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COVID-19: stakeholders differ over call to exempt construction firms

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Lagos repairing roads at Herbert Macaulay inward Jibowu.


As the rainy season draws closer, stakeholders have called for the exemption of some construction firms from the lockdown to speed works on critical road projects across the country.

The stakeholders argue that the dry season provide favourable time for construction and the lockdown will prevent traffic in some of the critical road projects. These critical road projects are often motorists’ nightmare especially during construction because of the high volume of traffic and their locations.

Some of such roads include Lagos-Ibadan Expressway being handled by Julius Berger Nigeria, Apapa- Oshodi- Oworonsoki Expressway handled by HITECH on behalf Dangote Construction Limited and section of Mile 2- Badagry Expressway handled by China Civil Engineering Corporation (CCEC).

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They say, the government should take infrastructure provision very serious and the safety of the populace, more to complete the highways, adding , the needed workers can be housed close to their site.
But others said it smacked of selfishness to allow the construction workers to risk their lives on the project in this critical time.

However, key professionals made of quantity surveyors, civil and structural engineers are also divided on the call for the construction workers to be exempted from the lockdown.

For instance, consultant civil engineer and chairman, Apapa branch of Nigerian Society of Engineers, Sunny Ejeje said construction workers should be allowed to work in the critical road projects now that the weather is favourable and the road is clear off traffic. Ejeje, who said the reason for the stop of work may be that there are foreigners among the construction workers, however stressed that work should have really continue utilising the dry season and the lock down.

According to him, what is required was to prune down the workers into section in order to maintain the social distancing, while there should be adequate security to avoid clustering.

Ejeje, however, advised that the construction firm could reduce the number of workers at a particular section, work in segments with more of equipment and less human labour.

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According to him, since earth works are done more with equipment and there are machines that can handled the concrete works that previously require manual works, there is no reason why the construction workers should not maximize this opportunity now. The government, he said, should allow them not in Lagos alone but in other critical projects that have great impact on the economy across the country so that by the time lock down is over at least people will not suffer in the traffic again.

“ There are many people already working on essential duties too, if it is building construction that requires a lot of human contact then it is understandable but they can work on critical roads.

“ Government should deploy security agents to secure the workers and health workers to be checking them.
“ Let there be more equipment, reduced labour. Road projects do not require more labours; it is more of excavators and graders. “Even in construction of drains, carcasses boxes, you don’t need labour except when you are mixing the concrete and there is even machines doing the jobs now. The earthwork is more of equipment thing and not human labour.

“They can leverage on this time and weather to do critical construction works in roads like Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, Apapa- Oshodi and Mile 2- Badagry expressways because some of the impediments are no longer there and construction works can be more faster now.

“This is the opportunity by the time the rains and work resume it is going to be from one lock down to another”, he added. But, president, Nigerian Institute of Structural Engineers, (NISTRUCTE). Dr. Kehinde Osilafa, said it all depends on the number of people working at any particular time as the Lagos State government has given directive on the number of people that should be on a particular site.

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According to him, what is on ground now is more than finishing a job early. “ The rate at which people are dying abroad, I just hope that we don’t have the same situation here. We have to be very careful. It will appear why this contractor be working now when people are not on the road but who knows some of these foreigners that are even working with the contractors how safe they are.

“I have my own reservation in that area. Let us keep to the rules because you don’t know who have this thing. Some people will appear that they looked okay but they have it and they will transmit it innocently so, I think we need to be careful, we need to be cautious no matter what”, he said.
Also, a civil engineer and national chairman, Nigerian Institution of Highway and Transport Engineering, Dayo Oluyemi, said there is need to have social distancing to avoid the spiral effect of the coronavirus.

According to him, these contractors cannot work effectively on the projects at this point in time. “In my own humble view, it is better to save the lives of these construction workers and allow them to stay at home with their families as well as avoid the spread of the coronavirus across the country. When we all resume works, the road construction work can continue.

“In the some states in the country where there is no lockdown, the contractors are working but where there is lock down for instance in Lagos State, I don’t think, there is any advantage, we are going to derive from them working during the lockdown because the lives of the workers working in those companies; are also important”, he said.

Similarly, a fellow of Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), Gabriel Olarewaju, said he don’t subscribed to construction workers resuming works at the site.

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According to him, if they catch up the disease, the company will not be able to pay the bills because it is not part of the contract bill. “In the contract, what is normally provided is minor illnesses, but this is a pandemic, the company may not really be competent and will not want to lose their critical staff to the pandemic.

“You know how many years, it will take them to bring that kind of staff on board. It is key, equipment cannot work without personnel. No serious construction company of repute will put a key element of its staff on front line in the health issue.

“Contractually, there is no such provision even when this is force majeure, there should be safety first. It must be in the contract. Definitely after the crisis, they will reassess it again to meet up with the time they have lost they will restructure it in the contract.

Olanrewaju however said contract in other parts of world this kind of works are done off time to mitigate impacts on the road users. “We don’t work with rules here like other climes, those jobs would have been done in less busy hours, mostly at nights, but there must be security arrangement, is it provided in the contract for you to work at night or is the money available?

“ Look at the Lagos- Ibadan expressway project, that road is at budget for four years. In that kind of case, no contractor will go and put all resources in that project.” he added.

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