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East-West road project, not designed to fail, GE Otobo replies Usani Uguru Usani

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ON December 14,  2017, it was reported in the major newspapers that the Minister of Niger-Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Uguru Usani stated that the East-West Road Reconstruction Project awarded in 2006 by the Obasanjo administration “was designed to fail.”

Engr. G. E. Otobo, MFR, FAEng and Minister of Niger-Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru Usani

Not only is this statement patently false, but it is most uncharitable. What will be the benefit to anybody if this most important project in the Niger- Delta was right from the beginning programmed to fail? This project has been supervised by at least five Ministers; three from the defunct Federal Ministry of Works and about two from the Ministry of Niger-Delta Affairs. None of these ministers, some of whom are solid professionals in their own right, had ever made such a satanic statement.

Satanic statement

The problem with the East-West Road Project has always been the willingness or lack of it, of the various administrations to finance this project because of the seeming high cost of construction. There seems to be a lack of appreciation that the same geology of swampy mangrove forest and unstable soils formation that make it expensive to construct a road in the Niger- Delta, is the same geology that has sustained for several decades and continues to sustain the economy of Nigeria with its vast deposits of oil and gas resources that account for about 90 per cent of the foreign exchange earnings of Nigeria.

In respect to the East-West road, we quote herein a relevant letter by Messrs Guy Otobo & Partners Ltd addressed to the then Minister of Works and Housing in May 2006 which is reproduced herewith: “Following the meeting of Mr. President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, with the Niger-Delta Stakeholders on Wednesday, April 5,2006, Mr. President directed that the contracts for the dualisation of the Warri to Port Harcourt to Oron road should be awarded as quickly as possible and that the relevant memorandum should be submitted to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) urgently.

The East-West Road dualisation project consists of the rehabilitation/reconstruction of the existing Warri to Kaiama to Port Harcourt to Eket to Oron road and the construction of a new parallel carriageway. Due to the necessity to meet Mr. President’s deadline and the political urgency because of the restiveness of the Niger-Delta youths, the Federal Ministry of Works decided to adopt the selective tender procedure so as to shorten the length of time needed to award the relevant contracts. Therefore, the Federal Ministry of Works directed that five contractors already mobilised in the area should be invited to tender for the dualisation of the road from Warri to Kaiama to Port Harcourt to Eket to Oron. You will recall that the Federal Ministry of Works had awarded the contracts for the engineering design of the section of the road from Warri to Mbiama and Mbiama to Port Harcourt and the two long bridges at Kaiama and Patani to three consultants.

The section of the road from Port Harcourt to Eket to Oron was only this month awarded for engineering design. Some of the contractors invited to tender have worked on this road and are quite familiar with the terrain. We, the Co-ordinating Consultants were also privileged to have worked on a part of this road from Warri to Port Harcourt as Consultants to the defunct Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund.

Therefore the Bill of Engineering Measurement and Evaluation (BEME) for the whole road from Warri to Oron was produced from baseline designs including studies and detailed condition survey of the existing road. Some of the works already done by the design Consultants were also incorporated into the BEME. In order to ensure that the final engineering working drawings are consistent with the design standards of the Federal Highways Department, additional funds have been provided in Bill No. I for further final engineering design, and engineering services to be provided by the Co-ordinating Consultants and the Supervising Consultants.

Supervising consultants

The scope of works generally involves the full rehabilitation/reconstruction of the existing road together with the construction of an additional carriageway parallel to the existing road. On some alignments of the road especially along the Port Harcourt to Oron axis, there will be a need to construct new dual carriageways. The project would involve the construction of forty three numbers of new bridges over major rivers, creeks and waterways up to Federal Highways Department standards and general specifications. The project has been sub-divided into the following subsections in order to provide for ease of construction:-

(i). Section I    – Warri to Kaiama:- 87Km

(ii). Section II   – Kaiama to Port Harcourt (Onne Junction):- 101Km

(iii). Section III  – Port Harcourt (Onne Junction) to Eket:- 100Km

(iv). Section IV  – Eket to Oron:- 60Km.

The five contractors already mobilised in the area who were given copies of the Bill of Engineering Measurement and Evaluation (BEME) for tender purposes are as follows:-

(a) Messrs. Setraco Nigeria Limited

(b) Messrs. Dantata & Sawoe Construction Company (Nigeria) Ltd

(c) Messrs. Julius Berger Nigeria Plc.

