Thursday, 11 August 2016

Nigeria and maintenance culture

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

It is a sad advertisement of the culture of neglect in Nigeria that it took media reports of a gaping hole on a public highway bridge for the relevant agencies and officials to attempt a repair of that section of the Ijora-Apapa flyover in Lagos. That case is symptomatic of Nigeria’s poor effort at retaining and nurturing values, institutions and even infrastructure, the assets of a nation. In failing to maintain those national assets, indeed, the foundation for development of a nation is destroyed and its rich history too.

The road in question is the singular access to the nation’s leading seaports: Apapa and Tin Can Island. Built as the connection between Apapa and Western Avenue and Eko Bridge, upon completion 40 years ago, it was described as the highest pier-decked flyover in Africa. Until a bridge was constructed from Tin Can Island to Creek Road, Apapa, the Ijora-Apapa elevated highway (with surface service lanes) was the only route to the Wharf, especially after the railway line from Ebute Metta to the docks had been abandoned.

The question then arises: What became of the engineering procedures for roads, buildings and utilities? The empirical requirements are well known: Planning preceded every construction, indicating the life-span of the road or building. It also contained the manual for periodic inspection for structural integrity, mandatory routine maintenance and, when necessary, major rehabilitation or reconstruction.

At a Federal Highways Workshop held at the National Theatre, in 1980, a startled gathering was informed that the year’s budget for maintenance of federal roads was N40,000.00 ($72,000.00 at that time), for a network of 29,000 kilometres nationwide. That was the mentality of the golden years of road construction in Nigeria when things were made to last and the paltry amount was for road furniture (road signs and road markings). Nigeria has come a long way from that. In 1993, the World Bank prompted a Road Maintenance Initiative, launched in Abeokuta, organised by the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology and the Nigerian Road Federation. From that external source came the Road Vision 2000 and the eventual establishment of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), carved out of the comprehensive proposal for a full-fledged Highways Agency for funding, planning construction, maintenance and administration of the federal highways network. FERMA resulted in duplication of bureaucracy; with inadequate funding from budgetary allocations of which meagre amounts were expended by successive politically-appointed boards for purchase of all manner of equipment for directorates in each state.

FERMA, therefore, provides a glaring evidence of the evisceration from national consciousness of the need for regular care for infrastructure and sustaining abiding values in cultures and traditions. The diversion of funds budgeted for maintenance to other uses formed yet another branch in the cancerous tree of corruption. Any cursory audit of funds budgeted for maintenance of infrastructure, in the last decade and beyond, would unearth what the funds were actually used for. The consequence is the type of death trap on Apapa Flyover Bridge and the gaping holes on highways across the land.

Thus, Nigeria has jettisoned a maintenance culture. The professionalism hammered into civil servants trained by the colonialists, which aligned with indigenous cultural tendency to value and protect our heritage, has since been abandoned. Since creation, the various peoples that made up today’s Nigeria lived in mud houses which they plastered regularly. They used local building materials appropriate for the weather of each area and maintained their homes. Till this day, rural dwellers still sweep their surroundings every morning. Things changed, however, with the transition from subsistence living to corporate way of life and from cash-crop to oil economy. Free money created false wealth and the culture of keeping yielded place to one, of ruining. And with that came untold greed.

Everything a person says or does is a proclamation to the universe of who he is. What manner of man would fraudulently divert funds for keeping public infrastructure functional and safe, and stash such away in foreign accounts, or build palatial mansions in a village or an urban neighbourhood with pervasive squalor and poverty around him? Now that there are no havens abroad for stolen funds, and the banking system is evolving to detect illicit flow of funds, what manner of man or woman will bury currency notes in a hole in a farm or the backyard of a house? Beyond Gibran’s allegory on greed being akin to “the over-prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as it follows pilgrims into the holy city” questions about saneness are justified.

This is a national crisis requiring a determined effort at transformation of the Nigerian individual. The Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Government recognised this after the Civil War and instituted the idea of ethical re-orientation. Working on that foundation, the Shagari administration attempted to implement the template by setting up the Ministry of National Guidance, placing within its portfolio, the Ministry for Youth and Sports as well as the Ministry of Culture and Social Development. The Buhari military regime that followed recognised the same need for revolution concerning the mind of the populace. Taking off with a Task Force approach, it inaugurated “War Against Indiscipline” that was short-lived. With the same goal in view, the Babangida Regime set up MAMSER and National Orientation Agency. There is an agency in place, for this long-desired change in orientation. The recent policy pronouncement of a re-activation of Campaign Against Indiscipline is an admission that it is not yet uhuru.

This is, however, not a task for government alone. When someone suddenly shows up on the block, buys up a house for a whopping sum of money, demolishes it and erects a palatial structure in record time, what should be the duty of town planners who approve such a plan and the residents? The ranks of whistle blowers must include economic intelligence officials and the polity. The people must live up to their civic responsibilities: to pay taxes and thereby have the right to demand service from officials in all tiers of government. As a people, Nigerians must stop being docile and return to the cherished values of old.

On physical infrastructure, it must be said that there are very competent Nigerian engineers trained in the best institutions at home and abroad, and who excel in other climes. Here in their fatherland, however, they often serve under politically appointed officials with a penchant for disregarding professional recommendations; and who prefer to wait till potholes become craters to justify the award of major contracts.

Nigerians now set aside global best practices and that has resulted in our failed infrastructure and a collapsing nation. This dementia must end without delay.

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