Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, on Tuesday, concluded a two-day inspection tour of on-going Highway Projects in Niger State stating that President Muhammadu Buhari was making the Nation’s economy the front and centre of his administration’s Next Level Agenda.
Speaking at Bokani Junction in Niger State where he was briefed on the progress of work on the Dualization of Jebba-Mokwa-Bokani Road (Section II), Fashola said the President, in making this decision, has chosen the development of infrastructure as anchor to achieve economic growth more quickly adding that the passing of the 2020 Budget in the first week of January was a clear indication of that decision.
The Minister told hundreds of residents of Mokwa Community who trooped out to welcome him at the site, “Whether you notice or not, the President has been very clear in his commitment to build infrastructure”, adding that the passing of the annual budget in the first month of the year has not happened in the country for a very long time.
“From the first day of the year, we already have a budget in place. That hasn’t happened for a budget to be in place in January in Nigeria for a long time”, he said adding that the economy forms “a very front and centre issue for the President and his Team”.
Underscoring the readiness of the government to pursue the goal, Fashola, however advocated the cooperation of the communities hosting infrastructural projects across the country saying nothing would be achieved without the cooperation of the communities by way of peace and readiness to cede portions of their lands through which road projects must pass.
The Minister, who noted that the present Dry Season, which, according to him is expected to last for the next five to six months, was the best time to work and make progress on the road projects, said the cooperation of the people would be paramount in order not to lose the advantage provided by the period.
He told the community members, “This is the dry weather when we can do a lot of work if the communities cooperate with us”, adding that although the President has directed that states hosting Federal road projects should handle all compensation issues, the Federal Government could always come back and deal with such issues. He added, “But we will lose the dry weather if we don’t get that cooperation quickly”.
Reiterating the commitment of President Buhari in getting the job done, Fashola declared, “The economy is the front and centre issue for the President “, adding that he and his team were in the State to inspect road projects as a demonstration of the commitment to infrastructure development.
“My team and I have been in Niger State since yesterday. We have done the Suleja-Minna Road ; we have gone to Lapai and Lambata Road, we have gone to Agaie-Barro Port Road, we have gone to New Bussa-Kaiama Road this morning and now we are on this road (Jebba-Mokwa-Bokani Section 2). These are just about five of the 16 road projects that we have in Niger State”, he said.
The Minister, who emphasized the need for the cooperation of the host communities in the successful completion of the project, told the people, “So it is a lot of work going on here and we need people’s cooperation now to deliver it because that is what you are expecting. But we can’t do it alone”.
While interacting with newsmen on the first day of the inspection, Fashola expressed his displeasure at the illegal parking of trucks on the nation’s highways, noting that the dumping of fuel and diesel on ongoing road projects was responsible for the premature deterioration of the roads adding that the petroleum products destroy the binding capacity of asphalt.
Reacting to the parking of trucks and dumping of fuel and diesel on a portion of the ongoing Suleja-Minna road where, according to him, asphalt was laid just two weeks earlier by the contractors, Messrs Salini Nigeria Limited, the Minister said this has been one of the major challenges facing road construction in the country.
He added, “And the uninformed will say the roads are not well built. But the roads are well built; but because of the petroleum products dumped on them, the asphalt loses their binding capacity. The chemicals and asphalt do not mix”.
Emphasizing the urgent need for trucks to relocate from the nation’s highways as a means to safeguard the roads to last their lifespan, the Minister declared, “We want all of the truck users, owners, NARTO, Drivers Associations and Petroleum Tanker Drivers to direct their members to leave our highways alone”.
He said, however, that as much as government would apply sanctions on defaulters, it would prefer voluntary compliance from the drivers pointing out that there was need for them to understand that by doing so they would also be helping to preserve the road on which they carry out their daily business.
“Ideally, the law enforcement should remove them with penalties for obstructing the Federal Highways. But if you look at the Federal Highway Act, I think it is about forty something or fifty-something years old: those are the laws that are under consideration in terms of amendment”, he said adding that the first thing would be to create an awareness as, according to him, “Law enforcement does not succeed if you begin to chase everybody”.
Fashola ,who had also met and interacted with some of the truck Operators whose vehicles were parked on the road, advocated continued engagement by Government and the Press with the truck drivers to create an awareness that it was in their best interest that they comply with the law. “Approved axial tonnage load is about 46 tonnes and I know that some people are doing more than that. Again there will be enforcement because that damages the roads and give uneven runways on our roads and shortens the lifespan of the roads. So contrary to the news that the roads were not well built it is abuse that shortens the lifespan of the roads.”
Speaking on other challenges faced by the contractors as earlier presented by the Project Manager of the contracting company, Fashola reiterated the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari that states wanting Federal road projects in their jurisdictions to be completed, should take up the responsibility arising from compensation issues.
“It is the responsibility of these state Governors to acquire these lands and also pay the compensations. I believe that we will help where we can but the position of government is that states that want these roads delivered must settle the compensation issues at the local government so that we can face the sundry challenges”, he said.
Listing the projects already covered by the team on the first day of the inspection, Fashola continued, “Of course from that Suleja-Minna Road we turned off to Lapai-Lambata-Bida Road and again you see the work going on there. That road has given us some kind of challenge during the Rainy Season”, he said adding that a study of the status of the soil was being carried out at the moment to see how the structure of the pavement could be redesigned.
“Our target is that this Rainy Season, which is about four or five months away commuters here should have a better experience subject to our ability to fix that critical section around Saminaka”, he said adding that from the road, the team turned off into the Agaie-Barro Road which leads to Barro Port that was commissioned recently and which the government wants to complete so that the Port could be fully operational.
Drawing the attention of the newsmen to the fact that the Port project was inherited, the Minister explained further, “It turned out that before we came the road was awarded to a different contractor from the Port itself, so they finished at different times. So it is a kind of sequencing that needs to be done now. It is an example that we must now have to learn from so that in the future these kinds of project, if we have to do them, we have to integrate them as turnkey projects so that we finish them together.”
Responding to the question of funding which was also part of the challenges raised by the contractors, Fashola, who said it was part of the reason the newsmen were invited to be part of the tour, added, “We want you to take these images back to the Nigerian people. The concerns of Nigerians about borrowing and national debt are legitimate concerns. But it is Important to also let them know that those concerns must be balanced with what they themselves ask for”.
“They want these infrastructure and I believe that if they know that these borrowings are for infrastructure in a way that they see that the money will come to deliver a road, I believe that those concerns will be appropriately assuaged, I think we will have a better conversation. The country is not yet the rich country that it should be”, he said adding that if the decision to build infrastructure was pursued vigorously now, the country would be the better for it.
Ongoing projects inspected during the two-day tour include Dualization of Suleja-Minna Road Phase I and II, reconstruction of Bida-Lapai-Lambata Road, construction of Agaie-Katchia-Barro Road, Dualization of Jebba-Mokwa-Bokani Road-Junction Road in Kwara and Niger States, Section II, and rehabilitation of New Bussa-Kaiama Road.
The Minister was accompanied on the tour, which began on Monday morning till Tuesday evening, by top officials of the Ministry including Director of Highways, Construction and Rehabilitation, Engr. Yemi Oguntominiyi, the Director Planning, Research and Statistics, Dr. Famous Eseduwo, the Deputy Director, North Central, Engr. Bora Aganaba and the Federal Controller of Works, Niger State, Engr. Iheanacho Felix Umeh who gave detailed reports on the various Federal projects within the State, among others. Also on the tour were members of the Press from the Print and Electronic Media.