…Says FG, states overwhelmed by manner roads are falling apart
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Festus Ahon, Perez Brisibe and Ochuko Akuopha
GOVERNOR of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, aka Road master, has raised the alarm that with the manner federal roads were collapsing nationwide, many communities stand the risk of being cut off from the rest of the country, in the next five years, if the federal government failed to tackle the worrisome predicament.
Senator Okowa, who briefed journalists at Asaba, the state capital, however, confessed that both the federal and state governments were practically overwhelmed at the rate of disintegration of rods across the country, saying it was a huge problem.
”But we wish and pray that the federal government will quickly find a way to deal with this in an appropriate manner. So that in the next five years by projection, we can have our roads fixed because if the roads continue to deteriorate at the way they are going, many communities are going to be shut down from the rest of the nation.”
The governor opined, “There is no doubt that many of the federal roads are in a very pitiable state. If you ask me, are they are not in a position to take on all the roads? I do not think they are in the financial position to be able to take on all the roads; that is the situation at the moment. We cannot shy away from the fact that the economy of this nation is not exactly where it ought to be and therefore there are challenges.”
”If you look at the budgets that are being presented, it is easy to know that the federal government is challenged, state governments are challenged, and there is obviously a problem on ground. The federal government has said they are not able to make refunds because those monies are not budgeted for.
“So the question is, what do you do as a state? You either fold your hands or find a way of doing the best that you can. As it is, if the federal government has money, they will be able to make refund. The budget that we have seen in the last four yes, if you ask me candidly, do they have money to be able to make refund? I believe there are challenges. I am not an economist, but with the level of experience I have gotten, I know that they have huge challenges on their hands, but they ought to maintain the roads.
“Last year, there were refunds that were made to states concerning roads, but that was for roads done in the past and they made it clear to us as state governors that they will no longer be in a position to make refunds for roads not provided for in the budget of the federation.
”I like to speak on issues based on the knowledge that I have and I know that this was the discussed at the National Economic Council. We would have preferred that they either repair the roads on their own or they make refunds, but now, I believe that they are quite challenged.
“But we want to encourage them towards ensuring that our roads are repaired because many of the roads that were constructed years ago are now beginning to fail. Unfortunately, many of those roads are in Delta State and the roads have a life span.
“No matter how well a road is constructed, after some time and you are still hoping that the road will remain the way it was, it is difficult, more so when we are beginning to have very long trailers on the road, because when the roads were designed, they were not designed by such big trailers. It is a huge problem that we have on our hands,” he said.
Supports reintroduction of tollgates
Contrary to the position of those who do not want federal government to reintroduce tollgates, the governor affirmed, “I believe that Nigerians should learn to live in the truth. I believe that the federal government is becoming overwhelmed and even those of us at the states are overwhelmed with the rate at which our roads are beginning to fail.”
“Secondly, the economy is going down, thirdly, there are other competing needs, so I believe too that it is necessary to provide toll gates in major roads where people pay minimally, but should it be run as it was done in the past by agents of the federal government and the state governments? I do not think so,” he said.
His words, “I believe that the way out is to find a way to concession some of these roads to private individuals and the money collected on such roads should be entered into agreement where those roads are ploughed back into continuing maintenance of those roads. “
“That is the way out. I believe that if you are paying a little in going across the road, it is better than when you have to use your vehicles on very bad roads and you have damages on your car and cost of maintaining the car is definitely higher than whatever you are going to pay.
“Even if the take home is not for the maintenance of the car, because you are going to slow down, you are burning more fuel and there are many issues; time that is lost could be used for other things. If you look at what it will take the individual, going on a long bad road, it is far cheaper to pay for that toll than not to pay for the toll and spend a lot of money on your car and on fuel.
”It is good for Nigerians to begin to look at things holistically, but the thing is, people fear is that they are going to resort to the past where the toll gates are just means of making money. They fear that if they want to concession, they will concession it to the wrong people, who will make money and they will not maintain the roads.
“So there must be a way to work out the relationship and the agreement in such a manner that the tolling of the road is geared towards maintenance of the road and it should be given to people who are trusted. Companies that are trusted and measures put in place that if you fail to do it, you also suffer the consequences that go along with failure to meet up with the agreement. That will be good for the economy of the nation and good for the economy of the states,” the governor stated.
Our intervention on Benin-Sapele-Warri, other fed roads
On the federal government’s new policy of not refunding money expended by states on federal roads, he said, “I do not think that there is any contradiction on the issue of federal roads, the federal government has said that they are not making any refunds.”
“Why we sought for clearance first before going for repairs of the roads was not because we were looking for a refund, but it was because we needed to do so because when we tried to intervene last year and in 2017, we had issues with the Federal Ministry of Works on the repairs of the Asaba-Onitsha road.
