6 December 2017

Nigeria: Long Road to Festivities

Nigerians would find it quite difficult to celebrate with their loved ones and families across the country this Yuletide season for the simple reason that the country's major roads are broken. Chineme Okafor writes

"What we have promised Nigerians is that every year, we will improve their travelling experience and make travelling times more comfortable for them," said Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Nigeria's minister in charge of the country's infrastructure sector which include Power, Works, and Housing, and within which repairs and construction of federal roads are taken care of.

In making this commitment during a status update meeting he had with road construction firms contracted by the federal government to either repair or build roads across the country, Fashola, was emphatic in stating the government's keenness on making sure Nigerians travelled on better road networks across her federal highway.

He even explained that the experience would be a lot better as the annual end of year Yuletide - a season around December 25 but traditionally extending from December 24 to January 6, approached, as well as for other periodic national holidays which require Nigerians to journey across to celebrate with families and relations.

Fashola, explained that the meeting with the contractors was to keep in touch with the progress of their jobs, especially with considerations to the next couple of months when most of the roads in the Southern parts of the country would be heavily engaged.

According to him, "We are looking at a 10-week window starting from around the end of September to the middle of December when your workers go on annual leave and what kind of contingency arrangements you would be making so that the operational staff will be on ground to deal with emergencies.

"In addition to the major construction works that are going on, we also have rehabilitation works using specific contractors to improve motorability, and we have been working on 41 roads across the country covering each zone and trying to make remediation to them as a result of what has happened during the rainy season. We are getting ready to conclude procurement on that."

Repairs tied to availability of funds

But to make this happen, the minister stated that government would need to consistently meet its financial obligations to the contracts for the roads repairs and construction it entered with companies like Julius Berger, Mothercat, Dantata and Sawoe, Reynolds Construction Company, Setraco, and Gitto Construction, amongst others who are engaged in major works on priority federal highways.

The government, he lamented was short of funds to undertake all the repairs. He linked the shortage of funds in the government's purse to drop in oil prices which affected Nigeria's earning power, and would rely on a N100 billion Sukuk Bond it raised to augment budgetary funding for road construction.

In addition to the financial constraints he described as a big challenge, the minister also mentioned the rains as another reason why repairs of the roads stopped or were suspended. But the rains have since subsided.

He said the Sukuk fund would fund 25 select priority roads in all regions of the country. Disclosing the distribution of the N100 billion Sukuk fund which each region of the country got N16.67 billion to cover for roads in them, Fashola, equally noted that works on the roads would resume in earnest to ensure contractors meet up with the government's intentions.

While the rains have since subsided in many parts of the country where roads to benefit from the Sukuk fund pass through, it does however look like the kind of blissful travel experience for Nigerians on some of these roads which the government promised may not come as expected going by field reports relayed by users to our reporters who passed through some of these roads.

"I left Ugheli for Abuja, but had to find an alternative route to Auchi to Lokoja because the regular route has become impassable. I went through Ifon to Ondo, to Afuze, then back into Edo to Auchi, and then Okene to Lokoja," Otor John, a Delta State-based lawyer who was in Abuja for a recent engagement told THISDAY in a conversation on the state of the road network and travel experience from Abuja to Delta.

Otor claims to be a regular user of the Abuja to Lokoja, to Okene, to Auchi and Benin Roads, and explained from his experience that it had become a lot difficult and time-consuming to travel through the roads which are within the A2 national road network.

"Each time I drive through the villages in Edo and Ondo on this route, I am always grateful to God that they are not criminally-minded people in them, otherwise, we would be dealing with bad roads and criminals on the road - a double whammy it would have been for road users," Otor added.

Similarly, on a recent tour of parts of the roads in the A1 network, notably the Jebba-Mokwa axis through the Minna end of the route, our reporter found that the road which Fashola said in 2016 would be given priority attention considering its economic value to the country has remained as extremely run-down as it had been or perhaps worse.

Even assurances by the Vice-President, Yemi Osibanjo, in July when he visited the collapsed Bakino Bridge at Tatabu community near Mokwa, that the road would be temporally fixed in two weeks to lessen travel distresses of its users until a permanent solution was worked out, has remained flat without concrete outcomes.

As observed by our reporters, heavy trucks spend more times on the road waiting to pass than they actually would have spent making their trips, simply because at every point of its stretch, trucks are broken down from the troubles of plying through a very broken road, and all others would have to wait or find alternative route to get through.

