Engr. Ezekiel Olajide Adeniji is currently the Chairman of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA). A Nigerian through-through whose working life was in Hausa-Fulani communities in the North, married to an Igbo Woman from South-East and was born and brought up in Yoruba land in the South-West. He speaks many Nigerian languages. A graduate of Civil Engineering from University of Ife, Engr. Adeniji has Masters from University of Lagos, on Project Management and a Phd from St. Clement University, British West Indies.
He is a Fellow of several professional bodies including Nigerian Society of Engineers, Nigerian Institute of Management, African Professional Managers and International Facility Management Association among others. A past NYSC Award winner in Benue State, he had worked as Engineer in Benue and Adamawa State where he rose to the position of Director Civil Engineering, Ministry of Works and Housing in Adamawa State Civil service. He later transferred his service to the federal government where he was appointed Director of Engineering and Technical Services of Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET). He was also acting Director General of the agency before he retired in 2010 after a meritorious service to his fatherland. Dr. Ezekiel Olajide Adeniji speaks to the Economic Confidential on situation of Nigerian roads and what would be done to address some of the problems bedeviling the road networks in the country. Excerpt:
EC: Our readers will like to have an idea about the mandate of the agency..
Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) that is our name! Our mandate is to maintain federal roads. When the Federal Ministry of Works finishes construction of roads, it commissions the projects. After the moratorium, which maybe one year, the contractor could be expected to go round to monitor and see if there is any problem to rectify and then they handover to us. So we maintain the federal roads. We make sure that the federal roads are up to standard. Our mandate is to keep the federal roads motorable, so these occurrences of being waylaid on the bad roads will not take place. Similarly incessant road accidents could be averted because if the roads are good, accidents will also reduce, armed robberies will reduce. Where the roads are bad is mostly where criminals operate and attack people. So if the roads are good, all these things will likewise be reduced. And the mandate of the federal road maintenance agency is that the 34,120 km road that belongs to federal government will be maintained.
EC: How many kilometer are federal and state roads?
In the country we have about 90,000 km road network, 34,000 is Federal road and 56,000 of States and Local Governments. So our mandate is to maintain the 34,120km road network. And I want to tell you that since the inception of this management, things have been changing positively. You can notice the presence of FERMA everywhere unlike before. We also involve our Staff in direct labour method of project procurement, where they do jobs that Contractors are even doing. This method saves cost and staffs are trained and retrained. They won’t just sit in one place…. you understand? And it will also give our staff exposure, so we encourage the direct labour method of project procurement, and this we are efficiently doing.
EC: How do you carry-out the maintenance of roads?
We operate by giving out contracts for road maintenance. We also do direct labour method of project procurement. We also have surveillance department that surveys road for us, to monitor the roads and the degree of dilapidation of the roads
EC: What of the Public/Private sector partnership on your mandates?
The law empowers us to also concession road maintenance and the present board is planning a unique method to get private people to invest in the maintenance of our roads and they will tax road users, and return our benefits and still make profit. It may be a concession of say 10 to 15 years. We are working on it. I have appointed Tolling and Concession Committee headed by the North-West representative in the FERMA Board, Alhaji Ahmed Muhammadu Gusau, former deputy Governor of Sokoto State. He is the one chairing the committee. I want to have a comprehensive workout: how we can concession roads maintenance, how we can have Toll Gates on all major roads. But we are mindful of the situation on the ground; Tolling any road that is bad is demonic, sacrilegious and satanic. We make sure we toll roads that are motorable and in very good conditions. That is our idea
EC: But what is the reason for bringing back the toll gates which were scrapped?
Well. I was not part of those that scrapped it. The Government had a reason to scrap it, and we also have a reason to want to put it back.
EC: What are these reasons for the new thinking of bringing back the toll gates?
The reasons we want to put it back is that: when you go to developed countries, there is no free food; there is no place you go that you don’t pay toll for the road you are using. If you are paying for water, electricity and communication why can’t you pay for good roads? Tolling is universal. But the government that scrapped the tolling knows the reason why they scrapped it, and we also have reasons why we want to return it. It is as simple as that.
