At the end of each year, government's tradition is to activate a flurry of activities to make the nation's roads bearable to travel on. The usual slogan is 'palliative repair work' that the April rains are sure to wash away and then the vicious circle continues. Money required to bring the nation's roads to acceptable standards is in the region of N500 billion annually, but the Federal Ministry of Works that should fix these roads has an annual budget of N100 billion. Nigerians will have to choose a suitable model to manage these roads, writes Bennett Oghifo
At this time of the year some major roads take the highest volume of traffic and these are the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the Sagamu-Benin-Onitsha stretch, Abuja-Lokoja, Abuja-Kaduna, Onitsha-Owerri-Enugu-Port Harcourt roads. These are roads that must be rehabilitated for travelling to be stress-free.
As at yesterday, there was traffic congestion on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway because of the on-going rehabilitation work by Julius Berger Plc. The last time the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen inspected progress of work on the road, he promised that the Ibadan out-ward bound lane would be made ready before the Christmas exodus began. Julius Berger is working hard to keep the promise.
A driver of one of the transport companies operating at Jibowu in Lagos, who identified himself simply as Ojo said he intended to leave Lagos very early today to be ahead of the traffic that usually builds up along that stretch.
State of other roads
The reports on these roads are from reputable transport companies whose vehicles use the roads daily. Most of the drivers who gave assessments of the roads have their offices at Jibowu.
A driver, Joe, with the Anambra State Government assisted motor company, ANNIS, said the Sagamu-Ondo road is alright but that it still had some pot holes and that it is narrowed as some points by broken hedges and uncontrolled vegetation at the sides of the road. "Grass has grown an covered some part of the right lane and drivers avoid those places because we don't know who may be hiding there. But the main road is good. Only the pot holes which we try to avoid but if FERMA can repair them then the journey will be smooth."
The driver said the Ore stretch that was usually a problem has been rehabilitated to a point that vehicles no longer have break downs. "Road Safety controls the trailers and direct traffic to prevent jams. They have started controlling traffic to ensure that drivers do not cause unnecessary traffic jams. It is the impatient drivers, particularly those people who do not drive regularly on the road that cause the problem because they do not know how to drive on highways."
All the drivers asked said the Ofonsu-Benin stretch is alright but that truck drivers clogged the Ofonsu and Okada junction areas. Joe said, "Road Safety people should try and control them because this time of the year many vehicles use the road and little delay can cause traffic problems."
The Benin by-pass has some failed portions that need to be rehabilitated fast. The bad portions slow down drivers who say they are sometimes attacked. The part of the bypass that links Agbor road in Benin City is said to be very bad. Joe said the bad stretch had been like that for a long time and that drivers were sometimes compelled to go through Ikpoba Hill-Ramat Park to get to Agbor road, stating that this was a longer route. "Benin-Onitsha-Awka road is alright. FERMA has patched some bad spots between Awka and Enugu and it is now manageable."
Lagos to Abuja stretch has not changed much because rehabilitation work is yet to be done, said Mr. Asho, a driver with Corporate Travelers that shuttles between Lagos and Abuja. "The road from Ilesha to Akure is still very bad. Nothing has changed there because no work has been done. It is the same bad situation at Lokoja. Construction work on the road to Abaji-Gwagwalada also slows traffic."
On the Warri-Port Harcourt route, a driver with Genero Transport, Mr. Raphel, said the failed portion at Patani that was caused by ravaging flood has been rehabilitated but that most drivers were unaware of this because they still go through Onitsha-Owerri-Aba to get to Port Harcourt. "The road is okay now and the FERMA people are still working there."
Bridges in Lagos
These bridges deserve special mention because of the weight they bear daily. For instance, heavy-laden trucks exiting the Apapa Ports have done some damage to these bridges that construction experts alone could tell how much damage has been done.
