Minister of Works, Dave Umahi, has expressed deep concern over the state of road projects in the country and the staggering N14 trillion debt inherited by the federal government.
Umahi disclosed this to State House correspondents after meeting with President Ahmed Bola Tinubu at the Presidential Villa. Umahi, who addressed the situation, stopped short of directly blaming the previous administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said the disparity between the budget allocations for road projects and the extensive construction required. Furthermore, the minister pointed out that the government’s practices inadvertently enriched contractors who often sought cost variations due to prolonged project execution.
Since his appointment as minister, Umahi has been claiming that he has made efforts to pay off a significant portion of the N14 trillion debt, with approximately N8 trillion settled in two installments. This debt pertains to a total of 18,000 kilometres of federal roads across Nigeria. Umahi revealed that the Tinubu administration had opted for reinforced concrete pavement road construction as an alternative to asphalt.
This decision aimed to address the issue of deteriorating roads shortly after construction. Additionally, he revealed that BUA Cement management had committed to reducing cement prices, which could substantially boost future road infrastructure projects.
Umahi summarised his visit to the presidential villa, saying, “I came to the villa to discuss my programs as Minister of Works.” He continued: “I briefed Mr. President, for the first time about my. You are aware that the Minister of Works in the previous administration…it is now the Ministry of Works.
“I want to commend the previous players…Now the ministry inherited a total of 2,604 projects…Now I think about N4 trillion is being paid. So that leaves a balance of N10 trillion. Now, out of this N10 trillion, we have defined sources that could fund up to N4 trillion. So we have a funding gap of about N6 trillion, which is the position that we are in now.”
Umahi also emphasised that the current administration had retained all existing projects from the previous government, even those spanning a decade or more in construction.
However, he highlighted the need to terminate some projects without defined sources of funding. The minister further raised concerns about appropriations, citing instances where insufficient funds were allocated to projects. He argued that this undermined the development of the country’s road infrastructure.
Umahi disclosed that he discussed the matter with Mr. President and emphasized the necessity of engaging National Assembly members to prioritize projects. The minister advocated for the adoption of reinforced concrete technology for road pavements, a move supported by President Tinubu. He acknowledged potential opposition from contractors but expressed his determination to push for this change.
Umahi stated: “So Mr. President is supporting me that we redesign our roads in reinforced concrete pavement…It is reinforced concrete road and it’s fantastic,” The former Ebonyi State governor also hinted that President Tinubu is interested in concrete road technology, since it is more durable and fairly moderate in cost effectiveness.
A statement issued by director of press and public relations unit, Blessing Lere-Adams, said the Minister made this known during a meeting with contractors handling projects in the North East Geo-political Zone of Nigeria at the weekend. Umahi also stressed that the time had come for all contractors working in Nigeria to ensure that they strictly respect the Global Right Best Practices in Engineering.
According to him, this enhances the durability of all construction work, both for roads and bridges with the best quality of materials being used. The minister stated: “I had recently met with contractors handling road dualization projects and my position on the issue is to take one lane and complete it because of paucity of funds, but with the availability of money they could start the second lane.
“We can manage with one lane instead of not having anything at all. We have up to N14 trillion ongoing projects against 18,000 kilometres, adding that with the Renewed Hope Mantra contractors should not stay on site more than four years.”
Umahi frowned at situations where some contracts have been ongoing for 20 years, noting that it was not good for the contractors, not good for the projects and not good for the client. “We are introducing concrete road technology and some of you are not happy about it. Some are saying it is too expensive but we have to try both and see which is better.
“In any case, any contractor with an on- going project that is not willing to cooperate with us for a redesign with concrete road technology with fifty years period free of maintenance, we’ll demand for a performance bond. The situation and time when roads are built on asphalt and within two to three years the project is back to square one is gone,” he added
He highlighted the reasons for road failure, which among others include, poor workmanship from contractors, importation of adulterated bitumen into the country and the laying of less than correct thickness of asphalt.