Politics Of State And Federal Roads
The issue of repairing and maintaining federal roads in the country have elicited series of debates as to why the roads, despite the huge amount of money being claimed to have been spent on repairing and maintaining them, they are still in dilapidated conditions.
Former Minister of Works in the former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, Arch Mike Onolememe, had in an interview in one of the national dailies given an insight on the deplorable situation of Nigerian roads and what and how the then government was trying to fix the roads.
He explained that in terms of relationship between states and the Federal Government, most especially Lagos State, "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 Oworoshoki-Apapa Road, Hebert Macaulay Road or Marina Road? All these are federal roads, so you now find 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 was 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 bypasses so that we are not brought into the issue of urban alignment because it is not Federal Government's responsibility to provide urban alignment that would provide access to building 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.
And if you look at the politics of state and federal roads, you will find out that particularly during the military regime, state governments surrendered most of these roads to the Federal Government. So the Federal Government reluctantly assumed ownership of some of them, and we know these roads in question.
"If you go into the Federal Highways Act, you will see the real federal roads because they are there. Legally speaking, any road that has not been gazetted as a federal road cannot really claim to be such because every federal road has a route number, and all the federal roads with route numbers are contained as appendixes in the schedule under the Federal Highways Act of 1971.
"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 telling him that you want to carry out repairs 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 give 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 the project. 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 guidelines. They then go to the media to say the Federal Government owes them so much billions of naira. It is akin to having a house which you gave to a tenant; one day you travelled and returned and the tenant slams you with a hefty bill that he has done renovation in the house, and he wants you to refund N15 billion. How will you react?
"Without your consent as the landlord, a tenant should not go into that kind of thing. We at the federal level also have a budget, and we need to plan for our road development. If such a project is part of our plan, why not? There have been a number of state governments we have refunded money to in the past, like Ekiti State Government.
"In November last year, about N8billion was paid out to a number of state governments as refund for roads repairs under the Goodluck Jonathan regime. So it is an ongoing thing, but this is for state governments that comply with the guidelines. If you investigate, many of the states crying foul in the request for money are people who just did streets, urban alignments that have no bearing with the interstate traffic.
"These are the challenges; we are looking into the matter by engaging with the states, and we believe that we should be able to work together, once due process is followed based on the guidelines," he explained.
FERMA's Quick-Fix Efforts
He also said that the administration did so much to enhance the operations of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) for them to be able to move swiftly and fix roads that need patching within their arears.
"We have been able to buy about 42 FK Beckham Road Patchers for FERMA and their staff are being trained, such that they can deploy to any part within their state to patch roads. This will help us do away with the practice of cutting roads and leaving them for weeks or months, a thing that has led to untimely deaths, through accidents in the past.
Also, he opined that President Jonathan, in late 2011, approved that 500 young Nigerian engineers be employed in the Federal Ministry of Works.
On Kano-Kaduna and Kano-Maiduguri roads, he noted that there is the need for effective culture of maintenance.
"If you look at the design of Kano-Kaduna Road, it was to last for 25 years; after the 25 years, a major rehabilitation ought to have taken place. But what has happened in our system is that we have not had enough budgetary provision for us to maintain that road the way it ought to have been maintained because, at that point, we are supposed to remove the entire wearing course, stabilise the base course and do complete asphalt overlay.
We have not been able to do that because of the cost. Ask yourself, how much is budgeted for road works in Nigeria? For a road network of 35,000km, sometimes we receive as little as N60 to N70 billion. For years, the military did not even budget up to N10 billion for those roads.
"You can compare our situation with little countries like Zambia, which has a total road network of 7,000km. But if you go to Zambia, you will find that they spend, on the average, about 1billion USD yearly on their roads. But here we are with about 35,000km, which is five times the road network of Zambia, and we are not able to spend 50 percent of what Zambians are spending on their roads. So if you look at that, it gives you a graphic picture of why we are where we are.
"The Kano-Maiduguri Road was not awarded by the Sani Abacha administration. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo awarded the dualisation in 2006. Unfortunately, if you look at the history, between 2006 and 2009, you will find out that there was no much progress on the road. In some sections, we couldn't even pay compensation and the contractor did not have access to site.
A case in point is in the Kano to Wudil section. It was when we came on board that we paid compensation before we were able to open the right of way to the contractor to commence work. But for the SURE P enhanced funding, that road would have been still far from the level we have achieved".
PPP And Toll Gates Option
On the Public Private Sector Partnership (PPP) and the possible reintroduction of toll gates on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway he said his Ministry had decided that it is the only economical routes on which private sector resources have been deployed in completing the long stretch of roads and so the reintroduction of toll plazas, was inevitable. "Tolling is part of international best practice because when you borrow money from the private sector to do an infrastructural project, the project itself should pay back.
"That is why we do the outline and final business case studies, which have all proved that Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is a viable road, and that, based on traffic flow on the road, investors would be able to recoup their investments. It is in line with international best practice, and one of the things we need to do in order to guarantee sustainable maintenance of our federal highways across the country.
"This is not new in Nigeria; even in those days, when government had to use its 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.
On the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), and the possibility of creating jobs for millions of unemployed Nigerians, the Minister said FERMA has been in existence since about 2002 and, in 2005, the law was revised. "As we know it, FERMA has a direct labour unit component, where quite a number of Nigerians have been employed within the past one year, under SURE-P. In every local government, we have people who now work directly for FERMA for the maintenance of roads, and road shoulders.
"However, these crews are not trained enough to embark on major maintenance works in terms of stretches of failed portions of federal roads where asphalt overlay is needed. But we intend to develop capacity in FERMA to such an extent that in the not too distant time, FERMA operatives would be able to do all of that. That is why are establishing asphalt plants for FERMA on zonal basis, and we are also equipping them.
On federal roads, which were once very good but now in various stages of disrepair, which includes the Benin-Asaba Road and the possibility of tolling all federal highways to generate money for their maintenance, the former Minister of Works had this to say: "The Federal Government cannot have such a policy to charge tolls on all federal roads for very obvious reasons. Government itself has a social responsibility to the people. A road network serves two purposes, first as an artery to support economic activities, like hauling tons of cement, iron billets, bitumen and other different articles.
"These are strictly economic activities; a road is expected to also serve social activities, that is for social and national integration among different sections of the country, so government has that responsibility, and as such cannot toll every road. However, we also believe that what government is doing by establishing tolls on all roads on which private sector funds have been expended is a good way of arresting some of these problems.
"I say so because if we are able to get the arterial routes right, and they are now able to fend for themselves and pay for their own maintenance, government resources will be freer to handle those other road projects that have social impacts in terms of national integration.
Source: Daily Independent