Cablegate: The Road to Calabar

DE RUEHUJA #1959/01 2091402
P 281402Z JUL 06




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary. Emboffs recently took an overland trip from
Abuja to Enugu, and then onward to Calabar, traveling on 2 of
Nigeria's 3 "national roads." Poor road and vehicle
conditions, appalling standards of driver conduct, and a lack
of signage all provided challenges throughout the journey.
This was compounded by severely restricted fuel availability
and the continuous presence of overtly corrupt police
checkpoints. While these problems present a challenge for
Embassy travel, they are a daily fact of life for Nigerians
and restrict both business development and the delivery of
government services throughout the nation, perhaps a
significant issue as the 2007 national elections approach.
End summary.

Road Conditions

2. Most of the travel from Abuja to Enugu was done on the A2
and A3 "freeways." While the A3 freeway--the Enugu-Port
Harcourt road--was mostly "dualized" (a divided highway), the
A2 freeway was mostly "face you, face me" (two lane road).
Even where each road was dualized, significant portions
existed where one side of the road was in such poor repair
that only the other side was used for traffic in both
directions. Neither the start nor the end of these
diversions were marked by signs, and drivers seemed not to
adapt their driving to the changed traffic condition.

3. From Enugu to Calabar, travel was again on the A3 freeway
until Aba (the road then continues on to Port Harcourt), and
then on a primary road to Calabar. This road was the only
overland route into Calabar, and was heavily trafficked by
large trucks (often too large for the road) taking goods in
and out of the city. As the terrain turned more coastal,
more bridges were necessary along the road, and were often in
poor repair--most with at least one hole in the guardrail and
a truck or two in the creek below.

4. The primary roads, almost exclusively of the "face you,
face me" variety, were in horrible condition. There were
areas of the roads that were so cratered that they were
almost impassable by cars with insufficient ground clearance.
Even SUVs with more appropriate ground clearance were forced
to slow to less than 20km/hour to pass many of these defects.
The only road repair projects ongoing were impromptu by
local "entrepreneurs" who, as they filled holes with soil dug
from the side of the road, would beg for some show of
appreciation from passing motorists.

5. Road signage was almost non-existent, and there was
frequent confusion about which turn to take. More than once,
Emboffs had to rely on the kindness of strangers to direct
them to their destination, and--owing to this confusion--even
took an unexpected detour through Uyo . Maps of Nigeria are
also rather rare and tend to be of a scale too large to be
useful for most. A recently produced road atlas of Nigeria,
the first of its type, proved invaluable on the trip, though
distribution of this product is seemingly limited and it will
thus not benefit most Nigerians. The price tag is equivalent
of twenty days wages for the average Nigerian, further
limiting its distribution.

6. The poor condition of many of the vehicles on Nigeria's
roads, especially of large trucks, significantly increases
the danger of overland travel. The sides of the roads were
littered with the broken down and burned out skeletons of
vehicles, and faster moving vehicles frequently cause as much
problem as their slow moving counterparts. Pedestrians,
merchants, and cattle are all also frequent roadway
obstructions as are disabled vehicles left in the middle of
the roadway.

Fuel Availability

7. Between towns, there were many gas stations along the
roads, but almost all were closed--and most appeared to have
been so for some time. In Enugu, the privately-owned gas
stations were selling gas for 75 Naira/liter, but most had no
fuel. The publicly-owned (NNPC) station was selling fuel for
72 Naira/liter, with limited availability, and there was a 1
km queue down the road with drivers waiting for a fuel
delivery. The Embassy driver was forced to buy fuel on the
black market, the only readily-available source, paying 116
Naira/liter. In Calabar, fuel was readily available at both
NNPC and privately-owned stations at 69 Naira/liter.

ABUJA 00001959 002 OF 002


8. Perhaps the most striking element of the trip was the
constant presence of police roadblocks, including the
Nigerian Police Force (NPF), Police Mobile Force (MOPOL),
Federal Highway Patrol, Federal Road Safety Commission, and
the Customs Service (with an occasional soldier mixed in at
some roadblocks). On the return trip to Abuja, Emboffs
counted 40 roadblocks in the 5 hours (339 km) from Calabar to
Enugu. If the roadblocks were evenly distributed, this would
mean a roadblock every 7-8 minutes, but the roadblocks were
far from evenly distributed. In the 9 km through Aba, there
were 11 roadblocks--when stopped at one roadblock, Emboffs
could often see the next one just down the road. Corruption
was so overt among the police at these Aba roadblocks, who
had cargo pockets stuffed full of cash, that the officers
were even seen making change for bribes if their victims did
not have small enough bills (note: the Embassy driver
informed Emboffs that the price of a bribe has recently risen
from 20 Naira to 50 Naira, about 38 cents. End Note).

9. Despite the overtly corrupt nature of these roadblocks,
several interlocutors in Calabar said that the police
presence made the road safe from armed robbers, a serious
problem throughout Nigeria. Despite their complaining, most
Nigerians at this point seem to have accepted these hasty
extortion points as a way life if they want to travel around
their own country, and many seem to have accepted at least a
limited value for crime deterrence, though most are still
hesitant about traveling these same roads during hours of


10. Overland travel in Nigeria will remain a significant
barrier to commerce, investment, and governance for the
foreseeable future. Until significant investment is made in
improving the roads and fuel distribution and an even more
significant effort is made to reduce police corruption,
Nigeria will suffer. The cost of operating a business rises
as transportation time, fuel cost, and vehicle repair costs
climb, and these same factors limit the ability of the
federal and state government services to reach their targets.
This limit on the ability of government to reach out to the
people could become significant during 2007's national

11. The lack of basic road safety, as well as other travel
challenges throughout Nigeria, also provides a significant
restriction to the Mission's ability to travel throughout the
country. Airlines do not reach many areas of the country,
and air travel presents a whole different set of challenges,
dangers, and restrictions. Other diplomatic and development
missions in Nigeria as well as the few NGOs present recognize
this same set of problems in their efforts to travel the

12. Interestingly, in the Calabar Museum, there was a
statement by Louis Edet, Nigeria's first indigenous Police
Commissioner, from around the time of independence saying his
two priorities for the Nigerian police were to improve the
force's public image and to reduce corruption. Fifty years
hence, the mission remains the same.

© Scoop Media

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