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This is a Federal Government Road, Please…

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By Alexander Ifeanyichukwu
There was a time when roads in states of Nigeria were littered with this obnoxious message: This is a Federal Government Road, Please Bear With Us! An unpalatable politicisation of one of the biggest drivers of development, those were the days when Nigerians were constantly reminded that although we are a people of one country, all was not well with us. Those notices have since vanished from the roads and in their place you find the more encouraging signpost: Road Under Construction!

For a country with a land area of 924,000 square kilometres, Nigeria is no doubt a massive territory and for this reason, it requires a functional network of roads to make vehicular traffic an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, due to the poor growth and reform in the other forms of transportation – rail, waterways, air, etc; 90 per cent of passengers and freight movement in Nigeria is by road, thus making it the most important mode of transportation.

The implication is that immense pressure was brought to bear on the nearly 200,000 kilometres of roads across the country. More complex is the distribution of these roads between the three tiers of government which skewed the huge burden of road maintenance, rehabilitation and reconstruction on the federal government.

Although federal roads accounts for only 18 per cent of the total network, they carry the heaviest volume of traffic estimated at well over 70 per cent.  They are the main truck routes linking all the thirty six states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja and also lead to the main sea ports of the nation.

Determined to change the way road planning, design, rehabilitation and construction is carried out and align the country with contemporary global practices; and faced with a commitment to contractors of nearly a Trillion Naira at inception and with a budgetary allocation that is pegged at just a little above N100 billion, the Goodluck Jonathan government began by prioritising the roads in the country.

Under the supervision of architect Mike Onolememen, the ministry of works identified the access roads to the Ports and picked the famous Oworonsoki-Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. Others captured in this prioritisation include the Shagamu-Ore-Benin Expressway; the Onitsha-Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway; the Benin-Lokoja-Abuja Expressway and the Abuja-Kano and Maiduguri Expressway.

And in order to get worth for money and further engage the expertise of indigenous engineers; the government broke the over 50 years lacuna of keeping only a one-man director of roads in the ministry by splitting the country into six directorates.

The Six highway Directors in charge of the geo-political zones operate from state capitals within their zones, instead of Abuja, and they are to carry out the management of the network of federal roads in all states within the zone, supervise and monitor road projects, check progress of road works, both physically and financially, vet Interim Statements and issue Engineer's Certificates, vet proposals for variation and augmentation of Contracts for Hon. Minister's consideration and prepare Pre-contract documents, as necessary, among other assignments.

And in order to enhance project delivery, the Federal Ministry of Works today has 15 Highways and Engineering Services Departments, while there are 12 departments for highways and 3 departments for Engineering services.

To ensure service delivery and promote transparency and accountability, the ministry also established Zonal Ministerial Monitoring Teams for all the Six Zones and its impact is the quality of road delivered since 2011.

Perhaps the most critical of these new departments is the Highways (Public Private Partnership) department which is government answer to low funding that has impaired road construction, maintenance and rehabilitation in the immediate past.

The PPP is the ultimate solution to spiral fall in government revenue and expansion in road spending and this direction has become most pronounced since this dispensation and given this deep understanding of the issues, building a distinct road network linking the various geo-political zones of the country is fast becoming a reality.

Apart from the new Niger bridge at Onitsha another critical link in the networking of the country through roads, is the Oweto Bridge which will connect the northern part of the country to the South-east and the South-south geo-political zones.

This new bridge lies between Nasarawa and Benue states and after its completion across the Benue river, would reduce travel time to the South-east to between three and four hours and would remove the existing pressure on the Lokoja Bridge.

Pragmatic leadership goes beyond fulfilling promises made to the electorate before an election but it also involves showing concern for the plight of Nigerians wherever they may be residing through an enclosing leadership style.

This was demonstrated through a show of empathy with issues that concern the  harmonious collaboration of different levels of government for the common good of Nigerians, thus the ministry of works in a speedy manner put to rest the lingering feud which existed over refund of expenses on maintenance of federal roads running across the states.

Not only did the minister of works hold a reconciliatory meeting with the various commissioners of works in the 36 states, he also defined a uniform standard for road construction, rehabilitation and maintenance across the country.

Many Nigerians have since forgotten that there was a time in our not too distance past when road workers of agencies of both federal and the states involved in road maintenance used to feed Nigerians with the unsavoury picture of barbaric conducts.

Equally forgotten is that before now, most major highways across the country hardly stand the test of the heavy vehicular traffic that bombard them due to poor quality of these roads but since this dispensation, global best practice has been adopted in road construction in Nigeria.

The newly created department of Geo-Technics, Material and Quality Control in the Federal Ministry of Works ensures quality of the content of the roads in the country upgrading the minimum tonnage standard used in road designs in Nigeria to accommodate trucks as much as 50 tonnes and 60 tonnes axle loading currently plying the roads.

In a similar move to improve quality of roads in Nigeria, the 1992 Bill of Engineering Measurement and Evaluation popularly known as BEME which the country has depended on for road construction, has since become obsolete as other countries of the world has moved away from this and are now operating the California Bearing Ratio for the sub-grain before Asphalting.

In a nut shell, where only 48 hours is allowed for soaking the sub-grain with water before rolling and compressing, the longer lasting California Bearing Ratio which allows for 96 hours is in vogue all over the world and guarantees durable roads is presently in use in Nigeria.

A lack of institutional framework for the sustenance of road infrastructure was among the first things the Jonathan administration engaged stakeholders in so as to establish appropriate framework to pull funds together and manage the country's roads. The committee on Road Sector Reform in Nigeria was for this purpose inaugurated and the result is the Road Fund and a National Road Authority (Road Board) which will manage road user-oriented charges. Government is designated a minority participant in the Board because it is designed to be a private-sector led Board. Stakeholders like National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) and representative of the Federal Ministry of Works that will represent government, is the only way to guarantee sustainable development and maintenance of roads in the country.

It is not a surprise that with these reforms that road construction in Nigeria since 2011 has attracted the support of development agencies like the International Development Agency, The Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF) a technical advisory facility funded by DFID to support capacity building in the sector; Africa Development Bank essentially for the Public Private Partnership projects;

While government has targeted for Private Public Partnership development of the following roads: Shagamu-Benin-Asaba Dual Carriageway (368 km), Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Dual Carriageway (378 km),          Lagos-Badagry-Seme Border Dual Carriageway (78km), Port Harcourt – Enugu Dual Carriageway (224km), Construction of New Lagos- Iseyin-Kaiama -Konkwaso-Kaoje Kwambe- Argungu- Sokoto Road (1,020km), Enugu – Onitsha Dual Carriageway (125km), another River Niger Bridge at Nupeko          (1 km), River Benue Bridge at Burukku (1km), and another Bridge across River Benue at Ibi (1km).

There is no doubt that under the Goodluck Jonathan government, Nigeria has become one huge construction site with the government building bridges, rehabilitating abandoned roads, and maintaining many that have suffered different forms of dilapidation.

The ultimate aim of this painstaking effort is to establish a dual carriageway that will link the six geo-political zones in the country and eradicate the unpleasant history of not maintaining roads for as long as 30 and 40 years.

This is obviously a policy borne out of a passionate desire to make Nigeria a lovable place for its citizens and can only come from a heart which is desirous for the common good, after all, the roads do not know who its owners are neither does the vehicles that drive on them.

It can only be appropriate to sustain this laudable works and not lose the tempo in the political frenzy that has suddenly enveloped the country.

Alexander Ifeanyichukwu is Public Analyst writing from Enugu

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