Category: Nigeria News
Published: Sunday, 02 March 2014 07:57
Written by Agency Reporter
Mr. Mike Oziegbe Onolememen, an architect and professional construction manager of over 25 years cognate experience in the private and public sector, is the minister of works. In this interview with journalists, he spoke on the activities of his ministry, priority projects for 2014, the challenges of making Nigerian roads safe and motorable, why it took the Federal Government so long before deciding to do something concrete about the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and why some states are not reimbursed for fixing federal roads within their boundaries, among other issues. Tokunbo Adedoja was there
Even if a road were to be completed today, immediately what we call routine maintenance on the road starts. There are always a number of activities, even on a good road because that is international best practice. But in the case of the Benin-Ore Road, at the time you mentioned, 1987, I was also living in Lagos, and I used the road quite often. There had been intermittent work on that road, and from the onset, those were just palliative repairs or if you like, maintenance works at the time. But precisely at about 2009, major rehabilitation contracts were awarded on that road and because the Ministry of Works had very paltry budgetary provisions, the contracts were segmented. In other words, the ministry’s policy at the time was to target the most impacted parts of the road. So it was like an ad hoc approach.
In fact, if you have travelled on that road in recent times, you would discover that it has been ongoing, and it is going on well. The final section of that road, which is from Ajebandele to Shagamu was introduced into our 2014 budget, which means the final stretch of the road will certainly be awarded this year, and by the time the third section is being completed, we estimate that the Ogun section, which used to be the very good part of the road that has now deteriorated, is the section four we want to award now and I want to assure you that the government, and President, is committed to commissioning the full alignment – that is from Benin to Shagamu, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure that is done.
One of the things we did when we came in was to tinker with the Highways Department because we believed that we needed to have a full-fledged department of geotechnics, materials and control. That road was a case in point and we had to re-evaluate the design of the pavement, and at the end of the laboratory experimentation we conducted on the nature of the soil in that particular alignment, we found out that in the area you described, there were stretches that had geotechnical problems that ordinary pavement design cannot address. We now came up with a new pavement design for those sections. This design took into cognizance the water level of the area. So, apart from the sub grade, we introduced and retained the crushed stone base part of the design, and we now introduced a macadam section of it, so as to be able to deal with the issue of underground water coming up, which you talked about. After the macadam, we now had the bitumen course and the base course, and this has taken care of the problem on that alignment. So, we can, with all certainty, now announce that the road will last longer than it has always been because we have been able to address that problem scientifically.
Looking at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which you asked a pointed question on, that project is designed to cost N167 billion. If you recall, the project has been awarded to two contractors in two sections; Julius Berger Nigeria Ltd handling Section 1, from Lagos to Shagamu interchange and RCC Nigeria Ltd handling Section 2, from Shagamu interchange to Ibadan. The financial architecture we designed for that particular project remains the same as approved by the Federal Executive Council at the material time. What we said, was that the Federal Government was going to contribute about N50 billion into the common purse. From the 2014 budget alone, we are contributing N25 billion, and the final N25 billion, which will now form the total of the Federal Government commitment to the project will be part of the 2015 budget. But beyond that, the outstanding money, which total almost N120 billion is being raised through a private finance initiative and that was how the project was approved. The private finance initiative involves, as our fund arranger, the Infrastructure Bank, and of course, you have credible agencies like the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority, who are also part of the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for that. There are so many private sector agencies, including banks, and financial institutions that have already indicated their interest in putting this money down. We are finalizing on that, and that is how we are going to realise that project. It is part of tapping into private sector resources to implement critical infrastructure projects of government that are germane to running our nation’s economy. If you look at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, it is a major economic arterial route. For government, doing that road is not just a social service, it is also an economic service, and because it is an economic route, it can benefit from private sector investment, and such investment can be recouped, even from the critical infrastructure itself. There is no going back on that; I visited the road project about two weeks ago, and we are making good progress. From the interaction I had with one of the contractors this morning, I want to assure you, they are upbeat that with the financial architecture we have in place, particularly the off budget sources, they could deliver that road in three years, as against the four years that was provided for in the budget, based on expected revenue from government.
In fact, even for section two, we have had a case in which one of our contractors lost about eight foreign workers. It is no longer a secret that Setraco Nigeria Limited lost some foreign workers on that section. They were abducted, not even from the project site, but the insurgents broke into their camp office and residence, and abducted them from their flats. They have even shown video clips of two of them that have been murdered. The remaining six, we don’t even know what has happened to them up till now. It was quite demoralizing because the company making the most progress on that alignment had to stop. It took some time to sit them down, and talk to them before they eventually went back to site towards the end of last year and commenced construction work again. True, we are working on the Nguru Road like you said. It is, however, not true that we are not working on the Damaturu Road. They have since resumed work on both sections, both from Potiskum to Damaturu and from Damaturu to Maiduguri. The work is not progressing as much as we would want because different categories of staff of the construction companies are refusing to go there because of the activities of the insurgents in that part of the country. It is an unfortunate development, and it is our hope that the issue would be brought to rest soon. Once the security situation improves in that part of the country, we would be able to ramp up construction activities on those sections.
