EVEN with a budget within the region of N100 billion for the year 2011, many argue that an end to the numerous problems plaguing roads in Nigeria, may not be in sight. While a lot of factors are responsible for the inability of relevant agencies to maintain the roads, not a few believe that the nature of Nigeria’s federalism is chiefly accountable for the state failed roads across the country. CHARLES KUMOLU reports.

ORDINARILY, this should have given sleepless nights to many across Nigeria’s thirty six states. From the sleepy streets of Yola and Yanogoa to the disorderly slums in Lagos, people don’t seem to be bordered because years of complaints, have not made positive difference. That the federal highways of Lokoja/Abuja, Apapa/ Oshodi, Sagamu-Ore-Benin, Enugu/Onitsha, Lagos/Badagry have become highways of death, do not appear to rattle this people. Same applies to the newsman, who does not see any newsworthiness in reporting the state of federal highways. In fact, almost every section of the Nigerian society is fed up with discussing the state of Nigeria’s 200,000-kilometre federal road network, VanguardFeatures,VF gathered.

The above scenario captures the dilemma on federal roads across Nigeria, as public mood have shifted from lamenting the neglect, to cries for a lasting solution.

Instructively, VF gathered that federal roads are those roads that fall under the purview of the federal government, even when they are sited in or passes through state capitals “construction, alteration and maintenance of such roads as may be declared by the National Assembly to be federal trucks,”item 11 of the Second schedule of the 1999 constitution maintained.

This implies that such roads fall under the exclusive list of the federal government.

Moreso, the 2002 Federal Roads Maintenance Agency Establishment, Act No.7 transferred the responsibility of maintaining federal roads to FERMA one year after contractors would have handed them over to the government.

This is in addition to the Infrastructure Concessioning Regulatory Commission Act; and international treaties on road construction, that Nigeria is signatory to.

Trunk A and trunk F roads are developed and maintained by FG

Further findings revealed that “The Nigerian road system is classified into four broad categories: The Federal Trunk ‘A’ Roads: These are under Federal Government ownership and they are developed and maintained by the Federal Government. The Federal Trunk ‘F’ Roads: These were formerly under state ownership, but were taken over by the Federal Government, with a view to upgrading them to Federal highway standards. The State Trunk ‘B’ Roads are under the ownership and management of the component states. The Local Government Trunk ‘C’ Roads: These are under Local Government ownership and management. Each tier of government has the responsibility for planning, construction and maintenance of the network of roads under its jurisdiction.”

However, asking if the federal roads across the geopolitical zones are receiving acceptable attention, is asking the obvious, as the daily lose of lives on these roads and other attending loses, provide an answer to the question.

Give states more autonomy on road maintenance

And that was supported by VF checks which revealed that not a are few are tired about discussing the neglect of federal roads. For them the federal government should give more autonomy to the states on maintenance, in order to end the nightmare encounterd by road users.

“I would subscribe to the idea of leaving it to the states to handle because the federal government is too far from people at the state level. So,for prompt and timely intervention, it makes more sense for autonomy to be granted to the states, who are more in touch with the people. The current strategy of employing FERMA for federal roads in the states is not effective. I will advise that states take over. But a structure should be put in place to ensure monitoring and certification by the federal agencies, to ensure quick reimbursement by the federal government without unnecessary politicking, ” Jide Oke, Chairman Nigeria Institute of Quantity Surveyors,Lagos State Chapter told this reporter.

But he was quick to express doubts over appropriate fundings by the Federal governemnt to states to deal with the issue.

Going down memory lane, Oke said, “My worry here is the kind of unhealthy multi-party politics that obtains in the country. An example is during the Tinubu tenure, Ikorodu road almost fell apart before Tinubu had to rehabilitate it. And when he did, Obasanjo refused to reimburse the state for a long time. This was when the Supreme Court judgement was on between the federal government and Lagos over the issue of local government creation. Obasanjo held on to Lagos funds, without care of the the state suffering or not. It took the coming of Yar’adua to reverse the situation. That is what I call unhealthy multi-party politics. There is also the issue of trust. One only hopes that our politicians would be a little more civil and responsible to know that the most important thing is service to the people who elected them into office. Thus, they should de-emphasise unproductive bickering among the three tiers of govt. Federal roads should be left to the states to handle and be reimbursed.”