The Leventis Bridge close to Flour Mills at Apapa needs urgent attention because the joints are coming apart and widening, exposing gaps that compels drivers to use their starting gear at some points. "The gaps were not this wide when they were closed a few years back," said Musa Mohammed, a regular user of the Ports, yesterday. Also, the bridge heads at Ojodu-Berger are coming off at both ends. They were rehabilitated some years ago using metal plates to cover the gaps but these plates have given way, exposing the need for permanent rehabilitation.
The Federal Government has promised to rehabilitate these bridges. Onolememen said so at the reopening of the Third Mainland Bridge.
Onolememen said The federal government will conduct routine maintenance of bridges in Lagos, the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen has said.
The minister, who inspected rehabilitation work Borini Prono is doing on the Third Mainland Bridge at the weekend, used the opportunity to put on record that "the on-going repair of the Third Mainland Bridge is the first in a series of maintenance work that the Federal Ministry of Works is embarking upon in Lagos State."
The state, he said, "We have received enough reports that will enable us commence other maintenance work on some of the other bridges in Lagos. But make no mistakes about it, because these maintenance works are routine and has nothing to do with the integrity of the bridges in terms of safety or structural state of the bridges. Our bridges are still very much intact and as a government we owe it to the people to ensure that these bridges are routinely maintained and I want Nigerians to know that this is the new paradigm in the federal ministry of works. In the past 30 years, this is the first time this kind of routine maintenance will be undertaken on our bridges in Lagos and this is in the spirit of the transformation agenda of the federal government headed by President Goodluck Jonathan and most of us who are members of his cabinet have been given the marching orders to ensure the delivery of those projects."
Permanent solution costs trillions
The Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, stated recently that about N500 billion would be required annually for the next four years in order to fix Nigerian ailing roads and bring them to global standard.
Onolememen said the average annual budget of about N100 billion for road development was grossly inadequate for the nation's 35,000 kilometres of federal roads. He observed that "from past experience, budget provisions are not fully released," adding that in 2012, "only N110 billion was released out of a total budgetary provision of N143 billion."
He said there was a "Need to address the near total collapse of federal roads across the country." And recommended alternative ways of funding highway infrastructure by the Federal Government which include: adoption of Annuity contracts for key arterial routes; borrowing from multilateral agencies and Pension Fund for the key highway infrastructure; floating of Road bonds for highway projects; and Viability Gap Funding. Other alternative funding arrangements he suggested are implementation of the 5 per cent fuel surcharges; user-related charges and conventional Public Private Partnership finance for road infrastructure. Onolememen gave details of efforts to reinvigorate and make the management of the nation's federal roads and on-going projects more effective which include restructuring of the two highways departments into twelve departments, the decentralization of the management of the nation's existing road networks and the development of the recovery of new and deteriorated routes.
He also mentioned the constitution of six independent Zonal monitoring teams in October 2011 reposting directly to him in order to provide independent assessments and enhance the execution of all on-going road projects nationwide. He added that in order to hone-in these new changes in the management structure of the ministry a four-day Retreat for Management Staff was organized at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, in October 2011 with the theme: Improving Road Sector Infrastructure for Socio-Economic Transformation.
The Minister further stated efforts he made to improve critical routes on the federal roads network, which are the Shagamu-Ore-Benin Dual carriageway, Onitsha-Enugu Dual carriageway, Enugu-Port Harcourt Dual carriageway, Lagos-Ibadan Dual Carriageway, dualisation of Abuja-Lokoja-Benin Road, Dualisation of Kano-Maiduguri Road and the construction of Loko-Oweto Bridge.
He stated that a Transaction Advisor has been commissioned for the 2nd Niger Bridge under the Public Private Partnership model which is expected to culminate in the award of the concession for the bridge by early 2013.
These efforts, the Minister said were also being complemented by the "Operation Safe Passage on Federal Highways" aimed at recovering deplorable sections of major roads to ameliorate the challenges of road users during the festive period.