As a government, we have decided that it is only economical routes on which private sector resources have been deployed in completing those roads that we will reintroduce toll plazas, and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is one of them. Tolling is part of international best practice because when you borrow money from the private sector to do an infrastructure project, the project itself should pay back for that infrastructure. That is why we do the outline and final business case studies, which have all proved that the road is a viable road, and that based on the traffic flow on the road, the investors would be able to recoup their investments. Otherwise, the private sector won’t put money down on these roads. I think it is in line with international best practices, and it is one of the things we need to do in order to guarantee the sustainable maintenance of our federal highways across the country. And this is not new in Nigeria; even in those days, when the Nigerian government has had to use it funds to carry out major dual carriage way projects, at the end of the projects, they put in place toll plazas, at least to guarantee the maintenance of those roads, even if it was not geared towards recouping the investment. But I tell you, it was the governance structure that did not go very well. If it had been well administered, and those funds from those toll plazas were put into something similar to the road fund, which we are now trying to create, there would have been a pool of funds for the re-development of our federal highways. It was the lack of this pool of fund that led to the dilapidation we witnessed on the highways. It was so because the paltry budgetary provisions could not sustain the maintenance work on the highway, talk less of developing new alignments or expanding existing alignments.
The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, no doubt, is the most important arterial route in this country because first, it provides access to the two sea ports of Lagos, and it is common knowledge that 51 per cent of economic activities in Nigeria start and end in Lagos. For that reason alone, it is a major and an important dual carriageway, bringing people from all over Nigeria into Lagos. It was not as if it took government so long to do something concrete about the road. If you recall, in 2009, the Federal Government entered into partnership with a Nigerian company, Bi-Courtney, under the public private partnership for that road to be rehabilitated and expanded in accordance with the concession agreement at the time. Bi-Courtney was given the time to sort out itself and get it right on that road, because the government was also mindful of ensuring that the PPP experiment succeeds, so as to encourage others to come on board. But unfortunately, that was not to be
because at the time we came in, the concession agreement had virtually failed, but we also tried to revive it. We gave them enough time; six months, nine months and even one year, to at least encourage them to get it right. But it was clear to us at the end of about three years after that agreement was signed that the concessionaire was not in a position to actually implement the agreement. So government in its wisdom decided to take over the road, particularly as a result of the outcry from citizens over the daily carnage on the road, more importantly because there was no visible sign that something was being done on that road. In fact, I remember visiting that road when I just came on board, and the concessionaire at the time had made a presentation to me, alleging an asphalt plant to have been installed in Shagamu by the interchange. But I decided and requested to go to the site unceremoniously, and on getting there, there was nothing on ground. At that point, we knew that something was really amiss. Even after that, we also tried to encourage the concessionaire to see whether it could get it right. It literally went to various parts of the world, but nobody was willing to put money down, and they didn’t have the money. It was, therefore, clear to us at the time that they will not be able to handle the project, so government in its wisdom decided to terminate the concession.
We also believe that one of the banes of Nigerian roads is the excessive axle loading on the road. When the dual carriageways were first constructed during the military regimes that gave rise to the Shagari regime, we had toll plazas and weighbridges in place on some of those arterial routes. Unfortunately, with the demolition of the toll plazas at the time, all those facilities were lost. The issue of controlling axle loading on our roads was no more. We have also looked at it that one of the causes of the perennial failure of our roads apart from construction problems or soil conditions is the excessive axle loading on the road. We, therefore, decided in 2012 to begin a systematic programme to re-introduce weigh bridges on those roads. If you observe, on most of the roads, we have started the construction of weighbridges, and we are deploying them. We have almost concluded the first set, and we hope to put in place a proper governance structure for the implementation and usage of those weighbridges. We believe when that comes on stream, at least, we will be able to mitigate the effect of excessive axle loading on our roads. But beyond that, we have also started engaging the heavy users of the roads, mostly the cement companies, the iron billet companies, the bitumen companies and others. We are engaging them so as to find a way of controlling their loads in the factory. We believe that will remove a percentage of excessive axle loading on our roads. But we have also found out that there is collusion sometimes between drivers, such that even when they leave the factories with the normal weight, they stop somewhere and reload, thereby putting on additional weight. So we are also mapping out plans to check those excesses.
