WOULD YOU RATHER FLY THAN TRAVEL ON NIGERIAN ROADS? I get to travel quite frequently within the Country by all modes of transportation but particularly by air and road. Beyond the very often unexplained delays by the 'big two' airlines, and the uncomfortable vibrations of many of the aircrafts on take off, which sometimes make you feel as if the aeroplanes are 'reluctant' to leave the ground,flying in the country is becoming more pleasurable. A few 'new' airlines, some with names that remind you of the older airlines that have gone out of business, for example "Melview reminds you of Belview" have introduced some competition especially on the busy routes. Many of them depart on schedule and the staff treat you as a customer. The 'big two' sometimes treat you the way NEPA or NITEL used to treat us before the Nigerian customers won their independence, thanks to Deregulation and Privitisation . Indeed, I went to pay for tickets for a series of journeys I had planned at the ticketing office of one of the 'big two' at MMA 2 recently. First, the 'saucy' ladies at the counter said I must go and get cash since they would not accept any electronic payment( ATM cards-credit or debit). I was sad that in this era of cashless transactions, a major airline will be proud to announce to its customers that they only accept cash. But I swallowed hard. Now I asked that they check and let me know how much I would pay for all the tickets for the different routes so that I could go down to the ATM downstairs and collect all the cash at once. To my utter shock and unfathomable consternation, the girls told me I had to go down and up four times to collect cash for the four tickets. They would book each ticket, then advise me the cost and then I would go to the ATM, collect cash, come up, pay, collect the ticket, then they would book the next one and the process would repeat! I was too shocked to be angry and just told them I was "coming". I just walked over and "discovered" an airline with similar name and quietly bought my tickets, paid with my credit card, checked in for the next day's flight, collected my boarding passes ( to and fro) and went home relieved that I had a choice. Since then I first go to this airline each time I have to travel . Do not begin to ask me why I do not book on line. That will be a story for another day. We do pray that more 'big' airlines will come on stream, at least to challenge the near monopoly of the' big two'. This will help Nigerians truly enjoy the growing ambience of our renovated terminals and the huge investments the Federal government has made in the aviation sector in the last three years. But the real issue of this day is how to make travel by road in this Country comfortable and safe. Every Nigerian travels by road. It is unavoidable. Even those who have the 'luxury' to travel by air, will still travel by road to the airport and from the airport to their destinations or to their homes. Only very few Nigerians have helipads in their homes, so that they can fly straight to their homes. And unfortunately we do not and can not have airports in every town. That means that everybody has to use the roads either in public transportation or in private cars. Even the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria travels by road! Traditionally, when we speak about safety of road travel, the first issue would be the condition of the roads. Nigeria is a very big country with a wide land mass crisscrossed by several roads. Today, the only roads we seem to hear of and which come under regular scrutiny are the Federal Roads. And there are too many roads that belong to the Federal Government, some of which in my view should be ceded to the States, though one may argue that many states are even unable to maintain their current roads outside the highways leading to the state capital. For example, Since 1999, each time I went to Obigbo or Oyigbo,near Portharcourt , I had always wondered if Oyigbo was part of Rivers State?. There is no single good road in the whole of Oyigbo town.As it was in the days of Odili, so it is in the days of Amaechi. May be we should remove the "Igbo" from the name of the town! Nevertheless I still think that there are just too many federal roads and I believe that the Federal government will never have enough money to appropriately keep all the roads in serviceable conditions. But it must be acknowledged that in the last 3-4 years much investment has gone into federal road construction and rehabilitation aided by the SURE-P intervention funding. Indeed from my personal experience, virtually every federal road is undergoing one form of reconstruction or renovation. And that has vastly improved the condition of several of the main arteries in our country. But this has presented a new troubling challenge which is undermining road safety. Because many of the highways are being reconstructed, it is natural to expect some disruption in the free flow of traffic. But in a number of cases, the problem has become excruciating. Sometimes it is the fault of the contractors, who fail to properly redirect traffic and adopt a work programme that minimizes traffic bottleneck. Sometimes, it is inevitable because of the volume of traffic. This is the situation on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway where the contractors are doing their best in redirecting traffic yet the delays are getting terrible.The matter is worse on the Ibadan end where I spent over 90 minutes on my recent trip to Akure. At other times it is the fault of the road users who readily form double or triple lanes, blocking the oncoming drivers and causing traffic jam. Since it took me five and half hours to reach Akure from Lagos, a journey which should not be longer than four hours, I decided to return to Lagos through the Ore-Sagamu road and then spent Eight hours. A few kilometers, after Ore, we ran into this traffic jam that continued to almost Ijebu Ode. This was bewildering. I kept searching for what caused this excruciating traffic jam and could find none. What I noticed was that the drivers heading to Ore from Sagamu occupied both lanes of the highway and we who were heading to Sagamu had to be pushed out of the way or had to squeeze our way through. When we eventually came off the traffic jam, the rest of the journey back was tortous. People were driving on both lanes without care. While you are driving on your lane in a dual carriage highway, all of a sudden you would notice a car coming from the opposite direction and racing towards you without care. We narrowly missed several collisions thankfully, but some others could not because we saw a few head-on accidents on our way .I find that this problem of drivers not respecting anybody's right of way is common on high ways where construction work is going on or where some portions of the road are bad. Yes in some cases, the contractors divert all traffic to one lane only. But this is usually for some short distance and thereafter, traffic ought to return to their normal lanes. But some 'smart drivers' will never return. They will continue on the wrong lane, terrorizing the oncoming traffic which has the right of way on that lane and many times, leading to road mishaps. For others, they need nobody to redirect them , the moment they notice that the other lane is better than their own lane or that traffic ahead of them is slowing down they quickly swing over to the other side of road without qualms. In my experience this has more than doubled the risk of driving on Nigerian highways today. And I am asking where are the Road safety guys? Are they not supposed to be on the highways to enforce obedience to traffic rules? In my recent experience, it is as if we operate in a state of anarchy on the roads, where everybody does what he or she likes imperiling the lives of other road users. As we journeyed from Ore on that faithful Sunday, I was on the look out for the road safety guys. I eventually found a few close to Lagos. They tried to flag me down and I must confess that we ignored them. All the way from Ore to Ijebu Ode, where there was utter chaos and where we needed them to come and restore order or punish the law breakers, they were no where to be seen,only for them to gather after Mowe on the precincts of Lagos waiting to ask for my 'C- caution'. Recently the situation of the ROAD TO AROCHUKWU became a national issue. Most of the Newspapers including this one carried the story and it was on Channels TV community news. Any one who reads newspapers or watches Television in Nigeria must have read the story of a road abandoned for several years. This is one of the federal roads. In April 2012, the contract for the reconstruction or rehabilitation, whichever, was finally awarded to BEKS KIMSE a young Nigerian contractor. The work was supposed to be completed in 24 months but as at date, not up to TWO kilometers of road has been completed. When you ask from the federal ministry of works, you are told they have mobilized the contractor. When you ask the contractor, he either blames the rain or claims the problem is money. Which ever, the beleaguered people of Ohafia, Ihechiowa,Abam , Ututu Arochukwu and their Cross River and Akwa Ibom neighbours who use that road believe it this kind of contractors that give the government a bad name by undermining the excellent work the federal ministry of works is doing across the nation. Every time I have had to pass that road in the last 20 years and after several efforts we have made to get the road fixed without success I began to pray that God should give me money to buy a private Jet or Helicopter so that I could fly from PH or Owerri or Enugu or Uyo airports to my home. But this prayer has not yet been answered. If you were in my shoes, would you rather fly or travel by road to Arochukwu ? Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR


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