By Emma Amaize,
Regional Editor, South-South
MINISTER of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, came face-to-face with the eyesores that are federal roads in the South-South geopolitical zone during his four-day tour from last Thursday till Sunday. From Cross River to Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo and Delta states, the total collapse of federal roads stared him in the face but he gave indication of the Federal Government’s resolve to turn things around. Though a pithy stopover, Fashola came prepared in a rugged Jeans attire and cap to evaluate the situation himself. The left-handed minister scribbled when necessary as he listened sincerely to points raised by stakeholders.
The minister declared that under the new dispensation, payment for contracts would be based on certificates presented for completed jobs. To facilitate the new deal, he said his ministry was already liaising with the National Assembly for approval of a bulk payment system for completed jobs and solicited the assistance of state governors and National Assembly members from the zone to firm up the arrangement.
His first assurance to governors, who have waited endlessly for the federal government on the irritating problem of refund of money they spent on federal roads in their domains, was that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was on the verge of paying the money. He disclosed that the Bureau for Public Procurement had certified the money and his ministry was basically waiting for the final approval of the Federal Executive Council, FEC. The governors said they believed in his competence and informed him unmistakably that they were waiting for him to deliver.
In his interaction with the contractors, the minister was noticeably interested in knowing their challenges and number of locals engaged. He took time to interact with some of the workers to verify the claim of the contractors. Fashola in several instances during the visit also took on- the- spot decisions and gave directives on the way forward regarding some of the projects. He also took note of a contractor who rushed to the site in one of the states, apparently to pull the wool over his eyes and sternly warned that the new administration would not tolerate such meddling.
…In Cross River
In Akwa-Ibom state, where the deputy governor, Prof Ivara Esu received the minister on behalf of his boss, Governor Ben Ayade, who was inescapably absent Fashola acquainted him: “We are here to assess the state of federal roads in Cross River state in fulfillment of the intervention of the 2016 budget.” His word to the governor and other governors of the region he visited was that the federal government was not in competition with them on the provision of roads and other projects.
He maintained that the federal government only wanted to collaborate with them to improve the lots of the masses. He also enjoined them to take the different Controllers of Works and Housing in their states as ambassadors of the federal government in their states and extend the same cooperation they would accord him to them.
Prof Esu did not, however, hesitate to tell the minister that federal roads in the state were a write-off, saying: “We are virtually trapped, people sleep on the road during the rainy season, trailers fall across the road on daily basis, your controller has painted a smooth picture of things, and he said that contractors have been mobilized to site, but I do not see the contractors myself.” He entreated the minister not to depart the state without imprinting the Fashola signature, which represents improved infrastructure and paradise Truly, the Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja road is an existing proof of a tumbledown highway. The contractor, Sermatech Nigeria Limited, told the minister about his funding challenges, saying he had only been paid N45 million out of the expected N1.3 billion mobilization fee since 2015.
Fashola, who observed that the job would not be completed, this year, the way it was going promised to address the matter, but in the intervening period, he urged the Controller of Works and Commissioner for Works in the state to put heads together with the contractor and come up with a feasible work plan for his ministry’s intervention on the critical portions to make the road motorable during the rainy season.
As experienced daily by other motorists, who spend hours waiting on the road under similar circumstances, the minister could not proceed further on inspection of the other end of the road because a vehicle fell across the expressway.
…In Akwa Ibom
At Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom state, when he observed that the pilot vehicles in his entourage were blowing siren, he ordered the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC officials to discontinue, arguing that they were endangering the lives of other road users by chasing them out the road in the process. He maintained that he as an individual was not more Nigerian than any other citizens and nobody should disturb them on the road.
There was no dull moment with the minister throughout the trip, as he joked about his officials and journalists, and the churches in the various communities that outnumbered classrooms. He also expressed concern at many turbines that were not working all over the country because of the vandalization of gas pipelines by militants.
Governor Emmanuel Udom did not hide his feelings about federal projects in the state. He told the minister that as far as the people were concerned, there was no federal presence in his state. In reality, most good portions of federal roads in the state were those rehabilitated by the state government, which it was awaiting refund, but the minister assured him that the federal government would soon kick off its national housing programme in the state.
