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Bad roads: Fashola on the firing range

...Nigerians, CSOs spit fire over Minister’s comment on dilapidated federal roads

The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, again came under heavy attack recently over his comments on the state of federal roads across the country. Just as some Nigerians were bemused over his inability to guarantee uninterrupted power supply to the nation while he held sway as the Minister of Power during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term, his recent comment on the parlous state of the country’s road network has again drawn flaks from a cross section of Nigerian citizens who queried his claims.

It all started when Fashola was asked by a State House Correspondents why Nigerian roads have remained impassable despite the billions of Naira approved by the Federal Executive Council to fix them.

“I am worried because a trip across roads from Abuja to Uromi, Delta State, Edo, Imo and other south east states show that the roads are bad. Will you say that Nigerians are getting value for the monies budgeted for these roads?” The correspondent asked

Responding, Fashola said: “I understand the role of the media, is not just to report the news but also to educate the public. “I have invited this (press) corps to either convey a one-day meeting where all the issues concerning roads and housing (can be) addressed and I make myself open to any invitation as you may deem fit so that you can have a better understanding of what’s going on in various sectors.

“I say this in the context of: when I come here to announce that a particular amount has been approved for a contract, that doesn’t mean the amount has been paid, contrary to what you suggest.

“You’re mindful also that the ministry of finance, different arms of government are escalating the fiscal challenges we face as a nation, in trying to fund the budget. You’re also mindful that the last few budgets in Nigeria in the last 20 years have been deficit budgets. These are terminologies and realities we should acquaint ourselves with if we are going to not just report but also educate the public.

“You must also be aware that between awarding a contract and mobilising, there is a distance. First, we have to have an agreement between the ministry of works and the ministry of justice. There is also a role that banks play. These are the things I’d like you to know as correspondents, in order to be able to help me better inform the public.

“Also, building materials, rocks, laterite, quarry, iron rod have to be ordered. Construction companies don’t keep them. The process of blasting rocks requires approval from the ministry of mines and even the office of the NSA (National Security Adviser) to get approval, to get dynamite.

“(On) the problem of some places like Warri/Benin/Sapele road, and the southeast you talked about, first, you have to know that these places don’t stand in isolation. The Niger Delta is the lungs of Nigeria; that’s the rainforest, a high water table area.

“These problems (were) not as pronounced as they are now in January and February. The reason is that it’s the dry season of the year that much of the road construction is done. This is the rainy season. I know there is no country that doesn’t face transportation challenges in extreme weather. In some places, it is winter and snow; they cancel flights. In some places, it is typhoon.

“Flood will affect roads. We’ve seen cites submerged. We’ve seen infrastructure blown down in other parts of the world. It’s one world. This is our time to experience it. We want this season to quickly end so that we can go back to work in the dry season.

“That takes me to the preparation for the ember months. We would be working with the law enforcement agencies, the FRSC, our contractors. The plan is that, in places where they are not yet constructed, they should make palliative so that the heavy traffic movement during the end of the year is manageable and we reduce the inconvenience of our commuters to the barest minimum.

“Help us manage the understanding of the public that you can’t drive through a construction site at normal speed. You owe us that understanding that people must expect some inconvenience. We regret it but we would do our best to bring it down to the barest minimum. If we don’t have rainfall in a year, it will affect food. These are the realities of existence.

“Let me also say that today, my colleague in transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, announced some initiatives. I won’t steal his thunder than to say we expect benefits from those initiatives on some critical routes during the next few weeks that will bring relief to our road networks as those train services come on stream. I’m confident that all of these problems will become history within a short time.

“To appeal to you, yes, we are here to solve problems. Problems (are) headlines for you. But I think, for balance, it is also to show that not all of the roads are bad. Because the focus is on the bad part but you owe Nigerians, whose taxes we use, to also show them that some works (are) going on. Because it is not all Nigerian roads that are unmotorable.

“On Benin-Warri road, for example, many sections are motorable. There is a part that has caved in and collapsed, and that’s where the pain is, and that’s where we would respond to. Same thing for Lagos-Ibadan.

“It is important for us to have balance in order to encourage people to have hope in the country because it is not as bad as sometimes we portray it. That’s your headline, we know. But it’s important we let them know that on a 100km stretch, maybe 10-15 per cent is bad. Maybe you actually have to drive to that point before you feel the pain. Those are the places we would address.“

But Fashola excuses appear unacceptable to the masses who are already frustrated by his constant double -speak on an issue that had sent many to their early graves over the years. The truth is that the minister even when on inspection of roads has been accused of visiting road sites on chattered flights and has resisted efforts to make him travel by road to have first hand information on what Nigerian tax payers experience on such routes daily. This has ignited the suspicion that the minister may not have a firsthand knowledge on how bad Nigerian roads really are.

