If you value your life, stay away from the Oyo – Ogbomosho highway. Notice I didn’t say “Expressway”. Just stay away, okay? How bad is it? Pretty bad. And I am not talking about bad as in potholes or container-size craters. Those are there too. But I am talking about extremely-dangerous kind of bad. If you are looking for bad…the ordinary kind of bad… go and try Badagry Express, especially between Badagry and Mile2 in Lagos. Try the west-bound lanes going in the direction of Benin Republic. Try it when it has just rained. Try it during the day. That road takes the World Cup for bad roads. And check this out: It is the ONLY logical route any foreigner coming to Nigeria by road from Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin would take. After driving smoothly through the aforementioned countries (even Togo and Benin!), you cross the Seme border into Nigeria and all hell breaks loose. You will drive through 80 kilometers of road in four – five hours on a good day! That is the first impression a first-time visitor gets about the “giant of Africa”.
But bad as it is, the Badagry – Mile2 Express is not dangerous. It is not likely to take your life unless you are a total idiot. But the Ogbomosho – Oyo road…every inch of it…is so bad it could kill you even if you were the only driver on it on a bright and sunny day. You see, your stepmother doesn’t have to task a juju man to help eliminate you. All she has to do is hope you go on this road and her wish will be satisfied sooner or later. This road has killed many people in single-vehicle accidents. And it has killed more in multi-vehicle accidents. For years, this road has regularly killed an average of 15 people every two weeks. In just 50 kilometers!
You come off either the south-bound Ilorin – Ogbomosho Express or the north-bound Oyo – Ogbomosho Express on which you were doing an average of 120 kilometers per hour (intermittently, I should add) and get lulled into thinking you can do the same on this Oyo – Ogbomosho stretch. No, you can’t. You are not going to make it, my friend. And this is, believe it or not, the ONLY logical road on which a trailer hauling goods (containers, fuel etc.) from the southwest would travel to the north, linking Ilorin! It is a face-me-I-face-you two-lane road on which you cannot drive for more than one kilometer without coming to a blind bend!
On top of these winding bends, you have road surfaces with pavement bulging right in the middle, forcing you to straddle these bulges that try to snatch the steering wheel from you. Imagine doing that at a top speed while another vehicle on the opposite lane battles the same hazards. Imagine battling for steering control and then suddenly coming up on one of those craters smack in your lane, and there is an oncoming vehicle on the other side. Imagine facing all these at night and in the rain. You are as good as dead. You can barely do 60 kilometers per hour on that road. I would rather the road was almost unmotorable like the Badagry – Mile2 disaster where everyone is forced to do 20 – 25 kilometers per hour, and stop every so often for others to ford through lagoons without getting stuck. At least, people don’t die there like chickens. Oyo – Ogbomosho will kill you at 60 kilometers per hour.
Returning to Ibadan from Ilorin a while back with my friend, Wale, we came up on a slow-moving line of six tractor-trailers on that road. I was driving Wale’s Prado. Of course, I queued behind the last trailer. I had resigned myself to following them until it was safe to pass…one at a time. Checking my side-view mirror, I noticed that two trailers were now following me too. I was sandwiched between these beasts! But no problem as long as we all snaked along like that. One of the trailers in front was belching thick plumes of black smoke. It was in that impaired visibility that I suddenly saw a trailer appear by my side! This animal had passed the two trailers behind me and was about to pass me too when another trailer showed up in the opposite direction!
Where the heck this moron could be headed that he couldn’t wait for the next 15 kilometers or so for us to reach Oyo and civilization where he could pass safely? I didn’t have the luxury of waiting longer for an answer. The driver started blaring his horn frantically. The oncoming trailer was certainly not going to stop or yield. That would mean going into the ravine. He would not want to go into the ravine. I knew the trailer by my side was going to side-swipe me in order to avoid a head-on collision with the on-coming one. Size is might. So, I took my chances with the ravine to my right. Luckily, the shoulder between the ravine and the road was just wide enough for the Prado. I had to put all the four wheels in that space because the erring trailer took every inch of space in which I was driving. If we had been driving a small sedan, it would have been disastrous because the unpaved shoulder was almost a foot deep! It means even if there was no other vehicle around you and you mistakenly swerved onto the shoulder (“into”, in this case, because it was so deep), you would flip the vehicle and find yourself rolling over in the ravine. You can imagine what I felt like doing to that driver.
