BRF: How not to work
It was like a shuttle in a projectile – let’s call it the BRF projectile. Of course, BRF being Babatunde Raji Fashola, the three-in-one federal minister in charge of Power, Works and Housing. He has been on a blitzing visit of major road projects across the country. Starting a few weeks back with on-going roads in the southeast zone of Nigeria, his last run was across seven states of the Niger Delta – in three days.
As one of the reporters in the shuttle, my verdict is: how not to work. Imagine starting a trip by road from Calabar to Uyo, then Aba to Yenegoa, Port Harcourt to Sapele and then Benin City – in just three days!
On paper, it may look easy and straight-forward, but out there on the poorly kept and dangerous Nigerian roads, it surely is an excruciating way to carry out a task. Of course, there are modern digital mapping devices that can locate projects even in the most remote outposts and highlight them with real life high definition. But understandably, such facilities are not available to the ministry right now but that must be the way forward.
The first call of the inspection was the over 200 kilometres Calabar – Akampa – Ikom – Ogoja – Ugep – Katsina Ala highway. A long-winding, seemingly interminable and indeed treacherous road. After travelling for about two-hours of twisting and turning and side-tracking endless streaming of heavy-duty trucks, it turned out that one of them had upended ahead before the project site. BRF had to make a U-turn, missing the first target.
This road which connects about four states and leads up to Makurdi in Benue State is as strategic as highways go. It is a single-carriage road, which is bad enough; but it is dilapidated and derelict in many sections. When the rains come, according to Cross Rivers State deputy governor, many sections are flooded impassable.
The contractor, Messrs Sermatech that had abandoned site for over two years for lack of payment is back at work. He was mandated to commence remediation work quickly before the rains. Important too is that hundreds of people are back to work once again: goods and service will move and zonal economy will flourish.
From the Akwa Ibom axis, the Ikot-Ekpene-Aba Road has suffered total collapse at Umuakpo. The Minister had to do a detour through bush paths and remote village tracks to re-enter the highway. This road that connects two very important towns of Ikot-Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State and Aba in Abia State was also awarded but unfunded. The contractor abandoned site. They are back now.
On the Aba-Port Harcourt section of the now notorious Enugu-Port Harcourt highway, BRF and his team did on foot, a very long stretch of the project under-going massive renewal and expansion on foot. It has numerous on-site workers and as we learnt, is generating hundreds of auxiliary jobs in material supplies, food and drinks vending.
A much reported and indeed maligned road, it is the scrawny signature of the last government’s insouciance. This most important road covering about 10 states of the southeast and south-south had been in decline for many years. The heedless Goodluck Jonathan administration played game with it during his time. Contractors abandoned site for many years due to poor funding and corruption.
In Rivers, the most compelling job apart from the expressway, is the Bodo-Bonny 39km road with a bridge across the Opobo channel. This is the Saro-Wiwa country, the heart land of Ogoni. A most serene and idyllic land but for the evident crude curse. It is part of the area an environmental cleanup is on-going right now.
The contractor had abandoned project for many years. A new one has been raised and work has started. Bonny Island is the home of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and Nigeria’s, if not Africa’s gas hub. It can only be accessed by speed boats and choppers. But when this road is completed, that island is bound to come alive with all the attendant socio-economic activities.
While Bayelsa has the Yenegoa – Okaki – Kolo road (if we discountenance the shoddy show piece known as East-West Road) Delta and Edo States hold very big road projects recently getting much attention.
A marble plaque decorates a roundabout where the big ticket Sapele-Ewu -Agbor highway begins. It bears the marker, “This road is flagged off on February 12, 2015.” It must have been an elaborate ceremony denoted by drumming, dancing and much fun fare. But no sod was turned thereafter. The road never got started. What happened was a ceremony for the 2015 general election; cruel symbolism.
Work only started November 2016 after a mobilisation of N1.3 billion was paid by the Buhari administration. Work is ongoing now on the 110km road by Messrs CGC as contractors.
It is the same story with the 47.4km Lokoja – Benin City road dualisation project. Awarded in 2012 but work didn’t start until 2016. These two roads spanning Delta, Edo, and Kogi states apart from easing commuters’ pains, are currently providing jobs to thousands of Nigerians among other benefits.
As stated at the beginning, three days of dawn to dusk shuttle across a vast area of land may not be the best way to work, and not many previous ministers are known to have subjected themselves to such punishing rigor.
At every capital city, BRF paid courtesy call on the state governor. At every state boundary, he would pick up the next state’s Controller of Works. He has rechristened them Federal Government ambassadors in their states of operation. He introduced them to the state governors as such and urged them to cooperate as partners and not as competitors. Even the states’ commissioners of Works are coopted at every point by BRF, winning their buy-ins.
The State Controllers of Works are the key and indeed crucial to the success or failure of most projects especially in far-flung areas of the country. As they joined the BRF trained they were armed with well-documented report on the project in question. Faced with BRF’s grilling, some answer some stutter some suffer butterflies in the tummy, but eventually, he makes them take the lead, showcasing the projects to press; presenting to governors.
There was a total of 12 road projects in seven states of the Niger Delta visited by BRF in three days. While these are by no means the only abandoned roads being reactivated by the current administration in the zone, it is no mean task either.
At an average of 1,000 jobs per site, that would be a minimum of 12,000 jobs. If we multiply this by six zones, we have roughly 72,000 mainly direct jobs created by the works sector of the ministry alone.
The president has told me not to embark on any new road projects until the numerous abandoned ones are completed, BRF said to reporters at one stop. How could so many roads have been abandoned in a time of boom when crude oil sold for $100 per barrel? He asked rhetorically.
Finally, it was relatively easy for BRF to hop from state to state in the southeast and south-south zones. How would he do it in the vast lands of the northern zones? A tough road to travel indeed.