November 30, 2012 by Editorial (THE PUNCH)
THE weekly Federal Executive Council meetings usually convened to discuss pressing national matters have in recent years been practically reduced to a rendezvous for the dispensing of contracts, especially road contracts. There is hardly any FEC meeting where awards of new contracts for the various federal roads scattered across the country are not announced. Even old contracts are sometimes reviewed and variations carried out in line with inflationary trends.
One good example is the N176 billion set of road construction contracts approved at the FEC meeting of November 22, presided over by Vice-President Namadi Sambo, in the absence of President Goodluck Jonathan. The contracts cover the dualisation of the Lokoja-Okene-Auchi-Benin Road; the Gasua-Bayamari Road linking Yobe and Borno states; and the Suleija-Abuja Road. The Kano-Maiduguri Road contract, awarded six years ago but not executed, was reviewed and augmented from N172 billion to N285 billion, while the Calabar-Ugep, Ogoja-Katsina Ala Road contract was also augmented and approved, among others.
Another of such contracts is the one for the dualisation of the East-West Road. Although not a recent contract, as it was first awarded in 2006 for N204 billion, it has now been reportedly augmented to N349.8 billion, with the completion date fixed for December 2014. The recent flooding of some parts of the country was said to have adversely affected the work so far done on the road. There are so many other road construction contracts that have gulped billions of naira or, when put together, could even be up to trillions. A report says between August 2011 and June 2012, the Jonathan government dished out N927 billion worth of contracts.
Yet, most roads in the country have become death traps. The roads have remained in a most deplorable state because they have either been abandoned by contractors or have been allowed to fall into an extreme state of disrepair, thus rendering them barely usable.
In many parts of the country, especially during the rainy seasons, poorly-done roads are readily washed away by torrential rain, thus forcing motorists to have recourse to detours which exact far longer periods of time on journeys that would ordinarily have taken much shorter times.
Among roads that are seriously in need of repairs are the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway and Onitsha-Enugu Road that have been eaten up by erosion. Travellers on the Shagamu-Ore-Benin Road have been undergoing untold hardship for more than a decade now because of the decrepit state of the road. They are often victims of robberies and rapes that are precipitated by the need to slow down at dangerous spots on the road. There were reports a few years ago of a lorry that ran over night travellers after they were ordered by robbers out of their luxury bus and asked to lie down on the road. Some schoolchildren returning to Lagos on holidays were also allegedly raped recently when their vehicle broke down, again as a result of the poor state of the road.
The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, arguably the singular most economically important stretch of road in the country, was recently re-awarded to Julius Berger Plc and RCC Nigeria Limited after Bi-Courtney Highway Services was accused of failing to keep its own part of a concession agreement. The road, for close to two decades now, has been responsible for scenes of ghastly accidents, resulting in avoidable deaths. In July, a retired Brigadier General in the Nigerian Army, Sylvester Iruh, was murdered by marauding Fulani herdsmen as he was trying to change his tyre damaged due to the poor state of the road.
There is no doubt that, given the number of road contracts awarded by the government, Nigerian commuters should be enjoying very smooth rides wherever they may be going. That this has not been so means there is a lot that is wrong with the way contract awards are monitored and executed in these parts of the world. The House of Representatives is investigating a N2.3 billion road contract awarded since 2001 but abandoned. Another set of road contracts valued at N6.8 billion was revoked by the Federal Government in November. Altogether, the Federal Government is grappling with 12, 000 abandoned projects worth N7.8 trillion.
Experience has shown that some of the contracts go to companies with no demonstrable capacity for the execution of such jobs. In the name of empowering indigenous companies, contracts have been awarded to companies that have just collected the money and walked away. Others have managed to get away with shoddy jobs because government engineers monitoring them have been compromised. It is not just enough to dole out money. Contracts awarded must be closely monitored to ensure that taxpayers’ money is judiciously invested to bring the road infrastructure to reasonable and acceptable levels.
Contractors who fail to execute their contracts satisfactorily should be persuaded to return to site and, if they fail to do so, should be arrested and prosecuted. At all times, contracts for important roads should always go to proven and competent hands; not necessarily to the lowest bidder but to those who will deliver the goods. It is high time the billions announced at the FEC meetings started transforming into concrete and verifiable projects.