ABAH ADAH takes look at at the state of federal highways in Nigeria and government efforts towards developing the roads to international standard.
Updates from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in recent times indicate that the federal government is doing everything possible to address the problems of federal highways in Nigeria. At least, recent remarks by the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of State, Engr Abubakar Aliyu, and the Permanent Secretary, Babangida Husseini during their separate inspection visits to various ongoing and attention-seeking road projects in parts of the country could attest to that.
Aside the worries over insecurity and unwarranted extortions by miscreants, another factor of equally high concern which has been on the front burner over the years and seen as the major cause of accidents on Nigerian highways, is the poor state of the roads, a narrative the present President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration says it is determined to change.
As being consistently stressed by Fashola, the Nigerian government is strongly committed to its responsibility of managing, maintaining, and even upgrading the over thirty five thousand (35,000) kilometres federal roads including bridges and road furnitures across the 36 states of the federation and the federal capital territory, Abuja .
These roads are divided into the federal trunk ‘A’ roads and the federal trunk ‘F’
roads. The federal trunk ‘A’ roads are those under federal government ownership and they are developed
and maintained by the federal government while the federal trunk ‘F’ roads are those that were formerly under state ownership, but were taken over by the federal government, with a view to upgrading them to federal
Benin-Asaba, Abuja-Lokoja, Kano-Katsina, Onitsha-Owerri, Shagamu-Benin and Abuja-Keffi-Akwanga, Kano-Shuari, Potiskum-Damaturu, Lokoja-Benin, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Ilorin-Jebba, Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta and Lagos-Badagry-Seme Border are some of the major federal roads in Nigeria.
Most Nigerian roads are said to be bad as a result of conditions such as surface depressions, presence of pot holes and cracks, development of gulley due to erosion, washing away of the road
shoulders, faulty street lights, faulty drainage systems , faulty traffic signals and wiping-off of pavement among a few others. The rampant cases of delayed journey, damages to vehicles, kidnapping, and, most importantly, road accidents recorded in the past had always been attributed to the sorry state of the roads. But the Minister, Fashola, has also refuted these claims times without number, insisting that, from available records, majority of the rampant cases of accidents on Nigerian highways occur as a result of reckless driving and disregard for road use signs and instructions.
Several factors had always been pointed out as reasons for the pitiable condition of roads in the country prominent among which are poor funding, poor design and construction of road, poor contract execution, heavy traffic, lack of maintenance culture, corruption. Some of these causes are glaring. For instance, in the area of funding, which is among the few very critical factors, Fashola had disclosed to the public that N18 billion was Nigeria’s budgetary allocation for the whole works and housing sector in 2015, adding that the improvement began with the first budget of the current President Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2016 when about N200 billion was allocated to the sector. And according him, he inherited about 200 projects on assuming office in 2015 with virtually all the sites abandoned by contractors for lack of payment. Another financial cankerworm that has compounded this inadequate funding over the years, research has shown, is embezzlement by individuals who are privileged to be custodians of the funds and the project at different levels of government.
One good thing has been that, as part of efforts to bridge the funding gap, the federal government began to drive fund from alternative sources in addition to the improvement in budgetary allocation. Such alternative arrangements saw the government key into the SUKUK Sovereign Fund, which has mark in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of sections of the Nigerian roads across the country in the last few years. Another commendable development in the works and housing sector in the last few years is that all contractors, who abandoned site earlier for not being paid returned to site to continue with the their project, some have even completed their projects, even new contracts were signed.
However, as progressive as the improvement in budgetary allocation and funding in recent times which has was in the region of N270 billion in the 2021 budget, it cannot guarantee the good road network that is required for economic prosperity in a nation; the other critical factors must be addressed for that to happen.
Briefing journalists at the end of one of the meetings of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in June, Fashola said drivers were responsible for 70 per cent of the causes of the road crashes on the nation’s highways.
He however highlighted some steps being taken to address the problem to include installation of road traffic signs and more patrol.
“So, we started the process in April. We should collate the figure by the end of June, hopefully, into July. This includes installation of road traffic signs and more patrol. We are also looking at putting speed metres on the highway. There is a combination of factors and we are also trying to educate drivers.
“We saw that the biggest factor for these accidents; from over speeding, loss of control, wrongful overtaking, brake failure, tyre blow-out points to the role of the driver. Consistently, over the years and this data is available, the impact of bad roads and accidents was less than two percent.
“These factors I have mentioned; over speeding, loss of control, wrongful overtaking cumulate to over 70 per cent. If we reduce this, we bring the numbers down.
“So, I think our focus as a government is that we’ve agreed that the driver has a role to play, starting from education and certification. So, this is going to be a multi-disciplinary activity from the Ministry of Education, Ministries of Information, FRSC, state and local governments in terms of how they test and certify drivers,” he said.
The Minister’s remark while inspecting the refurbished Digital Truck Weigh Bridge at Old Toll Gate along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on Thursday, August 26 was an indication that the federal government has begun matching its words with action. Fashola said any truck caught carrying cargoes exceeding 12 tonnes on federal roads across Nigeria would thenceforth pay between N1 million and N10 million fine.
