…East-West, Benin-Sapele, other strategic roads top priority

Hopes are on the rise among Nigerians that rehabilitation and reconstruction of the largely deplorable network of federal highways across the country’s 36 states and Abuja will resume soon – and that this time the government will put its foot down to ensure quality project delivery.

These hopes are hinged on the recent comments coming from Minister of Works, David Umahi, more especially as the seasonal rains draw to a close, national budgeting for year 2024 kicks off, and the structure of contract issuance comes up for review.

Umahi and his principal, President Bola Tinubu, have been releasing soundbites into the public space regarding urgency, quality, innovation and enhanced supervision in addressing the repair and extension of roads going forward.

The minister recently revealed that President Tinubu had approved that contracts be issued for several critical road projects, including the troubled East-West Road, Benin-Sapele Road, among others.

This was sequel to strident outcries, especially from governors of many of Nigeria’s 36 states, as well as members of the legislature, concerning the state of federal roads across the country and the attendant consequences.

The Nigerian Observer had earlier listed some of the roads requiring urgent attention to include the East-West Road in the oil-producing Niger Delta, Benin-Auchi Road, Sapele-Benin Road, Benin-Ore Road, especially the Ovia Bridge stretch, Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, Onitsha-Owerri Road, among many others.

Some state governors had ventured into the rehabilitation of particularly bad sections of federal roads traversing their states to facilitate the movement of commuters and the haulage of goods.

Analysts say improved road infrastructure across Nigeria will help to reduce road accidents, boost trade and commerce, job creation, minimise the percentage of farm produce spoilage en route markets on account of bad roads, and lower the cost of food and other goods to market as a result of lower transport costs, the growth of industries on account of cheaper and speedy delivery of raw materials, as well as the distribution of finished products, among others.

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Umahi has also said road contracts would henceforth be fragmented and issued to many more companies and that more concrete would be added to the mix to ensure better quality and guarantee project completion and the meeting of project deadlines.

The minister spoke of the need to transform the manner of road contract issuance, recalling the disturbing occurrence of contractors taking on multiple road projects without the necessary equipment and capacity to start or conclude them within the stated timeframes.

He said completion of contracts was often delayed owing to the propensity of contractors to take on several road projects that they did not have the equipment to tackle.

“This has led to delays and sometimes abandonment of projects across the country. This needs to change so that the renewed hope of the Tinubu-led administration can reach and benefit the people,” he said.

Earlier this month, Umahi had directed contractors working on Nigerian roads to stop using laterite in road construction but to, instead, use lumps, sharp sand and stone base to form the base before laying of concrete or asphalt pavement.

At the inauguration of the committees for the supervision of the reconstruction of Benin-Warri dual carriageway and the dualisation of East-West Road, Port Harcourt-Onne Port Junction Road in Rivers State, the minister said that laterite had a limited loa-bearing capacity and was also susceptible to erosion and weathering, especially in areas with heavy rainfall, which could lead to degradation of the road surface overtime.

“We are giving very serious attention to the roads between Benin and Warri. The road between Eleme and Onne Port, we are mindful of the site conditions of these roads, the water conditions and the boreholes instead of potholes on these roads. No more laterite; contractors are now to use lumps, sharp sand and stone base in place of laterite,” he said.

He, however, explained that the Federal Government was not at war with contractors, but urged the contractors not to put the public to suffering.

“Proper daily supervision and documentation of what the contractor is doing is compulsory. They must ensure the new method of construction is followed and maintenance follows too because it is part of the elements of the contract and any offence is punishable,” he said.