The subject of road development appeals to all Nigerians just the same way good governance touches on their sensibilities. It is again not out of place to conclude that the passion of previous administrations for roads and general infrastructural development has always formed the underlying principles of government objectives like vision 20:2020, the Seven-Point Agenda and now the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Mike Onolememen is the man at the helms of affairs at the Ministry of Works. With his background as an Architect and trained construction manager, hopes are high that President Jonathan is indeed on the right track to transform the nation's road sector as observed in his first 100 days in office.
The new Minister has invested so much mental energy to explain how the country can get out of the doldrums in the road sector through the establishment of the Nigeria Road Fund and the Road Fund Management Agency. According to him, the Road Fund will integrate the various monies and resources which ordinarily should be re-invested into the maintenance of the nation's roads network but most of which have been finding their way into individual pockets, or at best a paltry percentage of these sums of money go into government treasury for outright sharing among the tiers of government. The economically viable roads can be made to become self-sustaining, as resources generated from them are ploughed back into maintaining them, noted the new Minister.
If Nigerian roads must be enhanced like in developed and developing countries, the Public Private Partnership initiative must be encouraged. Through this novel idea the private sector will build roads and toll them. While the revenue from these toll-gates, adverts on the roads, traffic offenders' levies, registration of vehicles fees, weigh-bridge fees, contributions of stakeholders, etc, go into the Road Fund, the Road Fund Management Agency will determine how the roads are maintained with the funds.
The beauty of the Road Fund Management Agency is the composition which will include stakeholders like the FRSC, Police, NURTW, Organised Private Sector, Federal Ministry of Works, etc and they will manage the roads like private businesses.
Policy directions are veritable compasses to assessing the direction of governance. Recently, Nigerians witnessed the Ministry's swift intervention on the Oshodi-Apapa expressway, the Shagamu-Ore-Benin road, Lagos-Ibadan road, Abuja-Abaji road, Sokoto-Illelah road linking Niger Republic, Onitsha (Bridge Head) - Upper Iweka (Part of Onitsha-Enugu road), just to mention a few.
The Rainbow section of Oshodi-Apapa expressway had caved in mid-July. Shortly after the reports, Nigerians woke up one Monday morning to see the failed section totally rehabilitated. The Ministry had directed the contractors to make the repairs strictly on weekend, working day and night, to save Nigerians the horror of spending several man hours on chaotic traffic confusion.
There was also the special intervention on the gully erosion problems of the Lagos-Abeokuta expressway and the contentious Lagos-Ibadan highway which was concessioned since 2009. For the first time, the concessionaire, Bi Courtney Highway Services Limited, has begun repairs of the road in tune with their agreement with government.
On August 1, 2011, the Minister of Works was on a working visit to the Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja expressway which has been on-going since 2006. He was able to return three out of the four contractors to sites, after staying away for years over monies owed them.
By the end of this year, commuters will be able to drive from the new Gwagwalada Bridge straight to Giri Bridge, thereby reducing traffic problems.
The Benin-Ore-Shagamu road was particularly exciting. The two kilometre stretch at Ore, which have repeatedly swallowed tax payers' monies over the years and making Nigerians to suffer untold hardship, is also receiving the attention of the Minister professionally. Following the recent subsoil investigation of the area, Onolememen directed the contractors to build a deep Stone Base and Macadam layer to prevent water from sipping up into the road before the laying of asphalt.
The Sokoto-Illelah road that connects the country to her northern neighbour in Niger Republic which was recently wrecked by flood has also been awarded at a sum of N2.2 billion. The repairs will include the Usman Dan Fodio University Road. Apart from the second Niger Bridge in Onitsha which President Jonathan has approved for construction and now in the design stage, government has also awarded the rehabilitation of the existing Onitsha-Enugu expressway, from the head bridge up to Second Iweka at the cost of about N2 billion. These were part of President Jonathan's campaign promises few months ago.
The Gombe washout in Gombe State and the Auchi washout in Edo State are both receiving the attention of the Works Minister.
As part of what is considered as institutional changes to make the Ministry of Works more responsive to the increasing demands for effective supervision and monitoring of road contracts across the country, the Minister of Works recently announced the establishment of six Zonal Directorates of Highway to be headed by directors. In the past, the Ministry had one Director of Highway nationwide who was domiciled in Abuja.
Governors have in the past complained of poor supervision of federal roads by the Ministry of Works. With six new Directorates, the prospect of close supervision is now guaranteed while the over 70 Deputy Directors in the Highway section now have hopes of rising to the peak of their career.
The Council of Registered Engineers and the Nigerian Society of Engineers have lamented the dearth of younger engineers at the Ministry. The Ministry has also received the approval of Mr. President to recruit younger engineers. As President Jonathan beats his chest in his first 100 days, transformation to him also represent a process that alters unproductive institutional culture by changing the underlying assumptions, behaviours, processes and structures to meet with the transformation agenda.
Even the contractors recently summoned to an interactive section with Onolememen are upbeat about the new reality in the ministry of works as against the blackmail and corruption of the past.
Nothing more dramatized this new way than the recent payments of some outstanding certificates to disserving contractors without the contractors knowing as much that such a process was under way until they variously got alerts from their banks. This has had the salutary effect of more contractors returning to site, and pledging to work cooperatively with the new helmsmen at the ministry.
The future seems bright, and Nigerians can look forward in genuine hope for better roads across the country, as promised by President Jonathan in his transformation agenda.
Mohammed Kabiru, a teacher, wrote from Zaria