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Garba: Only properly designed, well-constructed, maintained roads are durable, not necessarily expensive ones

By Victor Gbonegun
18 April 2021   |   4:04 am
The socio-economic benefits of having in place motorable roads cannot be overemphasised as roads are critical for the transportation of goods and services and therefore considered by some scholars as a crucial engine for economic development.

Ombugadu Garba

• ‘Early Deterioration Of Roads Must Be Addressed To Reduce Traffic Crashes’

A past chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Apapa Branch, Dr. Ombugadu Garba, spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on factors that undermine good road infrastructure insisting that Nigerian engineers can compete favourably with their peers anywhere in the world, while decrying the system and the environment in which they operate, as contributing to why some of them engage in so many unwholesome practices.

The socio-economic benefits of having in place motorable roads are hardly realised in the country, why are we still at this stage, 60 years after independence?
The socio-economic benefits of having in place motorable roads cannot be overemphasised as roads are critical for the transportation of goods and services and therefore considered by some scholars as a crucial engine for economic development. However, since independence, Nigeria as a nation with transportation infrastructural deficit has been grappling with how to make its roads motorable across the states.

The United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) believed that Nigerian roads network is one of the poorest and deadliest in the world. Sadly, this wouldn’t have been the case if over the years, adequate measures had been put in place to ensure quality road construction and maintenance.

There are a myriad of factors adduced for the chronic deficit of good road infrastructure. These include but not limited to inadequate investment in good road networks, poor road designs, lack of maintenance culture, poor drainage, lack of proper planning, inadequate consideration for wear and tear, quackery, misuse of the road, professional indiscipline, and corruption in road construction contract awards.

Most developed countries deliberately planned and built the framework of their transportation system over the years by investing in transportation infrastructure to boost their economy. Good maintenance culture is something critical that we must imbibe because it is key to durability of engineering infrastructure. No matter the quality of road infrastructure, it requires good maintenance to keep it in good condition as well as increase its durability and lifespan. Effective road maintenance addresses damage early enough by filling the minor cracks (fatigue, block, longitudinal, transverse, reflection or slippage crack).

Poor drainage also affects the condition of the road negatively. It encourages erosion and often time reduces their service life. Generally, highways are designed with an outward slope to channel rainwater from the road to the drainages and thereby increase their durability and enhance safety.

Wear and tear caused by traffic-induced fatigue always adversely affects both asphalt and concrete highways, producing cracks and other defects. Some loaded heavy-duty trucks sometimes illegally exceed the roads’ axial load limit thereby causing a lot of damages to the road infrastructure.

Why do our roads deteriorate early despite huge contract sums?
Early deterioration of roads is a recurrent and serious problem that must be addressed squarely to reduce the incidents of road traffic crashes in Nigeria. There are many causes of early deterioration of road infrastructure in Nigeria.  Some of these causes are, poor or inadequate design without due consideration for topography and soil types (sometimes soil test is not carried out), poor drainage systems, extremely high vehicular traffic, poor construction quality (inferior asphalt mix, design etc.), the use of substandard materials, lack of adherence to engineering codes and standards, inadequate consideration for wears and tears, as well as quackery.

No matter the quality and adequacy of road design, if substandard materials are used in the construction of such roads there is high probability that such roads can easily deteriorate and sometimes fail easily. Inferior use of materials is one of the major reasons that usually leads to speedy road deterioration.

Similarly, the use of quackery in road constructions portend serious danger, as such roads do not often stand the test of time because such quacks are incompetent and lack the capacity to execute such tasks. It is important that road constructions must be in line with design specifications, and must be handled by professional engineers and other qualified personnel.

Construction by quacks may lead to poor road alignment, inadequate pavement thickness, poor consideration for drainage systems, inferior asphalt mix, as well as lack of adequate compaction in surfacing or sub/base amongst many other reasons.

Post-harvest losses of farm produce in the country, especially perishable ones stands at 60 per cent. How does this relate to the deplorable state of roads what impact it has on the economy?
The benefits of having in place good motorable roads cannot be over-emphasised as roads are critical for the transportation of goods and services from one place to another. Roads are like the arteries that supply blood to the human system and are crucial for economic development.

Roads remain viable means of linking producers to markets. Due to the deplorable state of our road network, most farmers especially in the rural areas find it very difficult to get their goods to the market, especially the perishable goods.

The implication of this is that majority of the farmers lose a large percentage of their means of livelihood, thereby leading to an increase in their poverty level; increase in prices of their such goods, food scarcity, increased cost of transportation, and ultimately discouraging farmers from farming and a reduction in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The United Nation Development Programme rated Nigeria in one of its reports as having the lowest indices in economic development. It is therefore very important that the government must, as a matter of policy, take adequate steps to deliberately invest in construction and maintenance of roads that will facilitate conveyance of farm produce to markets. In addition, the government can assist farmers by providing modern equipment for cultivating, processing and preservation of their produce (e.g. the perishable goods).  

