By Dennis Agbo
Chairman Senate Committee on Works, Senator Julius Ucha was in Ebonyi State recently andÂ fielded questions from newsmen on his committeeâ€™s oversight function as it pertains to Nigeria’s roads; the dredging of River Niger and the constitutional review.
What has become of the contract for the rehabilitation of the Abakaliki-Enugu Express way because it seems the Federal Government is not doing anything in that direction?
Well, preparationsÂ for the rehabilitation of theÂ Enugu-Abakaliki Express way is on course;Â it is a long stretch fromÂ Enugu through Abakaliki to Ogoja, Ikom, to Cameroon and Kenya ; it is a trans- African high way. Already contract for a section of the roadÂ has been awarded; the first and second lane of the Nigeria a stretchÂ from Abakaliki to Ikom, is being done by the African Development Bank (ADB).
Nigeria is to provide counterpart fund. ADB commenced activities immediately it saw that 2009 budget provided Nigeriaâ€™s counterpart fund which is alreadyÂ with the Federal Ministry of Works. It is inÂ progress. The Enugu-Abakaliki sectionÂ will be done by the World Bank and the process of procurement of World Bank facility is always cumbersome. The bidding and the award by the special grace of God will be done this month. So, the process is on and we are convinced that before the end of the yearÂ it will be awarded.
Is it going to be dual carriage or just reconstruction?
It is total reconstruction and after whichÂ it will be maintainedÂ by the World Bank for seven years. It will not be a dual carriage way. Our observationÂ is that the volume of traffic on that road as determined by the World Bank is not enough for the road to be dualized for now but it willÂ be totallyÂ reconstructed .
What is happening on other roads such as Nsukka-Obollafor-Nkalagu road, Abakaliki-Afikpo road and others which we were made to understand were provided for in this yearâ€™s budget?
In all honesty, what the present Federal Government is set to achieve in road sector is what has not been achieved in the recent past. I have told you here once that in 2009 budget,Â a technical committee identified 25 critical roads all over the federation and they were selected between three and five per zone.
The arterial roads are roads that connect states to states and then also have zonal connections and that is why, down the South-East here, you have Ibaji-Otuocha road, Lafia-Markudi-Otukpo-Otukpa-Ninth Mile road and Owerri-Aba-Ikot Ekpene road.
These are roads the technical committee identified; they are all in the zonal intervention roads within the budget. There are other roads across the six geo-political zones. That is why we also have roads like Shagamu-Ajibandela – Benin -Okpotu road which are all within the zonal intervention projects. Over 95% of such projects have been awarded by the Federal Government. There is a deliberate government policy that these zonal intervention projects must be awarded first.
That is where Abakaliki-Afikpo road falls within. In order to increase the speed of work on these roads , we divided themÂ into sections;Â that is why Abakaliki-Afikpo has two sections so that two contractors can workÂ on such roadsÂ to finish themÂ within the scheduled time. Nnewi-Oba-Okigwe road also has two sections; Onitsha-Enugu has two sections to ensure speedy performance. Where we have a little problem which will be resolved by the special grace of God is Nsukka-Obollafor-Ikem-Nkalagu road.
It is a road with a checkered history. In 2006 that road was passed through due process but it was not presented before the Federal Executive Council for award. In 2007, it suffered the same fate. In 2008, it had the same problem. In 2009, though it was included in the zonal intervention project but something happened. There was bidding in 2006 and the contractor passed through due process certification and the contract was to be awarded to him. So there was also some other person that they said was bidding for it.
When eventually the matter came up there was a petition and what the ministry did was to withdraw it from the zonal intervention to address the petition and they quickly put in a committee with a Director ofÂ Federal High way. The petitioner was invited and he didnâ€™t appear. So it was resolved in favour of the contractor. Then, it required also due process certification and for the man who bid for it in 2006; the ministry is required to ask him whether he was still willing to do the same project at the same price of the bidding of 2006 .
The man quickly accepted that he will do it at the same price. So they now took the matter to FEC. But it suffered a set back when there was an argument of specification of how the contract will be funded. To my mind, that was not enough to return it because, there is no other project that has specification of how it will be funded. The point I am making is this;Â that road has a contract sum of N6.4 billion and it has N1 billion in 2009 budget and 15%Â which is mobilization for such contract sum is not up to N1 billion.
That is 15% of N6.4 billion is about N900 million. Therefore there is sufficient fund for it to be awarded. It is now within the authority of the ministry to specify within 2010 and 2011 budgets what should be provided for the road. So theyÂ were asked to provide a report on how the project will be funded. That they have done and we believe that it will be presented before the next Federal Executive Council meeting; our prayer is that by the special grace of God, it will go through.
The road has a checkered history, the ministry knows it, everybody knows and we are working very hard to ensure that the road contract is awarded.
It has been observed that while one of the contractors handling the Abakaliki – Onueke section of the Abakaliki-Afikpo road has mobilised to siteÂ the second contractor handling Onueke to Afikpo, is yet to do same.Â How do you react to this?
Yes, to the best of my knowledge, our business in the legislature is to make efforts to get all stakeholders to ensure that certain projects are listed in the budget and that funds are provided. It is the entire responsibility of the executive to award contracts. We have a responsibility to ensure that when contracts are awardedÂ through oversight function, we remind the executiveÂ to ensure that implementation of the budget is done within record time.
It is through oversight function that we get to know whether a contractor that has been awarded a contract isÂ performing or not. It is then that we can present our reports to the Senate for proper action. I am not aware. For now, I have not visited the site.
I understand it was awarded to one CCCN or something like that and I am surprised that they are not on site because the briefing we received when we invited the ministry was that all the contractors have been mobilized and if contractors are mobilized and they are not on site, I think it is not acceptable to us even when the rain is still on; a contractor should show sufficient presence on site.
Some people have accused the Federal Government of not being serious with the dredging of River Niger. For some, it is a smokescreen, how do you react to this?
Well onÂ the dredging of the River Niger, the Federal Government hasÂ awarded the contract;Â it can not be a smoke screen.Â This is a government that is determined to serve the people, it cannot be smoke screen. You see, we are in a society where arm-chair critics will not allow the government to perform its function. If government in its wisdom has awarded a contract to dredge the River Niger and you call it a smoke screen, it is mischievous. There is no responsible government that can award a contract to deceive the people.
I donâ€™t think so. Though it is good in some cases when critics are let loose, they can sharpen the intellect of performers and get them to do better; but it is not always good because when you sit down to criticize and antagonize those who want to help the people,Â that becomes mere mischief. I think it is not proper to say that it is a smoke screen.
What is the time frame for the current review of the Constitution. Secondly, some people are of the view that the present Electoral Act is insufficient to organise the 2011 election. What is yourÂ reaction?
Well, the present Electoral Act was the basis upon which 2007 election was organized and it was successful. So, one cannot say that it is insufficient. We cannot have a sufficient law, otherwise the constitution would have been a sufficient document even when it stipulated almost everything to the level of how you can get married. But there are also flaws; it isÂ a product of human endeavour and no product of human effort is perfect.
It is not compulsory that constitutional amendment when undertaken must be completed by a certain legislature.Â It is an on-going process suchÂ that when it begins, the legislature can put in place an Act of Parliament that this process we have begun can be concluded along the line.