(d) Messrs. P. W. Nigeria Limited

(e) Messrs. Stemco Nigeria Limited.

Messrs. Guy Otobo & Partners Ltd, Engineers, Planners and Project Management Consultants were appointed as the Co-ordinating Consultants to analyse the various tenders so as to ensure their sufficiency and reasonableness and to submit a report for the consideration of the Ministry. The Co-ordinating Consultants will thereafter co-ordinate the detailed design of the various sections of the road, co-ordinate the construction works of the contractors and to co-ordinate and oversee the work of supervising consultants in order to ensure uniformity of design and construction standards for the whole project.

History of the East-West road trunk road F103

The Warri to Kaiama to Port Harcourt to Eket to Oron road, also known as the East-West road, is a major East-West highway of the nation, whose importance to the economy of the nation cannot be over-emphasized. The road links all the states of the Niger-Delta region from Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom to Cross River State. The Warri to Kaiama to Port Harcourt road which is a section of the East-West highway was a State road taken over in 1974/1975 from the then Mid-West State and Rivers State governments. The terrain over which the road traverses is in the heart of the Niger-Delta swamp lands with very poor road building materials.

Dualization of East West Road Section I Warri-Kaiama. Photo credit setraco

Though the state governments’ initiative towards the initial execution of the project is commendable, it must be said that the original construction was of a poor standard. For example, all the existing bridges on the Warri to Port Harcourt section of the East-West road (with the exception of the ones over the Nun River and Forcados Rivers at Patani and Kaiama which were reconstructed by the then Federal Ministry of Works and Housing) were not designed or constructed to Federal Ministry of Works specifications.

Many of the existing bridge decks are supported on vertical hollow steel pipes which serve as piles. The piles, therefore, serve as bridge columns which makes the bridges inherently unstable with respect to collision with heavy floating objects such as logs and boats.

Heavy floating  objects

The East-West road has, therefore, been a perennial source of problems and frustration to motorists who experience complete road closures at many locations especially during the rainy season. The road carries a large volume of heavy traffic involved in the gas and petroleum exploration and exploitation. The road is the major access to such high worth Federal Government investments as the Aluminum Smelting Plant at Ikot Abasi, the Fertiliser Plant at Onne, the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Plant at Bonny and other large industrial complexes at Port Harcourt and Warri.

The Onne junction to Eket to Oron road is the continuation of the East-West Road Trunk F103 in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. The section of the Mbiama to Kaloko road was constructed between 1978 and 1979 by Messrs. Dumez Limited but was abandoned because of misunderstanding between the host communities and the contractor.

This was during the regime of the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo now President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria. Messrs. Horicon Limited were awarded the contract to complete the construction works from Kaloko to Eket during the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari in 1983 but the job was again abandoned after the construction of three small bridges along the alignment.

Messrs Julius Berger Nigeria Plc completed the construction of the bridge over the Imo River in 1993 during the regime of General I. B. Babangida. As a result of the several abandonments, the road has never been constructed to Federal Highways Department standards. As the East-West Road dips further into the heart of the Niger-Delta from Port Harcourt to Eket to Oron, the quality of road building materials grows progressively worse. Sand is readily available in the area. This dredged sand, stabilised with cement, quarry fines or aggregates will be used for the rehabilitation/reconstruction and dualisation of the East-West Road Trunk F103. It will be a lasting legacy of the present Obasanjo administration to execute the dualisation of the East-West Road F103 to the Federal Ministry of Works standards and specification.

Scope of works: The stretch of road from Warri to Port Harcourt to Eket to Oron traverses the worst possible terrain in the country due to the presence of poor underlying soils, very high water table and the numerous rivers and creeks to be traversed. The construction period is also very short due to long rainy seasons. As the road was originally constructed as a state road, it is below Federal Highways Department standards. The road has failed regularly and has been rehabilitated several times over the years. Therefore, the present scope of works is aimed at providing a more permanent solution.

The scope of works for the rehabilitation/reconstruction is to remove the existing unsuitable material up to one metre to two- metre depth and replace with suitable material mostly dredged sand which will be stabilised whenever necessary to achieve full sub-grade strength. On top of the fill will be 250mm of suitable sub-base material and 250mm of crushed stone base course. The road surface will have a 60mm asphaltic concrete binder course and 40mm asphaltic concrete wearing course. In areas where the existing road pavement is of adequate strength all that will be needed will be the construction of a new crushed stone base course and asphaltic concrete road surfacing.

