by Femi Owolabi
I am not a fan of the welfarist Governor Godswill Akpabio. You know, only the Samaritan Akpabio will give 3 million naira each to PDP members for a plate of fried rice that is lunch at Mr Bigg’s. But whatever the case, he is a good man. It’s been a while since my itinerary covered Akwa-Ibom State, but you see, things are happening in the state.
My brother, an engineer who is supervising a site in the State is obsessed with the administration of Akpabio and the drastic development in infrastructure, especially roads. Come to Akwa-Ibom, he urges me. The roads that run from the state capital to almost all the Local Governments are evidence of the dividends of democracy, courtesy of Akpabio. Roads in Akwa-Ibom should set a model for road constructions in Nigeria. No, my brother does not make hyperbolic statements. He is a civil engineer who, by mere looking, can tell the durability a newly constructed road. In our recent travels through Nigerian roads, the only time my brother hailed a governor of any state we were driving past, is where road constructions are ongoing. As though road construction has an aroma; I can smell development in this state, he would hum and say.
Roads, good roads are key to developing any economy. It is however an unfortunate case in Nigeria that roads are a subject of neglect. And whereas other democracies have so advanced that road construction does not necessarily swallow billions of dollars in their budget, here, what still occupies Nigerian politicians’ manifestoes is a promise to build this or that road.
In an overview of Nigeria 2013 budget released in March, 2013 by the Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the third on the priority list is investing in infrastructure. She says, “We recognize that Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit remains one of the binding constraints to growth in the economy. Therefore, our strategy is to prioritize infrastructure investments in the budget, and also to leverage additional external financing for infrastructure investments in the country. For example, Budget 2013 has some important infrastructure projects in the transportation sector, such as the second Niger Bridge. We plan to augment our domestic resources with a proposed $1 billion EuroBond as well as a Nigeria Diaspora Bond which will harness savings from Nigerians abroad.”
Akin to this was in April when the Ministry of Works said they are shopping for N921.4 billion of the N1.39 trillion they need to complete 195 ongoing road projects across the country. The Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, who briefed journalists after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, said, if government were to depend solely on its annual budget, “it will take another eight years before the projects can be completed.”
“To ensure timely completion of all the projects, a multilateral approach was under way as well as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme that will add about 6,000 kilometers of road nationwide is being explored,” he said.
The minister said in the past twelve years, the federal works authorities spent N1.397 trillion on road works in the six zones of the country. Breaking it down to details, he said: the federal ministry of works had completed 31 road projects in the north central zones, covering 1,054 kilometers at the total sum of N262.3 billion.
The north east has a total of 30 ongoing projects covering a total of about 1,461 kilometer at the contract sum of N332.9 billion. The northwest has a total of 23 ongoing projects covering a total of about 1,028 kilometer at the contract sum of N255.5 billion.
The south east has a total of 40 ongoing projects covering a total of about 978 kilometer at the contract sum of N149.6 billion. The south south has a total of 34 ongoing projects covering a total of about 876 kilometer at the contract sum of N159.4 billion. The south west has a total of 37 ongoing projects covering a total of about 1,230 kilometer at the contract sum of N236.9 billion.
“Out of this total portfolio size of ongoing project that has been put at N1.397 trillion, a total of about N523.6 billion has been certified and only about N475.5 billion has been paid, leaving a balance of about N921.4 billion of that portfolio.
“Which means that cumulatively unto the time that portfolio is completed we will be requiring about N921.4 billion to complete all the over 195 ongoing projects in the country” the minister said.
For the last year alone, Mr. Onolememen said his ministry received a total capital budgetary provision of about N143.5 billion, and paid out N101 billion.
Whew! Are these roads being built in Jupiter?
Over the democratic years, billions of naira through the Ministry of Works is reported to have been pumped into road project, but Nigerian roads do not share anything in common with all these billions. And my engineer brother would say, haba, just give me half of this money and Nigeria will have the desired roads.
In preparation for the flag-off of the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Reno Omokri, Special Assistant on New Media to President Jonathan, sought public opinion on a recently reconstructed road with his tweet, “Have you travelled on the Lagos-Ore-Benin Rd recently? Would you say the road has a. Improved b. Remained the same or c. Deteriorated?” Interesting responses ensued. One twitter handle @waleflame said “it has improved tremendously, but why do we have to record scores of death before fixing?” Another @cassavaflour said “U r funny,why didn’t u ask this in 2012.U have no respect for the countless souls lost on that road? Somethings r beta not said.”
As if that is the only road that matters, or needs special intervention, @aasadiq angrily responded “Have you travelled on the Jalingo-Numan-Gombe road? Or Jalingo-Wukari-Gboko-NineMile road? They’ve pass deterioration.”
Returning to my Ilorin home last month; the Idi-Abebe Ikoyi road in Ogbomoso that runs through to the Ogbomoso-Ilorin express way is in a total mess. Muddy. For almost a year now that we’ve been driving to and fro this road, we’ve only been seeing a pose of reconstruction. Yes, fences and shops were bulldozered to make space for drainage. Today, work has stopped here, and one wonders how long it takes to plaster a road whose kilometers is jog-able in 5 minutes.
It is, however, paradoxically amazing that at the start of this road is the Constituency Office of Honourable Mulikat Akande Adeola (House leader) who represents Ogbomoso North South and Orire Federal Constituency of Oyo State. I was going to rush a blame on Governor Ajimobi but I remember that he’s busy with the beautification of Ibadan. And this road, honestly, is what half of the millions that Hon. Mulikat takes for constituency project can reconstruct. Or at least she can use her office to hasten things at the Ministry of Works.
Unlike Akwa-Ibom State, the road from Offa in Kwara State(starting from Okin Biscuit) that runs through to Ajase-Ipo is not worthy of being called a road. This road that is the point of entry for visitors coming from the State capital, in fact, reduces Offa that prides itself as Iyeru-Okin. (Find out what Okin means).
And, a few months ago when we came to Ilorin, we saw something posing as reconstruction at the roundabout before G.S.S (when coming from Zango). Machines and men at work. But recently, while driving past, machines and men are no more at work, and sadly, this part of the road at the roundabout is still in its ugly state. There are many more bad roads that may not find mention in the media.
Sometimes, there is this irresponsible argument that one road has been left undone because it’s a federal road. Spare Governor Akpabio who I should later recommend for a ministerial job at the Ministry of Works. Some State Governors go to sleep, waiting for the Federal Government. In the end, it’s the masses that suffer. Both State and Federal Governments officials prefer to fly.
As it is, however, road projects are a big deal for Nigerian politicians. It is such that makes the Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun— on behalf of the Ogun State people — to spend some millions of naira in buying full pages in the national dailies to welcome President Jonathan into their state as he flags-off the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. I mean, the President has come to ceremoniously flag-off a road reconstruction. The Secretary General of the United Nations must be in attendance on the day of commissioning!
Ps: Over the weekend in Soweto, South Africa, selected African youths sit round President Obama in a town hall meeting. Obama talks about Africa as though Africa is one country. Even if it appears that African countries are plagued by these common problems, for crying out loud, Africa is a collection of different sovereign states! I mean, 54 countries with different internal policies and political structures. Address each country according to its problems. Don’t say you are giving Africa $7b for electricity. Nigeria alone had spent $16b on electricity. And yes, Togo is not complaining of electricity. Again, in other news, rapper Rick Ross tweeted that he had just returned from the ‘country’ of Africa. Nonsense. What an insult on our sovereign sensibilities.
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