He explained that the measure was not just about tolling but geared towards the Highway Development Initiatives of the Federal Government to curb abuse of highways causing quick degeneration.
He maintained that overloaded trucks usually constitute danger to themselves, the infrastructure and other road users.
“No matter how beautiful, how well designed the highways are, they are built with a specification, and once you don’t comply with those specifications you are abusing or misusing the assets.
“Now, those specifications are global. So, they are not Nigerian made, every country in the world has subscribed to them. And so, if we see things in other parts that we like how they look, it is because they are properly used.
“Nigeria is a signatory to the ECOWAS Axle Load Regulation signed by all ECOWAS countries, and one of the first things President Buhari did in the first term of his administration was to ratify that convention locally.
“So, those are the regulations that you see, that we have published on that wall just to further educate people, they have been gazetted showing the approved axles per truck and type of truck and what each truck can carry,” he said.
He said as minister, his office empowered him to make regulations, hence the new calibrated bills for contravention of axle loads.
Fashola said the fines against erring articulated vehicles were from N1millio to over N10 million to serve as deterrent.
“The reason we have also done this is we want to make it cheaper to comply and very expensive to break the law,” he said.
He said the federal government was fixing weigh bridges to regulate axle load to increase the lifespan of the highways while at the same time creating thousands of jobs.
The minister said the weigh bridges would generate 50,000 direct jobs and 200,000 indirect employment opportunities to boost the economic livelihood of Nigerians.
Fashola said the weigh bridge was among others built with international standard to preserve the lifespan of the roads and that it would be put to use upon completion of the ongoing Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project.
The Minister explained that the planned return of tolling and the Weigh bridge, were part of a Highway Development Initiative that had the enforcement side, and economic value through direct and indirect employment opportunities.
Fashola said the facility had the capacity to divert trucks to inspection points as well as ware house to cater for excess charge and trans-loading in collaboration with transport unions.
Earlier, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos State, Mr Olukayode Popoola, explained that the weigh bridge constructed in 1974 would prevent trucks with excessive load capable of causing increased spending on road repairs.
In another development, the federal government, through the ministry, recently demonstrated its commitment to road infrastructure development when the the Minister of State for Works and Housing, Engr Aliyu, gave assurance of government’s prompt intervention to redeem the portions of the Gasua-Potiskum federal highway which was badly damaged by flood following a heavy downpour, upon his on-the-spot assessment visit to the area, stressing that urgent and pragmatic steps were already being taken to remedy the situation.
Engr Aliyu who was represented by the Federal Controller of Works in Yobe State, Engr Olusegun Akinmade on the visit, said the ministry would deploy the relevant agency to attend to the affected parts of the road in no time” he said, adding that the most affected part of the highway is a stretch between Garin Gada to Tarajim along the Gashua-Potiskum Highway.
He said ” President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to road infrastructure is unprecedented, as evidenced by his administration’s huge investments in road reconstruction and rehabilitation across the country”
Accordingly, the Minister said the prompt assessment of the damaged portion of the highway is a demonstration of the leadership commitment of his ministry working round the clock to deliver on its mandate.
Yobe State Commissioner for Works, Engr Umaru Wakili Duddaye, was among the team that inspected the damaged portion.
Much earlier, the Permanent Secretary, Engr Husseini while speaking at the ministry headquarters in Abuja after receiving an interim report of on- the -spot assessment of the Abuja -Lokoja flash flood and the bridge in Gwaram Local Government Area of Jigawa State reassured the public of government’s commitment to infrastructure development across the country.
He said the federal government was taking stock of all roads affected by flash floods as the rains continue at their peak and giving them the deserved attention.
On the Abuja -Lokoja road , he said as soon as the downpour subsided and the flood receded the road which was being monitored was opened to traffic since Saturday.
As for the bridge in Gwaram Local Government Area of Jigawa State, the Permanent Secretary noted the prompt response of Jigawa State by diverting traffic to an alternative route and commenced repair works on the bridge immediately, he therefore commended the state governments and the stakeholders for their efforts in supporting Mr. President’s commitment to road and infrastructure development.
He assured the Jigawa state government of the ministry’s technical support as at when needed. He said the professionals in the ministry are always available to provide technical support to states in all road and bridge construction activities.
Not long before then, the Permanent Secretary, while on a routine inspection of the ongoing Abuja-Kano road project and coincidentally saw some women burning tyres under the bridge of a railway crossing along the Zaria-Kano section of the expressway, faulted their action and issued a stern warning, urging members of the public to learn to be protectors of road infrastructure and other public utilities within their neighbourhood pave way for the desired socio-economic development.
He queried why people keep destroying bridges, roads and other public utilities, saying, “This is putting the government and public life in danger.”
While expressing his visible anger, he also sounded a strong warning to them to desist from such activities henceforth. He implored them to see the government’s properties as their personal property so that they protect and preserve them jealously
In their reactions, one of the women caught in the act said that, they only saw some other people burning tyres under the bridge and that they only joined without knowing the implication.