Another N200 billion will be spent on ongoing federal roads that are at different levels of deterioration, a situation that was aggravated in the course of the outgoing 2023 rainy season.
It is the tradition of the Ministry to wait till the end of every wet season before rushing through remediations. Unfortunately, these seasonal interventions have not solved the massive roads challenge because they are never properly done. After such repairs, the roads are just good enough for travellers going for the end of year holidays to ply, after which in a few months as the rains return, the roads soon go bad, worsening their previous conditions. It’s been a recurrent waste of resources.
So, there is a problem with applying palliative measures on roads that require total rehabilitation, reconstruction, complete with drainages. When roads are fixed properly, they will survive beyond one or two seasons and government will save money. But Nigerians understand that, that is not the mindset of operators of budgets in the public service, who prefer to apply a method that puts money in their pockets every end of the year. They are also able to manufacture evidence of work done when lawmakers decide to shake the table a little.
The level of damage witnessed along federal highways this year is an embarrassment to all those who have anything to do with roads in the last eight years. Those who were used to reeling out their achievement on roads have now gone quiet, because you do not need to advertise roads. Good roads will speak for you and for themselves.
Going forward, it appears the current Minister of Works, David Umahi, plans to do things differently, at least, by involving citizens. In a recent public notice, the ministry requested Nigerians to join in supervising contractors. The notice, which was signed by the minister said: “It is the right if every Nigerian to have value for their money deployed to the road infrastructure and therefore must show both interest and passion in all the ongoing projects by the Federal Ministry of Works and the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA)…” Not a bad idea, except that citizens have to be well informed to carry out this task. And the Ministry must be forthcoming with facts.
The Ministry claimed it inherited a funding gap of six trillion-naira for ongoing projects. Some of the roads listed for immediate palliative works include; Lagos-Abeokuta expressway; Makurdi-Nsukka 9th Mile Road; the East-West Road; Benin-Auchi-Lokoja-Abuja expressway; collapsed bridges of Enugu-Port Harcourt Road; collapsed bridges along Shendam in Plateau State; Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Road. It is an endless list of deplorable highways and you wonder if the N300 billion is sufficient to carry out serious works.
Of the N2.17 trillion Supplementary budget, N605 billion is earmarked for defence and security agencies; N400 billion is for cash transfers to vulnerable citizens. Road infrastructure actually deserves more. The movement of goods from one part of the country to another, particularly farm produce is essential to curtailing inflation. But the neglect of the sector has become legendary and that is responsible for the funding gap.
Back in 2021, The Guardian reported that undue delays resulting from poor funding of rehabilitation and reconstruction work had caused the Federal Government additional N679 billion on critical roads, including the East-West Road, the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the Sagamu-Benin highway.
The East-West Road was initiated during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2006 and is nowhere near completion. Instead, it added N515 billion to its original cost. By today’s costing, given the inflationary rate, cost of construction and naira devaluation, a lot more will go into the project. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway added N144 billion to its original cost as at 2021. It is awaiting commissioning after more than 15 years of reconstruction. The Benin-Sagamu Road, in 2021 was N20 billion more expensive than it was originally valued at inception.
It is hoped that the Minister was not asking for sympathy when he referred to a funding gap that was inherited. In case he had forgotten, the Federal Government under Muhammadu Buhari spent N22.7 trillion it borrowed from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), supposedly on projects that the National Assembly did not know of until approval was sought a few months to expiration of that government. So, there is always money, just that those who are in charge of the finances of the Federation have refused to prioritise and deploy resources efficiently.
Recoveries of stolen public money, if well accounted for is enough to fix critical roads infrastructure in the country. Take the Abacha loot for instance, more than $4 billion in cash and $2 billion in assets were reported to have been recovered between 1999 and 2023.
Apart from Abacha’s, other recoveries of stolen monies were made over the years by successive governments but have been spent without disclosures. The point is that government has a lot of resources but because there is no accountability and transparency in disbursements, road projects are left uncompleted for years and the economy bears the brunt.
The road networks that are referred to as Federal Roads were designed to link major revenue centres. Take the East-West Road, the Eleme-Onne axis opens to an oil and gas free trade zone that is home to over 200 oil and gas companies, with the capacity to generate over N300 billion to government yearly. There is the port at Onne, fertilizer and petrochemicals company and the Port Harcourt refinery. For a Federal Government that picks up so much revenues and taxes from this location, it is only fair that government makes the East-west Road a priority. All other federal roads are sources of massive revenues, but they are neglected.
Apart from the N300 billion budget for roads rehabilitation, the 2023 budget earmarked N175.4 billion for construction/provision of roads, out of which N62 billion was to be spent on road rehabilitation and repairs. Let the minister tell Nigerians the performance level of that budget. As far as citizens know, that budget was poorly executed.
For instance, there was provision in it for the construction of Agbor-Sakpoba Road (Alihami) Spur to College of Education, one of the ongoing projects in Delta State that was allocated the sum of N22.3 million. That stretch of road was a disaster this year, meaning that no work was done. Where is the vote? Budget 2023 is still in the works, let Minister Umahi look for the money. In the 2024 budget proposal, infrastructure is allocated N1,32 trillion. When it is disaggregated, it will be clear what the capital vote for roads is.
It is not enough to ask citizens to monitor contractors. Let the ministry publish the names of all contractors and the contracts, including duration and cost. For bigger contracts, let the ministry adhere to the Public Procurement Act. Citizens want full disclosures during bids and there should be no under-the-table deals.
Without asking, let the Minister be rest assured that citizens have volunteered to monitor ongoing projects. One of the projects receiving close attention is the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. The bridge has never stopped receiving face-lift from the Ministry of Works almost every year. But by October this year, the bridge became an eyesore, as craters dotted the bridge, slowing vehicles just the way it is on land. Quite troubling for a bridge to experience such neglect.
So, it was a great pleasure for Lagosians when the Minister announced commencement of comprehensive repair works on it. This will go on for three months, which started in November and a total resurfacing will be carried out. In addition, securing the integrity and building aesthetics of the upper deck will be done. N15 billion has been put aside for the job.
So far, after one month of rehabilitation, the surface of the bridge is not smooth enough, but it is better than what it used to be, especially going towards Lagos Island. On the return journey, the surface is still rough. So, let the Minister know that citizens are watching to see the transformation N15 billion could fetch at the end of the day. We are for accountability.
On the Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, let the Minister also be assured that citizens are waiting for the details and commencement of work. That road is the second most busy in the Southwest, after the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, ferrying nearly half of Ogun State population daily into Lagos; from Ifo, Sango Ota, through the Toll Gate, Abule-Egba, Iyana Ipaja down to Ikeja.
A previous contract for rehabilitation and expansion of the road was awarded during the Obasanjo years. Poor funding and indiscipline on the part of the contractor frustrated the works. In the last eight years of Buhari government, nothing serious was done on the road. In fact, one side had shut down from the Lagos end because it became unmotorable.
The Minister should be reminded that during the years the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was in government at the centre, Lagos State used billboards to announce and plead with citizens that those deplorable roads belonged to the Federal Government. This is the time for president Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress (APC), to redeem what’s now a moral burden.
Let budget trackers and others interested in holding government to account on promises join the Minister of Works to supervise contractors across the country.
All roads matter!