EC: So will the return of the toll gates make any difference in the maintenance of the roads?
Well, we will have more revenue to maintain the roads. Because when you toll, you get more revenue, you create more jobs and you have funds to maintain the roads.
EC: Are you likely to put the private/public sector to manage the toll gates?
When we get there, we will cross the bridge. Well, if I spend my money to maintain a road I can’t ask a private man to collect money on my behalf. We may have mechanism through Information Communication Systems where cards could be used to pay for the service. So why do I need to hire a contractor to come and collect money for me when he could be remitting to government meager revenue, probably 30%, while he takes 70%. Many factors will be considered on the management and toll collections.
EC: Given the present condition of Federal Roads, how much do you think your Agency will need to effectively and properly maintain the roads?
We are working on how much we need, and it is only the appropriate authority that can tell. I am an authority in the maintenance of roads. As the chairman of the governing board of FERMA, I cannot preempt the committee I setup. you know am not a wizard, I won’t know the actual amount… because i know journalists like to quote money.
EC: The transfer of the state roads to the federal government, how would FERMA cope if the state roads are to be transferred to the federal government?
You, are the one giving me information that some states want to transfer roads to the Federal government. If they want to transfer their roads to Federal, they should also transfer their portion of federation account allocation to maintain the roads. We can help them maintain their roads, if they so request. You should know that the federal road network is 34,120km out of 90,000 and the traffic volume is 72% more than the combined states’ roads.
EC: There is this problem, sometimes when you see FERMA maintain roads and after a short while they go back, the same roads will then require maintenance.
That will change for good.
EC: There are some roads that have been undergoing maintenance for a very long time, like the Abuja- Kaduna- Kano road and the Eastern Axis roads for example the Enugu road that leads to Abia. These roads have continuously being maintained and they are never completed. How would you address this?
It depends on the contractors, mobilization and the funds allocation. If the contract is properly awarded, and the funds are available, the contractors have no reason to fail to deliver. Once the certificate is ready, within 48 hours they get their money and work will not stop. But the modality of governance is different from the way you journalists look at things. We are putting in place a mechanism where no project would be abandoned. The law of Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), states that we cannot award contracts without the money being on ground. If it has been happening before, I want to assure you it won’t happen again. Once the money is there, we award contracts, as at when due you get your money as you perform, people will not abandon their sites. But when you work and you have to wait for one year to get your money, nobody would want to invest in something they will not get returns on. But I want to tell you that the new management will change all those things for good.
EC: Do you have penalties against those that that spoilthe roads like big tankers…
That is not under my purview. We have Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). They are doing wonderful work. When I paid them a visit, their ICT Control Centre is superb as they monitor everything all over Nigeria through their computers system. FRSC charges penalties against road offenders.
EC: What are the major factors that cause the dilapidation of the roads?
A lot of things cause dilapidations of roads: It can be ecological, mining, heavy traffic and arbitrary construction on the roads. Overloading increases the stress on the structure, causing subsidence. It can be the abuse of road. A lot of people abuse roads in Nigeria. If someone wants to connect water from here to there, without consideration they just cut the road, place pipes and just cover with sand. And once it rains water will percolate, and once water percolates it weakens the base course, causing alligator cracks. Before you realise, it gives way. The pothole that is onemeter today, by next year it can be 1.5 meters. People abuse roads here too much. You will see people carrying chemicals. They pour it on the road. The chemical weakens the road itself. It makes holes, and when water percolates, it weakes the sub-base, before you realise you have subsidence failure or buckling. A lot of things causes dilapidations of roads.
EC: Who are the major culprits?
The major culprits are Nigerians, including you (laughter)…… some of these our trailers, some of the roads are not designed to carry these heavily loaded vehicles… some vehicles are designed for 30 tonnes but in Nigeria rather than 30 tonnes you see vehicles carrying 45 to 60 tonnages. Even some carry 90 tonnes. It is so bad, and there is no way the roads can carry such heavy loads. A lot of factors contribute to the problem
EC: Sir, given the enormous task that FERMA is saddled with and the coverage of the country, are you satisfied with the strength and capacity of the Agency to fully actualize its mandates?
