The Federal Government has declared that its focus this year would be on completion of already awarded roads across the country with priority to those carrying heaviest traffic saying about 206 roads are currently in that category.
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola SAN, who made the declaration while fielding questions as guest on the popular Channels Sunrise Daily programme, said about 206 roads have been awarded adding that government’s strategy was focused on trying to complete those roads.
The Minister described as wrong the practice of the recent past whereby whole capital budget was taken and roads were just lumped together with each road allocated just little fund no matter the extent of rehabilitation such road needed saying it was not the right approach.
“For me, that is not the way to go. The strategy I recommend is that let’s take the roads that carry the heaviest traffic and phase them; take Phase 1 this year finish them or push them to near completion. Then next year Phase 2, third year, Phase 3 and in each phase let us ensure that at least every geopolitical zone in the country gets something”, he said.
Noting that some of the roads are more compelling than others, Fashola, who cited as his classic case the Ilorin – Jebba Road which he described as a lifeline for Agricultural products and lots of other supplies from the North to the South, described his experience while on inspection of the road as horrific.
“Now, as far as the states of the roads go, I started a tour and I started from the North Central. I visited all the six states, inspecting power formations, road formations and civil works projects that we were doing there and I saw our people, literally trying to salvage their vegetable products that had perished because they were stuck there for four days”, he said.
The Minister said because of the impassable state of the Ilorin – Jebba- Mokwa Road, “there was endless queue of trucks carrying all sorts of things, construction materials, petrol, pipes and so on which got stuck there for days. The only way I could pass was through a bush path, through an elevated detour”.
He continued, “None of the articulated trucks could pass that; those who did just tipped over and people slept there for days”, adding that although the contract for the 98 kilometre road was awarded, but the contractor wasn’t paid for a year and half and when he was paid the fifteen per cent mobilization fee, they only paid him half of the fifteen per cent.
Recalling that he appealed to the contractor “to please go back to site”, Fashola noted that the contractor stabilized the road significantly but has yet to put the concrete deck on it, adding, however, that government has not been able to provide the money for him to do that. “The rains are coming, I don’t want that road to deteriorate again back to the condition that it was”, the Minister appealed.
He said it was imperative to emphasize the issues to correct the impression that government was complaining about the past adding, “But you can’t assess me without the context of where we were coming from”. He said although the whole contract sum for the road was N14 billion, the past administration could not pay the contractor.
The Minister, who noted that it is a 98 kilometre road, added; “Now this road has the entire contract sum of N14billion. What did we do with money at that time? If we had paid the contractor, he would have finished that road”, adding that for the whole of the country the last administration budgeted only N18 billion for roads when one road alone costs about N14 billion.
“So I start this year with those roads that carry the heaviest number of vehicles, that carry other critical services that other departments rely on to survive; Agriculture, for example needs that road”, he said.
On whether the funding of the roads would be strictly from the budget, Fashola explained, “Essentially we can do most of those roads because we proposed a budget of N433 billion to Parliament for my three Ministries and our plan was to use N268 billion for Roads, N99 billion for Power and N66 billion for Housing”.
Noting that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway concession was now the subject of a court case, Fashola explained further, “Injunctions have been obtained to stop the arrangement put in place by the last administration to finance the road through the private sector and the injunction was granted by a court in Nigeria saying that nobody should raise money to finance the development of the road”.
“Thankfully, there is no injunction on government building its road yet; I hope there will be none. So government is hoping to finance the road. It is part of what we put in the budget for this year. But I got a message from the lawyers last night suggesting to me that the action has been dismissed but I haven’t seen the judgment since he said it to me; this was late last night”, he said.
Regretting that his Ministry inherited the problems of injunctions and court orders to stop development, the Minister declared, “At the end of the day, when it is a contract, the only remedy that the court recognizes is damages for breach of contract”.
“And I think that claims can be formulated, orders can be given with a broader perspective that ‘look what really would you lose? Is the government of Nigeria unable to pay damages assuming it was found to be a breach? Why should the developmental process of Nigeria and the lives of Nigerians be held in abeyance because you are in court?”, he asked.
On the role of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Fashola, who said the agency needed to be strengthened, disclosed that there is a bill that he met seeking to reform the road sector adding that because he was not yet there when the bill was passed to the Parliament, it was sent to him for his input which he has already done.
“The inputs that have been made have gone to Parliament and Parliament has been graceful enough to send it back to me to make my input because they had started considering it before I came in. I have made those inputs and now we are planning to go back to them”, he said.
According to him, the bill is essentially to strengthen the road maintenance capacity of government and also “to put sustainability into financing and maintaining roads as people have done all over the world”.
Hinting that government would toll some of the roads it intends to build or reconstruct, Fashola declared, “We should stop being pretentious that roads can be had for absolutely free everywhere. There will be toll roads if we want to get out of this situation. There will be alternative roads as well so that people can choose”.
On severance package for ex-workers of the three Ministries, Fashola explained that the record he met showed that about 50,000 such workers were due severance pay and that about 47,000 have been paid representing about 97 per cent compliance.
“Now, for me, it is a clear evidence of an intention and good faith to pay. Pensioners are about 5,000 and 3,000 have been paid; that is more than 50 per cent compliant. When I queried the reasons for the delay, they told me there was a verification process going on and the approvals they had to spend money on that process had expired. I gave them a new approval”, the Minister further explained.
He said the seeming delay in payment was as a result of the verification exercise going on adding that the verification was due to the allegation that when the payment started “people were altering records, issuing employment letters at severance point and backdating them to people who were not members of staff”.
“That is what has delayed this process. The money to pay is there but they said they are not going to pay until they are sure of the people they are paying. So that process is going on. It has to be properly done and when it is completed we will pay. These are the issues. So when people get angry or agitated, it is to do so in a context”, he said, adding that it is not an unwillingness to pay as some people have already been paid.
On the call for review of the privatization policy especially with regards to the Power Sector, Fashola, who recalled that the nation’s refineries were concessioned in 2006, noted that there was agitation then “by the voices that we are now hearing”, that they shouldn’t have been concessioned adding that as a result, the YarÁdua administration responded to that and stopped the process.
He declared, “I think our choice as a nation must be experiential. The YarÁdua administration responded to the agitation and stopped the process. But that was in 2007; where are we today, nine years after? We still don’t have the quality of refineries we want”.
“The Ministry of Petroleum just shared with us the hard work they are doing getting the refineries back on after about seven years. Perhaps, as you are aware, Dangote is now building a refinery. Perhaps if we had allowed that process, and I think Dangote was one of the concessionaires at the time”, he said.
Noting that government could start reviewing and nothing would happen, Fashola said in lieu of reviewing, focus should be “on getting what is on the ground to work”, adding, “And that is what I am doing, that is what I’ve told you about getting all the various power plants to work”.