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Why durable road network remains elusive in Nigeria

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Some weeks to his departure from office in 2015, all was set for the inauguration of Akinbayode Street, in Mushin Local Council of Lagos State, by the then governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola. But in the end, the governor never showed up, neither did he send a representative.

After music blared for several hours from giant black speakers, it faded, and eventually died down. Officials that erected the rostrum and canopies earlier in the day disassembled, and carted them away alongside the white plastic chairs, which no guests sat on. Nonetheless, residents and road users continued to ply the road till today.

But less than three years after it was constructed to improve traffic flow, enhance the aesthetics of the area, portions of the road soon began to fail and are still failing.

The fate of Sadiku Street, off Akinbayode Street, which was constructed by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) Nigeria Ltd, is similar. To date, the road, which is about 600-metre-long has failed on at least, two spots.

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Isolo Road in the same vicinity and local council is not faring better, as both extremes, that is the Agege Motor Road end, and the Iyana Isolo Bus Stop end have already disintegrated. A crater routinely develops at the Oye Roundabout section of the road, and the haphazard repairs, would collapse only months later.

Despite roadways being one of the easiest and cheapest means of transportation throughout the world, scenarios like the above are replete across the length and breadth of not just Lagos State, but also the entire country.

Beyond being cheap, roads are of great importance to the socio-economic development of the society, as a well-developed network of roads constitutes an integral part of infrastructure in any given society, including ours where infrastructure deficit is mindboggling. 

Additionally, good roads apart from serving as an enabling medium for improving the condition of rural areas, can also facilitate urbanisation, reduce poverty levels and positively contribute to stemming rural urban migration. Furthermore, roadways are important to the society; as they allow for the evacuation of produce from farms to markets and city centres, provide access to health, education, agricultural extension services etc.

Conscious of the over 60 per cent post-harvest losses of farm produce, especially perishable goods suffered by the country, the Federal Government, in February this year released N34b for the construction of 377 rural roads to stop post-harvest losses.

Indeed, the country’s 194, 000-kilometre network of roads has so deteriorated to the point of causing dire danger to road users, including motorists, even as bad roads now accounts for one of the major sources of deaths in the country.

The Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Mr. Clem Agba, who disclosed the government’s plan to revamp the rural roads when he paid a courtesy visit to the Agadagba of Olodiama, Godwin Ogunyibo, after the inspection of the ongoing 9km Igo – Ikpella rural road project in Ovia North Local Council of Edo State, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had released the money for the project, adding that the 266 communities in the six geo-political zones would benefit from the project.

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“As part of the economy sustainability plan of the president, especially as part of efforts to mitigate the post-COVID-19 pandemic, his attention is particularly on agriculture,” he said of Buhari, adding that, “the president, who wants us to eat what we produce, says we must produce what we eat. He is particularly concerned that food produced in the rural areas, find it difficult to get to the cities because of poor roads.

“The farmers suffer a lot of post-harvest losses in the absence of storage facilities. You go to the river to catch fish, before you get to the market the fish turns bad, over 50 per cent of our mango harvested yearly is wasted. The only way we can encourage investors to these rural areas and also encourage farmers is to build these roads,’’ the minister said.

Year in, year out, the federal and state governments continue to award contracts running into billions of naira for the construction/rehabilitation of existing road infrastructure, but as soon as some of these roads are completed and put to use, the begin to fall apart thereby upping the ante in the country’s infrastructure deficit.

Last December, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, while admitting the infrastructure deficit plaguing the country, explained that $3tr is needed to bridge the country’s infrastructural deficit over the next 30 years. 

Osinbajo while featuring at a webinar organised by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), explained that adopting new models of investments for infrastructural development in the country was imperative, as reliance on public expenditure alone was no longer sufficient to meet multiplying needs.

The vice president added that in spite of government’s interventions over the years, the country still faces immense infrastructural challenge, which in turn hamstrung rapid economic growth.

“The Federal Government recognises this fact, which is why we are considering other approaches to complement and boost financing for the development and maintenance of infrastructure in Nigeria.

“It is clear that this deficit can only be made up by private investment. The private sector is responsible for 92 per cent of our GDP, while the public sector is mere eight per cent. So, the synergy between the public and private sector through Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) is really the realistic solution,” he said.

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Despite all what governments at different levels claim to be doing to address roads deficit, allegations of poor quality work, and failure/deterioration of roads soon after construction are not abating. In fact, even the Federal Government’s desire to revamp rural roads may mean little considering the rate at which they fall apart soon after construction.

Not long ago, one of such allegations strained the relationship between the executive and the legislature in Akwa Ibom State, when the Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly (AKSHA) Committee on Judiciary, Justice, Public Petitions, and Human Rights, Victor Ekwere, alleged that 97 per cent of roads constructed by the Governor Udom Emmanuel-led administration in nine local councils have failed.

According to him, investigations from nine council areas proved that out of the 57 roads constructed by the administration, about 97 per cent have so far failed, alleging also that the Awa-Ukam Road, which was commissioned in May 29, 2019, was in a deplorable state.
 
