Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Getting from A to B

(Max, Nat and Zack are seated at their usual corner in the Junction, engaged in a heated discussion.)

Zack: ...so that's it! No travelling anywhere this Christmas. With planes dropping from the sky like flies, it is best for Lizzy, Junior, Mary and myself to sit tight at home where no accident can touch us. The people in the village will just have to do without our presence this year.

Nat: I think you're being unduly worried here. There's only been one plane crash this year. Think about that - one plane crash from the thousands of flights that operate in Nigeria every year.

Zack: What about the many near misses that there must have been from amongst all those thousands of flights? I was reading a story somewhere in which a passenger was talking about this flight he went on. He said that as they were nearing their destination, the plane suddenly plunged towards the ground! The passengers immediately started screaming and calling on God to save them. Luckily for them, He must have heard, because the pilot managed to level the plane out so that they touched down safely.

Max: You see, Nat? This is why I sometimes think that we should clamp down heavily on the media. Before this accident happened, everyone was experiencing these near misses, but nobody thought they were a big deal. Now that the accident has been widely reported, fear has gripped everybody and their goat. What was previously remembered as just 'turbulence' has now become 'an experience in which I came face to face with God, but He said it was not yet my time'.

Zack: Well, whether you regard my reluctance to travel as being unreasonable or not, I'm still not going on any aeroplane. Even if the risk of a crash really was small, the potential calamity resulting from such a crash would be so great that I cannot risk it.

Nat: OK, why don't you go by road, then?

Zack: That's even worse. If your car doesn't fall into a ravine or crash into a pothole that you didn't know was there, then it will be hit by some careless driver. And if none of those accidents befalls you, then there are always the armed robbers, or worse still, the police.

Max: I'm not convinced. You're talking as if you have an airport in your village that the plane flies direct to. Didn't you still need to travel by road from the airport to your village? And if you could travel by road then, what has changed - why can't you travel now?

Nat: I can see Zack's point of view here - maybe the distance from the airport to his village is not so great, so he can risk being on the road for that short period of time. But to travel the whole journey by road? That means you'll be on the road for how many hours, Zack?

Zack: Nine hours - up from just two hours previously.

Nat: Exactly. Nine hours of stress, tension and high blood pressure every time your car has to swerve, slow down or stop. That is not exactly the best state of mind to arrive at your village in.

Max: Hm. No wonder we're seeing the growth of airport and motor-park churches. Where best to fortify yourself with divine protection before embarking on your perilous journey, or to give thanks for a safe arrival?

Nat: It's a real shame that the transport system of this country is such a shambles. Don't the politicians use the expressways? Even if they don't care about the common man, can't they at least repair the roads to their villages? There's bound to be some collateral benefit along the way.

Zack: Repair which roads? Don't you know that the greedy so-and-sos now use helicopters to get from A to B? That way, they don't have to bother with the roads. And even where they need to use the roads, they have these rugged all terrain amphibious vehicles that can handle the worst that the Nigerian landscape can throw at them.

Max: Well, you know the solution to Nigeria's transport network problem. I keep on telling you, but you guys are still living in denial.

Nat: Watch out, Zack - I think Max is about to preach one of his famous 'money-will-solve-everything' sermons.

Max: Well, in this case it will! We know why the expressways are in such a bad state - nobody spends any money maintaining them. What is the incentive to maintain them? Nothing! The government doesn't care, until some foreign president is visiting or its near enough election time.

So the solution is to introduce an incentive to maintain them - and that's by allowing private companies to operate them as concessions. The concessionaire company has the responsibility to maintain the road for a number of years. In return, it charges tolls for road usage and advertising space. After the concession period is up, the road is let out again as a concession for another period.

It's not like the idea is new, anyway. In fact, the government has been making noises about BOT - that's build, operate and transfer - for a few years now as a way of developing the country's infrastructure. The idea is that the company develops the infrastructure - which may be roads, rail lines or power stations. Then it operates the infrastructure, makes a tidy profit and hands it over to the government who may choose to award a contract to another company to operate it.

