Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, monday voiced his opposition to the current move by the Senate to scrap Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) and replace it with a new maintenance agency.
Speaking at a one-day public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Works in the National Assembly, Fashola said whereas he had no issue against Senate’s move to create fund raising platforms for road maintenance, the new agency should rather be domiciled within FERMA instead of replacing it with a new one.
According to him, FERMA had become a brand identifiable with road maintenance, noting that such brand name should rather be sustained instead of phasing it out. He however, threw his weight behind the move to make road maintenance an institution, explaining further that beyond maintenance, there was the need to create awareness among Nigerians on road usage as he argued that abuse of the roads by Nigerians was usually the reason for quick collapse of the nation’s roads.
He emphasised the need for re-orientation among Nigerians, observing that Nigerians need to imbibe a change of attitude and equally embrace a new mindset towards road use adding that a culture of road maintenance should also be imbibed because roads are not meant to last forever.
He said: “Essentially, we have adhered before the House Committee and they have agreed to harmonise some of the things that we have shared with them but what should interest Your Excellency is that there has been a gap, no doubt about how we had managed our roads ourselves.
“There is the need to institutionalise the maintenance of road assets but much more importantly, there is the need for increased awareness and advocacy for users of our road assets that roads are not permanent assets in that way. They are wearing assets, they are assets that diminish once we start to use them and so from the day the road is opened and we start to ply it, it begins to deteriorate and therefore not only must we maintain them, we must use them carefully, we must use them consciously with the intent to get the best out of it.
“We welcome the idea of creating a roads fund; we also welcome the idea of creating a maintenance agency but we think and this will be detail of the substance of the presentation that I will make. We think that all the recommendations that have been made for maintenance should be embodied in the agency that government has already created – FERMA. Repeal the existing FERMA law, re-enact it and put all of the new things we want to create inside it instead of creating a new agency because FERMA was set up for maintenance in the very first place.
“It has acquired the name, it has acquired the brand, we can build on that brand instead of creating a new brand. People who manage brands like this change their drinks but they don’t change their names; that for me is the real meat of FERMA. There has been a toll policy already in Nigeria since the Federal Highways Act in 1971 with deployed tools but for some reasons, we stopped it. In other to attract the investment that will enable us achieve private capital in infrastructure, two things for me are very instructive:
“The first is the cultural change from my existing mindset and our experience at sub-national and at national level is that every time private capital comes into infrastructure public works, there is a sense in which rights are agitated; court actions are taken, injunctions are taken in a way that is incompatible with commercial expediency and therefore investors are reluctant.
“The politics of our response to this kind of situation where political party was campaigning that once you elect us we would cancel the toll, we don’t like to hear that and I think that within our national parliament, we must inscribe that as a position of consistency whether it is party white or black.”
In his opening remark, Chairman, Senate Committee on Works, Senator Kabiru Gaya,
said the committee was excited about the public hearing because it was dictated by the drive to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, noting that “infrastructure provides the backbone for national prosperity, growth and development.”
Furthermore, Gaya said infrastructural “facilitates transport and ultimately boost the health and education of the people that enables the economy to flourish. For instance, it is impossible to have an effective healthcare system with emergency evacuation when the roads are bad.”
He lamented that “for long, the Nigerian people have been at the receiving end of our dilapidated infrastructure. It has also increased the cost of doing business and continues to slow down economic growth.”
In his remark, Senate President Bukola Saraki who declared the hearing open, regretted that the nation’s roads have failed to serve as the effective avenues for movement of goods and services as a result of their bad state.
“However, the federal roads are our interstate highways that ensure that we can move goods and services to different parts of the country. Unfortunately, our federal roads are largely dilapidated and have been unable to serve effectively as economic artery on which the development of the country and general wellbeing of Nigerians must depend for the most part. Apart from paucity of funds and poor implementation of the approved budget these past years, there are many other challenges that have bedevilled its effective development,” Saraki said.