Buhari’s first road?
Let us start with a confession: I frankly do not know the first road contract which the Muhammadu Buhari administration, now about to mark its first anniversary, awarded. But it would not be surprising if it turns out to be the rehabilitation of the terribly failed Ihiala section of the federal road which connects Anambra, Imo and Rivers states and passes through the towns of Okija, Ihiala and Uli in Anambra State; Egbuoma and Oguta in Imo State; and Omoku in Rivers State. Contract for the road construction was awarded in 1982 by the Federal Government following a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting which Vice President Alex Ekwueme chaired because President Shehu Shagari was out of the country. Two ministers in the Shagari administration hailed from the towns where the road starts and where it ends. Victor Masi, the Minister of Works, was from Omoku while Paulinus Amadike, Minister of Youth, Sports and Social Development, was an indigene of Okija. It is reasonable to speculate that both men played a critical role in the construction of the road, with Ekwueme facilitating it.
However, like many Nigerian projects, the history of the development of this road has been anything but wonderful. The road has yet to be completed a whole 34 years after work commenced on it, despite the fact that it leads to the country’s biggest oil and gas belt. In fact, the Ihiala section has over the years given the impression that this critical road is easily the worst road in the whole country. The good news is that work has started in earnest in the reconstruction of the failed section. The reconstruction of any part of this road is not included in this year’s budget, but the Buhari administration somewhat found money to fix it because it considers it an emergency. It is probably the first road contract it has awarded.
The awful condition of this road was brought to the attention of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, last December 29 when I returned his call the previous night after he sought to know my experience of travelling from Lagos to my hometown in Anambra State by road, with a view to knowing where and how the government could intervene in road development. Typical of him, he did not promise to fix the road immediately. In an article I wrote subsequently, I noted that Fashola not only likes to surprise his friends, but also loves to under-promise but over-delivers in all assignments, recalling my encounters with him over certain development projects in Lagos State when he was the governor from 2007 to 2011. On no occasion did he state categorically that he was going to implement any of them. In all the instances, one woke up to see that work had begun.
This is the case with the reconstruction of the Ihiala section of the Okija-Ihiala-Uli-Egbuoma-Oguta-Omoku Road. The minister must have sent in the last three months over five teams of surveyors and engineers from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing as well as the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to this road. He is determined to break the jinx which has prevented this relatively short road by including its completion and reconstruction in next year’s budget. But for the time being, he knows that the failed section which cut off the Ihiala people from the rest of the country needs urgent rehabilitation. He consequently has directed FERMA to complete the failed portion before the rains set in this year. And the agency has been working frenetically so as not to disappoint the minister.
The minister has also directed FERMA to use stone as the base of the road, instead of laterite which was used in the construction in 1982. This is to make the road more durable. A major reason for the failure of the Ihiala section of the road which connects key petroleum producing communities is that a large number of heavy duty lorries ply it every minute of the day because most of the sand used in building and construction in towns in both Imo and Anambra states is dredged from the area. Therefore, the ministerial order to use stone as the road platform is perfectly in order. The same thing can be said about the minister’s directive that asphalt be used on the road, rather than macadamizing it, as was the case during the initial construction 34 years ago.
However, Fashola does not appear to be aware that the road has never had drainage facilities. The absence of drains contributed significantly to the collapse. In other words, it is important that FERMA be directed to provide for drainage facilities immediately, otherwise the road will fail no sooner than it is reconstructed.
Perhaps, the most important takeaway from Fashola’s well- known responsive leadership style is the validation of the theoretical framework that leadership, whether in the private or public sector, must be seen as caring in order to inspire the confidence of the followers. By going out of his way to look for funds for the reconstruction of a road which is not provided for in the current budget and which is not from his catchment area in a country notorious for Prebendal politics , the hundreds of thousands of people who use this road need not be told that Fashola is a caring minister. He has inspired their confidence in the Buhari administration. After all, like any other federal road in the Southeast, fixing the failed road was never on the radar screen of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. As the old age aphorism goes, one good precept is better than one million words.
Another key take-away from the Ihiala road reconstruction is that leaders must display personal enthusiasm for their responsibilities. Leadership and management theorists postulate it is difficult for organisations or countries to compete effectively in today’s world if their leaders do not show passion for work. With the likes of Fashola in leadership, there is still hope in the Nigerian possibility.
• Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.