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Meltdown of the road construction industry

The Minister of Works, Senator David Umahi, has been in the news since assuming office, by imposing a new policy of concrete technology in road…

The Minister of Works, Senator David Umahi, has been in the news since assuming office, by imposing a new policy of concrete technology in road construction in Nigeria. Since his assumption of office, he has advocated that the federal government will henceforth be constructing concrete roads in the country. 

Umahi argues that concrete roads last longer than asphalt roads, and claims that concrete roads are cheaper to build. Consequently, the minister insists that contractors that would get contracts to construct roads for the federal government must use cement and not asphalt. Those who will use asphalt must give 15 years of guarantee, and be limited to only 5% variation claim on bitumen and bituminous works.

Stakeholders in the construction industry are of different opinions. Most of them are not happy with the minister as they say that the drastic change he wants to introduce is without any dialogue and consent with the relevant stakeholders in the construction industry. His strategy has created uncertainties in the sector.

As a result, almost all road construction has been stopped throughout the country. This has led to contractors being forced to heavily downsize their operations, and reduce the number of their workers on the different projects, thereby leading to unemployment in the sector in these difficult economic times. 

Despite the deplorable state of our roads, we risk entering a period with dark clouds hanging above the construction industry in the coming dry season because of the minister’s new policy. Nigeria cannot afford a standstill of construction works in the coming months.

Those who question the rush to adopt concrete roads technology in Nigeria argue that the concrete roads Umahi constructed in Ebonyi State as governor have started failing. Just after only about 5-7 years, there are heavy cracks appearing in many sections of those roads in Ebonyi State. This is contrary to the claim of the minister that concrete roads will last for 50 years. 

Concrete and asphalt pavements are both recognised technologies in road construction, but their advantages and disadvantages indicate that the preferred technology is determined by the terrain on which they are used. It is important to note that above 90% of the roads worldwide are made of asphalt. Independent of the technology opted for, the focus to improve roads in Nigeria ought to be on the quality of the construction as well as the maintenance of the roads during their lifespan. This requires appropriate and consistent funding from the government.

What Nigerians want is good working lasting roads that would enable people and goods to safely, and rapidly move from one destination to another. This is fundamental to grow our economy. 

It is not expedient to embark on only concrete road construction now that the finance of the country is shrinking. Why should the country move to a more expensive road construction technology in these trying times? Insisting on concrete roads policy will see less projects due to cost impact and budget constraints. 

The minister is therefore urged to ignore the lobby by the cement industry to adopt concrete and in the interest of all Nigerians to focus his attention towards quality of works delivered by the contractors, whether it is asphalt or concrete roads. He must ensure that awarded contracts are promptly funded as and when due. When funding lags behind, contractors are forced to cut costs or delay the works, which will eventually have a negative impact on the quality of the road delivered. Recently, Umahi admitted that about N10 trillion is still being owed to the contractors on past projects by the federal government.

In these dire economic times, coupled with the erratic funding of road projects by the government, it is foolhardy for the minister to insist on construction of roads with concrete technology, which is more than double the cost of construction with asphalt technology. Should the minister insist on forcing all road projects to adopt concrete technology, all road projects in Nigeria are most likely to end up as white elephant projects.


Engr. Emmanuel Aka wrote from Abuja


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