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Time to go for concrete roads!

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A local firm experimenting concrete road technology in Lagos

A recent suggestion by a leading player in the production of cement for the adoption of cement for road construction in Nigeria should not be treated as another flash in the pan.

The chief executive officer (CEO) of Dangote Conglomerate who directed the appeal at the Federal Government said the idea of using cement for road construction is not new. Yes, it is not a new deal. When will the federal and state governments adopt the wise option, after years of recommendations not only from the private sector but by the agency of government charged with the responsibility of research into materials for building and road construction? The minister responsible for roads must lead the effort and take all necessary steps for the adoption of cement for constructing roads in Nigeria. There should therefore be no room for any master class for this classic!  

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The benefits of constructing roads with cement were reeled off when the idea was touched off. Compared with asphaltic roads, cement roads cost less to construct, more durable, and cost less for maintenance. While asphaltic roads have a lifespan of 10-12 years, cement roads last up to 50 years. Maintenance is near zero. Cement roads have a greater load-bearing capacity and so can increase the fuel efficiency of heavy rolling stock; a point that would be of interest to transporters and their unions.  A cement road is less affected by fuel spillage and extremes of weather. For years, engineers have proposed that cement roads are more suitable for some parts of Nigeria; especially the waterlogged terrain of states adjoining the Atlantic Ocean.

At its World Highways Conference in Seoul Korea in 1989, the International Road Federation told member countries (like Nigeria) of the need to begin using alternatives to asphalt because of dwindling world deposits of the heavy crude that yields the base material for bitumen. At this time, asphaltic roads are no longer in vogue in many countries; especially the developed nations.  

Nigeria does not produce heavy crude and import bitumen. This explains the astronomical rise in the cost of road construction, given the foreign exchange rate. However, the country has abundant deposits of limestone, the base material for producing cement.

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The appeal by the Dangote Group is backed by concrete performance. The Group has been constructing cement roads all over the country; specifically in Bauchi, Kogi, Kaduna, Ogun, and Lagos states. Its major showcase is the reconstruction, with cement, of the ten-lane Apapa-Isolo-Oshodi-Oworonshoki federal road. Definitely, some state governments have already realised the need to embrace concrete roads. The Conglomerate can use its global network to recruit expertise in using cement for constructing roads.

We recall that in 2008, the Federal Government gathered stakeholders on roads for the workshop that produced recommendations for setting up a National Road Fund and the Federal Highways Authority. Similarly, the idea of using cement for road construction is not new.

As Minister of Science and Technology, in Buhari’s first term (2015-2019), Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu announced that the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) had done much work on the use of cement for road construction. He also stated that the abundance of cement would lead to the phasing out of mud houses in Nigeria. Sadly these laudable goals have suffered reverses because of the endemic malaise of policy somersaults and institutional amnesia. Where are the archivists of government policy decisions that would ensure continuity by successive federal state and local administrations? 

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Beyond an appeal by a lone voice from the private sector, how will the adoption of cement roads become policy, given all the positives? Once again, the Cement Manufacturers Association of Nigeria must speak with one voice. More than their obligations on corporate social responsibility (CSR), it is good business. The minister responsible for roads flagged off the reconstruction, with cement, of the Apapa-Oworoshoki expressway. He must now take the lead in educating all tiers of government on this matter.

Constructing cement roads should be a major item on the agenda of the next meeting of the National Council of Works, which will discuss the technical details of designing and constructing cement roads. Unlike asphaltic roads that are elastic, cement roads must have expansion joints to absorb the effects of thermal pressure. The Ministry of Works and Housing must collaborate with the Ministry of Science and Technology to convene a workshop for the two federal agencies responsible for roads, state departments of highways, and the professional bodies involved with roads. These include the Nigerian Road Federation, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Council of Registered Engineers, Federation of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors, and the Nigeria Institute of Quantity Surveyors.

The gathering of stakeholders must be convened as soon as possible, to come up with recommendations to the three tiers of government on using cement for road construction in Nigeria. This is our word, which should be enough for the wise at this time when road infrastructure is a desideratum for sustainable development. 

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