Zack: And during the concession period, what can we do if the private companies fail to maintain their roads while ripping us off? You've seen the way private companies in Nigeria operate - look at MTN when they first came here. They were charging extortionate rates for their calls, and it was only when other companies started to compete that their price was forced down. But in this case, it's even worse! There's no competition, so the concessionaire can ask us to sacrifice our first born sons, and there's nothing we can do about it!

Max: Not true. Just have you have the Nigerian Communication Commission that regulates the affairs of the telecom industry, you can also a Nigerian Roads Commission that will arbitrate between the public and the concessionaire to ensure that he doesn't try to extort money from the public without fulfilling his responsibility to maintain the road.

Zack (with scornful laughter): Come on! You can see that the NCC is clearly on the side of the greedy telecom companies here, otherwise they would have acted to force down prices long ago. And you expect them to take the side of the motorists whenever there are disputes between the motorists and the concessionaires? Excuse me while I shake my head at your childlike faith in this government defending its citizens!

Max (smiling): Hmm... this is very strange o. You don't trust government to do something simple like acting as a referee in the fight between the road company and the public. But you obviously trust it to do something more complicated like building the roads and maintaining them - something that up till now it has failed terribly in doing. Brother Zachariah - me too, I'm shaking my head at your very strange logic.

Nat (musing): Perhaps there is a third way. If we can't trust the government and we can't trust companies, perhaps we can trust ourselves.

Zack: Huh? What do you mean?

Nat: I mean that every community should be responsible for maintaining the roads in its locality. It can levy the people in the area so that they contribute a towards a road development fund. In addition, the community can charge people passing through the area a small fee for the use of the roads that will also go towards the fund. The proceeds of that fund will be used to maintain the roads.

Zack: That's an unworkable idea. How will you define what a 'community' is?

Nat: Well, the government can divide each local government into Road Development Areas, and the people in each area can choose their representatives.

Max: And it seems in the end that your 'third way' is really just a version of Zack's 'Government Must Save Us Even Though It Is Totally Incompetent' idea. But let us even assume that the government can do what you are asking... before long, you'll have people asking for 'Health Development Areas' and 'Law and Order Development Areas' and even 'Foreign Affairs Development Areas'... and before you know it, you'll have hundreds of independent countries on your hands! This government is too jealous of its power to think about doing something like that.

Zack: Yes, I remember that there was this man who wanted to fix some of the potholes in his neighbourhood... He had started to do this when some officials from his local government intervened, saying that he did not have the authority to do such a thing. The man protested, saying that he was only trying to improve the lot of the people in his area, but it seems that improving people's lives isn't as important as preserving power to local government officials. So that was the end of that.

Nat: Well, if the people in the area were too timid to protest at the local government officials' action, they deserve to have bad roads.

Max: But the man was naïve too. If I were going to do such a thing, I would do it by stealth - maybe at night. And after I had finished, I would put up a sign saying something like "People of Idoko Street, rejoice! Your days of damaged suspensions and dented bodywork are over. Your road has been fully repaired, so you may now drive on it at speed and in comfort.

"However, please note that the lazy, incompetent and thieving officials in local government were in no way, shape or form involved in this reparation work. So the next time they come round claiming that this repaired road is evidence of 'local government in action', feel free to insult them and their ancestors."

Zack: Well, if you're going to do that, don't be surprised if a contingent of hoodlums from the local government office descend on Idoko Street with pickaxes and shovels and completely undo your good work in the name of 'necessary maintenance'.

Nat: But maybe we should move our focus away from roads and aeroplanes. What about rail? I'm sure that if we rehabilitated the railways, we could have a form of transport that was cheap - trains carry a lot of people at once - and reliable - since there's no traffic congestion to deal with.

Zack: Well, there are still many other things that could end up making rail travel as unreliable as road travel even without there being any congestion. Like badly maintained rolling stock, track and signalling infrastructure.

