Most roads and other infrastructure in Nigeria and the whole of Africa are in sorry state. As the world grapples with a sluggish economy, the flow of investment to and within emerging economies is without doubt more intricate and extremely competitive.
Among the many factors that influence the decision of investors to take their investment to any given country is certainly the state of roads and infrastructure.
For Nigeria where the percentage of properly paved roads is about 20 per cent of the entire roads in the country, urgent steps must be taken to take off bad roads from the list of many other factors, such as insecurity and corruption that are making investors look to smaller West African nations as preferable investment destinations.
Perhaps, the nature of oil and gas investment, which guarantees high returns without necessarily engaging a commensurate mass of the nation's population has helped to perpetuate the current state where even though a lot of revenue has accrued to the nation's treasury, not much of it were injected into the improvement of infrastructure.
However, now that the prospects of the oil and gas industry have diminished significantly and Nigeria is looking to agriculture, industry, solid minerals and other arms of the real sector for the redemption, the need to ensure cost effective road construction and other infrastructure cannot be over stated.
This is why the current clamour for the replacement of asphalt roads with concrete is worth looking into with seriousness.
Lessons from Abroad
Some experts are of the opinion that a good place to begin the paradigm shifts with respect to road management in the country is the diversification of the material used for road construction and maintenance.
Virtually all the roads in Nigeria were made using asphalt and bitumen. Also, all the road maintenance carried out in the country is done using this single material and method, which has failed to give the kind of roads that make nations proud and lure investors.
Construction experts are now asking why cement which Nigeria now produces locally in very large quantities has not been introduced in road making to save the country from the five-decade long embarrassment.
The fact that Nigeria has failed to use cement for road making is most embarrassing because other countries such as India, the United States among others have successfully used cement to make roads and maintain them for up to a century or more.
US Cement Roads
As a matter of fact, cement and concrete played a major role in the construction of the United States Interstate Highway System during the past 60 years. The national focus has shifted from building new highways to maintaining and repairing the existing highway network. Recent advances in concrete technology enable highway contractors to rehabilitate the nation's 160,000 mile national highway system to extend its useful life with minimal disruption of traffic.
The US national highway system, which includes the nearly 45,000 mile interstate system, carries 40 per cent of the nation's total traffic, including 70 per cent of the commercial traffic and 90 per cent of the tourist traffic, according to the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
About 60 per cent of the interstate system is concrete, especially in urban areas where FHWA anticipates heavy traffic loads. Concrete was selected, in part, because of its durability.
Concrete can support heavy loads, such as truck traffic, with less deformation than asphalt. Although the initial cost of concrete used to be higher than for asphalt, today concrete has become the least expensive alternative for new construction on a first-cost basis in addition to maintenance costs being generally lower.
In addition, concrete generally has a useful life of twice that of asphalt. Concrete commonly serves 20 to 30 years without needing major repair, while asphalt typically lasts only eight to 12 years before resurfacing or significant repair is required.
The first concrete highway constructed in the United States was a 24-mile long, 9-foot wide, 5-inch thick strip of concrete pavement built near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1913 - five years after the introduction of the Model T Ford. By 1914, concrete had been used to pave 2,348 miles of roadway.
Today, this is still the primary method of financing road building and maintenance. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, built on a railroad right-of-way during the 1930s, was the first major intercity turnpike or toll road in the United States and was constructed of concrete.
Significant technical and design developments during the 1930s and 1940s made concrete paving faster, less expensive, and more durable. Road designers stopped requiring contractors to build roads that were thicker at the edges - concrete highways were generally six inches thick at the middle and eight- or nine-inches thick at the edges - and permitted construction with a uniform concrete depth, saving time and money.
Cement Producer's View
Chairman of Dangote Cement, Aliko Dangote, recently called on the federal government to urgently consider the use of concrete roads in the country. Africa's richest man said, it would be to the benefit of Nigerians and even the federal and state governments to embrace the option of using concrete for roads in the country. Aside from being very cost effective, he said concrete roads were more durable and that its maintenance cost was near zero.
Also, Executive Director, Stakeholders Relations and Corporation Communications, Dangote Group, Mr. Mansur Ahmed, said for Nigeria to achieve its long-desired infrastructural development, it must embrace the use of concrete for road construction and other construction works.
Speaking at the just concluded 21st Summit of the NESG at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, Ahmed said this was a choice that Nigeria must make. He said concrete roads make more economic sense for a country like Nigeria, as the use of asphalt has left the roads in a deplorable condition.
He said asphalt is no longer in vogue in developed climes, stressing that the construction of concrete road is faster and can last for half a century compared to asphalt, adding that concrete roads are 20 per cent cheaper to build. According to him, in the construction of concrete roads, the cement raw materials are readily available while asphalt is imported into the country.
The former Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, earlier in the year said the federal government was set to begin trying the construction of roads using cement and concrete.
He said rigid pavement, which is another name for cement concrete surface, was the use of cement, rather than asphalt, and was expected to make roads last longer in Nigeria.
The minister said two roads (Kachia-Baro road to connect the Federal Capital Territory to Baro Port in Niger and Ikorodu-Sagamu road in Lagos state) would be the first beneficiaries after the approval of this year's budget. Unfortunately, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost the presidential election and he lost his position as minister of works.
Onolememen said government was taking measures to regulate the movement of heavy duty trucks to eliminate the high incidence of potholes, caused mostly by such vehicles.
The minister said the gesture was in line with the quest for best practices in the country. He urged cement companies to declare what investments they were prepared to bring into the road construction business as it relates to the use of their products.
Rising Production Capacity
All across Nigeria cement companies are springing up, churning out millions of tonnes of cement produced straight from limestone. Dangote has always led the pack of cement makers, producing 29.25 million tonnes of cement every year from three huge integrated plants in Obajana, Gboko and Ibese.
With the annual cement consumption in Nigeria still a little less than 20 million tonnes per annum, Dangote alone is producing nine million tonnes more cement every year than the nation's market is able to take up.
Lafarge, after its recent merger with Swiss company Holcim, has had its annual cement output in Nigeria rise to around 8 million tonnes per year.