20 February 2013

Nigeria: The Roads Funding War

Road transportation constitutes a major means of moving goods, persons and services from one point to another in most parts of the world. In Nigeria, road transportation accounts for approximately 80 percent of all movements. Efforts to restore the old glory of the Nigerian Railway Corporation in a bid to redress the over-dependence on road transportation have only been partially successful, despite the fact that Nigeria had at different times within the last 25 years, sought the technical and managerial assistance of the Chinese, Indians, as well as the British who are reputed to have legendary skills in this area.

In a bid to have good roads network across the six geo-political zones, the Federal Government reportedly spent a whooping N1.4 trillion on roads within the last 13 years. This revelation came to light in December last year at the opening session of the public hearing of the House Committee on Works. The public hearing was convened by the House to address the deplorable conditions of Federal roads in the country.

The Chairman of the Committee, Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi was emphatic when he stated that " the condition of our roads is alarming and statistics attest to that".

According to him, between 1999 and 2012, the National Assembly appropriated about N1.414 trillion for the road sector with little or nothing to show for the huge investments in this sector.

"And yet out of about 34,400km of Federal road network, only about 35 per cent is paved and substantial percentage of it in varying degree of distress and or pot-holes. In a country of about 160 million people with an approximate land area of 910,768 square kilometres, over 90 percent of the passengers and freight movement are done by road due to an almost non-functional water-ways and rail transportation," he lamented.

The revelation by the House Committee shows that on the average, about 110 billion Naira was allocated to the road sector yearly. In an apparent reaction to what many Nigerians have tagged whooping budget for the roads sector, Works Minister Mike Onolememen, an Architect, stated that about N500 billion would be required annually for the next four years to fix Nigeria's ailing roads and bring them to sync with road infrastructure development in other thriving nations in the world.

Onolememen who said the average annual budget of about N100 billion for road development is grossly inadequate for the nation's 35,000 kilometre of Federal roads, stated that from past experiences, budget provisions are not fully released.

Buttressing this allegation, he explained that in 2012, only N110 billion was released out of a total budgetary provision of N143 billion. The Minister who made this clarifications at the same public hearing by the House of Representatives' Committee on Works on the Need to address the near total collapse of Federal roads across the country, insisted that the budgetary provision for roads is grossly inadequate.

Funding gap

Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi in an interview he granted an Abuja-based tabloid, noted that it would take almost one trillion Naira to fix the over 30 federal roads in Nigeria. He observed that the problem is the funding gap. "When they award a contract that will be completed in 38 months, because of funding gap, the roads are not completed on time and the prices keep being reviewed up. Look at the Abuja-Abaji road, when the contract was awarded, it was supposed to be completed before five years.

It has lingered and it is almost in its seventh year, and given the funding pattern in the budget, it could take another five years. Once there is funding gap, it has triple effects, so there will always be request from the contractors for review of the funds," he said.

Ozomgbachi stated that making budgetary allocation to the roads is not enough. "We are working on a legislation that will create a Federal Highway Commission that will take major funding of our highways away from annual budgetary appropriation.

It will be less bureaucratic, and the authority will have the powers to give mechanism that will give enough funding. We also need to increase the allocation of the budget: An allocation of N153bn cannot fix our roads; it is too meager to make any impact on the sector," he said.

Experts' corroborate these views

Construction industry experts who spoke to Vanguard Features, VF, share the views expressed by the Minister of Works. According to them, the budgetary provision to this critical sector is grossly inadequate, hence the parlous state of roads across the six geo- political zones.

Although a construction cost expert, Mr. Olayemi Shonubi described the N1.4 trillion approved by the National Assembly for roads construction in the last 13 years as inadequate, he posited that the money so far approved, has not been judiciously utilised.

Mr. Shonubi who is the Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, NIQS, explained that "given the parlous state of our roads across all the six zones, it is obvious that the amount so far spent can not be justified".

The construction cost expert who noted that since the advent of democracy, more funds have been expended on recurrent items than on capital items under which road construction falls, maintained that "the amount spent so far is not enough".

He lamented that "there has not been adequate monitoring of the sums spent because the construction economists who are the relevant professionals required for this are not involved both in the award and supervision of the various roads construction contracts".

Asked what it would cost to build a kilometre of road, Mr. Shonubi said it would be difficult to articulate a figure for the cost of construction especially in the most difficult terrains.