Asphaltic  concrete

The scope of works necessary to achieve dualisation is to build a new road as close to old alignment as possible. The scope of works herein will consist of bush clearing of trees and shrubs of the mangrove swamps of the Niger-Delta, carting away of cleared rubbish to spoil, removal of top soil, importation of new fill material which will be stabilised with dredged sand to produce a high embankment in order to raise the new road well above the usual high water table in the region. The sand is to be stabilised with quarry dust or cement when found necessary so as to create a stable foundation for the new road.

Thereafter suitable imported 250mm sub-base material and 250mm crushed stone base material will be constructed which will be overlaid with 60mm asphaltic concrete binder course and 40mm asphaltic concrete wearing course.

New bridges, box and pipe culverts will be constructed across various rivers, canals and streams on the road alignment. In certain areas where the underlying soils are of such poor shear strength that large settlements of the completed road will be a possibility soon after construction, concrete deck-on-piles or geo-textile materials will be utilised. The new road will have shoulders of 2.75m width which will receive two coats of surface dressing. The side slopes will be grassed. The new road will be constructed to the Federal Ministry of Works standards and specification.

Both the Contractors and the Co-ordinating Consultants had been given a very short time period for the tender process. Provision has therefore been made in the Bill of Engineering Measurement and Evaluation (BEME) for the cost of additional engineering design and subsoil investigations especially for the bridge foundations, even as the construction works progress.

The recommended contract sum for the project at that time was about N277 billion. President Olusegun Obasanjo then directed that he could not spend such a huge sum of money on a road in the South without a corresponding project of such magnitude in the North. We, therefore, got appointed as Co-ordinating Consultants for the dualisation of the Kano-Maiduguri road project, which was also split into five sections namely:

(i) Section I    – Kano to Shuari: – 105Km

(ii) Section II   – Shuari to Azare: – 117.776Km

(iii) Section III  – Azare to Potiskum: – 101.843Km

(iv) Section IV  – Potiskum to Damaturu: – 96.240Km

(iv) Section V   – Damaturu to Maiduguri: – 131.909Km

Exactly the same template used on the East-West road from Warri -Kaiama-Port Harcourt (Onne Junction) -Eket-Oron, was used by us as Co-ordinating Consultants for the Kano – Shuari -Azare-Potiskum – Damaturu-Maiduguri road.

Serious and detailed engineering consideration was given to the dualisation projects of both East-West roads:  the one in the South in the Niger-Delta swamps, and the more stable geology of the North-East-West road. The current problems with the East -West road in the South as against that of the North is mainly due to the poor road building materials of the Niger-Delta as against a better geology of the North-East -West road. Nothing more!

Even though we left the scene of both projects quite early in their execution, (most unceremoniously and indeed our consultancy fees are yet to be fully paid) and before the vast revisions of contract sums that have occurred on the East -West road in the South, we are proud of our efforts to ensure that the initial contracts for the construction of this vital road in the Niger-Delta was awarded by President Obasanjo in year 2006.

Even though we have left the site, we are sure that both the design Consultants and the main Contractors on both East -West road projects are competent and very experienced.

Removal of unsuitablematerials

Any escalation in contract price of the East-West Road of the South, must be as a result of unforeseen more earthwork quantities due to removal of unsuitable materials and perhaps the bridging of more water outlets which can only be determined once work commences on site. It should be noted that the East-West road in the Niger-Delta is essentially a long dam across the natural water flow of the many tributaries of the River Niger and River Nun.

Finally, it is most uncharitable to suggest that the same Chief Obasanjo who most selflessly refused to award the contract for the reconstruction and dualisation of his Ota to Lagos road but set about to award multibillion naira road reconstruction contracts in the Niger-Delta and the North would be associated with a phantom scheme for the East-West Road Project to be designed to fail. Suffice it to say that the engineering Consultants, Contractors and Ministry staff that have worked and continue to work on this project have done so very diligently despite the obvious security challenges involved in working in the Niger-Delta.


  • Engr. G. E. Otobo, MFR, FAEng is principal partner, Guy Otobo & Partners Ltd.

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