The recent disclosure by the National Assembly that for the 35, 000-kilometre federal roads across the country to be motorable at all times, the sum of N400 billion is required on yearly basis for maintenance, indeed, raises some posers bordering on the deployment of the humongous amount of money, running into trillions of naira, claimed to have been expended on these roads over the last 10 years.
The joint committees on appropriation at both the senate and House of Representatives while working round the clock for submission of harmonised report on the re-jigged N13.08 trillion 2021 budget, said the N38 billion earmarked for that purpose in the 2021 budget proposal was infinitesimal for any serious road maintenance work across the country.
Decrying the infinitesimal amount of money budgeted for road maintenance on yearly basis by the federal government during an interview with journalists penultimate Friday, Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Senator Gersome Bassey (PDP, Cross River South), said N400 billion was required for such projects yearly.
In a country like Nigeria where road transportation is most used for movement of people, goods and services across the country, he said road maintenance can only be effectively carried out with roughly N400 billion on yearly basis.
“What the committee has just submitted to the appropriation Committee for such exercise in 2021 fiscal year is the N38 billion proposed for it by the executive, which cannot cover up to one quarter of the entire length of deplorable roads in the country. Unfortunately, despite having the power of appropriation, we cannot, as a committee, jerk up the sum since we are not in a position to carry out the estimation of work to be done on each of the specific portions of the road.
“Doing that without proposals to that effect from the executive, may lead to project insertion or padding as often alleged in the media. But the situation on ground as far as the committees on FERMA at both chambers are concerned, is very bad, requiring far more than N38 billion earmarked. If the roads are well maintained on a yearly basis, reconstruction and rehabilitation which require bigger amounts of money and years to carry out, may not be necessary as frequently as they are now,” he said.
The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, at his appearance before the House Committee on Works at the National Assembly last year, urged the lawmakers to make more money available to the ministry. He said the N157 billion allocated to the works ministry in the 2020 budget, could not give the nation any respite from death traps called roads.
According to him, the allocation is not enough to pay contractors for jobs already delivered. On the minimum, the works department, he said, needs N255 billion to fund new construction across the country, while N306 billion will be required to pay contractors for jobs. Fashola also disclosed that N2.93 billion was pending in unpaid certificates under multilateral-funded projects.
The federal government is undertaking the reconstruction of 524 roads across the six geo-political zones in the country. Some of the roads, like the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, were inherited by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration it has continued to take on new road assignments in its determination to open the country to even development.
Fashola said all roads being handled by the government would help open up the economy. He said the focus was to make ease of doing business in the country less cumbersome. Besides the 524 federal roads, four others are multilateral-funded road projects, while 81 roads are being embarked upon under the Presidential Infrastructural Development Fund (PIDF) and 45 others funded by the Sukuk bond. Among other projects under the PIDF are Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road, the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Express Road, the Mambilla Hydro project and the East-West road.
He, therefore, appealed to the lawmakers to make more money available to the ministry to ensure that none of the projects are stalled for lack of funds. He lean budgetary allocation had also led to the stoppage of repayment to state governments for the repair of federal roads. Fashola said any government which embarked on such should not revert to it for payment as none would be paid. He advised the states to concentrate on state-funded roads.
He said: “When we came in, we inherited quite a number of such debts from states which repaired Federal roads and asked for refunds and the President directed that we pay all those that were approved by the previous government.”
While not disputing the claim by the National Assembly, it is expedient that the federal government accounts for its huge expenditure on road maintenance over the years. This has become necessary, considering the very poor and deplorable state of Nigeria’s vast road networks, spanning over 194,000 kilometres.
We, therefore, urge the National Assembly to institute a probe in order to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of the funds injected into road maintenance in the country as monies spent on roads by successive governments over the years have failed to yield any positive impact. As a matter of fact, bad roads have been identified as the major cause of over 5,000 deaths annually in the country.