Nigeria has about 200,000 km of roads, with the federal, state, and local governments each responsible for creating and maintaining a portion of the network.
The National Planning Commission (NPC) estimates that the federal government is in charge of around 18% (or 35,000 km) of Nigeria’s roads, state governments are in charge of 15% (or 17,000 km), and local governments are in charge of the remaining 67% (or 150,000 km).
The conditions of these roads are so poor that only about 35 percent of the network is said to be motorable. A trip through many of these highways, especially those in the southern part of the country, confirms to any traveller that there are no better highways to hell.
According to a 2012 estimate by the NPC, 87% of local government roads (or the bulk of the country’s roads since most roads are LG roads) are in bad condition, along with 78% of state government roads and 40% of federal highways.
Highways that require maintenance and trunk highways that have not yet been tarred are not included in these statistics. There is undoubtedly a significant issue here.
At least 90% of transportation in Nigeria happens on roads, which means they are critical infrastructure. Despite having one of the lowest vehicle to owner rates in the world, Nigeria still records one of the highest road accident numbers in the world with several hundreds lives lost every year.
Vehicle owners also have to spend huge sums of money on repairs and maintenance, affecting the livelihoods of many families. All of this results in a trickle down effect that not only hurts earning capabilities and quality of life but innovation as well.
Though there are efforts at addressing the country’s N3 trillion out of $15 trillion global infrastructure gaps, such efforts hardly make a significant and appreciable impact. Besides budgetary allocations, there have been interventions from direct foreign investment (DFIs).
The infrastructure tax credit scheme is another of such interventions as could be seen in the reconstruction of the 35-kilometre Apapa-Oshodi Expressway in Lagos being undertaken by the Dangote Industries at the cost of N73 billion.
The Sukuk funding for road construction which recorded 132.25 percent over-subscription in 2019 is yet another intervention. The second tranche of the ₦100 billion of the fund is meant to fund 28 road projects across the country.
These include the dualisation of the Lokoja-Abuja-Benin; Abaji-Lokoja; Kano- Maiduguri; Oyo-Ogbomosho and Benin-Sagamu roads and the rehabilitation of the Enugu-Onitsha and Enugu-Port Harcourt roads.
It is unfortunate that despite these efforts, the roads remain death traps with craters and ditches. Perhaps, the reasons are not far-fetched. It is no secret that the cost of either constructing or maintaining a kilometre of road in Nigeria is extremely high when compared to other African countries.
How contractors add to the problem
The Minister of Works, Dave Umahi, has declared that no existing federal road can last up to seven years.
He said the verdict was based on findings gathered during his recent road inspection tour crisscrossing the entire nation, noting that some roads are riddled with potholes and have deteriorated into “boreholes”.
The minister expressed his dissatisfaction over the poor jobs done by the contractors over the years while addressing contractors from the six geo-political zones at the ministry headquarters on Tuesday, in Abuja.
Umahi said the contractors have been in the habit of increasing the cost of their projects to swindle the country through contract variation and the use of asphalt materials, which are subject to the international price of crude oil.
He said, “There is no project being constructed right now in Nigeria that is going to last for seven years. The question is are we going to be maintaining or reconstructing our roads every 10 years? That is what we have been doing. I travelled from Abuja to Benin City through Lokoja, all the stretches of the road are on contract, and ongoing, this is through the policy of the last administration but how much of the roads are motorable? I travelled through the roads myself and I shed tears for the kind of pains our people are going through”, he said.
What can be done
The poor performance of contractors has been a source of concern and worry particularly when compared with their foreign counterparts.
Judging by the record of high number of bankruptcies in this group, poor quality work, mismanagement, diversion and embezzlement of project fund, and the general economic depression, the survival and growth of contractors may be difficult, particularly in view of inflationary trends, high cost of construction materials, high cost of borrowing capital, government policy change in favour of deregulation, and the current wave of global economic meltdown.
One way is by investing in new road building and maintenance technologies that help reduce the cost and time of road rehabilitation and construction. They can also help deal with natural challenges like erosion and flooding.
Umahi has insisted that there is no going back on the construction of concrete roads saying President Bola Tinubu has approved that it should be enforced.
“I will challenge you contractors that the use of concrete technology on our road pavement is the best. The nation is endowed with natural resources, so we should be prepared for the renewed hope of the present government that is anchored on change.
“My instruction is for us to start using concrete technology, but if you insist on using asphalt, you will sign an undertaking for me that if the road fails you will bear the burden alone,” the minister explained.
Road infrastructure is critical to Nigeria’s dream of retaining the its ‘Giant of Africa’ title because the efficient movement of people, goods and services is crucial for any society to undergo exponential growth. Naturally, there is a lot that goes into these things from funding to policy to project management. These factors arguably make it imperative that Nigeria’s road problem be tackled immediately.
Many contend that the minister may have a lot to contend with in his new assignment, especially the ‘Nigerian factor’ where corruption has taken hold of the system and process of contract awards. But then other argue that Umahi is not new to the system, given his eight years stint as governor of Enugu State.
How far he can go to get the contractors handling construction and maintenance of the roads to kowtow to his line of thought will be seen after some time in his new office, as Nigerians continue to wait for good roads.
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