Pius Adesanmi: Julius Berger is not to blame for Nigeria’s bad roads

by Pius Adesanmi

Fazebuuk Yeyebrity and Mitterand Okorie, speaking of Julius Berger, you dis my pikins never see anything.

About ten years ago or so, I wrote a stinging op-ed blasting Julius Berger. I had gone for a lecture in Abuja and noticed how Julius Berger was ferrying her Nigerian workers: in dangerous makeshift containers welded to Dangote-like trailers. I saw Nigerian human sardines in a Julius Berger truck on their way to work in Abuja. I was livid.

To have Germans come and do that nonsense to Nigerian humanity in the 21st century? I blasted Julius Berger. Because Julius Berger and Shell are actually the real rulers of Nigeria, most Nigerians don’t even know that Julius Berger is an unknown quantity in Germany – a lightweight subsidiary of a much bigger company which the real company at home usually uses for offshore neocolonial slavery in Africa. I blasted the quality of the yeye roads they build all over Nigeria. You won’t even build such roads for rural farms in Germany.

To my surprise, the relevant Department in Julius Berger reached out to me. They offered to host and have a word with me when next I was in Nigeria. A few months later, I was in Nigeria. They kept their word. I was received by two Germans who told me that my article had circulated in the house and they felt compelled to “explain a few things to me”.

Look, what I heard that day nearly made me just kuku close shop and give up on Nigeria. And you know they won’t even tell me close to half of what Nigerian government officials do o. All they really wanted me to know is that they never design sub standard roads for Nigeria. They design roads you would find anywhere in the developed world.

It is Nigerian officials who would insist on watering down the quality of the roads. When you see bitumen on sand, with no signage, no markings, no shoulder, no nothing – all those things were part of the design. A Minister, Governor, Senator, Rep, corrupt civil servants in Ministries and parastatals will hack those things out of the contract and chop the money. Nigerian officials understand that they have so impoverished the people that the mere sight of black tar on sand – with nothing else – will be celebrated as a completed road project with a profusion of thanks for His Excellency.

By the time the two Germans were done explaining my people to me, I nearly apologized for my article. I nearly began to feel that Julius Berger was even trying and making efforts to protect Nigerians from their officials. The only thing that prevented me from reaching this conclusion is that I have read too many books about neocolonial capitalist exploitation and the behaviour of Western multinationals in Africa.

However, one point stands out. In much of Africa and the Third World, Oyinbo has to work hard to exploit you. Oyinbo has to work out an exploitation formula and force it upon the people and their government using the familiar methods of neoliberal, Bretton Woods arm twisting.

Nigeria presents a totally different scenario. Nigerian officials will develop the blueprint for the exploitation and underdevelopment of Nigeria and invite Oyinbo to come and implement it for them.

When next you see a road without lanes and signage, that is not how Oyinbo designed it in his blueprint. That is just what your Governor or Senator insisted he wanted. He has creamed off the money for lane markings and other modern trappings of road design and building in the contract. He believes that those are indulgences and luxuries meant for Oyinbo people and not for his people.

Remember: your leaders design their own blueprint for underdevelopment and invite Oyinbo to execute it. I can’t exactly blame Oyinbo. Ask Yoruba people to explain the proverb about seeing the leg of a mad man to you.

When next social media aides invite you to celebrate their Oga for completing another underdeveloped road or roundabout that will collapse after three rains, think about these things…

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada

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