Although the infrastructure deficit in Nigeria is alarming generally, the state of the roads in the country is particularly shameful. Dilapidated and abandoned, the crater-infested federal roads litter every region of Nigeria. The situation has reached a point where we must find long-lasting solutions to the problem.
The list of the bad federal roads is long. They are spread across the country. Contracts for the rehabilitation of many of these roads have been awarded, but poor funding has stalled work on them. The contracts for the rehabilitation of Makera-Kontagora-Yauri and Bida-Lapai-Lambatta Roads, for instance, were reportedly awarded in 2013 and 2018 respectively. Until date, they are not yet completed.
Part of the problem is that money appropriated for roads is too paltry. Also, when money is appropriated, it is not fully released. Last year, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, alluded to this fact when she said: “You will see a road that costs, maybe, N5 billion, and you will see a provision for N100 million, N200 million or N300 million. Of course, the project will never finish. After two years, the contractor comes back and asks for variation, and the amount keeps growing.”
This is the case with the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. According to the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Works, Abubakar Kabir, the contract for the rehabilitation of the road was awarded to the tune of N32 billion. So far, he said, only about N5 billion was certified to date approximating to about 19 per cent completion. The lawmaker lamented that in the 2022 budget, the provision for that road was less than N300 million.
Besides, Kabir said the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing allocated only N280 billion to road infrastructure in the 2022 budget. This is against the reported N640 billion outstanding certificates to contractors. In 2020, the Federal Government allocated N169.88billion for construction and rehabilitation of roads. This is less than the N280.44billion budgeted for the same purpose in 2019. In 2021, the approved sum for the rehabilitation of roads was over N117billion. How can we move forward this way?
It has been observed that money appropriated for roads is usually too small to do any meaningful job. In the 2022 budget, there are provisions for execution of roads, with appropriation of N35 million for one kilometre. With the level of inflation and high cost of construction materials, there is no solid one kilometre of road work that can be done with N35 million. In such situation, what may happen at best is the contractor grading the road and settling officials of the Ministry of Works to look the other way. Such situation is rampant in relation to road rehabilitation and construction. Most times, a road contractor contends with party patronage, bribing ministry officials and settling communities before embarking on road projects. With paltry allocation, this helps to ensure that these road projects are not executed.
Even when they are completed, some of these roads are not strong enough to withstand the volume of traffic on them. Due to the fact that the railway infrastructure is not fully developed yet, overloaded tankers and trucks put great pressure on these roads and often lead to their total damage. The other day, a section of the Onitsha-Owerri Road completely collapsed to the chagrin of many of the road users.
The state of our roads contributes largely to the rate of accident and insecurity in Nigeria. Recently, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) said 5,320 road crashes and 2,471 deaths were recorded nationwide between January and June 2021 alone. No fewer than 15,882 people sustained various injuries. The worst is that bandits often lay ambush and waylay their victims on bad portions of these roads. This is not salutary at all.
Bad roads also affect prices of commodities. Farmers labour to bring food items to the market. Transporters take cognizance of the wear and tear of their vehicles occasioned by bad roads and increase transport fares. This invariably translates into higher prices for goods and services.
One way or the other, bad roads also affect investment. It may have contributed to the decline in our Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) because no investor wants to invest in an atmosphere of poor infrastructure. Some of them who dared to invest have had to endure the misfortune of fallen containers, broken down vehicles and associated problems.
Critical problems demand drastic solutions. In saner countries, the state of our roads and other infrastructure would have elicited serious uproar and litigation. Nigerians are so used to poor governance that nothing moves them anymore. Surprisingly, the two chambers of the National Assembly rose in condemnation of these bad roads recently. The House of Representatives lamented that an estimated 6,000 kilometres of roads had been damaged by torrential rainfall across the country. The Senate asked the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on federal roads and improve the funding for their maintenance. It urged the Federal Ministry of Finance to release adequate funds to the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to enable it to carry out emergency repairs on all the federal roads. It had earlier urged the government to consider emergency intervention fund of N300 billion for critical roads in Niger State linking economic corridors in the North and South. Niger State’s 2,263km of federal roads is the longest of the national federal road network of 36,000km.
We think that with the interest the National Assembly has shown in state of roads, it could go a step further by taking decisive measures to tackle the problem. At present, the National Assembly is working on the 2022 budget. We suggest that the federal lawmakers should look at appropriation for roads critically. The issue of paltry allocation should be dealt with. Where it is obvious that proposed allocation cannot do the job, the National Assembly could increase the budget sum or merge allocations. The National Assembly should also, in its oversight function, ensure that roads so awarded must not only be executed but also properly done.
No doubt, good roads ginger development. Hence, the Federal Ministry of Works must be alive to its responsibilities. It is obvious that the ministry cannot fully handle the rehabilitation of all the road networks in Nigeria. The Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme, an initiative of the Federal Government, is a noble idea. The scheme allows the private sector to construct roads in exchange for a tax credit. Through this scheme, Dangote Nigeria Plc did a good job on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in Lagos.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has promised to begin the rehabilitation of 16 roads in some parts of the country to the tune of N621 billion. This followed the recent suspension of the planned strike by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). NUPENG had, earlier this month, threatened that its tanker drivers would go on strike as a result of the deplorable state of the country’s highways. But the management of the NNPC, after a meeting with NUPENG, resolved to rehabilitate some critical roads through the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit scheme. This is in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and the Federal Inland Revenue Service. More of this partnership should be encouraged.
Above all, if we must make any appreciable progress in the area of road construction and rehabilitation, there must be a substantial increase in the allocation to the Ministry of Works and Housing. The ministry, on its part, must consider road rehabilitation a priority and allocate appreciable sum of its budget to it. After a road is completed, the Federal Government may consider erecting tollgate on it to generate income for its regular rehabilitation. As the Finance Minister, Ahmed, recently advocated, taking one or two projects at a time and completing it before going to the next one is the best thing to do.