For instance, during a tour of the Southeast states in May, 2018, Fashola flew into the Southeast in a private jet and returned to Abuja same day by same means. The tour which began in Owerri, led his team to Abia State, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra. As soon as the team ended the tour in Anambra, Fashola headed back to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu enroute Abuja. By so doing, the minister spurned the singular opportunity for him and his team to see the deplorable state of the roads either along the Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi-Okene-Lokoja-Abuja Expressway or the Enugu-Ajaokuta-Lokoja Expressway.

Reacting to the minister’s comment on the state of Nigerian roads, Executive Director Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, said Fashola’s comment was a confirmation that some government officials were in the dark about happenings in the country.

He said: “This comment coming from Mr. Fashola confirms to many Nigerians that some Government officials don’t really know what is going on in the country. The deplorable conditions of our roads have led to many avoidable accidents due to poor maintenance.

That the Minister can afford to make such insensitive comments is a clear testimony that he is hugely disconnected with the suffering of Nigerians, because most government functioneries don’t travel by road to experience the hardship and difficulties ordinary Nigerians are facing on our roads. There is no exaggeration about bad roads in Nigeria, from the North to the South, poor Nigerians are suffering because of the bad roads and the failure of government to maintain and repair our roads.

Government officials usually use tax payers money to fly and hire planes, and with such situations they would not know what majority of Nigerians are going through. Lack of access to good roads is one reason why even farmers cannot transport their products to markets.

Similarly many who are on healthcare emergency, die before they get to the city centre for medical attention.

So, there are many socio- economic crisis arising from bad roads which Nigerians face daily without complaining to anyone But it would amount to robbing salt to injury to be told by a serving minister that their complain if any has no basis. For instance, many communities have been begging government to fix roads for them for years but now we know why it’s not a priority to the government with such comment from Mr. Fashola.

In his own reaction, former Trade Union Congress (TUC) President, Peter Esele, said: “Is it Benin Auchi road or Warri Sapele Road or Lekki Epe- Ijebu Ode road? Majority of our roads are nightmarish.

The outcry against his (Fashola’s) comments speaks volume about the terrible conditions of our roads

Also speaking to Daily Sun, Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, said: “Fashola should be compelled by his appointing authority and the National Assembly to go on road tours to be covered life by national televisions including AIT and channels and other independent newspapers, so Nigerians are shown the current status of federal roads. The media accompanying Fashola must not be paid by the Federal Government but by the media owners or the owners should ask Nigerians to contribute money to sponsor the effort so the coverage is not compromised by government. The situation of federal roads in most states is deplorable. All federal roads in South East of Nigeria are in bad shape. Enugu/Okigwe/Owerri/PH federal roads are some of the worst roads in the World. Onitsha/Owerri/Aba roads suffer criminal neglect. Fashola must relocate his office from his Abuja air- conditioned office complex to the different collapsed federal highways all over Nigeria. Even the federal roads linking Lagos from all over Nigeria have collapsed”

From their spontaneous reaction to Fashola’s gaffe, it can be deduced that most Nigerians are obviously fed up with delayed inspection of ongoing road projects by the Ministry of Works under Babatunde Fashola, who gave indication he had inspected Abuja-Akwanga-Keffi-Lafia-Makurdi and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano road projects amidst heightened criticisms over the snail-paced project inspection of other roads across the nation.

Notwithstanding what most analysts consider the minister’s subterfuge defending a glaring failure to fix critical federal road networks, the import is not lost on Nigerians that he is liable for the pains and agony suffered by hapless citizens travelling on the decrepit roads.

This would become more compelling when his colleague in the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning Mrs Ahmed Zainab, recently revealed the Works Ministry got the loin share of capital releases since the Buhari administration started in 2015.

Indeed, for some critics, it is no longer a case of Federal Government’s neglect but that of failure of a ministry to utilise resources allocated to it well for the good of the traveling public. They believe that doing so will save the nation the carnage and some avoidable road accidents claiming the lives of innocent Nigerians on a daily basis across the country.

Understandably, there are funding gaps in the budget due largely to underperformance of the nation’s revenue projections. This has made it incumbent on the government to prioritise its spending to ensure maximum impacts.

In line with this observation, Fashola’s suggestion at the National Assembly during the budget defense recently clearly resonates. While informing the lawmakers that the nation has a funding gap of N255 billion to deliver on major roads, he stressed that the N157 billion provided in the 2020 budget was grossly inadequate, adding that N2.93 billion was pending in unpaid certificates under the multilateral funded projects, while N306 billion was the amount for unpaid certificates for completed road projects.

