In its determination to unlock the economy, the Buhari administration is tackling headlong the challenges of transportation, writes ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE
The sector witnessed unprecedented activities across all the modes – road, water and air – last year.
State of roads
The Federal Government took off last January by reviewing the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, approving N134 billion to accommodate more features on some sections of this critical artery in the road architecture. The government announced the extension of the deadline for the delivery of the road from 2018 to 2020. The repairs started in 2006.
The Federal Government pursued the completion of 44 highways, 66 interstate roads and 45 bridges scattered across 34 states, which were awarded in 2017. But last year, it awarded close to 60 roads, bridges and highways, which cut across 12 states – Yobe, Adamawa, Benue, Kwara, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Edo, Enugu, Borno, Anambra and Sokoto, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola.
The ministry had a N555.9 billion budget last year; out of which N295 billion was earmarked for key capital projects, and the funding of road construction, expansion and maintenance.
The Federal Government also approved N5.44 billion for the construction of the Otukpo (Benue State) and Enugu road, as well as N348.59 billion for the Akwanga – Jos-Bauchi – Gombe road expansion which cover 420.6 kilometres.
The road, according to Fashola, completes the integration of the Northcentral with the Southeast and the Northeast.
“Council had previously approved the Abuja-Keffi Road and the Akwanga-Lafia-Makurdi Road – all in the Northcentral. In May, Council had also approved Nineth Mile, Enugu to Makurdi road that connected the Southeast to the Northcentral.
“That completes the spine of the major movement of agro produce and other related produce,” Fashola disclosed.
The ministry in October received N100 billion proceeds from Sukuk bonds subscription to fund repairs of 25 key economic road projects across the six geo-political zones.
Fashola, who disclosed that the worst road networks in the country were located in the Southsouth and Southeast geo-political zones declared that the Federal Government would change the narratives and deliver these road projects on time, in view of the high traffic usually recorded at the end of the year.
These are apart from the $1.5 million African Development Bank loan approved for the Lagos-Abidjan road project, which, according to the Minister of Finance Zainab Ahmed, was Nigeria’s allocation of the $13.5 million approved for the multinational highway, which involves Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire.
According to Fashola, this is outside the N63.023 billion approved last November by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the construction of the Lagos-Badagry-Seme border Expressway and the $575.5million awarded to Julius Berger, for the construction of the 11.9 km link road to the second Niger Bridge.
Fashola said the government had embarked on massive rehabilitation and construction in response to the critical situation of the road network.
Though Nigeria has 108,000 km surfaced roads as at 1990, largest road network in West Africa and second largest, south of the Sahara, it has battled decaying infrastructure.
The minister believes the administration is doing so much with much less, underscoring the regime’s penchant for prudence in the public sector.
Though the nation still battles with massive underfunding of the waterways, the government has made appreciable investments in the provision of water ambulance across the waterways to prevent fatalities. The government, through the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), has embarked on aggressive enlightenment to drive home the need for voluntary compliance with regulatory codes by all operators on the waterways.
But, perhaps, more significant is the readiness of NIWA to begin the operation of its strategic inland ports, such as the Baro River Port in Niger State, the flagship port in the North, which despite the huge investments, were rendered unusable by lack of motorable roads.
The port, which is being equipped with top of the range cargo handling equipment, would soon be inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari. The inland port would reduce the pressure on Lagos ports as cargoes for the Northern parts of the country may find their way there quickly.
NIWA Managing Director Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora said he was determined to steer the agency towards the path of efficiency as he is determined to improve NIWA’s effectiveness as the regulator on the waterways. He expressed readiness to work with other state agencies in driving sanity into all operators on the waterways in order to reduce the level of accidents and deaths.
He expressed the hope that operators would soon begin to deploy safer and better water craft to the water way to enhance safety, profitability and efficiency on the water.
Though the concessioning of the narrow gauge to the United States’ (US’s) industrial giant General Electric (GE) ran into stormy waters, when it announced its divestment from transportation, the Buhari government, however, insisted the concessioning remains on course as it has resumed discussion with the GE’s major partner Transnet International.
The deal is to address sundry issues, such as refleeting of the fixed and rolling stocks of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), which upon the ratification of the concession deed operate as the regulator of the subsector.
While it firms up negotiations on ensuring smooth operations on its narrow gauge asset, the Federal Government in 2017 began work on the Lagos Ibadan Standard Gauge. The $1.7 billion project, which is the second Lot on the Western line, which is to construct a standard gauge rail line from Lagos to Kano, is penciled to be delivered within the first quarter of 2019.
When done, passenger and cargo traffic would be able to move from the Ports to Ibadan on a speed train that could connect the two southwest states within one hour.
The Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi, who has been driving the construction, awarded to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), said the government envisages high subscription of the train service, especially as the speed rail cuts across several border towns of Lagos, Ogun and Oyo States.
He said the train service will proceed on the final lot – Ibadan to Kano – once the contractor delivers on the Lagos-Ibadan this year.
Amaechi, whose ministry disbursed N263.7 billion last year, said the government intends to link at least all the state capitals by rail before 2023, adding that once the government accesses funds, work would also begin on the Lagos-Calabar coastal rail line, even as work, according to him, would also start soon on the construction of speed rail line on the eastern flank, from port Harcourt to Maiduguri. He said narrow gauge train connects up to Gombe, and could have hit Borno, but for the prevailing insecurity.
The National Assembly has been instrumental to the increasing government’s activity on the transport sector. No fewer than six inhibiting laws are in various stages of amendments. The Nigerian Railway Corporation Act 1945 amendment Bill, is awaiting concurrent amendment from the House of Representatives, even as others, such as the Nigeria Transportation Commission Bill, which seeks to establish a regulator for the transportation sector is awaiting second reading at the National Assembly, the Nigerian Shippers Council Amendment Bill, and the Nigeria Ports Authority Amendment Bills are also are at various stages before the National Assembly.
Senate Committee Chairman on Land Transport Senator Gbenga Ashafa assured the National Assembly would strive to remove all bottlenecks towards ensuring that the transportation contributes maximally to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Ashafa insisted that seamless transportation remains the bedrock of any economy, adding that this cannot be achieved where obnoxious laws, or absence of it impedes the operations of the sector.
From sustaining the gains of its predecessor on the railway transformation agenda, the government moved towards the reinvigoration of the 25-year railway development policy. This policy not only sustained the rehabilitation of the narrow gauge, but embarks on modernisation of the rail system by standard gauge.
The development of other transportation modes – waterways, road and air – remains the way to go if the nation is to break the jinx where the sector contributes the least (four percent) to GDP.