FERMA has fantastic management and workforce. Our Staff are so intelligent and they know what they are doing. The only thing we need to do is give them the orientation. The staff is there on ground, they are wonderful… just give them proper orientation. The board is to give them a policy and general guideline on how they should work and to ensure that they follow the guidelines, but talking of the soundness of the staff, they are very organized people and they know exactly what they are doing. With active and committed staffs we may soon have zero potholes in Nigeria.
EC: How do you monitor the state of Nigerian roads?
We have Federal Road Maintenance Engineers (FRMEs)`all over the states. We are working towards having about 500 road camps where the indigenous population would be recruited and engaged to monitor the roads and assist in their maintenance. Once they realize the roads are dilapidating, they will report to the FRMEs who would now alert the headquarters to take appropriate action. As at now, we have 95 road camps all over the federation. By next year it will be increased when we have the budget to move the thing forward so that a lot of people can be involved.
EC: What do you mean by indigenous population?
We want to involve indigenes along Federal roads as laborers. For instance we may have about 30 laborers and one technical officer who will be taking records of all their activities. Those indigenes will be working on their own roads that affect their lives directly. The laboureers should be the indigenes of the localities who by the time they finish in the night, they become tired. Criminalities on the highways will reduce because it is people that don’t have work to do that do armed robbery. But when you work during the day, in the night since you are not a log of wood, you must sleep. And when you know that at the end of the month you have something to eat from the monthly salaries. So you will see that social menace will be reduced drastically. We intend to employ 10,000 youths along our routes before the end of the year. I mean 10,000 youths to do laborer work. They will have ID Cards. They don’t even need to open bank account as they could be paid in cash. By the time we do that, armed robbery will reduce, hunger in many states, and idle hands are a tool for Satan. So FERMA under public works unit will employ about 10,000 people for a start so that our youths can be engaged.
EC: What are the major roads, the priorities that require urgent and adequate attention?
If I must tell you you the roads that require adequate attentions, we may not leave here today… Nigeria is so big. WE have many roads that require attention, Mokwa-Jebba-Ilorin roads, Lokoja Highways, Adamawa-Taraba project, Benin, Sagamu … they are just too many. If we succeed in addressing the Mokwa Road it will relieve Lokoja road of these heavy traffic because it is the short-cut to South-west from the North. If the road is good more than 2/3rd of the road traffic will even go through Mokwa to Lagos. It is a major road we have to tackle. If it is outside our power and the money is too much, Federal Ministry of Works is there. It is our parent ministry and they are doing fantastically well… they will handle that one.
The Lokoja road, Ministry of Works is doing a fantastic work, but cannot finish the work in a day. You see there are many factors that we have to take into consideration when you are talking about road construction, rehabilitation or maintenance, considering finances, is it coming as in when due? the performance of the contractor. And I want to tell you that the Ministry of Works and FERMA are synergising to give Nigeria good roads. This is not a bluff, it is reality. The transformation agenda of Mr. President is not a joke. We want to transform everybody, including you!
EC: Your last word Sir, to Nigerians about road usage...
My last word to Nigerians is to see the roads as something that is of benefit to them. They should not abuse our roads, these cutting of roads because of pipe laying should be discouraged. If they want to do such a thing they should get permission from us. They should also pay for the cutting and repairs so that it will no dilapidate. And our tankers, anytime they get spoil on the roads, they should not allow diesel to drip on the road and cause damage to our road, they should try as much as possible to move the trucks off road to a place where it can be repaired. They can use towing vehicles or any other thing possible, but they should not allow chemicals to drip on the roads. And another thing is that we should not be dumping refuse on our roads. A lot of people even defecate on our road, and some use our drainages as refuse dumps. But when refuse is dumped in our drainage, it will block free flow of water. When its blocked the water will overflow into the main roads, creating ponds leading to road collapse. We should be friendly with our roads, without the roads, economy cannot move… And see FERMA as your friend, as people who are maintaining these roads to keep them good. Anywhere you see us thank God for us, anywhere you think of us pray for us, we are here for the benefits of all Nigerians including you!!!