“When we started work, twice, we were asked out of site, so we needed to get clearance since the road is a Trunk A road and theirs. We are intervening not because we have money, but because it was actually becoming a huge challenge to Deltans and non-Deltans traveling into Delta.
The governor clarified that the state government’s intervention on the Benin-Sapele-Warri Road was not to reconstruct the road, but patch up some bad portions, so saying its impact was not felt, as the entire road has not been repaired were missing the point.
His words, “Before we intervened on the Warri road, economic activities in Warri were almost grounded completely and we felt that if we continue to wait for the federal government, only God know when they will have the opportunity to do so or make budget provisions to intervene. When we sought for permission to repair the road, of course we got a written letter to go for the repairs not that they were going to make refund.
“It is not only the road that led to Warri that there is failed spot, we are also intervening in a bad spot along Agbor- Eku road by Oria-Abraka that has stopped travelers from plying that road. We are also making repairs at Ubulu-Okiti and Isele-Azagba.
”We have to do this because we are already approaching Christmas when there will be increase in activities, but that of Warri, we do not want to people, who want to do business in Warri to be cut off, we are doing it for our people and for the sake of the growth of the economy of our people.
What we are doing on state roads
On his challenges on state roads, he said, “Critically since we came in May 2019 for a second term, there are some projects that we decided to lay emphasis on. One of them is the Ughelli-Asaba road, you will realize that the previous administration had almost completed the section B because the project is divided into section, A which runs from Ughelli to Oleh, Section B runs from Oleh to Ossisa while section C is from Ossisa to Asaba.”
“ We are trying to speed up the work in sector A, those who have passed through the road will see that there are a lot of ongoing work, although the rains have slow them down but I am sure that from November to April when we will have dry season, a lot work will be done there. You will realize also that work has started earnestly in sector C, from Asaba to Ogwashi-uku and Ogwashi-uku to Ossisa, a lot of work is been done. We are hoping that by the end of April 2020, the sector C, Asaba to Ogwashi-uku will be nearing completion while a lot of work would have been done between Ogwashi-uku and Ossisa axis.
“The road is very critical to us because it is going to ease movement between Warri-Ughelli-Asaba-Onitsha and now that it appears that our port is gradually coming back to life. We are hoping that the federal government through the port authority when they dredge the second part of the Excravos River, we will be able to have many ships coming in to decongest the Lagos Port. Therefore, the road will come to rescue of those who will use it to convey their goods and services.
On observation by a journalist, that the quality of roads in Ebonyi state were better than what he saw on Isoko part of the state, Governor Okowa asserted, “We are just quick to citing situations like that. You said when you went to Abakaliki in Ebonyi state, you saw quality roads, but you did not say when you went to Cable Point in Asaba that you saw quality road. You did not say when you went to Lagos-Asaba road, Koko road, the 19.7-kilometer road in Ogulagha kingdom and others, you saw quality road.”
”It is good you draw analogy from all, at least you tried to thank the Commissioner for Works for a good work. It is possible that when you have so many jobs that are ongoing, it is possible to have a few defects; it is possible to have people who are contractors, but may not be standard enough. You only went to Abakaliki, you have not told me that you went round the entire Ebonyi state.
“You have just drawn my attention to Ikpide-Irri and Okpe Isoko-Ideze road. It is not wrong to draw my attention as governor to roads that need attention. I do not hate criticism. However, it is the way you drew the analogy from Abakaliki straight to Ikpide-Irri road.
We never awarded ‘kolanut’ contract
”I do not think that is the way our mindset should work ordinarily. However, we take note of the fact that you spoke about Igbide-Irri, that it is a kolanut gift from the governor to the contractor; I do not give road contracts as gifts. Nevertheless, the Ikpide-Irri you are talking about, initially our people awarded the contract because one of communities stuck in after the water is closer to Bayelsa state.
“We decided that since we cannot give them a direct road, we should give them internal roads for them to have the feeling of being part of Delta state. At least when they come from the Bayelsa, which they can access by road, they can walk freely within the community. Therefore, an initial Bill of Quantity was done providing only a few drains and opting for asphalt for that purpose, but when the tiger waves came in, last year, and then there was overflow of the place, we realize on our own that it was not going to be possible.
“The drains that were provided were not enough, we must accept our faults, the faults are only also natural because we did not anticipate it, with the heavy rains now, you can see some roads going bad. When that happened, we now found out that we could not use asphalt because water and asphalt do not go together, and more drains have to be provided, so we have accepted that fault and we have now tried to re-correct the design and with that re-correction, with the new dry season setting in, those things will be corrected.
“If you had met the commissioner, who is your friend, he would have been able to address the situation and to school you on what exactly went wrong. We had flooding in 2012; from 2012 to 2018, we did not have that level of flood anymore. Just a year after, we are experiencing strange flooding all over the place, so there are issues coming up, and we are beginning to look at them.
