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Where are the completed roads?

It is good to learn that—finally—construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway will be completed before the 2023 elections. Mr. Adedamola Kuti, the Southwest Director of the…

It is good to learn that—finally—construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway will be completed before the 2023 elections.

Mr. Adedamola Kuti, the Southwest Director of the Federal Ministry of Works, made the announcement last week.  That would be February 23.  “Or thereabout,” he added.

Before then, “by December 15, 2022, or thereabouts,” the contractor will pause and remove all barriers from the road to permit freer movement during the Christmas period.

When work resumes early in January, Kuti explained, the pace would be faster because of the favourable dry season conditions.

Reconstruction work on the road has been a permanent feature for far too long.  Ten years ago, after Bi-Courtney had worked on it for three years, the Goodluck Jonathan government terminated its contract because it was far too slow.

It then split the construction between Julius Berger for the Lagos-Sagamu stretch, and R.C.C Nigeria for the Sagamu-Ibadan.  But that government did not complete the job in its remaining three years.

Sadly, under the Muhammadu Buhari government, the project has seen harder times, construction routinely and haphazardly shifted from year to year.  First expected to be completed in 2017, that was moved to 2018, and then 2019.

In November 2018, Julius Berger Operations Manager Thamm told the Senate Committee on Works that the construction would be finished in 2021.

In 2021, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Works and Housing, told the House of Representatives that the project would be completed this year.  With 2022 almost over, however, it is no surprise that the administration has characteristically shifted it to February 2022 “or thereabouts.”  Another year, another promise remorselessly broken.

If this government continues to deploy deception as patently as it does regarding one of the country’s biggest infrastructure projects, how much truth is there in the other tales they consistently churn out?  I have previously described this as the art of self-sabotage.

In August 2021, for instance, Minister Fashola announced that the government was executing 800 contracts and 13,000km of roads and bridges nationwide.

And he also said that most of the projects would be completed in a short period of time, stressing what he called the “determination” of the administration to link Nigerians everywhere by roads and bridges.

But if the government, with eight years to burn and all the funds that have been emptied into the Lagos-Ibadan expressway cannot complete it despite all the attention it attracts, what faith has anyone concerning these 800 contracts?  Where is the list of the roads and contracts in question?

Yes, there is indeed on the Ministry’s website an alleged list of ongoing projects.  But it is as ridiculous as it is fictitious, with construction and rehabilitation mixed.  Most of the contracts date back over the last 15 or 20 years and cannot be considered to be Buhari administration projects or to be in execution currently.

Some of the narratives are equally scandalous.  For instance, the “Construction of Kaduna Eastern Bypass (C/5346)” was awarded for N16bn on the 25th of September 2002 for completion in November 2005 despite the Fashola Ministry strangely categorizing it to be “ongoing.”  And while the original contract sum was N16bn, the actual contract is listed at over N40bn!

If Minister Fashola is to enjoy any respect after May 2023, he must explain these discrepancies.  And he must separate projects that were commenced or concluded before the birth of the #ENDSARS generation from those that his government can vouch for.  Otherwise, his government is merely an actor pretending to be acting, and infinitely greedier than any other since October 1960.

In this regard, I have previously drawn attention to the false claim made in December 2021 by Clem Agba, the Minister of State for National Planning, for instance, that the Buhari government completed 500 rural roads in 2021.

Completed?  “Completed” is a powerful word.  Its power and comfort is in its finality.  But the Minister could not provide neither a list of the roads nor any evidence of their existence.  One year later, he still has not, and Fashola, who supervises the Works Ministry, has not produced any either.

It was also profoundly eloquent that when Lai Mohammed, the Minister of information and Culture, sat before television cameras at the end of last year to broadcast “Buhari’s achievements,” he did not breathe one word about Mr. Agba’s phantom “500 roads.”

Consider then, that several weeks ago, Fashola returned with a long tale of the Buhari government having “constructed and completed” over 8,352km of roads since 2016, and created “no fewer than 339,955 jobs.”

Constructed and completed?  According to Fashola, the government also during the period rehabilitated 12 major roads totaling some 896.187 kilometres, accounting for what he called reduction of travel time by 56.20 per cent.

I would be delighted to join the government in celebrating these as national milestones.  But if these are real roads and real job statistics, why are our government officials hesitant to identify where they are located?

For most Nigerians, the longer the tedium of the Buhari years has grown; travel time has increased rather than decreased as roads are either ignored or not completed (examples are the Abuja-Kano and Lagos-Ibadan roads), or not managed.

Add to that the insecurity in most of the country as inflicted by menacing herdsmen, kidnappers and sundry criminals, and even the travel time between the Ministry of Housing and Aso Rock has not diminished by 56 per cent.

We are in a fascinating time in our history.  In October 2021, Mr. Fashola announced that road financing problems have become a thing of the past.  He spoke as the government announced that the NNPC was taking over the reconstruction of 21 federal roads nationwide, totaling 1804.6 kilometers, under a new strategy called the Federal Government Road Infrastructure and Refreshment Tax Credit Scheme.

That deal followed another one a few months earlier in which the government award to Dangote Industries a N309.9 billion contract in tax credit for five roads totaling 274.9 kilometres.

I am hopeful that these organizations do a far better job than the government.  It is sad that Fashola continues to offer propaganda in place of performance, like a little boy hiding behind a door hoping that nobody can see him.

“In the din of politicking, naysayers have attempted to play down the massive and unprecedented achievements of this administration,” Mr. Fashola said.  But here is one of many stories that tell of the agony of Nigerians nationwide on the awful federal roads he superintends.  Here is another, again about roads.

Is Fashola’s Ministry of Works & Housing a player in Nigeria’s infrastructure story?  I do not deny that.  But he has headed that Ministry now for nearly eight years and we hear far more tales of exploits than are on the ground.  It is sad that a government which arrived with such healthy prospects has failed so miserably to deliver that it imagines words will substitute.

But even if the Lagos-Ibadan expressway were to be completed before Christmas, has it not also become the theatre of choice of kidnappers and killers?  Are Nigerians being killed or paying vast ransoms just for traveling on a highway the new meaning of “massive and unprecedented achievement”?

My advice: let your work, not your tongue, speak for you.

[I welcome public response, in 100 words or fewer, to this column.]

This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.     

• sonala.olumhense@gmail.com

• @Sonala.Olumhense