Between Monday and Friday last week, Babatunde Fashola, minister of works and housing, toured eight states comprising Edo, Delta, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom with a three-pronged message of comfort for commuters during the rainy season, provision of infrastructure as a catalyst for uplifting the people from poverty, and roads as vehicle for economic empowerment.
Fashola, who had inspection tour of all the bad spots on the federal highways in the states where commuters were stranded during the last rainy season, demanded from the management of the various construction companies handling rehabilitation, construction and dualisation of the roads to ensure that between now and March all the failed sections of the roads are made motorable. He went on the tour with all the federal controllers of highways and housing in the states.
“Try and repair the bad portions first before the rains come, so that these people will know that their government care about them. Even if you do not finish the construction of the road, they will know the road is getting better,” Fashola said at Ehor section of the Lokoja-Auchi-Benin road during the tour. This statement was constantly repeated at every bad spot on all the federal roads in the states he visited: Odukpani-Itu-Ikot Ekpene; Aba-Ikot Ekpene; Odukpani-Akpet-Alesi-Ugep; Onitsha-Enugu Expressway; Amansea-Enugu (full rehabilitation of Umunya section) in Anambra State, among others.
His charge to the contractors is very simple and clear: ensure that road users are not subjected to hardship while construction work is on-going. Fashola urged the contractors and the highway controllers to prepare for the rainy season the way people and governments in Europe prepare for winter.
“The rainy season is like winter, everywhere in Europe they prepare for it, we must also prepare for the rains. We must not be caught unprepared,” he warned.
In fact, Fashola told the regional federal controller of roads (South-South) that he would hand him over to the public to account for the roads during the rainy season if commuters are stranded like they were during the last rainy season.
Besides making sure that the failed sections are fixed before the rains start, the minister also asked them to liaise with appropriate authorities like the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to provide removal vehicles at strategic spots on the highways to ensure that broken-down vehicles are immediately removed from the roads to ensure free flow of traffic.
The minister said government strategy of immediate removal of broken-down trucks along Nigerian highways is to ensure commuters’ comfort and to avoid being delayed as they move around across the country. Commuters spent over 48 hours on various roads across the country last year following breakdown of trucks along highways which led to obstruction of free flow of traffic.
This strategy, he said, would apply to all the highways where trucks get stuck like the Numan road, Calabar-Itu road and Abeokuta-Ota road in Taraba, Cross River and Ogun States, respectively.
“We want to ensure that this time our contractors are better prepared for the rainy season, so we need to evolve a strategy where our contractors are mindful that yes we have the construction work ongoing but the roads must remain motorable during the rainy season,” Fashola said.
He advised vehicle owners to ensure that their vehicles were well maintained in preparation for the rains, this he said is to prevent break down of vehicles on the roads and hardship for travelers.
Fashola charged his road controllers to ensure that the road shoulders were free of refuse and the drainages were cleared of debris before, during and after the rains. It is also their duty to ensure that traders are removed from trading on the highways particularly in the urban communities. In places like Benin City, Onitsha and Uyo, traders have converted the service lane of the dual carriage ways into trading spots thereby putting their lives in danger, blocking the drainage system and disrupting free flow of traffic.
The roads under rehabilitation, dualisation and reconstruction were not chosen by luck. Fashola showed editors on the tour with him a strategic document detailing reasons for selecting the roads for immediate attention. The roads are been givingpriority because they are catalysts for economic empowerment of the communities and states they link together, lead to federal tertiary institution, the volume of traffic, and create wealth, among others.
According to him, the goal to lift 100 million Nigerians from poverty as envisioned by President Muhammadu Buhari is a task for all.
He said President Buhari has continued to emphasise commitment to provision of infrastructure as the quickest way to creating jobs for the people.
“Policies have very diverse and extensive impact on the people, so when Mr. President says he wants to lift a 100 millon people out of poverty, he knows what he is saying and he knows some of the right buttons, like infrastructure, to press,” he said.
The minister who interacted with workers at various construction sites, whether for roads or houses, said the end product may be constructing a road or building a housing
estate but human capacity is enhanced through drains being laid, electric fittings being installed, foundations being dug, blocks being molded and foods being supplied, thereby providing employment and boosting the economy as well as the living standard of the community and its environs.
“It is the initial value chain of the economy which is the first impact you feel when it comes to infrastructure,” he said.
Sunday Etikwu, a mason at one of the National Housing Programme sites who was apparently excited, said he receives a daily pay of N4,500 and works all through the week.
A female food vendor, Ebelechukwu, also expressed happiness for the opportunity to cook and sell alongside her husband who works as a labourer at one of the National Housing Programme sites, adding that she goes home with at least N5,000 daily.
Julius Berger says it has 1,300 workers working on the Second Niger Bridge, while hundreds of others work on the rehabilitation and dualisation of federal roads across the country.
Bassey Nsentip, federal controller of works for Cross River State, told Fashola that some communities had benefitted economically from the construction of roads by the federal government, adding that one of the contractors employed 176 skilled and unskilled workers in executing its projects.
“You are aware of the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari to recover money that was stolen out of the country. This is one of the projects in the benefit of that money. This is one of the yesterday missed-opportunities that have become today’s responsibility for infrastructure. Again, I reiterate that this is front and centre issue for this government under President Buhari to deliver infrastructure to grow the economy,” Fashola said.
The minister noted that while the construction works on the bridge last, hundreds and thousands will be employed including machines, meaning also that lubricant are being purchased.
“I think the total consumption of diesel throughout the life circle of this project is about 19 million litres of diesel; Julius Berger does not make diesel, so people who supply and distribute diesel will impact the petroleum sector of the economy. Cements are supplied in multiple thousand tonnes, iron rods and others; so people will see first the economic, employment and productivity impact of actually funding the project,” he said.
The minister also inspected the National Housing Programme in the states he visited. Thirty-four states are benefitting from the National Housing Programme of the Federal Government. The houses are near completion. Fashola said that a sustainable and transparent process was being put in place for the sale of the houses to deserving Nigerians.
The minister also visited the 2nd Niger Bridge under construction after several years of abandonment. The bridge will be completed in February 2022 and would help to decongest the massive traffic on the Onitsha Bridge.
Friedrich Wieser, project director of Julius Berger said that the project was 33 percent completed, pointing out that the company had mobilised 1,300 workers and 425 equipment to the site to meet deadline.