“And the Okpe Isoko-Ideze road, I am not aware that there is any complain on that road, it is still ongoing, in the rainy season there are certain things you do not do, and you have to wait for dry season to come for the job to be completed. When there were complains in the social media and others, I sent my officers there, what they found out was exaggeration of some of the situations, but the right thing is that we need to wait for the dry season to be able to see the effect of the work.
“I am aware that the road has two layer of asphalt and it is not possible to do the one people are clamouring for its completion now, otherwise it will not stand the test of time,” he added.
I don’t know my successor
Okowa spoke on intensifying 2023 campaign in the state, saying, “I have the right to give my personal thought based on the rotational principle, people are advancing all manners of rotational principles, but when we get to their bridge, we will cross it. I am not God, I do not make a governor, and nobody makes a governor. God only makes a governor. Therefore, the important thing is that we want to ensure that there is unity and equity.”
”And we will continue to work towards a situation that keeps us united together as a people, united as Deltans, realizing that working together we are stronger as a people. Therefore, I can have my personal view but I cannot give a verdict, neither can I enforce a verdict. It is only God that knows who will be governor after me,” he said.
Why we want to build more 19 technical colleges
Governor Okowa spoke very passionately about education in the state. According to him, “The Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education is working hard and few days ago, there was an award night for the teachers and that gave me the opportunity to be able to address our teachers on the need to stay committed to the school system and our children. We were able to reward some of them, who were outstanding to continue to stir them up to put in the best that they can into the school system.”
“I believe that we can create a lot for our children and the best way to do that is to ensure that we have the best education and that can only come from committed teachers, we are hoping too that the parents pay adequate attention to their children particularly their education and things surrounding them.
“We have also introduced the Ministry of Technical Education because of the emphasis we are laying on technical education because we want our children not to only acquire the knowledge of the book, but to be able to use their hands and their brains to work.”
“We have always starting from my first tenure paid attention to vocational and technical education. That was why we created the board of vocational and technical education through the legislature, but now to make it more viable we created the ministry of technical education. More so, when we have made promise to our people that at least each local government we have at least one technical college.
”We have only six at the moment, which means that we will need 19 more, we are looking forward to the first set, which is going to be nine technical colleges in the budget and supplementary budget in 2020 and the other 10 will come in through the budget of 2021. We want children in every local government to have access to technical colleges if they wish to.
”We want to continue to encourage them because then they will be able to do well in polytechnics and universities of science technology in Delta state and other parts of the country and the world. So the ministry had been created and a lot of work is been done by the commissioner.
Delta won all 5 national youth sports fiesta so far
“In the area of sports, recently, the Team Delta won the national youth sports fiesta, I think that is a huge success. They have organized the competition five times and Delta came top in all. We will continue to encourage sports in our primary and secondary schools. You will recall that early part of this year, we had school sports festival for our primary and secondary schools children and I am actually very interested in that because that is where my love is, to be able to catch them young and to ensure talents are not lost.
“We are looking forward to go to Edo state next year to bring back the cup. I use this opportunity to congratulate the sports commission for been able to do us proud.
Best performing state in health insurance
“In the health sector we have continued to do very well. Our Health Insurance policy through the Delta State Health Contributory Commission is working very well. We are hoping and praying that the press will continue to collaborate with us in carrying out this advocacy on the need for people to enroll in the programme. Many of our people may not know the benefits, we are trying to take that to the people through the traditional rulers, but I believe that the press can help us to encourage this.
“The civil servants are all enrolled in it, we have enrolled some indigent patients particularly some of the widows, but very importantly the vulnerable group, children under five and our pregnant women are enrolled by government and their premium paid by government.
”We know that we are not where we ought to be, although we are the best performing state today in terms of health insurance, we believe that we can do more and we will continue to struggle to ensure that we continue to set the pace for every other person to emulate us.
“Everything is been put in place to fully operate the basic health care fund which is part of the national health act and we believe that will rapidly increase the number of people enrolled in the health insurance across the nation,” he asserted.
Suspension of Special Assistant, Ossai Success
On the suspension his Special Assistant (Special Duties, Media), Mr Ossai Success and the plea for lifting of the suspension over his posting an unconfirmed grant to the office of the First Lady, he said, “Ossai still remains my son, even in the Bible, it is clearly written that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. I do not want to go into details of it.”
“If he is my son, allow me discipline him in such a way he can grow up and stand on his own. I will not give you further details on that, even he understands why the action has to be taken. There are many people he works with and is supposed to report to, who will help to groom him.
“If you have a director, assistant director in the Ministry of Information and other top officers, it is important that they supervise your work, otherwise if I leave him because he is my son and he does not possibly report to those persons, he may not grow in his work. I am only trying to whip him into line,” he explained.