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Udora Orizu writes that the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu has come up with a novel path of addressing the deplorable state of the nation’s roads

On August 21, at a grand reception held at Transcorp Hilton in honour of Sen. David Umahi as the Minister of Works, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu floated a novel idea. The idea is to among other things, consider Roads Investment Fund for infrastructural development. The call however came on the heels of the  present dire economic situation that has affected the nation’s cash flows.

Put succinctly, road infrastructure is very critical to the socio-economic development of any nation. No matter the level of development a country has attained, roads play an important role in the process.

However, there is no gainsaying that Nigerian roads considered the largest road network in West Africa are either poorly maintained or untarred. To this end, citizens have had horrifying experiences plying the roads. Worst is that many lives and valuables have been lost to unavoidable accidents as well as crimes that regularly occur on these roads due to their deplorable state.

Unfortunately, the issue of bad roads has remained largely unresolved and has so, festered.

Last year, at the presidential inauguration of the Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project in Abuja, the World Bank’s Country Director, Shubham Chaudhuri, stated that even with the current scale-up being done by the government and its partners, Nigeria was still far away from what it needed to achieve functional rural roads.

He said: “Even with the current scale-up, we are not going to near what Nigeria needs to achieve functional rural roads. We have about 200,000km of rural roads all over Nigeria, of which 87 per cent are in bad condition. That means only about 40,000km are usable. So, if you think about tackling that problem at scale, it brings it to the issue of fiscal affordability.”

But while the situation persists, the National Assembly for decades has not also rested on its oars as it has continued to search for strategic approaches to help the federal government to tackle Nigeria’s road challenges.

It is noteworthy that the Federal Emergency Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), which is supposed to maintain the roads, is grossly underfunded.

In the 9th Assembly, the Chairman Senate Committee on FERMA, Senator Gershom Bassey stated that the agency had a budgetary approval of just 20% of the funds it needed for the rehabilitation of about 35,000km of federal roads in 2022.

It will be recalled that a few years back, the former minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola told the House of Representatives that they are relying on the Presidential Infrastructure Fund, Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme, the Sovereign Sukuk Fund, Multilateral Loans for some strategic road projects which have been scheduled for completion between 2021 to 2023.

In order to identify and appropriately address the challenges, the House of Representatives Committee on Works of the 8th Assembly chaired by Hon. Toby Okechukwu (Former Deputy Minority Leader of the 9th House), inaugurated a multi-stakeholder technical panel, which comprised representatives of 27 agencies/organisations that have something to do with our roads. After public hearings, elaborate consultations and understudying of the best practices in other climes, the panel recommended a paradigm shift in road governance and funding.

This perennial issue of bad roads and poor funding for their repair and maintenance necessitated the Deputy Speaker of the 10th House of Representatives to call on the new Minister of Works, Senator David Umahi to consider using roads investment fund for the development of infrastructure.

Likening the fund to that of Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Kalu said it will help the ministry raise fund in the light of the economic challenges to achieve its mandate.

The Deputy Speaker also urged Umahi to prioritize a clear road map for infrastructure projects according to the economic needs of the people.

He said: “Let me remind you that you applied a collaborative strategy as the governor of Ebonyi State by working closely with your House of Assembly for you to achieve a lot. The importance of collaborative approach between you and our office in the National Assembly cannot be overemphasized because it is going to help us achieve these infrastructure goals.

“I want to assure you that the National Assembly under the leadership of both the Senate President and the Speaker will give you all the support that is needed to make sure that this is achieved. We are promising that it’s important to begin to look at other areas. We heard people mention here that you might be struggling with funds given what the nation is going through at the moment, we need to think about roads investment fund, that the office of the ministry of works should think about roads investment fund.

“We will like to see you dedicating road investment fund that is similar to the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). And this infrastructure fund will help to bridge the gap. I want to emphasize that it will give a stable fund for your operation because these ideas you are bringing on board, if the funds are not there, you may not be able to achieve them. So, it’s important that your offices thinks in that direction. We are suggesting the importance of developing a clear road map for infrastructure project prioritisation based on needs, economic impact and feasibility.

“This is one of the things that you will bring on board to the federal level like you did in Ebonyi State. This will ensure that resources are rotated efficiently and projects are completely in time and within budget. Maintenance and sustainability is one of the approaches you used when you were governor and so, we are suggesting that this is a significant proactive approached towards ensuring that in the next 4 years whatever you bring on board will be sustained”.

