This is the time of the year when budget, federal and states, is prepared with seeming dedication to duty. Unfortunately, if only ten percent sincerity of such dedication really existed, Nigeria would have been better off in terms of overall development. Instead, budget preparation and purported implementation over the years had become mere annual ritual, which never brought the commensurate development. President Muhammadu Buhari is therefore, now in a position to make a mark.
The major area of concern is the budget on road network construction and reconstruction. This sector, in the past, suffered from the fraud, incompetence, and narrow-mindedness of civil servants, technocrats and their contractor(s) collaborator, much to the country’s disadvantage. Such is the disturbing situation of road networks in Nigeria that a special probe such as the on-going one on power should also be conducted to find out cause(s) of poor condition of the roads, given the huge amount of trillions of naira spent on the project in the past, since 2009. Whatever obstacle President Buhari might be facing against full swing for road development must be exploited to discover and remove all such inhibiting factors.
For example, the situation so far in Nigeria is that successive administrations in the past, were always burdened, in every annual budget, with plans to construct or reconstruct one hundred, two hundred or even more roads every year. This is very unrealistic and indeed, impossible. Yet, allocations are made for such supposed construction. Yet, most of the roads always remain uncompleted and eventually abandoned. Buhari should call for total certified (on oath) list of uncompleted and abandoned federal road projects throughout Nigeria, when construction commenced, how much has been spent on such roads, related to the scale of performance by the contractors, etc Are such roads included in the proposed 2016 budget? Are such roads listed as abandoned, new or uncompleted projects/
In any case, President Buhari’s official slogan is change and that should be reflected in his governance. Whether he plans to serve for a single term (four years) or two terms (making eight years), he must aim as much as possible, at commencing strictly, I repeat, strictly, only those projects, specifically road construction and reconstruction, he can complete. Otherwise, he would discover that the ritualistically unlimited number of such projects he might have been lured to start, would be abandoned after his tenure. Towards this end, Buhari should limit himself to not more than thirty roads among the six zones, making five road projects for each zone either to be contracted or reconstructed. All federal financial resources for road projects for the next two or three years should be concentrated on Buhari’s thirty projects and the certainty is that these road projects will be accordingly completed.
So doing, President Buhari, even if he serves for only one term, will for ever be remembered by all Nigerians in the six zones for his thirty roads. That would even take care of perceived or real marginalisation in public appointments. Should he then decide to run for second term, the effort will be more comfortable than the horrifying experiences of the campaigns for the first term. It is easier to be forever remembered for completely modernising thirty roads than either not to be remembered at all or to be remembered for embarking on two hundred roads without completing one. Yet, allocation for the construction of most of the roads would have vamoosed. Buhari may inquire into this example. Strangely, about three years ago, contractors commenced plastering, (yes, plastering) both sides of the base of the median along Lagos-Ibadan expressway. It was towards the end of the fiscal year and the ostensible reason was to exhaust the ministry of works vote before the end of the financial year. Not long into the project, the contractor stopped working. Why did the contractor abandon the job? Was he paid for the job done and the job not done? How many of such fraudulent contracts were awarded by ministry of works for the plastering of bases of medians all over federal government expressways or dualised roads throughout Nigeria?
That is why President Buhari must ensure that only national contractors with reputation are awarded federal road projects by his administration. It will not be in his interest for any road, purportedly constructed/completed under him to be washed away after a few years. The Lagos-Ibadan-Sagamu-Benin supposed expressway is a good example. Some government engineers at Federal Ministry of Works okayed the job to have been well done according to design. Opened to traffic in 1980, the road lasted less than five years as many portions gave way between Lagos and Ibadan as well as Sagamu and Benin leading to regular fatal accidents involving known and unknown victims. Yet such highways in Britain, Europe and United States last centuries without any reconstruction except perhaps expansion for more lanes to accommodate increasing traffic.
The state of roads in Nigeria sometimes raises concern if some of these roads are within the country. It is immaterial if these roads belong to federal or state governments if such attract President Buhari’s attention. Neither must he release funds for any state he (Buhari) may decide to reconstruct. He must always be concerned about being remembered for such concern after leaving office. One of such roads (whether federal or state) is the Arochukwu-Ohafia-Umuahia road in Abia State calling for instant attention. The less said about the state of this particular road, the better. The sad story could never be better narrated than the news feature on Channels Television about a fortnight ago. Buhari should call for the clip of that television report. Constructed in 1947 and only thirty kilometres long, successive governments in that part of the country had awarded and reawarded repair works to contractors without any performance even after collecting money on each occasion.
Another road which may attract President Buhari’s attention is the Zunger-Kontagora-Yauri-Kebbi Road. This is one of those roads that make it easier for President Buhari, in passing through two states, Kebbi and Niger, as well as two zones, North West and North Central. The East-West road is similarly controversial, the cause of political controversy between Rivers and Federal Governments hitherto, run by indigenes of the same South-south zone
The Lagos-Ibadan-Iloron-Abuja-Kaduna expressway could not be more national, cutting through South-West, North-Central, federal capital and North-West. Equally, Sagamu-Benin-Asaba-Onitsha express road, apart from carrying heavy traffic from day one to the last day of the year, also links South-West, South- South and South-east.
President Buhari should well consider the thirty roads policy. For one, it is compact for successful and memorable completion. All parts of the country will benefit at least on zonal basis, with the emphasis on a change from the past, littered with uncompleted and abandoned road projects. When hundreds of road construction contracts are awarded annually, it is impossible to meet the payment period as and when due, even when reputable contractors are involved with evidence visible on sites. On the other hand, non-payment or delayed payment provides excuse for emergency contractors to disappear with the substantial amount already collected for sub-standard jobs.
Nigerians were excited for the past two years on the massive reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Obviously owing to other competing demands for the limited and still diminishing financial resources, payment for the contractors on that very vital road had made them to stop work and remove all equipment to their workshop. And commuters on that busy road are asking questions, all of which solidify the case for only thirty roads which can be completed.
By the way, when the reconstruction contract for the Lagos-Ibadan expressway was awarded, the job only one of the two, the other being the Sagamu-Benin expressway. To the shock of Nigerians, the Sagamu-Ondo portion of the expressway was deleted for unexplained reasons while reconstruction commenced and was completed from Ore-Benin and other parts. The possibility is that, funds for the entire Sagamu-Benin expressway contract might have been removed. Nigerians deserve to know the position or at least, why the Sagamu-Ondo portion was omitted.