Toll Gates Return on Highways Soon – Minister of Works

2Minister_Of_Works_Arc._Mike_OnolememenThe Minister of Works, Arc. Mike Oziegbe Onolememen in this interview discloses some new developments in his ministry as regards the Transformational Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan after his 100 days in the office. The Economic Confidential as usual presents salient points of the interaction.

Excerpts:

President Goodluck Jonathan has just completed 100 days in office, what are some of your achievements within this period?
Within the context of a four year term, 100 days may seem insignificant. As the popular saying goes ‘a journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step’. Therefore if we are able to properly situate the first 100 days of Mr. President, it would be a clear indicator of where we are likely to be in about four years from now.

What is the major agenda of the President?
Mr. President has clearly espoused the transformational agenda as the plank on which his administration stands. He has also consistently indicated that before his tenure ends, Nigeria must be transformed in such a way that Nigerians would begin to live in a way comparable to countries with similar endowments and become a member of the 20 most developed economies by the year 2020.To attain this laudable goal, road infrastructural development occupies a strategic position.

Could you let our readers know where we were about 100 days ago, where we are now and where we would be in the next four years?
The total road network in Nigeria has an estimated length of 195,400 KM out of which the Federal Road Network is 34,300 KM while 30,500Km belongs to state governments. The balance of 130,600 Km falls within the purview of Local Governments administration. 2,627 Km of the roads are dualised with about 1, 842 KM leading to international boundaries. For the Nigerian economy to grow, people, goods and services must move freely and for a successful national development strategy, an enabling environment based on sound infrastructure availability is critical to national productivity and growth. Road infrastructure therefore remains the backbone for all other economic infrastructure to function efficiently and effectively.

What are the challenges facing Nigeria Roads?
The Nigerian road sector, over the years has had its challenges due to planning constraints, implementation challenges and financing problems with consequent negative effect on balanced and sustained growth of the road sector. Most of our roads were built over 30 years ago without adequate maintenance model so much so that the serviceable conditions of the roads at present are highly deplorable due to the aforementioned past neglect of road maintenance, inadequate funding, inappropriate institutional framework and the collapse of other modes of transportation which increased the pressure on available trunk roads. There is also the problem relating to capacity of contractors in the area of, but not limited to, overstretched technical and financial capability and low plant and equipment holding revolving around projects. Having identified some of the challenges facing road infrastructural development in Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan directed the Ministry to hit the ground running and commence immediate rehabilitation and reconstruction of major corridors to smoothen and ease the movement of persons, goods and services as inadequate funding among other challenges can no longer be sustained as an excuse for the poor state of the nation’s major road network.

So far, what have you done with that Presidential directive?
Armed with this Presidential directive, the Ministry directed contractors handling projects on its behalf, to move back to site within specific deadlines and commence palliative work while the rainy season lasts and begin full rehabilitation as soon as it is over. It is therefore with utmost delight that I report that this process has commenced in the following major roads which had been a source of untold hardship and difficulty to commuters across the nation: Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Shagamu-Ajebandele-Ofosu-Benin Expressway, Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja Expressway, Onitsha head bridge and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.I do not need to review the importance of these identified roads to the economic prosperity and advancement of this nation and the unnecessary man-hour lost as a result of the traffic gridlock experienced on these roads on a daily basis. The sustained pressure being exerted on contractors handling these projects, despite the huge sum being owed them, is to ensure that, in the interim, commuters have easy passage on these roads while full rehabilitation will commence after the rainy season is over.

The Lagos – Ibadan Expressway has always been in the news for its state of disrepair. How is the government addressing the problem?
On the Lagos –Ibadan Expressway which was concessioned some years back, it was apparent that during the concession, institutional framework for the model was not fully developed within the ministry. This has led to the delay in the full commencement of work on the project. I am again pleased to announce that all the problems associated with the concession are being adequately addressed and the project is being turned around to be on course. The project will be successfully delivered as the Ministry has since enhanced the capacity of its staff in handling this necessary model in road development.

Presently, what other road projects are you working on?
The Ministry awarded contracts for the Re-instatement of Road Washout and Rehabilitation of Sokoto-Illela road including repairs of Usman Danfodio University Road. The Kano-Kazaure-Daura-Mai Aduwa road in Katsina State, the rehabilitation of Aba-Owerri road in Abia State, and the construction of Eleme Junction Flyover as well as the dualisation of the access roads to Onne Port in River State have been completed. In addition to these, the Federal Executive Council in the past one month approved 7 projects spread in all the geo-political zones of the country for execution among which are: the construction of Jalingo-Kuna-Lau road in Taraba State, rehabilitation of Ijebu-Igbo-Olomi (Oyo State Border) Road in Ogun State and the rehabilitation of Ondo-Ore road in Ondo State. Others are the Odo-Oba-Takie-Gambari-Otte along Ibadan –Oyo-Ogbomosho-illorin road, reconstruction/ rehabilitation of Gbongan-Iwo road in Oyo State and the construction of 15 KM interstate road for Aiyegunle Akoko Edo Local Government Area in Edo State.

