As the federal government intensifies efforts to reconstruct and rehabilitate highways across the country, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has directed Federal Controllers of Works to ensure the removal of all obstructions on the right of ways in order to promote safety and prevent economic losses on the roads.
The minister also directed that the issuance of permits to erect structures on right of ways on federal highways should no longer be granted and there would be no renewal for those who already have such structures on the highways.
Fashola, who spoke during a meeting in Abuja with Federal Controllers of Works and Sector Commanders of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) from across the federation, said that while those with permit would be allowed to stay till the expiration of such permit, those with no permit should immediately leave the right of way.
Expressing dismay at the ease with which the permits are issued in the name of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), Fashola told the controllers, “Our first step is how to secure our Right of Way back. We have the right of way in this country; 45 metres from the centre line.”.
The minister pointed out that roads are built to move human beings, goods and services with ease adding, “If after building the roads we issue all sorts of permits on the right of way of the roads we have built in the name of IGR are we not defeating the purpose we set out to achieve?”
He added, “If that road works, you will take personal benefits. One, you will spend less on food, I assure you, because the average transporter, whether the road is good or bad, will move and by the time he gets to his destination he just calculates how much extra fuel he has burnt and he will pass it into the full cost”.
“Then when you come next month you complain that rice has gone to N20,000; you caused it because he cannot do that business at a loss. If a journey that should take him four hours takes him eight hours instead, he will burn more fuel and he will pass the cost to the trader,” the minister said.
Fashola said although there might not be any scientific measure to put a cost on what the driver had spent, he would like to get as much as he could to cover his cost, adding, “So, you can issue your permit for the Right of Way but be sure you have diminished the value of your own salary; because price of rice has moved up and you must buy. That is one way that we all undercut ourselves”.
Listing further benefits of unhindered traffic, Fashola declared, “If that road moves freer and faster, even if today you don’t get a reversal, at least prices will stay where they are. You may not get immediate price reduction but you can get a stable price economy you can plan your life with”.
The minister said, however, that although it was in the interest of the government to clear the Right of Way, there was no suggestion to start breaking the structures currently on them adding, “There is an enlightenment process that we must pursue in doing this. But we must plan it together. Tell the people there is no more renewal of licenses you have given. Stop the renewal”.
He further warned, “So anybody who is still renewing is looking for trouble for himself. The ones that have no permits then we tell them to go”, adding that he has notified the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to stop issuing permits for petrol stations on Right of Ways.
According to the Minister, although there is need for petrol stations as people have to buy fuel, such fuel stations should not be built on Right of Way. “So petrol stations must be approved within the appropriate setbacks. This is where you should partner with the state governments because the state is the planning authority. You have to work with them so that when the final permits are given they don’t land on your Right of Way. They must observe the setbacks” he told the controllers.
Fashola, who said the enforcement of the ban would need the cooperation of State Governments as well as the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), urged the controllers to return to their states with a new mind-set that getting it right on the roads and highways would need the cooperation of all the stakeholders.
The minister told them, “You must know the number of roads under you and in how many local governments and how many people. You should know how many of your Right of Ways are obstructed. You need to have that data; you must file that report; is it 10 per cent, 20 per cent or 80 per cent? Which one has the heaviest traffic that we may have to attend to quickly?”
Reiterating the benefits of a free flow of traffic, Fashola, who noted that government would not attend to everything at the same time, added, “I am sure if you free all the right of ways, traffic will move better. Some of the best sides of our roads have been covered up by parking.”
The minister, who noted that their work centred on service to the people, further urged the controllers. “So remember every morning, when you are going to work, that there are many people whom you have never met and you may never meet but their life depends on you. Whether their children can go to school, whether they can pay their house rents depend on you”.
“Farmers are now waiting to reap their harvests. They are going to take them in trucks. How well you and I do our work will decide whether all the work they did planting in January and February will be lost in one week. They have borrowed money from banks to plant. So if that road is good, they will move, may be, from Kaduna to Lagos in one day. If that farmer gets to the market on time, sells his goods, he can pay his loans and his children’s school fees”, he said.
He added, “I want you to connect that because it is happening every day. Our job is about peoples’ life. We are not just there. If we know why we are doing it, we will understand it better. A member of your family may be on the road any day and if that road is good, he is unlikely to have an accident, he is unlikely to die”.
“So what you sow is what you reap. Your classmate of 20 years past you don’t know when he will be passing that road; so your job is to maintain it. If the road is good, when you go to Old Boys’ meetings, he will shake hands with you for a good job. But if the road is bad and he dies, when you go for a meeting, you will only say a minute’s prayer for him.
“If you and him were close, what will likely happen is that you begin to support his family. So the small that you have will not be enough again. So this is how our work impacts on human lives and there are many more examples you know, you are in the streets”, he said.
In his remarks, the Minister of State in the ministry, Hon. Mustapha Baba Shehuri, noted that the challenge before the Ministry was enormous especially as regards to getting things right on Federal roads pointing out that it had become a common sight to see “civilian volunteers” patching sections of the highways as one travelled across the country.
Describing it as a challenge to the Controllers, the Minister of State told them, “There are little things we can do to check some of these things. If we say we will wait or we are not going to do anything because there is no fund, we are not going to achieve anything. You have to reach out to local governments, to state governments and to the society to see that at least your part of the responsibility is delivered”.
The meeting, which was attended by Federal Controllers of Works and Sector Commanders of the FRSC from the 36 states of the Federation and Abuja, also had in attendance top officials of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, including the Permanent Secretary, Abubakar Magaji, Corps Marshal of the FRSC, Boboye Oyeyemi, and top officials of the ministry.