The federal government should find innovative ways to tackle the challenge of collapsing road infrastructure across the country

The deplorable state of federal roads came into focus a fortnight ago when two bridges linking the northern and western parts of the country collapsed. Situated in Tatatu and Bokani villages in Mokwa Local Government Area of Niger State, the bridges succumbed to a massive flood, forcing commuters to ply the longer Minna/Suleja/Lokoja route for those heading west, and the Ilorin/Kabba/Lokoja Road for those going to the North. Barely a week after the Mokwa incident, another bridge in Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State gave way, cutting off commuters from Yola, the state capital. Both incidents were indicative of the poor state of federal roads nationwide. Poor funding and endemic corruption are the obvious culprits.

Whereas federal road infrastructure deficit was estimated at N2 trillion as at 2015, being the debts to contractors for 266 roads awarded by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the succeeding Muhammadu Buhari administration has been unable to meet the massive funding requirements to redress the situation. Unfortunately, at a time the federal government should be looking for a solution to such a critical challenge, the National Assembly and the Minister with the responsibility for roads, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, were engaged in bickering and name-calling. That in itself was emblematic of the decay the nation now experiences in practically all sectors.

With its N200 billion and N311 billion sectoral alloca tions in the 2016 and 2017 budgets respectively, it is clear that Nigerians are in for a long walk as line appropriations are hugely inadequate to tackle the problem on the ground. It follows, therefore, that the federal government needs to find innovative solutions to close the yawing finance gap in the sector that is so critical to the growth and development of the national economy.

The Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration had actually started concession as a funding strategy, setting up the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) as a regulatory body. Under President Jonathan, the federal government concessioned the 105- kilometre Lagos-Ibadan Expressway under its Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme to Bi-Courtney Consortium in 2009 for N89.53 billion for 25 years, a model which he promised would be replicated to increase private sector participation in the development of the road sector. In fact, 2,207.4 kilometres, out of its 36,000 kilometres of Trunk ‘A’ roads and bridges across the country, were earmarked for such concession. But the idea hit the rocks when Bi-Courtney could not come up with the funds to undertake the project, forcing the government to cancel the arrangement.

However, it has become necessary for the arrangement to be reviewed with a view to fine-tuning the rough edges of what we consider a workable strategy for reducing the financial burden of rebuilding our collapsing road infrastructure. The National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) recently proposed a road tax collectible from road users, estimating that the policy would generate in the neighbourhood of N100 billion per annum. Ironically, the idea was jettisoned by the National Assembly for the reintroduction of petroleum road tax that had failed in the past to achieve its objective of providing captive fund for road construction. We urge the federal government to take a second look at the NIPSS proposal.

Finally, we believe that some of the federal roads should be handed over to states for rehabilitation and maintenance as the current situation calls for a more serious and honest approach. Interestingly, a couple of states, including Lagos and Kaduna, have clamoured for this. We note, however, that one of the major causes of road failure in Nigeria is the shoddy jobs done by contractors who in a bid to maximise profit use inferior materials. To make matters worse, government officials whose duty it is to supervise and approve the roads, often look the other way as they approve the inauguration of poorly finished projects, after collecting kick-back from contractors.

If the federal government is therefore serious about revamping the road infrastructure in Nigeria, there must also be a serious commitment to transparency and accountability.

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We believe that some of the federal roads should be handed over to states for rehabilitation and maintenance as the current situation calls for a more serious and honest approach