Considering our location, climate and circumstances, what is the expected life span of our road and how can such be enforced/enhanced?
While high quality concrete roads are expected to have a lifespan of above 25 years, high quality asphalt roads are expected to have a service life span of above 15years. In Nigeria, the life span of most of our concrete and asphalt roads are even less due to many factors such as poor quality of road construction, poor maintenance culture, drainage system deficiencies, inferior materials used in construction, etc.

The quality of our roads can be enhanced through effective monitoring and supervision from conception to design, to completion of such construction. The government must ensure that it engages independent engineering professionals (such as the Nigerian Society of Engineers) to supervise not only road construction, but all engineering projects across the country to have good value for money.
It is also important that existing laws are well strengthened enough to regulate the construction industry by the government. Also, there should be collaboration/synergy among the relevant bodies that have the responsibilities to discipline erring practitioners (e.g. between Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN and the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE).

This is critical because the quality of engineering infrastructure in any nation is key to the quality of life of the people. This guarantees economic prosperity, a good educational system, quality health, as well as a good social network that usually impacts positively on the quality of life.

Many allege that Nigeria pays one of the highest rates per kilometre for construction of roads in the world. Why are such expensive facilities not very durable?
Road construction is an important part of every society. The cost of construction depends largely on some factors such as the type of soil (swampy, deciduous vegetation, or hard core areas), climatic conditions, cost of materials, labour and the prevailing exchange rate as well as inflation. No doubt, the cost of constructing per kilometre road in Nigeria is quite very expensive compared to other climes, but does not necessarily translate to quality works. The exact cost per kilometre of road construction is not fixed, and static as different contractors quote based on the prevailing factors as listed above. And the contracts are usually awarded to the “most responsive” and “preferred bidder” in line with the Public Procurement Act.

The durability of the road does not largely or necessarily depend on the cost of the project, but the quality and maintenance culture of the people. Unless road constructions are done in line with design specifications, properly supervised and monitored, and properly maintained after construction, spending humongous amounts will not necessarily translate to good quality roads.  

To what extent do design, location contribute to early deterioration of newly constructed roads?
Road design plays a very important role in the success, or failure of road construction. Road design gives an outline, or overview and other details for the road construction in 2D and 3D schematic drawings, and renderings, specifications for construction materials, extensive survey of the project site, as well as the construction process.

The detailed survey of the road project site will reveal the climatic condition of the location hence it will give rise to design specifications. If an excellent road design is properly implemented, it will ensure good quality road construction.

Therefore, if the road is not adequately designed based on the prevailing climatic conditions of the location, it will lead to early deterioration of the newly constructed roads.

How realistic is the notion that good roads, apart from serving as enabling medium for improving the condition of rural areas, can also facilitate urbanisation, reduce poverty levels, and stem rural urban migration?
Good road infrastructure is imperative for agriculture, and overall economic growth positively impacts the quality of life of the people.  Good roads are necessary to link rural areas to urban towns and cities. This avail rural dwellers the privilege to get access to basic products and services, information, and access to government services that they deserve without having much disadvantage of staying in such a rural location.

Access to good roads will open up businesses, create job opportunities, enhance access to good health care services, quality of life, facilitate urbanisation of rural settings, and reduce the quest for migration to cities by rural dwellers. Therefore, the notion to a very large extent is realistic.

Can blacklisting of erring firms ever solve the problem of quackery in the road construction industry?
Nigerian engineers can compete favourably anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the system and the environment in which they operate, inadvertently make some of them to engage in so many unwholesome practices.

In some reported cases, some employees have been asked to cut corners with a view to maximizing profit for the employers. Though unwilling, they claimed that their precarious economic situation compelled them to act unethically and compromise.

Blacklisting the erring firms and sanctioning those involved will send a strong signal that there will be no business as usual. Governments and the relevant professional bodies must synergise to deal with quackery very seriously so as to bring sanity to the construction industry.

The recently amended COREN Act has wide-ranging powers to regulate engineering practice. The Act empowers the regulator to prosecute non-engineers who commit infractions in engineering projects, as well as any professional, or firms that commit infractions. If this law is fully implemented, it will help in reducing quackery and unprofessional conducts and sanitise the construction industry.

The past and present leadership of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, currently led by Babagana Mohammed, have made several efforts to stem the tide of shoddy works in infrastructural development such as building construction, road construction, equipment fabrication, telecommunication, etc.

These efforts include, but not limited to, the introduction of ‘Prevention of Infrastructure Failure Analysis Committee (PFAC), with the mandate of monitoring all engineering infrastructures to prevent failures.

Continuously engaging all the arms of government, the states and local governments to be transparent in awarding all engineering projects. Engagement of only qualified engineers/technologists/registered engineering firms in engineering projects, engaging with the National Assembly to amend relevant laws that will empower the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) to regulate engineering practices, supplying and always pushing the idea of seamless flow of engineering and technical information among government ministries, departments and agencies, and COREN established engineering monitoring regulations for monitoring engineering firms/personnel from project design to project completion to reduce quackery.