Mark Esset, member representing Nsit Atai State Constituency, who also contributed to the debate, submitted that during a recent inspection tour, the bus conveying his team broke down in one of the bad spots along Nto Edino-Ekwerazu Road.

He said that within four years, the state government had awarded contract for the dualisation of Nsit Atai- Uya Oron Road to four contractors, yet the road was getting worse. 

The observations by the lawmakers, which somehow snowballed into a full-blown spat between the legislature and the executive started during a budget defence session, where the two lawmakers pointedly accused the state government of engaging inexperienced contactors to build roads.

But the state government, which rubbished such claims describing it as “untrue and unfounded,” said that even though there might have been problems “with one or two roads constructed, it did not mean that 97 per cent of road projects embarked upon by the present administration had failed.

Then Commissioner for Works, Ephraim Inyang-eyen, equally maintained that some of the roads alleged to have failed have not been completed, but were at the asphalting stage, adding that the state government had ordered the contractors to suspend all earth work and asphalting jobs till the rains were over.

“No politician in Akwa Ibom State can just wake up and say that everything that Governor Udom has done have failed. The Nto-Edino-Enwereazu Road handled by Sayang Construction Company has not failed as alleged. We never told anybody that the road is completed. We are yet to do the final asphalt wearing on that road, what people are driving on is what we call the binder course. It is the same thing that happened in Ini Local Government Area, where we asked the contractor to concentrate on the bridge till we have sufficient sun to do the final wearing course. What people are driving on now is binder course, which is not the final course of asphalt.

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“Akwa Ibom will not lose any money and those, who are not doing their jobs well will refund money to government. We do not need to announce that on the streets. When we recovered money from Renaissance, we did not go to the street to announce that the funds were recovered and returned to government coffers. We are in the process of recovering whatever was paid to Land Sea and we are not making it a public issue. I had expected the House member to pass through the appropriate committees in the House and invite us to know the true position of the roads,” said Inyang-eyen, who is now chief of staff to the state governor.

In the South East, the situation is not different as exemplified by what is happening on Ugwuonyeama– Ninth Mile; Ninth Mile–Enugu–Onitsha Expressway; Oji–Achi-Mmaku Road in Enugu State; Enugu–Port Harcourt Expressway; Okigwe-Owerri Road and Ninth Mile–Makurdi Highway.

Except the ongoing reconstruction going on at the Enugu–Port Harcourt Highway that has facilitated movement at the moment, several other roads in the zone are near impassable. The Ugwuonyeama–Ninth Mile Road in Enugu has become a death trap. The dual carriageway that leads to Onitsha, in Anambra State, was reconstructed over seven years ago by the Federal Government. Currently, the level of dilapidation caused by gully erosion, and heavy-duty trucks, has made many motorists abandon the road. The situation is the same on the Ninth Mile–Enugu– Onitsha Highway.

Travelling on the road, which has now become deplorable is a very difficult experience, as part of the dual carriageway has been washed off by erosion to the point that residents now farm and carry out other activities on the affected parts.

Several indigenous construction companies, including RCC, CCC, among others have at different times worked on the road. It was last reconstructed about ten years ago.

Residents of the area, including experts are of the view that early deterioration, and incessant failures of roads are as a result of poor quality job, use of sub-standard materials and over usage.

An environmentalist, Dr. Chijioke Okwenna, pointed out that geological and geotechnical factors that include preconstruction investigations (that are often neglected) could cause premature failure of roads.

Okwenna added that the level of corruption that has permeated the country was such that road construction contracts are now used for political patronage, and this ultimately leads to compromise.

“The proper approach to road construction, is to carry out detailed geological, geophysical and geotechnical investigations. Field sampling of foundation and sub-base soils must take into account, locations that require special treatment.”

Okwenna, who noted that tropical soils exhibit wide variability in geological and geotechnical properties even within a restricted area, explained that in such scenarios, “designs based on results of tests executed on few samples are thus likely to be faulty.”

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He suggested that for roads to last longer, “laboratory testing of soils must be thorough, with modifications of temperate zone methods. Modifications such as soaking of air-dried soil samples in weak calgon solution prior to wet sieving will expose the true nature of sub-base soils. Determination of both unsoaked and soaked California Bearing Ratio (CBR) can be used to simulate the influence of water on both sub-base and sub-grade soils on highways.”

For Dr. Francis Onah, a geologist, over 70 per cent of roads in the South East were constructed with asphalt-based materials, adding that such roads would fail almost immediately when heavy-duty vehicles ply them.

According to him, asphalts are designed for light vehicular traffic movement, which basically consists sub-grade, stone-based binder course and wearing course, adding however that a layer, which should ordinarily take care of the heavy duty vehicles, are rarely not included.

“There is a layer that is not included in sections of these roads and that is why they fail most of the time. There is what we call macadam that helps roads to carry bigger loads. Most roads don’t have it. Here in the South East, they don’t use it because it is costly to do so. Unfortunately, what we have are mainly heavy-duty trucks in the zone because of the volume of businesses that go on here. So, the roads are prone to failure.