On any other road, that would be a rarity. Not so on this Ogbomosho – Oyo road. The entire time you are on that road, your heart is in your mouth. You are constantly fighting either the road or the insane drivers on it, or both at the same time. I can’t imagine such a road in any other part of the world that I have been. I have driven all over West Africa, most of Europe, Asia, parts of the Middle East and, of course, most of the United States; there is no stretch of road anywhere on earth that is more dangerous than this pitiful, shameful, 50-kilometer death trap. Not even in Benin Republic that is just down the road from us. You would have thought that because of our proximity to Benin, we would have assimilated Expressway Construction 101 from them through the process of osmosis, which would have brought us some derivative gravitas in highway construction and help save some lives in our country. But no. We are still stuck in the 12th century road engineering. Please don’t try to validate what I am saying about this Ogbomosho – Oyo road by going there to see for yourself. Just trust me and thank me. Or ask someone else who has been on it and thank me.
What befuddles me the most is how the Alaafin of Oyo and the Soun of Ogbomosho tolerate this stretch between their famous domains. Have the three Senators representing Oyo State been on this road? What about all the prominent sons and daughters of Oyo State that travel this road? Has the Governor been on it? I am asking these questions of the current public servants, but I am really asking all their respective predecessors too. As Kabiyesi, Governor or Senator from Oyo State, if you find yourself in front of the President, the first thing that should come out of your mouth after greeting him is: Mr. President, I want to show you the Oyo – Ogbomosho road. When can you come? And when he comes, take him on it and let him feel the shame of his country. Remind him that this is the road on which your children travel to and from school; your traders move their goods; husbands move wives, parents move children and every two weeks, 15 of them perish needlessly. Avoidably.
I know all the stories about how the Ibadan to Ilorin road was segmented into three – Ibadan to Oyo; Oyo to Ogbomosho; Ogbomosho to Ilorin – and the contracts awarded to different contractors many years ago. I know that while the other two were completed, this notorious section faced all sorts of interruptions. I won’t join anybody in spreading unsubstantiated rumors about one prominent traditional ruler blocking the completion of this road for pecuniary reasons.
All I want to say is that if there is any road for which the Federal government should borrow money to complete (assuming money is the problem), this is it. Complete the road for God’s sake, repair the damaged sections of the Ibadan – Oyo and Ogbomosho – Ilorin ones, and place three different toll collection points on each section. There are three toll collection points in a two and a half hours drive through Benin towards Togo; and two toll collection points driving for 50 minutes through Togo towards Ghana. You will encounter three toll collection points driving for three hours through Ghana to Accra. These roads are great! You can safely do 160 kilometers per hour on them. And they are mostly face-me-I-face-you, two-lane roads! The governments of these countries don’t wait until the roads become Mile2 – Badagry-like before fixing them. They use the tolls collected. It’s the way it is done all over the world. And while at it, make sure you draw lane markings on these expressways; install road signs and patrol the roads for broken down vehicles that may impede traffic. That’s how highways are constructed and maintained in the 21st century.
What’s wrong with us in Nigeria? We want good things but we don’t want to pay for them? Why can’t we pay tolls and have toll collectors not steal the tolls? What’s wrong with us? I don’t want anybody to come and say: “oh, this is Nigeria; you can’t do that here”. You can do it here. Nigerians will pay. We have to change our ingrained culture of mediocre and half-assed road construction that kills us mercilessly.
By Abiodun Ladepo
Ibadan, Oyo State