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Roads: Umahi must make a difference

Penultimate Monday, new Minister of Works Senator David Umahi resumed at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja, pledging a new deal, and canvassing for the use…

Penultimate Monday, new Minister of Works Senator David Umahi resumed at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja, pledging a new deal, and canvassing for the use of concrete technology and local content to develop Nigerian roads.

Declaring that “we are going to make changes,” Umahi said he would undertake a tour of major roads in the country and then “settle down” to office work.

Umahi’s job is cut out for him. As of 2018, the total length of federal government roads was 36,000 kilometers. Roads in asphaltic concrete made up around 24,000 kilometers of the total network, some 5,800 kilometers were made of gravel or earth while 6,000 kilometers were surface-dressed roads. These roads are constructed and maintained through the Federal Ministry of Works and the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FEMA).

Former Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, in October last year said the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government was able to construct and complete over 8,352.94 kilometres of roads nationwide. However, while the effects of some of these completed roads are noticeable, others are not.

What is undeniable is that there is increasing dilapidation of Nigeria’s road infrastructure. And it cuts across the six geopolitical zones, leaving some of them in a deplorable and pathetic state. These roads are essential for inter-state commerce and activities, being the major source of transportation of goods and services.

The sometimes impassable roads pose great hardships to motorists, other road users, host communities and constitute a threat to lives. Not only do the frequent vehicular accidents and breakdowns on such roads lead to deaths, but kidnappers and other criminals carry out their nefarious trade on these bad portions of the roads as grounded commuters become sitting ducks.

As Umahi assumed office, he trumpeted his antecedents, declaring that “I did 3,500 kilometres of concrete roads in Ebonyi State, and it is maintenance-free. For 50 years, you would not maintain it.” We congratulate him for the work he did in his state, which we believe earned him this office.

On a national platform, this record should come to the fore in tackling road infrastructural decay as minister of works. As a certified engineer with experience in politics, Nigerians look up to him to repeat the quality of road construction he executed in his state.

Umahi should take a holistic view of the sector, find out what has worked or the areas that need to be reinvigorated or require innovations.  He should start by completing the ongoing road projects started by the previous administration, including the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano, Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja-Lokoja-Benin, Suleja-Minna roads, among others.

But in doing so, he must note that maintenance of federal roads is paramount. He should address all issues of road funding, development and maintenance.

There must be an answer to the decades-long lack of maintenance of federal road infrastructure.  There is need for immediate commencement of repairs of federal roads nationwide as some of them have become sources of national shame and embarrassment.

On January 18, 2023, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the investment of N1.9 trillion in the reconstruction of 44 federal roads totaling 4,554 kilometres. This is under the Federal Government Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Policy Phase 2 by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Limited and its subsidiaries.

The FEC also approved concessionaires for nine road corridors under the pilot phase of the value-added section of the Highways Development and Management Initiative, following the issuance of the requisite full business case compliance certificate by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission for a period of 25 years for each road corridor.

On July 14, 2021, FEC approved the award of a contract to Dangote Industries to construct or reconstruct five roads totaling 274.9 kilometres at N309,917,717,251.35, to be advanced by the company as a tax credit.

We call on the minister to review this public-private sector tax credit initiative, some of the concessions and Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with private and public sector organisations for the construction of federal roads, to determine whether they are inflated and if indeed they reflect the public interest.  Those that don’t should be revoked.  

The minister should also quickly give action to his idea of using concrete technology option for road construction for, according to him, “any road we do with our new technology, for 50 years, nobody is going to maintain it. Money will be saved and money will be wisely spent in our tenure.”

Daily Trust urges the new minister to also tackle the high cost of road construction in the country.  He should look into the issue of alleged corruption in the construction circle and address it.  

Nigerians have heard the policy direction from him. What they now expect are actions. They look forward to seeing federal roads better constructed and maintained. They expect the ministry and its agencies to work in tandem to deliver quality roads. His tenure should make a difference.

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