“Look at the Ugwuonyeama Road, for instance. Do you know the volume of water trucks that pass through it daily? You cannot do any good construction work there, but you want it to last without adequate materials. Until you solve the water challenge in Enugu, that road will continue to be threatened, no matter the number of times that it is worked on.

“What I think is that our contractors should also up their games and do thorough jobs because there is no way we can have long-lasting roads the way we are going. Our leaders should also change. A situation where road contracts are awarded based on political, and not professional considerations, as well as a situation, where 10 per cent of the contract sums are deducted at source, also leaves the contractor with no option than to cut corners,” he said.

But the managing director of an Enugu-based construction firm, who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity, said his colleagues should not be blamed for the incessant road failure in the country.

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According to him, the attitude of some members of the public who use these roads equally contributes to their failure, stressing that the time has come “for people to own whatever government facility/project that is located in their area.

“What do you make of the idea of burning used tyres on roads by aggrieved members of the public, and those who willingly break them up in the guise of speed barriers? These are intentional actions carried out on the road that jeopardise their lifespan. We generate certificate for every road construction done. At times, these certificates are generated to enable the contractors to get paid. There are also the ones that give a warranty on the lifespan of the road. So, there is no contractor who will willingly do a shoddy job just to make money; it is not done because our professional body regulates our activities.

“It has become increasingly difficult to get paid even when you have invested your money on a job; government officials on the other hand are looking for their cut; politicians who recommended you for the job are also there waiting for their cut. That is the challenge; you must play ball to enable you get a job; you must play ball to get paid, and what have you. It is not an easy thing. The kind of system that we have found ourselves is seriously telling on the kind of infrastructure that we have in this country. That is what I can tell you.”

Asked whether the legal system can contribute in any way to improving road standards, he stated that, “the government must rise to the challenge and enforce prosecution of contractors whose jobs fail within stipulated time frame. When you prosecute them, you also prosecute whoever is involved in the award of the contract. That way, you will instill sanity in the system; otherwise we will continue to cry about road failures in the country.”

A civil engineer, at the University of Ibadan, Dr. Bamidele Dahunsi, said the problem associated with constant road failure in Nigeria are multifaceted, but chief among the causes is failure to stick to specification, a variant of corruption.

He also added that giving jobs to unqualified persons has worsened the experience of road failure, as those in charge of procurement process, those that supervise contractors are political office holders, and in most cases give the jobs to their party member, who knows next to nothing about road construction.

“Some persons just register construction companies to collect government contracts, while professionals who would have done better jobs never get the jobs, or they get it through those unqualified contractors. And when jobs go through hands, it means the cost would go up and there would always be compromise in such situations.”

He explained that the design line and average number of years a road should last before it begins to fail in most cases should be 20 years. “But in several instances, we have seen roads, which start failing within weeks of commissioning and some before commissioning. Some road failures could also be as a result of misuse by some users. The shoulders of the roads are often turned to passing path by people, which would lead to its progressive deterioration and ultimate failure. In some roads, vehicles using them have bigger outlook than what they were designed for. The weight of such vehicles could exceed what the roads were actually designed for.

“We have cases where accidents on the road could lead to its constant failure. For example, tankers falling down and bursting into flames would heat up the bitumen on the road and cause it to detach itself from the aggregate that was binding before, thereafter the aggregate begins to loose and the road fails. During the M.K.O Abiola protest in 1993, I personally observed that some areas where people burnt tyres during protests and after the protests failed only months after the protests. In some cases, oil spillage like petrol on the road dissolves the bidder for the road,” he said.

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A professor of engineering geology and geo-technics, Afe Babalola University, and winner of the 2008 Nigeria Prize for Science for his work on “Solution to road pavement,” Ebenezer Meshida, also aligned with Dahunsi saying: “The failure of Nigerian roads are largely due to engineering and money problems. When money is devoted to something and the professionals don’t get one tenth of that money to work with, then there is problem.”

Meshida who had participated in the design works for Lagos/Ibadan expressway said the lifespan of a well-constructed road especially those connecting the cities should not be less than 10 years before needing repairs at all.

For rural roads, he advanced five years because rural roads don’t need too much expense and doesn’t accommodate much load density.

“Road failures in Nigeria have become an embarrassment to everybody. Engineers should improve Road designs; the soil on which the roads are to be built should be studied properly so that the problems involved would be understood. Water is the major thing that disrupts the soil where roads are constructed when there is rainfall, or underground water in the locality. The invention of teralite for road construction prevents water dissolution in soils on which roads are built. If the teralite material is used, soil will be very stable.”

He advised that before road construction commences, the climatic condition; the soil along the stretch of the road; the ingredients with which to construct the road, as well as the design, which must be in agreement with the investigations should be conducted before construction.”

He posited that many Nigerian towns and cities are not really designed by town planners who should originally advise authorities on the type and quality of roads to construct in the country locations.

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