SATURDAY THE FRONTLINES
By Joseph Ushigiale
Have you been to Apapa recently? If you haven’t, I’ve some cheery news for you. There is a glimmer of hope finally at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to Alhaji Aliko Dangote whose construction arm of his group of companies has completed and reopened the section of the road beginning from Leventis right into the port area. It is easier today to literally glide seamlessly on this road to the Wharf area now than when it used to be a nightmare.
Even with this cheery news, if Apapa route is to further reduce travel time and ease the current traffic snarls, both the federal government and Julius Berger need to take urgent action by re-opening the Apapa-Ijora bridge to commuters. Since April this year when the federal government announced, through the federal ministry of works, the closure of Apapa-Ijora Bridge for what it termed ‘quick repair works’ by Julius Berger, commuters plying that route heaved a sigh of relief. About seven months later, expectations of relief have turned to nightmare and impunity of unimaginable kind.
To begin with, the stretch of road that is causing commuters so much hardship and for which both the federal government and Julius Berger are turning deaf ears to people’s sufferings on a daily basis is about one tenth of a kilometer. It is unfathomable that such a minuscule stretch of road would pose a major rehabilitation problem to a construction giant like Julius Berger such that seven months after mobilizing to site, work is yet to be completed.
To worsen issues, there appears to be no tangible sign of construction activities going on there but the road had been blocked to traffic since April this year. At press time, no one knows for sure when the contractor would round up its work and reopen the road to traffic.
It is a shame how contractors with the active connivance of government officials subject Nigerians to avoidable hardship on a daily basis. It is perhaps only in Nigeria that you use tax payers money to pay a contractor to inflict impunity on your people. If this road were to be awarded by the German government to Julius Berger, I bet this road would be delivered in a few days if not hours. So why can’t Nigerians enjoy the same service delivery?
In other countries where people are held accountable, no contractor would dare shut down a road for this long to traffic simply because it wants to rehabilitate one tenth of a kilometer. I’ll give a few examples. In 2001, as part of an Ebonyi state delegation to Israel, we landed Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv under severe freezing temperature.
As we boarded the waiting coaches enroute Jerusalem, an announcement came over the public address system that our trip to Jerusalem would be put forward by a day. The announcer informed us that after about three years’ drought, it finally rained throughout the previous day across the country leading to flooding in some strategic areas. He went on to disclose that flood water had swept off a major portion of the road leading to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and that alternative and temporary accommodation had been arranged for us in Tel Aviv to spend the night.
The following day at exactly 9 am, we boarded the coach and drove towards Jerusalem. As we approached the particular portion that was swept off by the floods, the driver stopped and we alighted to inspect the freshly reconstructed road that was achieved with 48 hours. We didn’t meet neither laterite dump, empty cement bags, cranes, dumpster nor any road maintenance equipment on that site as is usually the case here in Nigeria.
Another remarkable experience was in April this year during my trip to Italy. I had a medical appointment with a doctor in Cagliari and as we drove into the town with my guide, I saw construction vehicles neatly packed to the right hand side of the road according to the activity each piece of machinery was to perform in the road rehabilitation process. Illuminated beacons were erected alerting commuters of on-going road construction ahead and alternative routes to take.
We drove through the road at about 9 am on this particular day. I spent a night at the hospital facility and left at 2 pm the next day. But as we drove back heading towards Oristano, I pointed out to my guide that it appears we missed our way, he said no and that we were on track and asked me why I thought we missed our way? I told him that I had not sighted those trucks working on the side of the road yesterday. He laughed and pointed out that we were not in Nigeria and that we just drove through the same road.
The road was brimming with a brand new surface overlay complete with drainage, markers etc. He told me that the feat was achievable because the company worked through the night. Why can’t we replicate this sort of practice in Nigeria? It would not only save cost, lives, reduce the man hours lost sitting in avoidable traffic snarls and increase productivity and business activities.
The federal government through the relevant ministries and agencies including road construction contractors should learn from these global trends and come up with relevant policies that would set new parameters for road construction in the country. Contractors, handling major road construction should be given timelines and compelled to work even at night to meet these timelines and discourage fraudulent contract variations.
Efforts should also be made to save Nigerians this current reign of impunity where a small portion of road is shut to traffic for countless months without recourse to what commuters are passing through daily and the huge cost on the economy. Meanwhile, the question to both the federal ministry of works and Julius Berger is: when would the bridge re-open to traffic?
Kudos to Dangote Group
Why commuters are still groaning under the yoke of impunity imposed on them by Julius Berger, we must salute Dangote Group for a remarkable intervention on the Apapa Port road. It is unbelievable that a local construction firm could deliver such quality job and in record time while glorified foreign contractors are holding Nigerians to ransom.
I don’t know the terms and conditions accompanying Dangote’s intervention on the road; although I suspect it could be part of his corporate social responsibility contribution to the society. Whatever it is, Dangote needs to be supported. Given the quality job that his construction company has been able to deliver within a short time span, the federal government should consider patronising and supporting him in the spirit of the local content act as well as encourage local companies that exhibit such high level of competence and can do spirit. We could gradually begin a steady policy of empowering local contractors like Dangote that have capacity to perform to form the nucleus of our own Nigerian construction brand to create employment opportunities for our youths, provide platform for skills acquisition and conserve foreign exchange.
After all, Dangote is pioneering a ground breaking innovation by building roads with cement from start to finish. This raw material is localized and would save us huge foreign exchange. A road contract for Dangote would save the country capital flight, keep our money home, grow our economy and create more jobs. It’s a win-win situation.