Achievements and challenges of roads in Nigeria (1)

nigerian roadNIGERIA is a large country with the longest network of roads of any country in Africa. Road statistics are not up to date but there are 36,000 kilometres of federal roads linking every part of the country. There are 30,000 kilometres of states’ roads and 85,000 kilometres of local government roads. At the 1982 National Council of Works Meeting held in Minna, Niger State, the Council approved route identification symbols for federal, state and local government roads. With private roads and an ever-expanding network in towns, the total length of all roads in Nigeria is put at 200,000 kilometres. This extensive length of roads poses challenges for funding, maintenance and management.

Roads are important for communications, social integration and economic development. In Nigeria where the road accounts for more than 90% of the movement of people, goods and services, the road network is essential for national security as roads are of strategic importance for the movement of troops. In the United States, some routes are designated as Defence Access Highways.

Prior to Independence in 1960, the length of 11,000 kilometres were constructed to link every part of Nigeria. The three regions at the time, and later 12 states in 1976, constructed their respective network of roads. However, for the Third National Development Plan Period, (1975-80), the Federal Military Government took over 17000 kilometres of roads from the 12 states at the time, bringing the network to 28,000 kilometres considered to be of strategic importance for social integration, economic development and defence access.

The Federal Government took bold steps to develop the interstate network to international standards. The ambitious construction programme involved 239 highway projects, consisting of 13,000 kilometres of new construction, 5,000 kilometres of asphaltic concrete overlay, and six major dual carriageway bridges with a combined length of 8,053 metres over five rivers (Niger, Benue, Cross and Katsina Ala). It also included completion of the design of the 11000 kilometres of original federal highways, and the development of one-third of the 17000 kilometres (taken from the states) to federal standards. The road development programmes would be financed exclusively from extraction from Government and foreign loans from international development agencies, such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. It was the golden age of road construction in Nigeria. However, by 1980, with the downturn in the global economy and unavoidable inflation, many of the road projects could not be completed due to lack of funds.

Nigeria received international acclaim for the road development. At the 1984 International Road Federation World Meeting in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, the Coordinating Director of Federal Highways, Engineer Ifeanyi Osili, received the Man of the Year Award for Nigeria’s achievements in road development. It was recognition for his Nation and his team of Engineer Obosi (Design), Engineer Okin (Planning), Engineer Otobo (Construction) and Engineer Olugbekan (Maintenance). In the citation, it was stated that Nigeria was the only country that had completed the sections of the three Trans-African Highways within her borders: Algiers to Lagos; Dakar to Mombassa (Coastal Route) and Dakar to Mombassa (Sahelian Route). These were routes selected by the Economic Commission for Africa when Professor Adebayo Adedeji was Executive Secretary as the United Nations Under-Secretary.

It was realised long ago that there were enormous challenges for funding and administration of the vast network of federal roads. Thus, in 1971, the Federal Military Government led by General Yakubu Gowon, (and having General Obasanjo as Minister of Works) set up a Special Commission to study the administration of roads in five selected countries. Led by Mr. S. O. Wey, Federal Commissioner on Special Duties, it had as members Engineer M. Tukur Usman (Director of Federal Public Works) and Mr. John Oyegun, of the Ministry of Economic Development and Reconstruction. They visited Italy, West Germany, Sweden, United States and Brazil and submitted a Report on July 6, 1972 recommending the setting up “without delay” a Federal Highways Authority. There was serious debate as to whether the proposed Authority would be in the Ministry of Transport or Ministry of Works at the time. The Committee recommended the Ministry of Transport. The Federal Executive Council deliberated on the Recommendation but decided in 1973 that the Federal Government could “adequately cope with the funding and administration of the Federal Highway network of 11000 kilometres” at the time!

However, when the network increased to 29,000 kilometres in 1974, there was need to re-visit that decision. Since then, there have been many attempts to set up the Federal Highways Authority. In 1981, a Bill was presented to the National Assembly by Hon. F. Charles Adigwe (from Awka Federal Constituency) for setting up the Federal Highway Authority. The Draft Bill was still being considered at the Committee stage when there was a change to Military Rule on January 1, 1984. Many Non-Governmental Organisations, like the Nigerian Road Federation, the Nigeria Society of Engineers and the Federation of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors of Nigeria, continued to call on the Federal Government to set up a Federal Highways Authority. In 1988, President Ibrahim Babangida was keen to establish the Authority before the Transition to Democratic Rule took priority in his administration.

In 1997, the Federal Military Government set up the Steering Committee for the Road Vision 2000, charged with the responsibility to “mid-wife” the Federal Roads Authority. Headed by Engineer Michael Adesina from the Private Sector, the Committee recommended the establishment of a Road Fund and the Roads Board, and presented a Draft Decree to the Government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1998. That Transition Regime decided to pass the task to the in-coming Civilian Administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

As civilian President, Chief Obasanjo was determined to set up the Authority. However, the Government extracted an aspect of the Draft Decree and established Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, as rehabilitation was to have been the first priority of the proposed Federal Highways Authority. It was the case of a child without its father. At the outset, funding of FERMA’s activities was a challenge; and for this, an aspect of the proposed Road Fund was pursued; the road user contribution of a percentage of the price paid for Premium Motor Spirit and Diesel.

• To be continued tomorrow
•Akindele, a Special Adviser (Road Administration) to the Governor of Ogun State, from 2003-2011) is a visiting Member of the Guardian Editorial Board.



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