Monday, 9 May 2016

On the roads Nigeria needs

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

Given the scale of the challenges facing Nigeria over infrastructure and Babatunde Fashola’s unique position in which he has been saddled with fixing it on the three most critical fronts, it is understandable if the Minister of Power, Works and Housing sometimes seems overwhelmed. When he said at a town hall meeting in Lagos the other day that the Federal Government needs about N2.0 trillion to complete no fewer than 226 on-going road projects across the country, he sounded just as exasperated as he did in an earlier statement during one of the 2016 budget defence sessions, that the government was indebted to road contractors to the tune of N1.0 trillion, in respect of over 200 on-going road projects in the country. There is so much to do but so little money available for the task.

Even so, for such a man of rigour with painstaking attention to details as Fashola, ‘’over 200 on-going projects’’ and ‘’ no fewer than 226 projects’’ or the amount of government’s indebtedness for on-going projects at N1 trillion while about N2 trillion would be required for the completion of the still on-going projects, advertises a certain inexactitude that gives little room for a full appreciation of the real state of things. Not the minister’s fault though. These gaps would have been bridged if the government had emplaced a Federal Roads Authority, which has variously been recommended, to deal with road-related issues. Now is the time to establish that authority.

Glaring evidence that there exists not yet a comprehensive and complete information on the scope of the on-going road projects and the financial out-lay needed to see them through, it can easily be deduced from the budgetary proposal of a mere N423 billion for Fashola’s three-arm ministry: power, works and housing. Graciously, the National Assembly moved his budget by N77 billion to N500 billion, an amount certainly inadequate for the enormity of the work that needs to be done.

It important to emphasise that road infrastructure is very crucial to effective and productive socio-economic activities in this country, especially in the face of absence or poor availability of better and cheaper alternatives. The state of the nation’s roads is intolerably disgraceful. It is a well-known fact that there has been no greater killing field than the roads as many citizens have lost their lives principally as a result of their dilapidated state. The nation’s economic and productive business activities have significantly been frustrated as a result of the bad roads and the toll on the overall economy is immeasurable.
Suffice to say that road cannot be treated as another infrastructure but as an economic and national security asset.

To arrive at road infrastructure that the nation can be proud of would require proper understanding of the present situation, proper planning and funding plus an aggressive implementation of such plans. The need for the establishment of enduring road standards and enforcing them is also imperative. When proven that a contractor has failed to keep to standards, payment should be denied. These days in Nigeria, unlike in the pre-independence and up to the mid-1980s, roads newly constructed or rehabilitated become dilapidated just after one rainy season.

Given the current revenue squeeze and the huge capital needed to fix the roads, the Nigerian government should be creative in determining how it can pay off existing debts to road contractors, complete the on-going road projects and initiate new ones. Examples of areas worth considering or reconsidering include: well structured private-public partnerships, build and operate arrangements, low-cost long-term financing from multi-lateral financial and development institutions, and re-establishment of the toll gate system with excellent controls to check leakages. Of course, private organisations can collaborate under joint venture arrangements to build or maintain roads.

Further from the foregoing is the need to ensure good governance practices in the award, execution, supervision, monitoring, certification and payment of contracts. These will go a long way in checking corruptive tendencies, cost over-runs, contract abandonment and failures as well as poor quality performance by contractors. The private sector stakeholders will also assist in managing cost effectively and ensuring value is received for money spent.

In the final analysis, to save citizens from the agony of inadequate and poor or non-functional road infrastructure being experienced all over the country, the nation should strategically commence the development of an integrated functional transportation system covering road, rail, water and air. Well planned and executed, this promises to profoundly improve current conditions especially by providing convenient alternatives at affordable cost, to the people.

Fashola’s capacity to do a good job is not in doubt but the financials can make the most astute of managers a failure. Government must therefore be creative in finding non-burdensome ways to pay its debts to road contractors and ensure the completion of on-going projects if mere lamentations would not continue.

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