The government has done well in opening up the space for private sector participation in the fixing of the roads. Officials must however be careful never to politicise such projects being handled by the private sector.

According to the minister, the ministry undertook a traffic count on strategic roads nationwide which supported the argument of the toll gate system on Nigerian roads.

He noted that the busiest road in the country was the Third Mainland Bridge with a vehicular traffic of 117,000 plus average daily traffic.

However, in spite of the huge number of the projects (over 540 projects), which have been marked for completion in the life of this administration, Nigerians were surprised that the Minister had not inspected any project since his second coming as the Minister of Works and Housing. But ministry officials gave the usual excuse that rains stopped road construction. An aide to the minister told Daily Sun that contractors will return to site after the rains.

Nigerians are however tired of the usual perennial excuses and are therefore insisting that government must up its game as the dry season approaches to ensure that the contractors take the advantage to fix the roads since no one can stop the cycle of nature.

While Julius Berger is handling the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Road with a project scope of 375.9 kilometers, the Abuja-Makurdi project, which is to be expanded to 5.4 kilometers by China Harbour Engineering Company, has a completion date of 36 months.

For Abuja-Akwanga-Keffi-Lafia-Makurdi project, Export Import Bank of China will provide 85 per cent funding while the Federal Government will provide 15 per cent.

The marketing manager of China Harbour Engineering-the contractor handling the Abuja-Akwanga- Lafia- Markurdi project, Ms Rain Liu, told Daily Sun that the project is funded by China Export Import Bank with a counterpart funding by the Federal Government.

Liu said “The expansion of 5.4km Abuja-Keffi Expressway and dualisation of Keffi-Akwanga-Lafia-Makurdi Road starts from the southwest of Abuja, passing through the Federal Capital Territory, and the states of Nasarawa and Benue. The project consists of two parts: the 5.4km reconstruction and expansion section of Abuja-Keffi expressway and the 221.8km reconstruction and expansion section of Keffi-Akwanga-Lafia-Makurdi expressway.

As the first Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan road project in Nigeria, 15 per cent counterpart funds are raised by the Nigerian Federal Government, and 85 per cent are provided by the China Export-Import Bank’s Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan. Meanwhile, the contractual construction period is 36 months.

“As the leading force in the field of infrastructure construction in China, China Harbor Engineering Company pays high attention to the project. Since April 1, 2019, work has been carried out in an orderly manner, including designing, camp planning and construction, equipment and materials procurement and mobilisation, earthwork, bridge and culvert construction in accordance with the requirements of the construction programme. At present, more than 500 sets of construction machinery and equipment are on site, 254 Chinese employees are deployed in place, and more than 3,400 jobs are provided for the local people.

“In 2019, the company completed site clearing for 170km, accounting for 75 per cent of the total length of the project; completed excavation and filling works of 78km, accounting for 35 per cent of the total length of the project; completed 169 culverts, accounting for 49 per cent of the total number of culverts; completed 5 bridge spread foundations, accounting for 36per cent of the total number of bridges. The annual project plan for 2020 is site clearing for 30km, accounting for 13per cent of the total length of the project; excavation and filling works of 87km, accounting for 39per cent of the total length of the project; 60km reinstatement of the existing highway, accounting for 27 per cent of the total length of the project; 70km of newly pavement work, accounting for 31 per cent of the project. At present, all the staff have done all the preparatory works, are ready to seize the golden construction period of the dry season, and accelerate the progress of site construction preparation.

“In the future, the successful implementation of the Keffi Road Project is of great significance not only to the economic and social development, resource exploitation development, industrial restructuring and regional interconnection in the region, but also promotes the bilateral economic and trade relations between China and Nigeria.”

Apart from ensuring delivery of road projects to ameliorate the suffering of the masses, the government has expressed the determination to ensure that the people benefit directly from the fallout of its investments through creation of jobs.

Fashola, for instance, warned contractors handling Abuja-Kaduna-Kano road that it would fund 100 percent and should never violate the local content policy by engaging indigenous workforce.

He reminded project handlers of the Executive Order that makes it mandatory for any company operating in Nigeria to have indigenous partnership. He also told the contractors that there are some basic things they cannot import into the country. These are some raw materials that can be sourced in Nigeria.

“We have found out that companies operating in Nigeria employ 90 per cent foreign staff and 10 per cent indigenous staff. There is an Executive Order that ensures any company that operates in Nigeria must have indigenous partners” he said.
“But I think, for balance, it is also to show that not all of the roads are bad. Because the focus is on the bad part but you owe Nigerians, whose taxes we use, to also show them that some works (are) going on. Because it is not all Nigerian roads that are unmotorable”.

Source: Sunnewsonline

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