Windy journey to Rivers
From Akwa Ibom to Rivers, the minister inspected the Ikot Ekpene-Aba road in Akwa Ibom and Abia states enroute the ongoing Port-Harcourt-Aba road rehabilitation project and met a catastrophe at Umuokpo community, where the road had completely broken down, making it practically impossible for vehicles to pass through.
Before the minister took a bush path snaking through a nearby Umuakuma village in Obiangwa local government area, Abia state, where youths mounted a blockade, which policemen in the minister’s entourage dismantled before Fashola could pass, Umuokpo community leader, High Chief Micah Ohajuruka, told him how the road came to the sorry plight.
He blamed the contractors for bypassing a natural water drainage system on the road, but the minister, who listened patiently to his explanation, told him that the flood problem would not be solved overnight. Fashola assured him that the ministry would take up the matter in 2018. While not ruling out a palliative this year, because of the rainy season, he appointed Ohajuruka as his “supervisor” in the area and gave him his complimentary card to call him at anytime to make any report.
At the Port-Harcourt-Aba expressway being handled by CCECC Nigeria Limited, the minister expressed satisfaction with the pace of work. The contractor told him that 83 Nigerians were engaged on the project and he spoke with one of them, a graduate, to confirm the claim.
He also inspected the Bodo-Bonny Bridge project, where he promised that federal government would ensure that contractors conform to environmental regulations. Bodo-Bonny Bridge project was initially awarded to Gitto, but abandoned due to lack of funding. The project, which costs N120, 618,308,882.49 has now been re-awarded to Julius Berger Berger Plc, which is expected to move equipment to site at the end of the month
At Government House, Port-Harcourt, the deputy governor, Dr. Ipalibo Harry Banigo, who stood in for Gov Nyesom Wike, also bemoaned lack of adequate federal presence in the state and called for assistance in the area of security transmission lines for the sub stations constructed by the state government.
At Bayelsa state, the home of the immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the governor, Seriake Dickson, who also expressed confidence in Fashola’s capacity to perform, said there was not much to write home about the federal government presence in the state
Fashola, who inspected the Kolo-Okaki roads, assured that the Buhari government would provide funds for the completion, stressing that the ministry was also collaborating with the Ministry of Niger Delta to ensure the completion of the East-West Road.
Dickson told him: “If there is any minister I will like to take round Bayelsa, it is you, because you have the capacity to handle the ministries under your care. The state government supported the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), Shell Petroleum Development Commission, (SPDC) with N3 billion in the Nembe Road, which has been completed. Bayelsa is ready to collaborate with the federal government in any form, because we have been left behind in terms of development,” he said.
Gully erosion scare in Edo
In Edo state, where he was received by the deputy governor, Mr. Philip Shaibu, the minister expressed worries about the bad portion of Ekpoma axis of the Benin-Lokoja highway and the emerging gully at Ikpoba Hill, Benin City, vowing to commence work immediately. “I have received recommendations about the failed portions of the Ekpoma axis of the road. I have asked them to get money for the contractor to do full reconstruction of the bad portions instead of patching it up which will wear away soon. As soon as we get money, the contractor will come back on site,” he said.
The deputy governor called the attention of the minister to the dilapidated portions of the Ehor-Benin section, which Fashola promised immediate intervention. Saturday Vanguard observed that the rampaging gully if not checked was capable of cutting off the busy road.
… In Delta
The minister inspected the dualization of Sapele-Ewu road, Sapele –Agbor, emergency repairs on Warri-Sapele road and others, calling on the benefitting communities to support the contractors handling the projects to ensure prompt completion.
The Sapele-Agbor Road was flagged off by last administration, but was not funded.
For the Sapele –Ewu road, it has been a battleground for some time now between two federal and state lawmakers over who actually influenced the project. While sources close to Senator Ovie Omo Agege, representing Delta Central senatorial district, who was on site to receive the minister, claimed it was his project, Hon Evance Ivwurie, representing Ethiope East constituency in the state House of Assembly said otherwise. Whoever was responsible, works were in progress when Fashola came and he also drove through the Delta-Kaima–Ugheli road to evaluate the situation before leaving the state.