As the Christmas and New Year festivities approach, the Minister of Works and Housing Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, has assured Nigerians that they will experience shorter and more pleasurable travel time during the season, saying contractors have remobilised to sites across the country to repair and restore portions of the roads affected by adverse weather.
Fashola, who spoke at the Ministry’s Conference Room in Mabushi, Abuja, while hosting the National Executive Members and Trustees of the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA), said they had been meeting the contractors since September to plan against the coming season adding that the failed areas had been identified and contractors had been duly deployed to the areas to carry out special repairs and palliative works to facilitate better travel time for road users.
The Minister, who recalled that there was also a meeting between the Ministry of Works and Housing and the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President, NARTO, Petroleum Tanker Drivers, the NNPC, DPR and other Stakeholders in the transport value chain, added that the meeting was to assure those in the petroleum distribution value chain that all would be done to achieve a smooth and seamless operation during the season.
“We have seen a report of a meeting last week between our Ministry and the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President, NARTO, Petroleum Tanker Drivers, the NNPC, DPR and all of those that operate in the value chain that affects your industry, fuel supply, lubricants, just to ensure that all of these are in supply, not just here but at peak demand when you will have to run for the December season, Christmas and New Year”, he said.
Noting that the Ministry was clearly on top of its game, the Minister declared, “So we are prepared for you; we know you are there. That is why we are meeting with all these people”.
According to him, the same preparation informed the acceptance to host the Association. “We know that you will be under pressure and that puts us under pressure as well. We also know that the roads will be under pressure. It is a busy period for you and also an opportunity for those who want to make extra money. We are prepared for you”, he said.
Explaining that only specific portions of Nigerian roads are challenged, the Minister, who urged road users to help report accurately where the roads had failed, said the Ministry gets weekly reports from the Controllers in all the states of the federation adding that such reports were expected to be accurate.
Fashola said with the heralding of dry weather, Contractors on various road projects across the country were back to work either to finish work already started or repair and restore portions of the roads which suffered damage during the adverse weather adding that on some of the roads, Contractors were now laying asphalt.
Citing the Lagos-Badagry road project as example, the Minister said the Contractor was now laying the asphalt on the road from Seme Border up to Okokomaiko adding that on the Port Harcourt-Enugu section, some parts of Port Harcourt-Aba Road had been completed and the Contractor was laying asphalt on it.
“Also part of Onitsha-Enugu, from the Niger Bridge through Onitsha to Amansea to Awka has been completed though work is going on in between”, he said adding that he had just received a report from RCC about what they were currently doing between Amansea and Umunya. “There is a part where the State Government is trying to intervene. The contractor wants to finish his work”, he said.
Encouraging road users to give accurate reports of failed sections of the road at all times, Fashola pointed out that if reports from Controllers should differ from those of the road users there was always a means to interrogate such controversy in order to confirm the accuracy of the reports adding that such accurate reports would enable the Ministry deploy the workforce in the appropriate Sections where repairs and restoration were needed.
The Minister told his Guests, “We get weekly reports from our Controllers in the field and they are supposed to give us accurate report. That is why side reporting is so important because if you tell us that a portion of the road is bad and they tell us a different thing there is a means to interrogate the issue in order to establish the truth”.
“It is important that you identify where the pain is so that we know what to do”, Fashola further advised his Guests adding a report last week showed that Messrs CGC was currently working from Okene to Auchi while Messrs Mothercat, Dantata, Sawoe and RCC were working in sections of the road from Auchi.
Emphasizing on the need for accurate reporting of failed sections, the Minister declared, “When you tell me that the road between Auchi and Okene is bad, I will confirm it. So let us have more precise reporting from you. We don’t expect you to keep quiet but we expect that the reporting would be accurate”.
“There is a difference between the fact that a portion of a road is bad and that the entire road is bad. It is, therefore important that you identify the road; if you can’t remember it photograph it or identify it with the next village nearest to it so that we can send our people to where the problem is”, he said adding, “Also it is for our collective good; if it works for me it works for you. That is why we have to work together because we are all stakeholders”.
Fashola, who recalled President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement that it was possible to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years, said the entire transportation network of road, rail, air and seaports was important, not only to the President in realizing the vision but also the government and the country as a whole .
The Minister said the Ministry was convinced that the prosperity that the President was seeking to deliver, his desire and vision to lift a hundred million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years, was a very laudable, visionary journey to set Nigeria on the path of economic prosperity.
“We believe all of us have a role to play here”, the Minister told his Guests adding, “Your industry can lift a lot of people out of poverty to prosperity and we have a role to play to help you do that”.
Responding to the recommendation by the Association that government should introduce tolling on the nation’s major highways as a means of generating funds to maintain the roads, Fashola said tolling would be introduced but that would be after the roads were finished.
He solicited the cooperation of transport stakeholders like PTONA to enforce regulations on the roads pointing out that President Buhari had signed an Order that made it compulsory for the axial and excess loads to be checked from loading points such as fuel deports and other regulated loading bays across the country.
Earlier in his remarks, the President of the Association, Isaac Uhunmwagho, told the Minister that their visit was to declare their readiness, as fellow stakeholders in the transport industry, to collaborate with the Ministry in the areas of enforcing laws and regulations that would protect the roads from premature damage due to excess loads.
The President noted with delight that the Ministry under the watch of Fashola, was doing marvelous work of building a functional road network across the country but regretted that most Nigerians have failed to show appreciation, choosing instead to harp on and pass adverse comments about the entire roads not being in order.
“We felicitate with the Minister and identify with the zeal with which Road Construction and rehabilitation are being carried out. We in PTONA thoroughly appreciate you for what we know about you in the past 12 years especially. We know you are an Achiever and an exceptionally hardworking Government top officer and acclaimed by most Nigerians as a very dedicated technocrat and bureaucrat”, the Association President said.
He blamed axial loads and heavy duty trucks for the serial damage on the nation’s roads and recommended that the only way to check such excesses was to introduce weighbridges on the roads to stop such vehicles carrying excess loads and applying sanctions against offenders.
Lending the support of PTONA to the Minister’s request for additional funding of N255.6 billion for roads, the President also declared the support of the Association to the reintroduction of Toll Plazas on the Highways across the country suggesting the use of the vehicle sensor embedded type of toll-gates that would not require manual payments at the gates to avoid delays.
He also recommended that heavy duty trailers and tankers be apportioned to move in the nights while commuters move in the daytime adding that both categories of road users would get to their destinations faster if adopted.
“There will be three advantages if this scheduling is adopted; our brothers and sisters will be able to travel safer and faster. Journey times will approach reasonable levels. Our goods in trailers and tankers will be able to move faster on freer highways instead of being stuck in traffic for very long hours”, he said.
Adding that the nation’s roads and bridges would also enjoy much longer lifespan if the recommendation was adopted, the President of PTONA said it was time for the country to begin work towards a self-sustaining system that would be devoid of Government funding of the roads on the long run.
Also present at the event were the Director Highways, Construction and Rehabilitation, Yemi Oguntominiyi, Director Highways, Design, Charles Okonma, other Directors, Special Advisers and top officials of the Ministry while the visitors comprised of Executives of PTONA including Managing Directors of ABC Transport, Peace Transport and Favour Transport, among others.