Max: I don't even like the idea of rail travel. I think it's too inflexible - only very expensive trains are allowed on the track and the signalling is very complicated. Instead of wasting money building rail infrastructure that we don't have the expertise to maintain, I'd prefer it if we just built roads dedicated to high speed, high capacity buses. There wouldn't be any congestion either, because the buses wouldn't share the road with any other vehicle.

Zack: A road just for buses, with all that free space in between them? No-o - they'd have to share it with the convoys of prominent politicians.

Nat: And the police and the military.

Zack: And the relatives and friends of prominent politicians.

Nat: And the relatives and friends of military men and policemen attached to the relatives and friends of prominent politicians.

Max (waving away the responses): Did I forget to mention that such roads would be privately managed, and that any 'friend' or 'relative' who wanted to use them would have to pay a really hefty fee?

Zack: Huh - you can't let this private road idea drop, can you? You have to bring it up every time.

Max: OK, I know that you don't agree with me - but you know the funny thing? I'm sure that if they introduced private roads, the same people who are screaming about exploitation would be the same people to use the roads. I mean, wouldn't you want to use the road if it gave you peace of mind and you could cut down your nine-hour journey to just four hours?

Zack: Well, that's moot - because as I said before, I'm not making the trip this year. In fact, I've already told Lizzy to let them know. I guess it's just too bad, huh?

Nat: You don't sound particularly unhappy about it. In fact, you sound as pleased as someone who has been spared the hassle of buying gifts for his relatives in his village can sound.

Zack (smiling): Well, if that is the way the situation is, I can't really complain, can I?

(Just then, Zack's GSM phone rings.)

Zack (putting the phone to his ear): Hello? Oh, hello Lizzy... You've told them already? What did they say?... What?... What???... WHAT?!?!?... Oh my God!!... OK, I need to go away and think about this. I'll call you back later... Bye.

Nat (concerned): That didn't sound too good. I hope everything is well.

Zack (holding his head in his hands): Well, she told them that we weren't coming...

Nat: And...?

Zack: Well, they've decided that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without us... so a contingent of them have decided that they will be visiting us instead. Or should I say... they'll be descending on us like locusts and stripping us bare!

Max: Well, it's not too late. You can always ring them and tell them that you're eagerly expecting them. But ask them to carry one thousand naira each for the policemen at the many check points that they will meet on the way. Then ask them to carry an additional two thousand naira as 'in case' money so that if they meet armed robbers along the way, they won't get killed for not offering anything. Also, advise them to board a well-maintained bus - tell them that you heard the story of this bus that just disintegrated while being driven at high speed. Then ask them if they have heard of that dangerous stretch of road that has claimed forty lives in the last year...

5 Comments:

  • Nice way of addressing real-life issues.

    I've been meaning to drop by for a logn time now, but what with exams and some other things, haven't been able to.

    How did the convo with Seun and co. go?

    By Anonymous azuka, At December 07, 2006 3:02 pm  

  • Azuka,

    Good of you to drop by. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Regarding the convo... well, I haven't heard any news from that quarter for a while, so I'll assume it's in suspended animation. :)

    By Blogger Atala Wala Wala, At December 07, 2006 4:24 pm  

  • Interesting Blog.. I'm surprised I could access it from here..
    Hopefully I can make a comment.
    I'll be sure to bookmark this.

    By Blogger Lee, At December 07, 2006 8:18 pm  

  • Hmmm. I left when it became obvious that Seun was trying to mold everything according to what appealed to him.

    I'm not much into manga and photo comics and trying to 'encourage' me to fit myself into a mold I dislike certainly rubbed off the wrong way on me.

    By Anonymous azuka, At December 08, 2006 1:48 pm  

  • Obviously maintenance is something that is missing in the Nigerian vocabulary, especially when it comes to infrastructures.

    Great post!
    And it's of particular interest to me...

    By Blogger Nilla, At January 28, 2007 4:29 pm  

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