands of excellent Nigerian doctors at the UCH or the OOUTH, for instance, where the survivors of the war on Route Zero are being managed?
Let us not forget: Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State did not acknowledge these accidents. Neither did any of his commissioners.
In Lagos, Governor Babatunde Fashola appears to appreciate life and health. Earlier in the month, he played 90 minutes of a football match to celebrate Independence Day. As the month ended and Route Zero guzzled the blood and hopes of many Nigerian families, however, he did not acknowledge the emergency.
Nigerian newspapers routinely report on the chaotic traffic that has become the prime feature on this road since religious organizations such as RCCG and Mountain of Fire and Miracles decided to build prayer and convention camps on it. Regrettably, short trips that used to take half an hour now routinely last hours, or even into the following day.
Route Zero is not the only road on which Nigerians die in large numbers daily, ignored by their leaders. But it is a wonderful example of the shameful policy of official neglect that our infrastructure suffers nationwide. This road was a beautiful, inspiring highway when it was completed in the 1970s. It has deteriorated steadily every year, and its accident statistics have mounted in response.
It is a deep shame that this has happened. While heads of government have enriched themselves and their wives and girlfriends, Nigeria has rotted in the sun. Buildings have collapsed on Nigerians. Planes fall out of the sky. Badly or un-maintained roads claim lives daily, or make our people easy prey for armed robbers.
If you consider the lifestyle of our previous leaders, one can only shake his head in sadness. Ibrahim Babangida lives in incredible luxury, with a taste for Mediterranean splendor. He enjoys travel by special jets. But knowing that Nigerians despise him, he moves in a thicket of security wherever he goes.
Similarly, Obasanjo loved late-model executive jets and helicopters. But last June, only days out of power, he was caught in traffic on a Lagos street. It is the same traffic that while he sought a second term in office in 2003, he swore he would bring to an end. Once he had rigged himself into office, however, he did not honour any of those campaign promises.
During his eight years in office, his government spent nearly one trillion Naira on road construction and maintenance, as I explored in this column on December 4, 2006. As state and local governments, but more importantly, families that have lost relatives on these death traps, that was another official lie. And so, Nigerians continue to be dismembered or roasted alive on highways.
Unfortunately, the government has a major source of help in this inglorious achievement: Nigerian drivers who love speed and hate road regulations.
I encourage the mass media to turn up the pressure on government officials. It is not enough to report road crashes and the statistics of the dead, or even to write editorials.
We must avoid what may be characterized as road tragedy fatigue: the tendency to tire of reporting these accidents, or report them as routine. The media must continuously publish accident information and statistics, along with actual government expenditure and action on transportation. It must take the issues to government officials and ask the hard questions.
We must avoid the temptation to place powerful government officials on our front pages and quote them on subjects on which they are comfortable. In October, as on every month, we did that, expending energy on the Ettehs of this country while blood ran on our roads and governments took dying Nigerians for granted.
And now comes December, traditionally our month of the heaviest travel. This is when the federal government “works” quickly to restore the busiest roads, such as the Lagos-Benin Expressway, only to leave it to rot until the next Christmas.
The government must give us better roads that are maintained and effectively policed (like the German autobahns). Or simply build us bigger mortuaries. Our families have no tears left.