How far have you gone in involving private sector participation in road construction?
The Public Private Partnership (PPP) model has become imperative for other economically viable roads across the nation and the Ministry will soon advertise for bids on some selected roads. I also wish to announce that many of our roads have been confirmed as economically viable based on feasibility studies conducted. In addition to the PPP model, the Ministry has since embarked upon initiatives with respect to other alternative funding strategies for road projects in the country since it is clear that government can no longer provide 100% funding for road development in view of competing national agenda.

What other funding models do you have for road projects?
The possible funding models explored based on business in funding projects include but not limited to: FMW Bond Funds, Contractor Financing, Commercial Bank Bonding Financing, Multilateral and Bilateral Contributions and Tolling Policy.

Why tolling Policy which had been banned by previous administration?
The Tolling Policy is to be re-introduced on major highways across the country. This is to be based on general principles of equity, affordability, new arrangements with local communities, consultations with stakeholders and political representatives as well as civil society. Methods of payment and other practical modalities are also being reviewed. Once consultations are finalised, a memorandum will be forwarded to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for endorsement and approval.

What can you attribute to our deplorable road conditions and how do you intend to address them?
One of the factors that consistently lead to road failures is the abuse of and overloading of trucks and trailers. The ministry is in the process of installing weigh bridges on federal highways at existing toll plazas that will significantly reduce problems associated with the aforementioned excesses. This major action will control overloading and reduce the rapid collapse of road due to excessive axle load.

Would it be easy for your ministry to monitor overloaded trucks on our highways?
In pursuance of the Transformational Agenda of Mr. President in the Ministry and in furtherance to on-going reform, Fifteen Highways and Engineering Departments have been created in order to enhance project delivery, implementation, management and execution. The Highways Department now has 12 while the Engineering has 3 Departments.

Can you list them?
They are: Highways Planning and Development, Highways Designs, Highways Bridge, Highways Materials Geotechnics and Quality Control, Highways Public Private Partnership (PPP), Road Sector Development Team, Highways South-West zone, Highways South –East zone, Highways South –South zone, Highways North – West zone, Highways North- East zone, Highways North –Central, Electrical and Street Lightening Department, Central Workshop and Equipment and Engineering Management Services.

What can you say about the activities in your agencies; for instance FERMA?
The Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) has continued to work on execution of its mandate despite funding constraints. Despite the plan for a 10 year investment of 120bn per annum on road maintenance to stabilize Nigeria’s highways, FERMA has operated on small fraction of this sum since inception while modalities for enhanced funding mechanisms via fuel tax in accordance with its enabling act remain pending. The quick response of the Agency to repair and carry out palliative works on the nation’s major highways, despite the limited resources available to it, has received salutary commendation across the country and it is our hope that the implementation of the fuel tax regime and the strengthening of the technical capacity of the agency will significantly enhance its performance in the coming years.

What about the Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation?
The office of the Surveyor General has embarked on major projects as part of its statutory responsibility by completing the survey and demarcation of Nigeria’s new boundary with Cameroon and the international boundary survey with Niger Republic. It has also established several control stations. The department acquired the Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) to enable satellite technology applications in a variety of fields and enhance productivity in endeavours where mapping tools are invaluable. Street guides for twenty five state Capitals including Abuja have been completed and have been deployed for use nationwide. The office installed the HP Scitex TJ8350 printer, the first of its kind in Africa, to provide high quality mapping and survey prints. Although the OSGF is handicapped by inadequate funding, it is currently processing a complete national coverage using Infotera Technology and Software System. This is to avail government and its agencies of multi-user IKONOS/Quick bid mapping, imagery, spotlighting and single-user Digital Elevation Modelling.

Your last words sir?
The last 100 days have been challenging for the federal ministry of works. It is however determined to carry through the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GCFR). Towards the end, a Road Map for National Road Development is in the offing and would soon be released by the ministry. The purpose is to ensure a sustainable road development for the country which would ensure a well-developed road network that would uplift and sustain the developmental stride of our nation.

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