In terms of relationship between states and the Federal Government, the example of Lagos you gave is not typical. Don’t forget that Lagos was the capital of Nigeria for many years, and that is the state where the Federal Government has the highest number of roads. Remove federal roads from Lagos, what is left? Is it the Ikorodu Expressway, the Third Mainland Bridge, the Oworonshoki-Apapa Road, the Hebert Macaulay Road or the Marina Road. All those are federal roads, so you now find out that many of the major federal roads in Lagos have over the years been maintained. I give it to the Lagos State government; they also do their bit because it serves their people. When we had the Council of Works meeting in Lagos in 2012, one of our resolutions at that meeting is that we now want to create a radius around state capital or cities where federal roads traverse. Federal roads basically ought to connect one state to another, so we are now experimenting with the issue of creating by-passes so that we are not brought into the issue of urban alignment because it is not federal government responsibility to provide urban alignment that would provide access to buildings and businesses. The Federal Government doesn’t collect taxes from those people. So it is the state government that collects those taxes, so they should be able to fix those roads.
You can imagine that even as late as the Abacha regime, so many roads were still being offloaded to the Federal Government. So the politics of state and federal roads is very dicey. But recently, one of the areas where we have had problems with the states has to do with following due process in carrying out repairs of federal roads by state governments. During the regime of the late President Yar’Adua, the Federal Government in its wisdom approved the guidelines for intervention by state governments on federal roads. And these guidelines are very clear; if you are a state government, you must write to the Federal Government, in fact to the President intimating him that you want to carry out repair of so and so road. Or you could write to the Minister of Works, who will in turn inform the President. The request is evaluated, and if the road is of economic significance, and it truly connects one state to the other, more often than not, it is recommended that the President gives approval for intervention by the state government. Once such approval is granted, all the procurement processes must be in line with the Public Procurement Act at the federal level. After award of the contract, staff of the Federal Ministry of Works domiciled in that state must be part of the supervision of that road. Once a state meets these guidelines, we, as federal, take responsibility for refund. But what you see is that most times, some state governors just wake up, and they give contracts without our knowledge and without following the guideline. They then go to the newspaper or electronic media to say the Federal Government owes them so much billions of naira.
It is also a priority project we are pursuing this year because good enough for that project, the Federal government is just expected to contribute about 30 per cent of the sum, while the Julius Berger Consortium will be responsible for provision of 70 per cent. At the end of it, they will toll the bridge in order to recoup their funds, just like Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. So tolling will not be limited to Lagos-Ibadan. Also, by the time we apply the funds from the China Exim Bank on the dualisation of the Keffi-Makurdi to Nightmar in Enugu, we are also going to toll it to be able to recoup the funds and repay China Exim Bank because that is the new template. Then of course, we are going to complete the Abuja-Lokoja Road, which is a priority. The Benin-Ore Shagamu Road is also a priority, and of course the Lagos-Ibadan is a major priority. We want to drive the completion to a substantial level this year. Then there is the approach road to the Oweto Bridge, both on the Nasarawa and Benue sides, and the approach road to the Niger Bridge both on the Asaba and Onitsha side. Added to these, we will be ramping up work on the Kano-Maiduguri Expressway, the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, and the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway. In fact, we are actually going to concentrate on our major arterial routes – the one running from Sokoto to Tambuwal-Jega through Kebbi, and Kontagora in Niger State will be ramped up. The road from Mokwa to Bida, which we awarded last year through our collaboration with the World Bank, we will strive towards quickly finishing it. Also there is Akure-Ilesha on which we are also going to be ramping up work. The roads are so many, but out of over 200, we have been able to prioritise, we have not more than 20 critical roads we want to focus our lean resources on.
Already, the National Council of Works has resolved that roads within five-kilometre radius of most cities would be offloaded to the state governments because they are urban roads, not interstate roads. It will interest you to note that the National Council of Works is made up of the Minister of Works, all the state commissioners of works in the 36 states and the FCT, as well as other critical stakeholders like the National Union of Road Transport Workers and others. We all reached that joint resolution as a way of dealing with this issue. Apart from those that fall within those categories, the Federal Government certainly intends to keep its mandate of providing interstate roads that traverse different states of the country. More than 80 per cent of vehicular traffic in Nigeria is on federal roads, irrespective of the state they transverse, so we, the federal, truly bear the brunt of carrying economic activities on our roads. I repeat, no state government comes near to that. Today we have about 60,000 kilometres of roads paved in bitumen; 35,000 kilometres of those belong to the Federal Government, and these account for about 80 per cent of economic activities in the country. Whereas the states jointly own about 30,000 kilometres, but most of them are not arterial roads. These state roads lead to hinterlands, and they are not really Grade A roads.