Yesterday, May 14th, at the University of Calabar International Conference Centre, one of Cross River most intelligent Politicians, Barr. Venatius Ikem delivered a public lecture on his "Thoughts on Nigeria's Development Journey and the Fallacies of Hopelessness". He talked about nation building and other sundry issues in Nigeria's developmental efforts thus far.
Without equivocation, I don't think that they're many Cross Riverians who are most qualified than Mr. Ikem to give lectures on this topic. In terms of experience, he's one of the most experienced Politicians in the state having served in all the three tiers of government. At just 26 years of age, he was already a council chairman. He's a former Commissioner, Special Adviser to the Governor and President.
Even without him extending invitation to me, I had made up my mind to cut short all my schedules yesterday to go hear him talk because there's hardly a time I've interacted with him physically or online without learning one or two things!
Expectedly, all those who attended the Public Lecture yesterday left with a "wow" reaction. Professors and students alike felt fulfilled and happy with what they we taught yesterday by the veteran politician.
He focused his lecture on Nigeria's development in Education, Infrastructure, Healthcare, Politics, Communication and Economy. Arguably, in addition to agriculture, I consider these the six most critical sectors to the development of any nation.
Although he succinctly bore his mind on Nigeria's journey thus far in all the aforementioned sectors, what really cut my attention was his opinion on Nigeria's development as it concerns Infrastructure. Like he said, infrastructure could mean many things but for the purpose of his lectures, he limited it to road infrastructure.
He said "According to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN statistics), with a land mass of 920,000km2, Nigeria currently has a road network of about 195,000km. 32,000km of these are designated as “federal roads” while 31,000km are designated state roads. Out of this about 60,000km are said to be paved, or to use our lingo, “tarred”. The rest are rural feeder roads.
“The pre-independence road networks were developed primarily as feeders to the railways, primarily for the movement of cash crops to feed the colonial economy, but after independence, roads were deliberately built to link towns and regions across the country.
Road transportation eventually took over from railways as the main means of transportation, with improvement in the road networks, as roads captured more traffic from the railways.
Substantial improvements to road infrastructure began in 1980 when the federal government expanded Trunk A (federal roads). The current popular state of roads development is the expansion to the 4 lane expressways linking major cities across the country like Lagos-Ibadan, Benin-Ore,-Onitsha; Enugu-Port Harcourt, Kano –Zaria, Abuja–Lokoja etc. Prof. Patience Chinyelu Onokalu in a paper titled Transportation Development in Nigeria: “The journey so far and the way forward”, at the 97th Inaugural Lecture of the UNN.
Futuristic ambitions like the Cross River State Super Highway of 6 lanes are still being viewed with skepticism, but constitute the next imperative given our population projection".
For the purpose of this article, just like Barr. Ikem limited himself to just road infrastructure, I will limit myself to the 260km Cross River State superhighway project embarked upon by the Governor Ben Ayade administration.
Like he rightly said, many people have viewed the superhighway project with so much skepticism; some purely for political or ethnic sentiments. However, the Governor has insisted that his vision for Cross River is much more bigger than now but the future.
If the analysis by Mr. Ikem is anything to go by then the question of whether or not we need the superhighway should give way for how all hands must be on derk to ensuring that the project is achieved. This is because with road infrastructure taking over from rail as the main means of transportation and with the increasing population, it's has become more a necessity for government to think of developing infrastructures that would meet up with the contemporary and futuristic demands.
Remember, road development started in Nigeria with one lane, to two, to four and now to six in a few cities hence, Cross River constructing such a massive road that will cut across the entire state would not only create positive history but open new vista of development not just in the state but south and the entire country.
Those opposed to the superhighway project have devised several points to use to knock the government. Initially, it started with the agitation for proper Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), in fact I was one of those who wrote many articles demanding that proper EIA be done. The Governor heeded to the voice of reason, conducted a satisfactory EIA and got a conditional approval from the Federal government.
When the conditional approval was given, I expected everybody to commend the Governor as well as bury their grievances and support the government to meet the conditions for work to commence. Regrettably, not many had an open mind like some of us as different stories about lodging of woods and the forest reserves were introduced again to discredit the Governor and the government. Magically, he succeeded in conquering that and at the point of awarding the contract, they came again with different petition questioning why the Governor would have to borrow to embark on a project that as a people, we many never run away from.
In this state, some administrations who have even earned more money than the present government used to borrow money to pay salaries. But Gov. Ayade is not borrowing money for salaries or overhead. He wants to borrow for capital project that with our increasing population and the reality on ground and as a state, we cannot continue to pretend that we don't need another road in the state for more economic activities an investors to explore.
Besides, it is on record that Calabar, Cross River State capital which is incidentally Nigeria's first capital is the only state capital in Nigeria operating mono-road network. This is a state with shares international boundaries with other countries.