A Day on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway By Bayo Olupohunda
Travelling on any of Nigeria’s treacherous roads can be compared to the biblical walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But a similar experience on the famished road called the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway presents a chilling scenario. On the day I found myself on the dreadful road, my heart never left my mouth; my blood pressure was at an all-time high. Throughout the journey, I was on the edge of my seat; heart pounding. I said the Lord’s Prayer countless times. At a point, it appeared I would not arrive at my destination. It was scary.
I had never been that scared in my entire life. I had never looked forward to travelling on the expressway. For one, its infamy for making life brief, short and brutish has always filled me with dread. But the Ibadan trip penultimate week was unavoidable. It was an official trip where I was billed to attend a three-day seminar. I did not look forward to it. Ever since Nigerian roads became a one-way ticket to death and destruction, travelling, which used to be my favourite past time, had since become my nightmare. To underscore my fear, I had rejected many invitations from family and friends to attend social events that require me using the road. It is either I feign illness or politely decline.
This, I know, has earned me disapproval from disgruntled friends and families. But what can I do? Reading the news of gruesome accidents on the expressway is horrific enough, now having to travel on it is something I cannot even contemplate. Once, I had been on the verge of travelling for a convocation. On the day I was to be picked for the journey, I disappeared from the house. I switched off all my phones to avoid any contact. Such is my fear for being on that road. But it had never been like this. I remember in the late 1990s when I had to travel on the road as a university student. At the time, the deterioration of our roads had begun to set in. But it was not this bad. Then, we would travel even at night to attend parties and still arrive Lagos or Ibadan in one piece. The Benin-Ore road was also an experience one looked forward to.
The road was smooth. Potholes were rare. Accidents were also few. The accidents that occurred then were due to the recklessness of the drivers on the fleet of transport companies. But as they say, that was in the good old days. Now, due to neglect by successive governments, the roads are in a bad shape. In spite of billions of naira budgeted for road construction and rehabilitation in the last 14 years, the roads are still death traps. Many Nigerian roads have claimed more lives than HIV/AIDS. It has often been said that Nigerian roads are some of the worst in the world. I consider that to be an understatement. Once, I had to sleep on the Benin-Ore Expressway for three days. An entire stretch had suffered too much damage. Broken down trucks created major obstacles with scores of passengers stranded. Of course, we were left at the mercy of armed robbers.
On this particular journey, I saw a woman give birth to a baby. An elderly woman gave up the ghost. It was hell on earth. And to think this happened when the Federal Government had earmarked billions of naira to fix the roads during former President Obasanjo government left a sour taste in the mouth.
Now, back to my recent Lagos-Ibadan trip. As the day approached, I steeled myself for the journey. Even though I am not the religious type, I suddenly became a prayer warrior. Who wouldn’t? I would wake up to pray. I “covered the driver, car, and the road with the blood of Jesus”! When faced with a potentially dangerous situation of travelling on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, I suddenly intensified my personal relationship with Baba God. We set out on the journey and were soon on the road. I quickly did another round of prayer. But it was not long before my heart began to pound again. The reason for my anxiety was obvious. Right from the Berger end of Lagos, you could feel the car vibrating due to the undulating texture of the road. As we journeyed along, the car rocked violently. The entire stretch of the road was dangerously uneven, large potholes were visible ahead. It was like a journey through a rock-strewn terrain. At one point, the road dissolved into a mesh of mud and craters. At the Mowe-Ibafo area, the monstrous heavy duty trucks parked along the road created a major traffic snarl. They added to travellers’ woes.
As we progressed, heavy duty vehicles driven recklessly were a constant threat. The danger they pose to other road users is the main reason why travelling on that road is the most dangerous experience anyone can undertake. The journey gets scarier as we approached the Lagos-Abeokuta bypass. Even the large billboard of President Goodluck Jonathan smiling down at scared passengers did not provide the needed succour. The billboard was installed when the president signalled the construction of the road. But on the day of my journey, there was no sign that the contractors had moved to site. On the Ibadan axis, the reason why the expressway had attained its notoriety began to manifest. The potholes seemed to multiply so rapidly that it became impossible to avoid them. At a point were almost run off the road by a container laden truck. Then ahead of us we saw the same vehicle lurch straight into the bush as if possessed by a malevolent spirit. We were thankful it didn’t drag us with it. On both sides of the road, it was common sight to see overturned trucks; their content spilt.
At Ogere, a trailer stop over, trucks were parked on both sides of the road. They left a narrow stretch for oncoming vehicles. As we approached Ibadan, what I had dreaded happened. A passenger’s bus that had manoeuvred to avoid a large pothole rammed us from the back causing a major damage to the rear of our vehicle, but we did not stop. It was said to be too dangerous to do so. I looked back to see the bus in a ditch with passengers scrambling to get out. Then, at the former toll gate leading to Ibadan, a passenger bus crashed into a stationary truck killing 12 passengers and fatally injuring others. There were cries and wailing as the dead and the injured were evacuated. The remaining journey to Ibadan was uneventful. My thoughts were soon taken over by its peculiar politics and the grandeur of its unending brown roof that inspired J.P. Clark’s eponymous poem about the ancient city. The seminar done, I embarked on a return journey that was even more dangerous than the first. The torrential rainfall filled the potholes making the journey riskier. Visibility was poor. I arrived home on the third day lucky to be alive.
Which brings me to ask: What has happened to the road contract award celebrated by the Peoples Democratic Party on the road as one of the evidence of President Jonathan’s transformation agenda? Has the celebration time not ended to allow for the commencement of work as envisaged?
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