Unproductive bickering among the tiers of govt

While the NIQS boss suggestion that states should be reimbursed after repairs are made, not a few are comfortable with the idea, following the failure of the central government to refund money expended by states in the past.

For instance, Lagos State, Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, recently lamented that the Federal Government has failed to refund the State government money committed into rehabilitating some federal roads. Fashola is not alone in this boat.

When VF sought the position of Executive Chairman of Lagos State Public Works Coporation,LSPWC Mr.Gbenga Akintola on this, he said, “I don’t want to give you the fact that I am not sure of. I don’t know if the federal government have refunded the money,” adding that, “what I can assure you is that the funds we use in maintaining the roads are solely from the coffers of the state government. As far as I am concerned nothing is coming from the federal government. That is why the federal government should be prevailed upon to assist the state in this regard. The amount of money that is being spent on Abuja is not replicated in Lagos, which is the former federal capital and the economic nerve centre of the nation. What the state gets as monthly allocation compared with places like New York that is of the same status, is like a drop in the ocean. We are trying our best to make sure that we realise the mandate given to us with the little available resources.”

However, it was authoritatively gathered that even when states want to carry out rehabilitation on some of the roads, the central government usually frustrate such efforts through claims that states have no constitutional right to do so.

This situation recently played out in Edo state where the federal government opposed the Ugbowo- Uselu road contract awarded by the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. The F ederal government stated that the governor failed to obtained approval before embarking on the project.

“Nothing is happening, if you look at the Benin/Auchi road, the Benin/Oluku road, Benin Warri road, nothing is going on there and they are in a bad state. Yet they (Federal government) promises to commence work. Last month, we appealed to them to do some thing about the roads because the rains are coming. As far as we are concerned the federal roads in Edo state need urgent attention,” explained a frustrated Edo state Commissioner of Information, Anslem Ojezua to this reporter.

This perhaps explains why Oke stressed the need to “de-emphasise unproductive bickering among the various tiers of government.”

Concessioning as best maintenance option

Beyond the issue of financial autonomy to states on road rehabilitation, VF investigations revealed that road concessioning is an option for the maintenance of roads across Nigeria’s 36 states.

“I support the idea of giving out the roads to a trusted company that can manage it properly for a good number of years. It has solved this kind of problem in other societies. Let’s call a spade a spade and embrace this kind of solution,” Engr. Ben Okpanachi, a Lagos based civil engineer told VF.

For those, still grumbling that the concessioning of the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway to construction gaint Bicourtney has not improved the lot of road users, Okpanachi’s holds a different view.

According to him, “concessionaire should be encouraged where more elaborate work is to be carried out like on Lagos/Ibadan Expressway.”

Continuing he said: “concessioner and the PPP is the norm all over the world. With the dwindling economy and the recession world wide, Government has no business in such mega projects and we have seen this with the failure of the toll collection system in the country. It became another source of corrupt enrichment while the roads that were supposed to be maintained went from bad to worse. The concessionaire should introduce and manage the toll system for the maintenance of the highways.”

2011 federal roads budget

Meanwhile, the Minister of Works, Senator Sanusi Dagash while disclosing the distribution of road contracts in the 2011 estimates, said the North East Zone was allocated N20 billion; North West has N6 billion; North Central has N11 billion.

In the south, South West has the highest allocation of N10 billion followed by South East with N8 billion and then South South with N7 billion.

For maintenance of roads, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) was allocated N46 billion in 2011.

It is still yet to be seen if this over N100 billion budget would make a difference on the failed roads across the country.

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