Special Report
To commemorate Democracy Day and one year in office of President Goodluck Jonathan, the minister for works, Arc. Mike onolememen gave a score card of his achievements in office as minister recently. In this report, Alex Nwibani x-rays the minister's achievements within the last one year

September 6 2011, exactly 100 days into the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, Arc. Mike Onolememen, as works minister, listed a number of interventions that his ministry was making on Nigerian roads to make them motorable, safer and pleasurable to drive on. One year after, Nigerians across the country have confirmed that the federal ministry of works is slowly but gradually transforming the country's road network. The successes are a testament that the Jonathan administration is keen on revamping the country's vast road network. A fundamental step taken by the minister in confronting the challenges and attaining success in the space of one year was the restructuring of the ministry. This was done to provide the needed impetus to drive the minister's vision for road development.

The restructuring led to the establishment of six zonal directorates of highways and the constitution of Independent Zonal Monitoring Teams all within the six geopolitical zones. Membership of these Zonal Monitoring Teams is drawn from the private sector to provide independent report on projects and activities within the zones. These, coupled with the activities of the newly created Department of Materials, Geotechnics and Quality Control has led to better service delivery in the sector.

From the over 150 ongoing projects inherited, the minister have pursued the execution of top priority projects. Some of the priority projects include the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, the Benin-Ore-Shagamu, which has been enhanced, and the Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja dualization road project. This project is of great importance as it links the South-East, South-South and South-West from the nation's capital, Abuja. Others are the Kano-Maiduguri dualization road project, the 108.6kilometer long Onitsha-Enugu road and the Ibadan-Ilorin Road, a critical North-South arterial highway.

Within the last six months, the following road projects have either been completed or substantially completed in various states across Nigeria: the Gombe Bye-Pass in Gombe State; Katsina-Daura Road (Katsina), Aba-Owerri road (Abia), Eleme Junction Flyover and the dualisation of Access Road to Onne Port (Rivers), dualisation of Ibadan-Ilorin road section I [Ibadan-Oyo] (Oyo), Ijebu Igbo-Ajegunle-Araromi-Ife-Sekona Road, section II (Ogun and Osun States) and construction of a bridge at Lafenwa (Ogun). Others are the collapsed Section of Gombe-Potiskum Road (Gombe), Mararaba-Bali road (Taraba), Hadejia-Nguru Road, Phase I (Jigawa), Onitsha-Owerri Road [Section I] and Onitsha Eastern Bye-Pass Section I (Anambra), 8 Nos. expansion Joints on Third Mainland Bridge [Phase I] (Lagos State) and the Obiozara-Uburu-Ishiagu- Awgu Road, Phase I, (Ebonyi and Enugu States).

But despite these achievements, there are a number of challenges facing the minster in his plan to transform the Nigerian road network. One major challenge is nature related as it involves threats of washout and gully erosion. Be that as it may, the ministry has risen to the challenge with prompt reinstatement of affected roads within the past one year. Notable among the washed out roads are the Gombe-Potiskum road washout in Gombe State, the Auchi-Okene road washout and Ayogwiri road washout in Edo state and three washouts along the Onitsha-Enugu road. These roads have been fully recovered and opened to motorists.

Another challenge is the issue of funding. However, the ministry is in collaboration with multi-lateral agencies like the African Development Bank and the World Bank among others in financing some critical projects. Also a collaborative effort of the World Bank and the works ministry has led to some roads undergoing routine maintenance under the road development programme. To the minister's credit the rehabilitation of the Jebba Bridge which includes hydrodemolition and replacement of expansion joints, asphalting, road furniture and street lighting has almost been completed. Also the contract for the repair/replacement of the Expansion Joints of the Third Mainland Bridge has been awarded is expected to be completed before the end of 2012.

Nigeria's road network is about 200,000 kilometres. Of this figure, 35, 000 are federal roads. The pressure on government to add additional kilometres of roads to the network and rehabilitate existing ones is presumably high. This is because federal roads serve as major arteries to economic centres like sea ports, airports, petroleum depots and refineries, etc. The dual carriageways linking the six geo-political zones are owned by the federal government and a major priority of the works ministry is to ensure that the six zones are connected by unbroken chain of dual carriageways in good and motorable condition all year round.

To sustain this increasing demand for good and sustainable road network, it has become pertinent to involve the private sector. In this regards the ministry of works is trying to produce a private sector driven road development programme. The ministry has been engaging the international community on the need to invest in Nigerian roads under the public-private partnership (PPP). Just last year, the ministry called for Expression of Interests from willing private sector investors in the concession of some roads including the Second Niger Bridge linking Delta and Anambra States and expansion and upgrading of Apakun-Murtala Mohammed International Airport road in Lagos. Responses from the private sector from government's overture have been very encouraging.

By far the most important policy intervention of Arc Mike Onolememen is the proposed reforms in the road sector. Prior to Onolememen's assumption, earlier initiatives to reform the road sector were not accorded needed attention. In view of government's inability to wholly construct, reconstruct, rehabilitate and/or maintain roads in the country due to the global economic recession and its attendant consequences to the Nigerian environment, Arc Onolememen set up a Road Sector Reform Committee last October comprising international experts, professionally experienced and credible Nigerians.

The Committee has worked assiduously to review existing institutional frameworks and policies on road infrastructure development. The Committee's report, among others, recommended the establishment of the National Roads Fund and the Federal Roads Authority. The minister believes these bodies would strengthen government's resolve to drive road development through the PPP initiative and other funding models. The draft bills for the two bodies are currently being studied before a formal presentation to the Federal Executive Council. Another innovative idea of the minister is the Preventive Maintenance and Road Surveillance Programmes of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA). These programmes have started on Abuja-Kaduna, Benin-Onitsha and Onitsha-Owerri highways in the past few months. Also six mobile laboratories for material testing and quality control to guide against sub-standard works have also been acquired.

No doubt this past one year has been quite challenging but also rewarding. Works minister, Arc Mike Onolememen, believes the future for Nigerian roads is bright. He is right. The foundation for world class roads is currently being laid and for the Federal Ministry of Works, which Arc Mike Onolememen heads, the task of making Nigerian roads better and safer, is a task that must be done.

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