• Plans to complete 206 already awarded roads
Chineme Okafor in Abuja
North-South arterial highways, which include the Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa road and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, are top on the list of 206 road projects that the federal government will concentrate its energies and finances on in 2016, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has said.
Fashola said his ministries had proposed a budget of N433 billion to the National Assembly, out of which N268 billion will go to roads in the country, N99 billion for power projects and N66 billion for housing.
In a statement by his media aide, Mr. Hakeem Bello, yesterday in Abuja, he said the focus this year would be to complete already awarded roads across the country with priority given to those carrying heaviest traffic.
He said these roads were about 206 which the government will focus on completing. He described as wrong the past practice of lumping budgets for roads with the whole capital budget with each road allocated just little fund no matter the extent of rehabilitation needed.
“For me, that is not the way to go. The strategy I recommend is that let’s take the roads that carry the heaviest traffic and phase them; take Phase 1 this year finish them or push them to near completion. Then next year Phase 2, third year, Phase 3 and in each phase let us ensure that at least every geopolitical zone in the country gets something,” he said.
He noted that some of the roads were more compelling than others, and described the Ilorin – Jebba Road as a lifeline for agricultural products and lots of other supplies from the North to the South.
He said: “Now, as far as the states of the roads go, I started a tour and I started from the North Central. I visited all the six states, inspecting power formations, road formations and civil works projects that we were doing there and I saw our people, literally trying to salvage their vegetable products that had perished because they were stuck there for four days.”
He said because of the impassable state of the Ilorin – Jebba- Mokwa Road, “there was endless queue of trucks carrying all sorts of things, construction materials, petrol, pipes and so on which got stuck there for days. The only way I could pass was through a bush path, through an elevated detour.”
According to him: “None of the articulated trucks could pass that; those who did just tipped over and people slept there for days.”
He said although the contract for the 98 kilometre road was awarded, but the contractor wasn’t paid for a year and half and when he was paid the 15 per cent mobilisation fee, they only paid him half of it.
“Now this road has the entire contract sum of N14 billion. What did we do with money at that time? If we had paid the contractor, he would have finished that road,” he said, adding that for the whole of the country the last administration budgeted only N18 billion for roads when one road alone costs about N14 billion.
“So I start this year with those roads that carry the heaviest number of vehicles, that carry other critical services that other departments rely on to survive; agriculture, for example needs that road,” he said.
On whether the funding of the roads would be strictly from the budget, Fashola explained: “Essentially we can do most of those roads because we proposed a budget of N433 billion to Parliament for my three Ministries and our plan was to use N268 billion for Roads, N99 billion for Power and N66 billion for Housing.”
Noting that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway concession was now the subject of a court case, Fashola explained further: “Injunctions have been obtained to stop the arrangement put in place by the last administration to finance the road through the private sector and the injunction was granted by a court in Nigeria saying that nobody should raise money to finance the development of the road.”
“Thankfully, there is no injunction on government building its road yet; I hope there will be none. So government is hoping to finance the road. It is part of what we put in the budget for this year. But I got a message from the lawyers last night suggesting to me that the action has been dismissed but I haven’t seen the judgment since he said it to me; this was late last night,” he said.
He also hinted that government would toll some of the roads it intends to build or reconstruct.
“We should stop being pretentious that roads can be had for absolutely free everywhere. There will be toll roads if we want to get out of this situation. There will be alternative roads as well so that people can choose,” he added. Fashola.