In this report, BODE GBADEBO provides insights into the actual state of the Nigerian roads in relation to their ownership, construction, the activities of road users, weather conditions and policies, among others.
Whenever there’s a report about Nigerian roads, whether it’s on the conventional or social media, the phrase ‘deplorable road’ or ‘Nigerian roads are bad’ is bound to be there. But do Nigerians even know who owns the roads and whose responsibility they are?
According to official records, the federal government owns about 16 per cent of the total road network in the country, which are inter-state roads. The 36 states own about 18 per cent which are largely intra-state and some are inter-state, while the 774 local government areas own the remaining 66 per cent of the intra-state road network.
Between Monday and Tuesday, January 27 to 28, 2020, the minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, along with top lieutenants in the ministry, undertook a tour of ongoing five highway projects in Niger State.
Even though such tour is a commonplace in the operations of the Ministry of Works and Housing, this time, like in other previous occasions, the minister was joined by a team of senior editors from some newspapers in addition to the complement of the regular press corps of the ministry in the entourage.
Immediately the entourage departed Abuja at about 9.42am, the minister engaged the editors, who drove with him in the same vehicle, in a frank chat about the organisational structure of the ministry, the roads and their economic importance, and topic like the road economy, and will intermittently asked ‘is this road deplorable?’ or will sarcastically attracted our attention at some points, saying ‘this is the deplorable road’.
According to the minister, who is apparently not happy with the generalisation of the nation’s highways as ‘deplorable’ or ‘completely bad’, such blanket judgement by some Nigerians “betrays complete ignorance” of the actual state of Nigerian roads.
Although Fashola admitted that there are challenges and failed portions on some of the nation’s roads, he insists that they are not deplorable or totally bad for users.
“I’ve checked the meaning of the word and I think you should. But I want you to observe. We’ve been driving for 32 minutes now. Have we entered any pothole?” Fashola asked. The answer was a chorus ‘no’ and he nodded in affirmation.
“You will drive 80 to a 100km and you will get to a section that has failed. And if you navigate that section, you will continue your journey. These are failures of previous decades and will therefore take some time to be remedied,” the minister pointed out.
Fashola continued: “If you don’t understand what we are dealing with, it will be difficult for you to tell the people what’s really happening. I would want you to pay more attention to other things apart from the road, like the economy of road construction. People don’t understand why it takes so long to build a road.”
He explained how the rains and the knotty issue of compensation caused delay in road constructions, and the economic activities that take place during road constructions, which help in stimulating the national economy.
The first point of inspection was the Maje Interchange on the dualisation of Suleja – Lambata – Minna road project (Phase I) in Niger State after the ministerial entourage was received at Dikko Interchange on the Abuja – Kaduna highway by the Federal controller of Works in Niger State, Engr. Iheanacho Felix Umeh in company of the state’s commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Engr. Ibrahim Muhammad Panti and chairman of Gurara local council, Hon. Yusuf Wali, among other officials.
The route is an important one linking parts of the North-Central and North-West zones of the country to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) including having facilities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) sited on the road.
The project manager of the contracting firm handling the project, Paolo Canpanella, promised to finish the job in three years if adequately funded even as he identified non-payment of compensation to the locals and attitude of truck drivers as constituting hindrance to the ongoing job.
The minister thereafter stopped at two different project sites at Gawu Babangida and Lambata, all in Gurara local government area of the state, in order to have a first-hand feel of some of the challenges complained about by the project contractor.
He directed truck drivers, who indiscriminately parked along federal highways across Niger State, to within seven days, vacate the roads. He warned that at the expiration of the seven days, any truck driver who fails to comply with the directive will face the wrath of the law.
Speaking while addressing some truck drivers at Gawu Babangida, Fashola said the truckers need to leave the roads to enable the contractor working on the road to carry out his job effectively.
“The truck drivers must leave the road, I give you people one week to leave, otherwise, I will bring law enforcement agents to move all of you away. We want all truck users, NARTO and road transport union to leave our highways. Let them acquire their own park and allow the contractors to finish work at a specified time,” Fashola said.
Piero Capitanio, who is the managing director of Salini Nigeria Limited, the contractor handling the project, appealed to the ministry and Niger State government to assist the company to control the inflow of traffic especially as work has begun on the road.
The entourage also inspected the Lambata – Lapai – Agaie – Bida road, which is being reconstructed. According to a brief prepared by the ministry, the project is imperative to link the Bida – Mokwa road section already completed under the World Bank and being a major link for movement of people and goods like petroleum products from South-West to the North-Central states and beyond.
After about a half-hour drive, we made a stopover at another project site on the ongoing Agaie – Katcha – Baro road work at Agaie town. The ecstatic people of Agaie Emirate led by the Emir, HRH Yusuf Nuhu, and chairman of Agaie local government council were already waiting for Fashola and his team.
The 52.3km road commences at a junction in Agaie, passes through Katcha town and terminates at Baro Inland Port. When completed, it will serve as the link road for movement of goods from the port.
