Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nigeria's Deplorable Highways

I am a regular traveller. In the course of my work I make several trips across the length and breadth of this country. Each time I em­bark on any journey by road, it's as if am being punished for some sins I or my forebears have committed. The Nigerian roads are just simply impassable. They are deathtraps. It's as if there is no government in place or top government offi­cials never use the roads. Perhaps, because they have government vehicles at their disposal and are also mostly chauffer driven, they do not feel as much discomfort as ordinary commuters feel while using the roads.
Road is on the concurrent legislative list, thus the responsibilities for building and maintenance are shared by the three tiers of government. Fed­eral government is in charge of Trunk 'A' roads better known as interstate roads. Trunk 'B' roads are intra-state roads and are therefore to be tak­en care of by the 36 state governments. The 774 Local Government Areas are in charge Trunk 'C' roads which are majorly within their local gov­ernment territories. In total Nigeria has an esti­mated 193,200km of roads and the federal gov­ernment is in charge of about 34,000km.
As The Guardian noted in its editorial of No­vember 8, 2015, "unfortunately, no tier of gov­ernment can be said to have acquitted itself cred­itably on matters of roads construction and maintenance. Scores of innocent people are killed daily in avoidable accidents on account of the bad roads. Man-hours are lost in traffic. And the national economy suffers incalculable losses." The editorial observed further that "since 1999, a whopping N1.4 trillion ($8.5 billion) has reportedly been spent on road construction or maintenance with very little evidence of the money spent. The system is rotten and merely serves as a veritable platform for corruption." I couldn't agree less!
Some of the worst highways include the La­gos-Ibadan Expressway, Sagamu-Ore, Onitsha-Enugu–Port Harcourt road, Ikorodu-Shagamu road, Okene-Lokoja-Abuja and Rijau -Kontago­ra road in Niger State. The South East governors met last Tuesday, November 17, 2015 in Enugu and they simply declared the state of emergen­cy on the federal roads in their zone. According to Governor Rochas Okorocha while briefing the press, the most worrisome to them are the Enugu-Onitsha express road, Aba-Ikot Ekpene, Owerri-Port Harcourt and Enugu-Port Harcourt roads. I'm in agreement with the South East gov­ernors but will like to ask them to tell the pub­lic what the condition of state and local govern­ment roads in their geo-political zone look like. Are they any better than the federal roads they are condemning?
There is no gainsaying that corruption, lack of adequate funding, policy inconsistence, and over-reliance on foreign construction compa­nies, are some of the malaise responsible for this parlous state of Nigerian roads. On corruption, the aforementioned The Guardian editorial has this to say: "Whereas, the World Bank's bench­mark for building a kilometre of road is N238 million, the same is built for about N1 billion in Nigeria."
In the good old days, states have the Public Works Department popularly known as PWDs in their State Ministry of Work. PWDs were well resourced to regularly maintain state roads. Not anymore, everything is being outsourced to pri­vate contractors so that those awarding the con­tracts can get their percentage kickbacks. Often­times road contracts are starved of funds and as such when the contractors find it unbearable to continue work, they abandon the sites. Unfortu­nately, when government may want to complete them, the contractors will ask for upward review of the contract due to inflation. Recently, sever­al thousands of construction workers in Nige­ria were laid off due to government's heavy in­debtedness to these companies. That has further compounded the unemployment situation in the country and concomitantly insecurity.
It is a shame that Nigeria lacks requisite skilled construction workers. This revelation was made at a recent meeting between President Muham­madu Buhari and the Board of Directors of Ju­lius Berger Nigeria Plc. They told the President that because of shortage of competent construc­tion workers and artisans, construction compa­nies were forced to bring in skilled expatriates. This is in spite of the plethora of Nigerian mono­technics, polytechnics and universities annually graduating thousands of Engineers, Architects, Builders, Quantity Surveyors, Technicians, and Estate Managers, to mention but a few. This is heart rending! However, federal government should not totally fall for this line of argument as the foreign construction companies may actu­ally be justifying their abuse of expatriate quota.
The way out of the present quagmire and al­batross is for government to look more towards the BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) option whereby private companies are allowed to build the roads through their own funds which they recoup through tolling over a period of time and thereafter transfer the ownership back to govern­ment. Alternatively, government can also go into joint venture with private enterprises to build roads and jointly manage it. Similarly, govern­ment can engage private companies to manage its road networks. In any of these options, there is no way we can do without tolling. To contin­ue to wish that we will use all roads free is to live in delusion. Yes, not all roads should be tolled particularly Trunk B and C roads. However key federal roads cannot escape the privatisation and commercialisation option. Our new Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Ameachi, you have your job cut out for you. Do something!
•Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Devel­opment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong