20 May 2012

Nigeria: Project Implementation Palaver - Challenges of the Second Niger Bridge


In this interview, the chairman of the House of Representatives' Committee on Works, Hon. Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi, speaks on the imperatives of constructing the Second Niger Bridge not only to ease transportation in the South East but also as a strategic national asset. He also speaks on why some Federal Government roads are abandoned. Excerpts:

What is the position of the construction of the Second Niger Bridge?

The Niger Bridge is one strategic national old infrastructure that calls for immediate implementation, because of the age in status of the existing Niger Bridge. This Niger Bridge requires immediate relief, because it is old. It cannot carry the weight of traffic that is presently plying through that road, that is why the idea of a 2nd Niger Bridge is being conceived to ease traffic in and out of Onitsha. So it is a strategic road infrastructure that the Federal Government is embarking on.

There was a celebrated flag off(commencement ceremony) of this construction sometime ago, during the last administration, but that celebration was short-lived, because no actual work commenced at that Bridge but today we are taking sure-footed steps towards take-off of that project. In this year alone, we have N7billion allocated to that project for counterpart funding, because too many models are being formulated on whether it is going to be the Public-Private-Partnership arrangement or it's going to be through normal budgetary consideration.

All these are on the table for consideration, but our attitude towards it is that we are going to use an implementation model that will achieve completion of that bridge within the life span of this administration, which will be 3 to 4 years. In the 2012 Appropriation Act, it is expected that it will cost about N90billion or there about. There is no design of the bridge yet, but efforts are being made towards getting it designed, but it depends on the model, because we still need to get a contractor that will provide a very beautiful and viable design. With the arrangement on table, it is expected that we will be able to take-off this year that is the reason why a provision has been made in the budget.

But what model do you think is best, if you were to factor in what government can muster and the durability required?

Well, it is not a matter of preference this time it is a matter of which one will be able to deliver the project.

Some people are advocating that we do it through annual budgetary provision; that is the normal procurement process. But some people are saying that there could be some funding gaps in subsequent budgets that could make it difficult to achieve or be delivered on, which has an estimated time frame for the completion. But now, well, it depends on what works in different jurisdictions. There are some jurisdictions, where PPP is perfectly working, but in Nigeria PPP has not been encouraging to inspire one's confidence to say that we should use PPP model for the construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge.

We could adopt PPP for the 2nd Niger Bridge, but some people are saying that if we have a determined investor who will have the capacity in terms of the funding and engineering know how, then we will be able to do the bridge and manage it and be able to recoup our investments if we show seriousness and determination that it should be executed. For us, every option is on the table, but we have to be sure that we are going to choose the option that will work. But as of now I don't think any option has been selected at the time we had an interactive session with the president.

What is the fundamental problem of this project?

Inefficiency and the politics of project implementation in Nigeria is the problem of the 2nd Niger Bridge. The problem we have with road sector project implementation in Nigeria is lack of funding, inappropriate quality control in terms of supervision and also, contractor-capacity. I mean, in a situation where contracts are given to certain engineering firms that do not have capacity, then, they usually fail to deliver.

Sometimes it is because of lack of funding. Some of these contractors have generated certificates that have not been paid; so when you see these certificates piling up, no contractor would want to return to work, unless those certificates are paid.

And sometimes you have provisions in the budget, but that would just be enough to pay the previous certificates, which may encourage those contractors to move back into the sites, but they will also be minded by the fact that they have to be encouraged or given assurances that the next certificate they are going to generate will be paid. So it is a vicious circle.

Therefore, even if you make provisions in the budget, you will have to pay the outstanding certificates or they will not have the encouragement or the motivation or incentive to go back to the job. And then, like I said, there are engineers or contractors that do not have the capacity to deliver on these projects; so it is mixed grill. It's a mixed grill sort of, so that is the reason why the House Committee on Works is trying to organize a public hearing on a near total collapse of road infrastructure in Nigeria. We want to go through the gamut of issues involved in road construction in this country, to know what the issues are, what the problems are and address the ones that arise from funding or funding gaps and we will also ensure that alternative funding models that will not depend purely on this annual budget provisions, are explored.

We also have natural issues that if you try to juxtapose it with our financial year, you will find out that, because of the fiscal season we have in the country, budgets are presented late, and these budgets are processed by the National Assembly and passed and the procurement process takes a minimum of three months before these jobs are awarded, which is almost sometime around September. By the time you get to September, and the contractor is mobilized to site, it is already the end of the financial year, where funds are now returned back to treasury; and it is a vicious circle. It repeats itself the following year, so we want to have a situation where at the Public Hearing we now come out with recommendations, where we have to take the road sector out of normal fiscal budgets or financial years as it is presently.

What about the dry window in some parts of the country?

Yes! Because even when you have the money, but you do not have a reasonable dry window to bank on for construction, time will be wasting and that money will not be utilized. Budgets should be presented very early, so that the National Assembly could start processing the Budget; that way, we can be able to finish processing the budget before December and be able to work on these projects during two dry seasons: that is from January to March, before the rains start and also September, October November.

The situation where these things are not done and the contractors have a choice of say only October, November and December to do the job, then it's just three months to do the job. So efforts must be made through the extension of budget implementation to address it; mind you these are just temporary measures, but we need to have a sustainable major process of getting things done.

Before the 6th Assembly lapsed, I remember there was a bill that sought to ensure that road contractors would have to maintain roads for 5 years after they are built, before handing them over, the report of the Bill did not however see the light of day on the floor. Do you have plans to bring it up again?

Well, any bill that seeks to achieve that is also okay, but we do not even need bills to achieve that. How we can achieve such a purpose, is to ensure that in contract agreements and bill of quantities, you provide money for the maintenance of these roads, because contractors cannot do the maintenance free of charge.

It is just like a contingency fund. When you have such projects, contingencies arise so you don't just have life contingency provisions for the maintenance of those roads for a period of time. Say, 36months or 5 years after construction or the expiration of liability test bill, which is normally 6 months.

We need to have provision of funds with which they are going to maintain those roads for a period of time or you allow them to, during the bidding process, build in the cost of maintaining those roads in the bill of quantities and the contract agreement. So we can achieve it without a law, but if we feel that because of the situation in Nigeria, we need a law to achieve that then fine.

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