We’ll soon commence  work on Apapa-Oshodi expressroad

In less than two weeks as Federal Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen made a working tour of on-going federal government roads in Lagos State last weekend to scan the extent of damage and progress on the roads.

He went from the Tincan Island Port Project, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway to Lagos-Otta Highway and the Lagos -Ibadan Expressway. He also visited the flooded areas in Lagos, including Mile 12. Onolememen told the contractors handling the projects that he would not accept anything other than performance from them . Favour Nnabugwu who was among the journalists on the tour with the Minister captures all. Excerpts

You went on a recent inspection of Lagos roads. What was the outcome?

Our visit to Lagos state is instructive in the sense that we were all aware of the state of flooding that the state experienced in recent times, and on behalf of the federal government, we deeply commiserate with the people of Lagos state in this moment of need.

We also realised that the flooding has impacted severely on most of the Federal constructions in Lagos. Primarily, that is why we were there. We deemed it necessary to visit the Governor of Lagos state and to also rub minds with him.

Onolememen...We are appealing to the Lagos State Government to help with the management of the waste from our drainage onward to the lagoon

Lagos is very strategic to Nigerian economy and because of that, most of the projects that the Federal government is embarking upon today are germane to the smooth running and functioning of our national economy. Our priority is the Apapa-Oshodi expressway way which contract was awarded earlier this year.

Work had already commenced there and like you rightly noted, the slow pace of work there is due to a number of factors one of which is the weather condition. The second factor is the poor budgetary allocation to the project in the current year.

Because of the state of flooding witnessed recently, we have decided to pay a special attention to Lagos because of its strategic position in driving the national economy. I believe that in the days and months ahead, federal government is going to come up with a priority list of projects to be quickly executed and I assure you that Apapa-Oshodi Expressway is one of them.

There are two contracts going on that particular road. One is being handled from the Apapa Ports to Mile 2 by Borini Prono Nigeria and from Mile 2 to Oshodi by Julius Berger Nigeria.

We are appealing to the Lagos State Government to help with the management of the waste from our drainage onward to the lagoon. Beyond those two projects, the reconstruction and beautification of the Murtala International Airport Way is receiving attention. We are completing works on the memo now and I believe in the next few weeks, that contract will be awarded .

In fact, the federal government intends to spend N9 billion on that road and there is adequate provision of that sum in the 2011 budget because we believe that is a major entry to Nigeria for most of the people visiting the country. So, it is very important to the federal government.

Beyond that, I want to say that I’m happy that the infrastructure is well represented here and we know that the cost of infrastructure these days is quite enormous and budgetary allocation will not be able to handle the infra structural needs of this country. It is in this respect that we crave the Lagos governor’s indulgence on collaboration.

We urge for collaboration with the federal government in the development of some of these infrastructures, particularly as its affects Lagos state. We know that the Apapa- Oworonshoki expressway is a major artery into this country since it emanates from the port and it is an economic and viable road and there is no reason why key stakeholders cannot collaborate with us on that road to ensure that it is motorable all year round.

How do you plan to handle these projects?

First of all, we shall be involving the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) and the body of tankers who are direct beneficiaries of the roads. We believe that as part of their social responsibility, they would partake in the maintenance of this important infrastructure.

Finally, I want to assure you that we shall continue to partner with Lagos state government because we know the strategic position of Lagos to our national economy and so the federal government will not shy away from its responsibilities.

In days and months ahead, we should be able to develop a framework for collaboration and we also wish to draw your attention to illegal businesses under the bridges threatening the federal government bridges in Lagos state. Not too long ago, there was a fire incident by the Moloney flyover which impacted on the structure.

We shall rely on the governor to ensure that those illegal businesses are cleared from under the bridges and rights of way given to us in order for us to continue to ensure the integrity of those structures.

Work actually commenced work on most of the projects this year. One thing that is gratifying is that the contractors are on site and working. We will do everything within our power to ensure that we step up the pace of work because of the severe impact on federal government road infrastructure in Lagos state.

It is also important to state that there are challenges facing us regarding the funding of the project. We have appealed for collaboration with the Lagos state government and we are taking the projects seriously because we know the strategic importance of road projects to the economy of this country.

Apapa-Oshodi expressway and Apapa-Oworonsoki are major economic arteries for this country because all those coming out of the Port to various parts of the country go through these roads. I want to assure Lagosians that they should be rest assured that the federal government is committed to these road projects.