The situation is also not very different for users of roads within the A121 to A232 networks which connect the South-west to the South-east, as well as roads within states in the South-east.

Being traditionally inclined to substantial travels during the Yuletide, citizens from the South-east would most likely feel the pinch of the bad road network within the region unless a drastic work schedule is employed on its roads that are direct beneficiaries of the Sukuk proceed.

Between Enugu and Anambra States, most parts of the highway are broken down completely and commuters frequently are made to divert into towns and villages to connect back to the highway especially on the Akwuzu axis.

Luckily, the Enugu to Onitsha Road (Section 1 and 11), Enugu-Port Harcourt Road (Sections I to IV), and Calabar-Odukpani-Itu Road (Section 1), are direct beneficiaries of the Sukuk intervention fund, but they may not be ready on time to guarantee its users within the Yuletide the blissful drive the government had promised.

Though contractors on these roads had made pledges of increase in work tempo to meet up with their schedules including working on weekends, travellers and drivers who use them regularly are however suspicious of these pledges made by the contractors.

Other roads within the Southern end of the country, and which are to benefit from the Sukuk intervention are the Calabar-Ugep-Katsina Ala Road (Sections 1 and 11), Alesi-Ugup (Iyamoyung-Ugup) Road, Ogoja (Mbok Junction) Abuochichie Road, Otukpo Township Road, Kano-Maiduguri Road (Sections I to V), Kaduna-Zaria Road and Kaduna-Katsina Road, among others.

Even the usually smooth and easy to drive through roads in Northern parts of Nigeria do not completely hold that once-in-a-time record as a recent drive through to Kaduna, then to Zaria and Funtua, showed the road is increasingly on a decline.

44 federal highways in 2017 budget for repairs

Despite the 25 roads Fashola said would be repaired with the Sukuk fund, there are other major roads across the country he said that are within the plan of the government to fund.

The minister had disclosed in a meeting with the National Assembly that there were about 44 federal highways construction contained in the 2017 budget, as well as 63 roads which the government had in the first quarter of the year identified and prepared for emergency intervention across the country ahead of the rainy season.

He disclosed that the 63 roads were identified and prepared for intervention during his inspection tour of roads in 34 states.

According to him, for the purpose of effective implementation, the federal government has classified the roads into critical economic routes and agricultural routes to include all roads traversing geo-political zones, advancing trade and commerce across the states and leading to the ports as well as those passing through agricultural areas across the country.

Noting that the road projects are spread out in such a way that no zone has been left out, Fashola listed to the legislators the proposed priority highway projects slated in the 2017 budget to include Kano-Katsina Road; Ilorin-Kabba-Obajana Road (Sections 1 and 11); Ibadan-Ilorin Road, Section 11 (Oyo-Ogbomosho); Lagos-Shagamu-Ibadan Dual Carriageway, Sections 1 and 11; and Lagos-Ota Road..

Also included are Apapa/Tincan Port, NNPC Depot (Atlas Cove) to Mile 2 Access Road, Apapa-Oshodi Road, Third Mainland Bridge, Apapa/Tincan Island Port-NNPC Depot Access Road, Benin-Ofosu-Ore Ajebandele-Shagamu Road, Obajana Junction-Benin Road Phase 2: (Sections I to IV), Sapele-Ewu Road Sections 1 and 11, Second Niger Bridge, Onitsha-Enugu Expressway (Amansea-Enugu State Border), Yenegoa Road Junction-Kolo-Otueke-Bayelsa Palm and Bodo-Bonny Road with Bridge.

Others are Odukpani-Itu-(Spur Ididep-Itam)-Ikot Ekpene Federal Highway Sections 1 and 11, Ikom Bridge, Enugu-Port Harcourt Dual Carriageway Sections I to IV, Calabar-Ugep-Katsina Ala Road, Vandeikya-Obudu-Obudu Cattle Ranch Road, Oshegbudu-Oweto Road, Oju/Loko-Oweto Bridge with approach roads, Nassarawa-Loko Road, Abuja-Lokoja Road Sections I and IV, Suleja-Minna Road Section 11. Kaduna Eastern Bypass, Kano-Maiduguri Road Section 1-1V, Hadejia-Nguru-Gashua-Bayamari Road and Kano Western Bypass.

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