Markings and signage on highways
Minister of Power,Works and Housing Babatunde Raji Fashola could not have been more correct when he said travellers on Nigerian highways often found it difficult to locate their destinations because the roads are bereft of adequate signs and markings. He spoke recently at the 23rd meeting of the National Council of Works with the theme ‘Adequate Traffic Signage: Essential Key for Highway Infrastructure, Safety and Comfort’ which was organised by his ministry in Abuja. Fashola said long before the advent of the internet and the widespread use of smart phones and apps, many countries had developed maps to help guide their citizens and transport infrastructure users through the labyrinth of their network of roads.
“But these maps alone do not achieve the purpose without road signs, which indicate to road users how far their journey is, how far they have progressed, how much is left to travel, and how far away they are from one village, city, local government or from critical services like hospitals, fuel stations and hotels or motels to help ease stress and tedium of long distance travel. Sadly, these signs are either non-existent or insufficient on our highways. So, imagine driving by yourself into a city you have never been to. How do you know where to link the next interstate highway, or expect to buy fuel or plan to sleep for the night on a long journey, or get medical help in case of a road accident?”
The minister may have stretched the truth a bit when he spoke of “critical services like hospitals, hotels or motels to help ease stress... get medical help in case of road accidents” because these essentials are also non-existent or wholly inadequate on Nigerian highways. But this is a challenge for the government and the private sector to cash in and provide these services. The essential truth of his message however is the urgent need for the provision of signage and markings on our highways. Apart from those items he raised, another important one is lack of signs for diversion or turning during road construction or rehabilitation, which causes confusion, stress, tension and accidents. One may have driven on a road only for one to drive again a few days later and suddenly find the road blocked with diversion, but with no warning sign. This has almost become the norm in Nigeria. Highway bandits capitalise on this lapse to pounce on unsuspecting motorists.
As so often happens this points to the failure of Nigerian state institutions where laws, policies and regulations exist on paper but are mostly applied in the breach. Fashola’s omnibus Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is therefore to blame for the lax installation of road signs. We urge Minister Fashola to enforce the culture that no road should be allowed to be used without proper sings. He should also do what is necessary for road construction to go hand in hand with road markings, because it is strange that some road contractors are only contracted to build roads but they leave the markings out as it is not part of the contract. If they must be different for whatever reason, the markings contractor should be engaged at the same time.
The ministry should have a team to monitor roads for sustainability and continuous repair of faded signs or those knocked down by accidents, marched on by cows and so on.
A road is not complete without markings. It is as important as calibration in piloting. We thereafter hope that state commissioners of works who were present at the meeting of the National Council of Works should take note of what the minister said and extend the same culture to state and even rural road networks. No road in Nigeria is too rural or too unimportant to go without signs and markings.