What is the roadmap of the Ministry of Works ?

Our road map is simple. In fact, we are coming out with a road master plan for this country to guide road investment and development. It is our hope that appropriate framework will be developed and the major part of it is to have consistent plan for maintenance of the roads.

Also, when we are able to access the five per cent fuel level, I believe that FERMA will be able to do more in putting most of the roads that are in despair in good condition.

What is the budgetary allocation for this?

We will ensure that the little we get from budgetary allocation is prudently put into use and we will also ensure that priority roads are dispensed with very quickly to enable the economy of this country run smoothly again.

What level of Public-Private Partnership is involved?

Lagos Ibadan expressway was concessioned in 2009, but unfortunately, I will say that there are a lot of teething problems. Even as we speak, we might not be able to take off convincingly. However, we are talking with the concessionaires and very shortly, we are expecting the road and all grey areas will be looked into while we come up with a more creative way of making concession work in this country.

The teething problem is not deliberate on the part of federal government but like the concessionaire has said, the financiers have paid for the projects and I’m aware too that they are sourcing funds from alternative sources and we are going to look at that diligently. If we believe that the mechanisms that the concessionaire has put in place are adequate for the construction of the road, then they will have our blessing.

But if for any reason, we have any doubt for whatsoever, we will look at the concession agreement again. Don’t forget that between 2009 and now, the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission has been able to develop capacity under the PPP initiative and I believe new projects that have economic viability will be concessioned along with the project. But we will be better prepared this time to avoid the hiccups we experienced in the first concession.

What plans do you have for Benin-Ore road?

I am aware that the road project is on-going, but we also know that some challenges exist on that road because of the suffering that Nigerians pass through on that road. This makes it more important for us to take it up as our priority project and we have christened it national emergency road construction under the transformation agenda of Mr. President.

I want to assure you that we will set the ball rolling again on that road in couples of weeks. We are already discussing with the contractors who virtually abandoned the work. Truly, source of funds is a major challenge as it may interest you to know that the federal ministry of works is engaged in different construction of roads in this country. Road constructions and all our ongoing projects are in the tune of N900b, out of which we got budgetary allocation of N128b. If we match that with commitment, we will appreciate the problems we are facing with funding.

That is why we are seeking more creative ways to fund our projects, and the PPP initiative is one of them. We are going to collaborate with the relevant stakeholders depending on which road is involved. Like I told the governor of Lagos, there is no reason why Lagos state cannot collaborate with the federal government on Apapa-Oworoshoki expressway, which is our major economic viable road project. Nigerian Ports Authority and a body of tankers, who are all direct beneficiaries of the roads, should join us. That is the new spirit.

If a road is christened federal government road, it is only fair that the state government where the road is located carries out rehabilitation work on such roads and at the end of the day, passes the bills as a senior partner in the collaborative venture. But it is fair that the federal government is put on notice so that the framework for the collaborative work can be spelt out, and that is where consent comes in.

What about Lagos/Ibadan expressway?

For us, this road is also very important and you are very aware that this road is the busiest express road in the country. As I pointed out few days after my swearing in, visiting this road is not by accident but by design. We realise this road is very important to this country. We are aware the concession agreement entered into with your company by the Federal Ministry of Works in 2009 is being operated and we are here.

What should be done is to find out if there are challenges and you have raised some of it which we are going to look at, particularly as they affect our part of agreement, particularly the right of way. Our estate valuers have just completed the enumeration and I can also assure you that as soon as we get to Abuja, we will expedite action on the issue of the right of way.

How do you hope to recover right of way?

We are also going to look at other means of recovering our right of way because it is not something to be left entirely to the concessionaire because of the challenges . Our main concern now is what we must do on a short term to help ameliorate the suffering being encountered by Nigerians and other road users on the roads.

I am aware that in the last few weeks, there has been a lot of outcry about increased travel time occasioned by the level of pot-holes and bad spots on the road. I think it is appropriate for me as the Minister of Works to direct that in the next couples of days and weeks, we will quickly fix the bad portions on the road while we work on a long run for the actualization of the concession on the basis of the PPP initiative.

No doubt, this is the model way of financing road infrastructure in the country now because the budgetary allocation by the FG cannot match the demand of roads rehabilitation and construction. It is in our interest as well as the good people of this country, that this project, which can be said to be the flagship of PPP model arrangement in this country succeed.

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