by Deji Abiodun
26-year-old Timi Adeoye graduated two years ago from the University of Benin and was a frequent user of the Benin-Ore route. According to him, “traveling on Nigerian roads used to be a nightmare for me; I still remember spending twelve long hours on a trip from Lagos to Benin regularly since I got admission eight years ago. “
“The memory of those trips still leaves a distaste in my mouth”, he continues, “but I had to continue because I had to go school. “
Being a road that is the major link road between the West and South of Nigeria, it was appalling that it was in that state of decay. From 2006 to as recent as 2012, anyone who plied the Benin-Ore route would have easily testified to its horrific state. The deplorable condition of the road aside, there were daredevil armed robbers who were lords of the night and perpetual residents of the area and it was inevitable that travellers inclined to always say a prayer to avert terrible traffic jam lasting hours, and loss of lives and property. As Adeoye aptly describes it, it was “hell on Earth”.
Popular columnist, Sonala Olumhense once said, “If you are a Nigerian, chances are you know someone who has spent an entire day, at least once, traveling the 140-mile Sagamu-Benin City road, or been killed trying to do so.“
As the legend goes, a former Minister of Works was reported to have cried openly while inspecting the said road once, calling it a guzzler of lives. Citizen upon citizen have resorted to pleading with successive governments on national television and through other media to see to the swift repairs of the said road.
Despite all these coupled with criticisms from traditional monarchs especially the Oba of Benin whose domain has been a major victim, unfulfilled promises continued to be the order of the day.
Sagamu-Benin is part of the Lagos-Mombasa, as well as Algiers-Lagos sections of the Trans-Africa Highway, and of Nigeria’s East-West Road. First constructed in the 70s, it was originally a three-hour route. Since it began to deteriorate, contracts have been awarded every other year by different governments. Somehow, nothing concrete has been done.
Then good luck came along, even literally. At last, the cries of Nigerians had broken through to the top echelons and the current government’s determination to get the road fixed and useable again was to put a smile on the faces of those who ply the road.
Tapping into the controversial Subsidy Re-investment Programme (SURE-P) funds, the federal government decided to fix the roads once and for all to ease the suffering of commuters. In September 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned the Phase 1 of the road, spanning 75 kilometres. The second phase, as Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen explained had not been fully completed because of technical challenges but was commendably over 60% done.
An excited governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo state – a prominent member of the opposition All Progressives’ Congress (APC) – stressed that the Federal Government’s effort in reconstructing the road is “the most outstanding intervention the road has witnessed over the years.
A road that was once a death trap began to wear a new face and is in its present state, good as brand new. A journey of twelve hours and counting has now been reduced to a third of that time – four hours or less.
“God sent us his son in the form of Goodluck Jonathan!” shrieks Madam Veronica Omoregie who travels every week from Lagos to Asaba to buy goods for her trade that has sustained her and her three children since her husband died tragically in an auto crash on the same road, in 1999.
This transformation was even buttressed by a recent survey conducted by the NOI-Gallup Polls on the 8th of January 2015, which showed that 60% of Nigerians who travelled during the yuletide season acknowledged that the roads had indeed been improved on.
According to the findings released, majority of Nigeria road users found it easier to travel to their different destinations in various parts of the country during the Christmas holiday, unlike the previous year.
The survey read in part, ‘Overall, 69 percent of respondents were of the opinion that the roads had either improved or had improved very much.
As a result of the improved condition of the Benin-Ore road and others in general, transport giants, ABC Transport Company slashed its fare prices in a widely circulated advert carried by The Punch Newspaper in May 2014.
It reportedly added the words, ‘The roads are getting better’, a phrase that is a true reflection of the government’s commitment to infrastructure and national development.
On his way to collect his transcripts last week, Adeoye slept for most of the journey in the 18-seater bus he boarded from Lagos to the university’s main campus in Ugbowo, one of Benin’s many sprawling districts. The inscription “Welcome is the best journey” on the lorry in front of his vehicle one of the few times he was awake barely registered until he got down – the trip was too smooth for him to care.