Kalu also pledged the support of the National Assembly at all times to ensure efficient delivery.

“FERMA needs you visiting it in a way different from how it’s been operated before now in regards to maintenance of our roads. Public private partnership is an area we are looking at at the national assembly that you consider you explore the potentials in this public private partnership that will help us achieve more.

“You used community engagement when you were governor. We are also encouraging you to enhance that that what will be provided for the community is what they need. Monitoring and Evaluation is what you carried out in Ebonyi State. Please, bring it on board here so that efficiently, our job will be easier by the time we come on board to oversight you, knowing that you have done a good job. Let me remind you that you are one of the exports from the south east to the nation.

“The world is watching to see the value you will bring on board. I watched you from a distance to see how you prioritise transportation infrastructure in Ebonyi State. Please do the same here for the federal republic of Nigeria. For us in the 10th national assembly, it is important for me to highlight the importance of transportation infrastructure in our country’s development agenda. I will like to emphasize that one of the core priorities of the 10th Assembly is to significantly improve the country’s road transportation network.

“Once that is done, it will help us improve the economic growth and enhance connectivity within the regions and also improve the overall quality of life for our citizens. We have confidence in you and we are pledging to support you at the national assembly”, the Deputy Speaker said.

*Prioritizing Road Projects*

Although each region appears to assess itself as the worse off, the sad reality is that from East to West, from North to South, the story is the same everywhere.

Prioritizing road projects could prove a difficult task for stakeholders weighing the competing interests on account of its economic importance. However, the government should also prioritize road projects by investing heavily in roads to save the lives of Nigerians.

Since the tenth National Assembly commenced legislative duties in June, the lawmakers have passed several motions which sought urgent attention and action on Nigerian roads. Both chambers have entertained at least two motions in the last two months seeking FG urgent action on the roads.

In June, the Senate adopting a motion sponsored by Senator Adams Oshiomhole called on the federal government to mobilise contractors to site and further stem the deplorable state of Benin-Auchi-Lokoja Road.

Last month, Hon. Austin Asema Achado, moving a motion for a state of emergency on the Naka-Makurdi-Aliade-Gboko and Aliade-Otukpo federal road network in Benue State, lamented that the road is so deplorable and has become a death trap for citizens who ply it for transportation of farm produce from the state to the Southern and Northern parts of the country.

Also last month, the lawmaker representing Ideato North, South Federal Constituency of Imo State, Hon. Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere Ikeagwuonu, moved a motion lamenting the neglect of Oba-Aguata-Akokwa-Arondizuogu-Okigwe road, saying that it had not only claimed many lives but has become free zone for armed robbers who unleash terror on innocent road users on almost daily basis.

Citing Section 14 (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which mandates the Federal Government to ensure security and welfare of the people, Ugochinyere urged the House to prevail on the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing to commence full-scale rehabilitation of the said road in order to reduce the suffering of the people of Akokwa, Arondizuogu and Okigwe in Imo State.

Adopting the motion, the lawmakers urged FERMA and the Federal Ministry of Works to urgently repair or reconstruct the failed portions of the Oba-Aquata-Akokwa- Arondizuogu-Okigwe Road in Idemili North/ldemili South, Nnewi North/Nnewi South/Ekwusigo, Aguata and Ideato North/ldeato South Federal Constituencies of Anambra and Imo States.

In another motion moved on July 19th, the House mandated FERMA, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Federal Ministry of Works, Environment and the Ecological Fund Office to immediately fix the Mgbe/Umuezeala/Ogboko Bypass in Ideato South Local Government Area of Imo State.

Ugochinyere had while moving the motion alerted the House on the effect of gully erosion along Mgbe/Umuezeala/Ogboko Bypass, in his constituency.

He expressed concern that as a result of the gully erosion, houses and landed properties situated within the precincts of the road have been completely washed off, while many residents have fled from the area, for the fear of their lives.

The lawmaker had while calling for the intervention of the House, argued that; “if no urgent and immediate repair/reconstruction steps are taken to salvage the situation, more devastating damage would be done to the lives, livelihood and properties of my Constituents and this may adversely affect my access to my constituents.”

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