In an interview with journalists at the project site, Fashola summed up the importance of the road tour and the economic benefits of the roads to the national economy.
“We are in Niger State. This is easily the largest state in Nigeria in term of landmass and very strategic for national connectivity. We have five road projects under execution in Niger. We started from Suleja – Minna road, which is critical to our national petro-supply because of the NNPC Depot at Suleja and another one in Izom.
“You have seen the work being done on the Suleja – Minna road and also the challenges that we face there. Trucks using the shoulders of the road and even the recently asphalted roads two weeks ago, you started seeing diesel and petroleum products being dumped on the roads. That is going to breakdown the molecular binding capacity of the asphalt and ultimately in a matter of weeks if not months, the road will fail.
“That is a brand-new road and then the uninformed will say that ‘the road was not well built’. It was well built but petro-chemical products and asphalted road don’t just mix. So, we want all of the truck users, owners’ association, NARTO and the drivers under PTD to take note and leave our highways. Those who want to operate vehicular fleets have the responsibility to also acquire their own parking areas. The roadsides should not be used for fleet operations,” Fashola said.
The minister added that the issue of compensation for lands acquired for road projects is for the state governments to resolve since governors are the ones who operate the Land Use Act in order for construction works by the federal government to be hitch-free.
The entourage returned to the Lambata – Lapai – Bida road and completed the inspection on arrival in the ancient city of Bida, the headquarters of Bida Emirate. It was a time for momentary relaxation as vehicles in the ministerial convoy were refueled at a Filling Station in the town for about 20 minutes.
The journey thereafter continued on the already completed Bida – Mokwa road. In the course of the trip, the vigilant Fashola drew the attention of the editors and others in the bus to the left side of the road on the inward bound to Bida, which has been damaged by pressure from overloaded trucks.
“Failure of the roads could be due to weather, but most especially it is abuse. Vehicles are being overloaded beyond the 46 tonne limit. Some people are doing 90 tonnes. That’s law enforcement. That’s not under us.
“We need weighbridges and we’re working on that. But we think it’s more effective to enforce at the point of loading, the ports and others stations,” the minister said.
He then turned to the state’s commissioner for works, Engr. Panti, who was in the same vehicle with him, and asked whether the state government can provide a land to be used for a weighbridge on the Bida – Mokwa road and the commissioner assured that the matter will be looked into in order to salvage the road.
The entourage drove through the night and arrived at New Bussa, the seat of Borgu Emirate at about 9.30pm where the minister and his team retired for the day and from where the inspection team took off for the next day (Tuesday) assignment to inspect the inter-state New Bussa – Wawa – Kaiama road in Niger and Kwara states, which is being rehabilitated.
Interestingly, Fashola revealed that the contractor handling the road project, Gilmor Engineering Nigeria Ltd, commenced the work without being paid a mobilisation fee even though the firm later got some payments thereafter.
He promised to expedite action on the pending cash releases on the project, asking the contractor speed up work and complete the project on time given the desirability of the road by the people in the area.
If completed, the 78.6km road will provide an alternative route to the South-West parts of the country from Niger state through Kwara State.
The entourage drove back to Mokwa to inspect the dualisation of Jebba – Mokwa – Bokani road project where a large crowd of anxious residents was waiting to receive the minister and his team.
The people led by the traditional ruler (Ndalile) of Mokwa had waited the night before to welcome Fashola for the inspection tour but due to time constraint, the ministerial entourage couldn’t inspect the project before driving to New Bussa to pass the night. However, they were not deterred as they trooped out again the next day for the event.
The road project being handled by CGC Nigeria, is a link between the nation’s commercial nerve, Lagos, and the norther part of the country, hence its importance to trade and commerce cannot be over-emphasised.
If completed, it is expected, among other benefits, to simplify the transportation of agricultural products, reduce pressure on the existing single-lane road facilities, reduce travel time and ultimately reduce vehicle operating costs even as it will impact many sectors such as development, the social economy and solve the unemployment problem.
The inspection tour was concluded with a visit to the Phase II of the dualisation of Minna – Suleja road project on our way back to Abuja which was approached from Minna, the Niger state capital end of the 101km road. We drove through Bida to Minna road, which is a state government-owned road and which according to the Federal Controller of Works in the state, Engr. Umeh, trucks are forbidden from plying the road by the state government, a development that has increased pressure on the Bida – Lapai – Lambata road, which is under rehabilatation.
Meanwhile, in Minna, an unscheduled visit was paid to a National Housing Programme Phase II under the Ministry of Works and Housing at Kpakungu area of the town where the entourage was received by the Federal Controller of Housing in the state, Esv. Michael Ibegbu and excited workers at the project site.
After briefing by Ibegbu, the minister interacted with contractors and labourers, a development that projected Nigeria’s unity in diversity as contractors handling supplies and labourers on site happened to be Nigerians of different extractions.
The trip was an eye opener and there is no gainsaying the fact that dividends of annual national budgets as they affect works and housing sectors easily trick down to ordinary Nigerians who engaged in economic activities at road and housing project sites across the country.