"It should be noted that for most difficult terrains, a bridge would be required which would be suspended on a structural framework comprising piers (very large columns) and piles with the piles reaching varying depths. With adequate civil engineering designs by Nigerian Civil/ Highway Engineers and sufficient subsoil investigations, it would be very easy to arrive at a cost which is justifiable," he clarified.

Shonubi further observed that the bulk of the money spent on roads in the last 13 years were spent on maintenance as there have been fewer new roads built during this period. He called for adequate planning before embarking on the construction of any road project.

"From the perspective of a Construction Economist, I propose that in considering any road for construction, sufficient time should be given to the planning which entails subsoil investigations and design particularly in difficult terrains. This makes for proper costing and evaluation while reducing unnecessary cost overruns and variations that are currently prevalent.

If this proposal is adopted, the amount presently spent on recurring maintenance will be reduced if not totally eliminated. In making this proposal, I have in mind the Benin - Sagamu Expressway, which despite having undergone so many rehabilitations during this period was, until about a year ago, in a dilapidated condition.

The recurring rehabilitation is attributable to the fact there is a recurring failure in a section - the Ondo State section- which is due to the fact that the original design did not effectively deal with subsoil conditions," the Lagos NIQS chairman said.

An engineer's opinion

In his own reaction, a Lagos-based civil Engineer, Mr. Afolabi Adedeji noted that N1.4 trillion for the roads sector in 13 years is inadequate. Although he was not categorical, Adedeji stated that most of the equipment used in roads construction are imported and are therefore paid for in foreign currency.

His words: "I can tell you with little fear of contradiction that the size of Highway Development Budgets in emerging economies like Nigeria cannot be fairly assessed without due consideration being given to the "Naira to US Dollar parity" ratio as it fluctuates from month to month as well as from year to year.

This is because, many of the inputs or raw materials that go into road, bridge, and highway development are either imported wholesale or are not produced in adequate quantity locally. Examples are Coal Tar, Asphalt, Bitumen for road surfacing/pavement construction, Reinforcing Steel Rods, Road furniture such as Street lights, Traffic lights, Hand railings, etc., Heavy construction equipment such as Pneumatic Rollers, SRollers, Vibratory Rollers, Scrapers, Graders, Grubbers for removing roots of trees in 'virgin'/fresh road construction work, the Steel Casing for Piles in Bridge Construction Work, Pile Drivers, Cranes, and so on"

Recalling what he called the 'dark days' of military rule in Nigeria, Adedeji alleged that the value for money on Government-sponsored projects was very often as low as a mere 14 percent. "The implication of the foregoing is that for every N100.00 of a budgeted sum on a contract, N14.00 will go into the job, whilst the remaining N86.00 will be utilised to keep the "restless" boys happy.

In a similar vein, a more recent World Bank Report revealed that procurement 'leakages' reduced value for money on Government projects in Nigeria to about 40 percent.

On what it would take to construct a kilometre of road, he explained that it depends on the quality of road and the terrain. "A major financial institution, Zenith International Bank Plc, as part of its corporate social responsibility, under the management of Mr. Jim Ovia, rehabilitated Ajose Adeogun Street in Victoria Island, Lagos, to world class standard at a contract sum in the neighbourhood of One billion Naira. The length of the road is scarcely up to one kilometre," he said

Continuing, Adedeji who is Chief Executive Officer of Ethical Business And Management Associates, EBAM in Victoria Island posited that "if a "hypothetical" road is to be constructed in a hilly or mountainous terrain like Mambilla Plateau in the Benue State, Adamawa State as well as Plateau State, in Nigeria's Middle-Belt axis, there will certainly be a lot of bridge works involved.

Movement of construction materials as well as equipment up -hill will also be very tedious as well as cumbersome. Perhaps, there may be a need to do some blasting of rocks to provide coarse aggregates for concrete work. What about the welfare of the supervising engineers, technicians, Project managers, etc.?

They need clean water to drink, electricity to study the drawings at night, adequate security, etc. All the foregoing, clearly indicate a much higher cost factor than what it will take in relatively level ground in say Kwara State, which falls in the Savannah Belt, where there will not be many trees to uproot, even in fresh road construction work.

At the other extreme, road Construction work in the mangrove swamps of the Niger-Delta region, say in Escravos, Forcados, Ethiope, will pose many tough challenges. Soil stabilisation is just one out of many technically complex issues, not forgeting movement of materials as well as storage of construction materials on site, the need to bypass unstable ground with say, "Deck - on - Pile" bridges, construction of box culverts, Pipe culverts, etc to ensure adequate drainage for the highway, and so on".

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