Federal roads, federation agonies
The disparity between constant budget proposals for roads and the sordid reality of federal roads in Nigeria is worrisome because it is a kink in the essential fabric of the nation’s critical transportation infrastructure. While this arises from the macro-economic assessment of the nation’s performance on budgets in general, it brings to light the specific challenge of funding roads in the country. Sadly, with lack of executive will to implement the solution proffered since 1972, an ill-advised executive veto of the 2018 bill for the establishment of the Federal Roads Authority was a disservice that must be redressed immediately.
Specifically, in 2015, the allocation for federal roads and bridges was N17.8 billion. In 2016, the budgeted amount for “50 roads and bridges” was N132.4 billion. In 2017, the figure rose to N263.28 for “200 roads and bridges.” In 2018, the allocation was N344 billion for “200 roads and bridges.” For the four years, the total budgeted amount was N757.48 billion for “rehabilitation and maintenance” of federal roads.
While these annual appropriations may appear high, the funds, however, are inadequate for the administration and maintenance of more than 34,000-kilometre federal roads network nationwide. Consequently, for decades, funding for federal roads has been insufficient while the organisational set-up cannot cope adequately with the challenges of administering the longest network of roads in Africa.
There are other contending forces, in this regard. With a great percentage of revenues going into servicing debts and recurrent expenditure gulping more than 70 per cent of the budget, whenever there are shortfalls in revenue, capital projects are bound to suffer.
A proposal to construct any road is a social, economic and political decision. Thereafter, the first step is planning, where the disciplines of engineering, quantity survey and economics converge. Where is the source of funding? How much is available? When will the tranches be released? When these questions are ascertained, the road will be designed for construction to commence. After the road is commissioned, there is a stated period for the contractor to maintain it after which the routine regular maintenance and management of the road is the responsibility of the owner; be it a private estate, or federal, state, and local government. Each specific aspect of a road programme is reflected in the organogram of the ministry responsible for roads.
Let’s go down some memory lane: The challenge of funding roads in Nigeria was foreseen way back in 1971 when the then federal military government set up a three-member commission (S.O. Wey, M. Tukur Usman and John Oyegun) that visited five countries and recommended the establishment of a Federal Highways Authority, “without delay.” The reason adduced by the Federal Executive Council for not ratifying the recommendation was that the Federal Ministry of Works could “adequately cope” with the management of the federal roads totalling 11,000 kilometres then. However, with the take-over of 17,000 kilometres from the 12 states in 1974, and the addition of 5,300 kilometres of new construction in the 1975-1980 Fourth National Development Plan, the Ministry could no longer cope, especially with funding, based solely on budgetary extractions. Thereafter, there have been many attempts to set up a Federal Roads Authority; acknowledged as the only permanent solution to the challenge of financing roads in Nigeria.
We need not list all the attempts to set up an agency for roads. After the decision of 1972, in 1980 there was a Private Members Bill by Honourable F. Charles Adigwe of Awka Federal Constituency, Anambra State. That bill was at second reading when it was swept away by the military takeover in January 1, 1984 and the advent of the Buhari military administration.
At this time, however, what is of interest to Nigerians is the bill that was passed by the Eighth Assembly and which President Buhari rejected, along with many others in an unprecedented experience of the Executive rejecting hundreds of bills passed by the representatives of the people. One of the reasons stated for the mass rejection of passed bills was duplication of functions with existing ministries, departments and agencies.
It is pertinent to remind the nation that in 2008, the Yar’Adua administration sent an executive bill to the National Assembly for the establishment of the Federal Roads Authority and the National Road Fund that will garner road user contributions including tolls. In 2013, the succeeding Jonathan administration announced its decision to set up a Federal Roads Authority, “that will be responsible for the professional management of federal roads in the country, thereby ending the duplication of functions between FERMA and the Highways Department of Federal Ministry of Works.” That was in keeping with the recommendations of the Orasanye Report on reducing cost of government.
Government is a continuum. As the effort to set up a Federal Roads Authority arose from successive federal administrations preceding Buhari’s tenure, where is the institutional memory of the necessary archives for government policy decisions? It is on record that only the two military ministers of Works (Kontagora and Adisa) supported the Roads Authority idea while in office. The minister responsible for roads from 2016 to May 2019 did not mention, even once, the proposal on the Federal Roads Authority. This is curious. Was he not briefed by the civil servants on this major issue? Was the ministry responsible for the recommendation to the President to reject the Federal Roads Authority Bill, or was the brief given by some ignorant but powerful ones in the seat of power?
What is the fate of all the bills rejected by the President in the eleventh hour of the Eighth Assembly? The President’s Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters recently said the bills had lapsed and the Ninth Assembly would need to go through the process of passing each one and representing to the President. But we recall that specifically, two bills, Public Procurement and Fiscal Responsibility Bills, which were not signed by the outgoing Olusegun Obasanjo in May 2007, were preserved for his successor, former President Yar’Adua who signed them barely a month after assuming office in 2007.
Meanwhile, potholes on federal, state and local government roads cause fatal crashes across the land every day. Nigerian roads are among the most dangerous in the world. While there is dithering on setting up a road agency, as with other transport modes, there is need for revisiting the classification of roads, especially those taken over from the state governments in 1974. Many of these segments pass through cities and the state governments have been compelled to rehabilitate stretches within their borders, after which reimbursement becomes a problem.
As the nation has failed to actualise the permanent solution to the challenge of financing roads, successive administrations have resorted to ad-hoc measures all tied up to the appropriate pricing of petroleum products. In 1986, when the price of one litre of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) was moved from 19 kobo to 25 kobo, the federal military government set up the Department of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI). It was followed by Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) and later the Subsidy Reduction and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P). At this time, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority is funding the reconstruction of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge, whereas a Federal Roads Authority could harness road-user contributions, which will provide the confidence for financial institutions to offer medium and long-term financing for road programmes. This is what happens in many countries including Germany, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, the United States, Ghana and the Republic of South Africa.
This newspaper has repeatedly noted that federal roads are critical national assets. The network of roads is of strategic security importance for movements of troops, a symbol of federal presence, labyrinth of national integration and the life-wire of commerce. The road is the transport mode without which the other transport modes cannot be used; be it air, water, or railways. Accordingly, the Federal Government must declare a state of emergency on roads in Nigeria and hold a National Conference on roads. Among its objectives is the harmonisation of road policies by federal, state and local governments.
All told, a journey that began with a directive by the Head of the Federal Military Government on December 16, 1971, must not be allowed to terminate by a presidential veto in 2019. The conclusions in the Report of that Commission are relevant today; especially that the Federal Highways Authority be established “without delay.”
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