Shortly after a conversation between two of my favorite proteges, Mitterand Okorie and Immanuel James Ibe-Anyanwu gave me the inflatus for an essay on Julius Berger, a perplexed Nigerian phoned me.
Although the terrible condition of Nigeria's infrastructure is a given, he says, his governor has really been trying with road construction. He has always given his Governor an A+ for road construction. "In fact, Prof, if you see some of the roads he completed and launched last year, na like jand".
I told him to send me pictures of some of the "ultramodern roads" that his Governor completed and launched last year. He obliged me the following day. He also sent me photos of the ribbon cutting - a whole day of suspended governance and grounding the state to launch His Excellency's new project.
I told my interlocutor to watch this space for my response at a time of my own determination for what I was moved to say to him was also good for public illumination.
"Prof, you don start be dat o. Na so person go open up to you, you go turn person to one of your teachable moments.", he joked.
"Before nko", I replied, "but you know I will never write it in a way that would give you away. No worry. I won't open your suegbe yansh".
This morning, he phoned to remind me of my promise to address the issue of his Governor's exemplary achievements in road construction.
My interlocutor is a hardworking, intelligent, masters degree holder. I am currently mentoring him as he contemplates enrolling for a Ph.D. However, he has never left the shores of Nigeria.
The photos he sent to me are like photos of phase one of the ongoing routine road construction in my neighbourhood here in Ottawa- a sprawl of unmarked macadam spreading kilometres. There are usually two or three other phases of layering, structuring, testing, glossing, compressing, and smoothing before you arrive at the final stage of markings, signage, construction of shoulders, etc.
What occurred to me - and I am writing this with considerable sadness and in all seriousness - is that a 25-year-old Nigerian with a masters degree has simply never seen or experienced anything beyond what is considered PHASE ONE of road construction in civilization. Phase one is virtually where all road projects in Nigeria stop and are declared ultramodern and launched with fanfare.
Mind you, phase one here comes with a lot of digging and konkere (concrete foundation) before the macadam is spread on the road. You don't just go and spread bitumen on the sand, declare that you have constructed an "ultramodern road", and launch it with fanfare - to be washed away by the first rains.
If you do not know what a completed road looks like, if you have never seen the real deal, you will always celebrate the "ultramodern roads" that state Governors inspect and launch in Nigeria.
I did warn you in the Julius Berger article that the construction companies do actually design the roads to be completed in every phase of design and construction in civilization. It is your Governor, your Senator, and your senior civil servants who peel off the layers and tell them that mere macadam surfacing, mere oda gberefun on the sand, is good enough for you. They then eat up the funds for the remaining phases of the road project.
I need to add a few more things to your civic enlightenment. When my neighbourhood road project is complete, structural and civil engineers from the works department of Ottawa City Hall will inspect and certify it and that is that. It would be politically ruinous for the Mayor of Ottawa or the Premier of the Province of Ontario to waste the billable hours of the taxpayer by going to inspect or launch a routine road construction project.
I have never even seen my Ward Councillor idling around with a pot belly, claiming to be inspecting construction projects. We were treated recently to stupid photos of an idle Governor inspecting a roundabout with the water fountain at midnight. My only consolation: at least he wasn't doing it during office hours on that occasion. Allah be praised.
Every time you see photos of a pot-bellied Governor inspecting the surfacing, dualization of a road, you are paying for the time he is wasting. It is called billable hours. What is his business with routine photo-ops at construction sites? Is he a civil or structural engineer? Such needless ceremonies stem from our national culture of idleness and wasting official billable hours. What are the quality assurance inspectors in the state ministry of works supposed to be doing?
Of course, it is all part of the fragile ego of His Excellency. He must be seen beaming and claiming credit. As if he constructed the road with his father's father's money.
Nobody calculates the naira cost of the time your Governors spend inspecting and launching 17th-century construction projects.
Henceforth, any political aide who posts photos of roads which look like phase one road construction and invites you to celebrate his Oga should be tied to the stakes and shot.
When next a political aide uses the adjective, ultramodern, to describe any such construction work that is launched, take a coconut and crack it on his head.
You will hear of an ultramodern public building. How can a building that will run 24/7 on Mikano be modern by definition, let alone ultramodern, in the 21st century?
We have to take baby steps in rejecting what they serve to us. Do not accept their excuses that there is no money. A Nigerian Governor will claim to have spent on just phase one of a 12-Kilometre road what it would cost the government of Ontario to construct all the phases of the same stretch of road.
You deserve more.
Stop celebrating their oda gberefun on the sand.
Pius Adesanmi, an acclaimed literary and cultural critic, was born in Nigeria and now lives in Ottawa, Canada, where he teaches literature and African studies at Carleton University. He is one of Nigeria's major intellectuals and writes two weekly columns for the influential Sahara Reporters and NEXT newspaper. His first book, The Wayfarer and Other Poems, won the Association of Nigerian Authors' Poetry Prize in 2001.