Lafarge Africa Plc., believes it can conveniently and permanently solve Nigeria’s road construction problems, but that it would need assistance from other stakeholders. Bennett Oghifo reports

 

 

Over the years, the Nigerian government has spent unimaginable sums of money trying to build good roads across the nation, but the few roads constructed do not last up to five years after the contractors have left site.

This problem can be solved through a multi-stakeholder approach, said the Country Chief Executive Officer, Lafarge Africa, Mr. Michel Puchercos, at a summit on the ‘Economics of Road Construction in Nigeria’, organised by BusinessDay Newspaper in partnership with Lafarge Africa Plc., in Lagos, recently.

According to Puchercos, “There are also pertinent questions begging for answers. Why is the lifespan of roads in Nigeria rather short? Are we paying adequate attention to soil texture and road stabilisation in the construction of roads? Should we be considering more concrete solutions for road construction in Nigeria?

“As a member of the LafargeHolcim Group – the largest concrete and building solutions company in the world, Lafarge Africa Plc surely has verifiable solutions to road construction in Nigeria. However we cannot go it alone. We are dealing with an issue that is very much beyond one stakeholder. It is a challenge for cement and concrete producers in Nigeria just as it is a challenge for contractors, consultants, financial institutions, development agencies and indeed, all road users.

“We strongly believe in the need to bring the entire ecosystem together to discuss this all-important issue. This is why I am glad that our indefatigable Minister of Power Works and Housing Mr. Babatunde Fashola is here in person to listen to all stakeholders and his perspectives to some of these issues.”

The Country CEO said, “With a road network estimated at nearly 200,000 kilometres, Nigeria’s national road network is the largest in West Africa and the second largest, south of the Sahara. Road transportation accounts for about 90 percent of all freight and passenger movements in the country. Adequate road infrastructure is central to Nigeria’s economic growth; it is at the core of good governance and public welfare.”

He said, “The road infrastructure in Nigeria as it stands today cannot adequately support and propel the Nigerian economy in the right direction. Concerns have been expressed about the quality of roads, the maintenance culture, the design and innovative construction solutions being deployed in the construction of roads in Nigeria.

“To further compound the situation, Government’s dwindling revenues at the state and federal levels mean we must get creative in addressing this all important issue. It is probably the time for a more aggressive public-private sector approach to road construction in Nigeria.”

Also emphasising the importance of the summit, the Chairman, Lafarge Africa Plc., Mr. Mobolaji Balogun said, “With the Federal and respective State Governments grappling with dwindling resources, it has become crucial that we convene the ecosystem of public and private sector players to brainstorm on issues of funding, partnerships, design, and quality of roads in Nigeria. For sure Government can no longer do it alone.

“We all agree that roads are at the core of infrastructural provision in any modern society. Beyond funding, we need to critically examine our present approach to road construction and maintenance in Nigeria with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the lifespan of Nigerian roads is considerably higher than it is today. Present day economic challenges require that we become far more creative in deploying human and material resources for road construction in Nigeria. It has also become expedient that we broaden the scope of Public Private Sector collaboration on road construction.

“As an infrastructure solutions provider, we at Lafarge Africa Plc feel a sense of duty to mobilise other stakeholders to engage in this very crucial conversation on how to ensure that our roads are built better and in a more sustainable manner.”

The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, who delivered the keynote address, ‘Economics of Innovative Solutions to Road Construction in Nigeria’, presented a hands-on assessment of the situation and workable solution, which included collaboration with the private sector.

Explaining the involvement of the private sector in the provision of infrastructure, Fashola said they would be involved in the construction of roads, culverts, drains.

He added that the government was already collaborating with the Dangote Group in this regard with the on-going reconstruction of two-kilometre on Wharf Road in Apapa, Lagos.

The minister said, “I am pleased to inform you that, we have just concluded an agreement using the tax incentive order to: Hand over the Apapa area comprising Creek Road, Liverpool Road, Marine Beach to Mile 2, Oshodi, Oworonshoki to the Lagos end of the Toll Gate on the Ibadan Expressway to Dangote Group for construction using concrete on Tuesday, 12th September 2017.”

He said processes were being concluded to arrive at the project cost, which would be borne by the Dangote Group that is expected to recoup their investment through tax incentive.

“As for the agreement with Dangote, we are now awaiting the Design of the 35 km stretch excluding the portion that has been completed, about 7 km, by the previous administration around Mile 2 area. From the design, we will determine the cost and the scope of works which we hope can be executed quickly.

“As this Government promised, we will solve the Apapa and Port congestion problem. I can only tell you that the solution is now on the way,” he said.

Fashola, who described this initiative as “the innovative side of road construction and economics,” explained that “We inherited a tax incentive policy for individuals to benefit from tax remission, to recover investment made in public infrastructure like roads, which other members of the public can utilise.

“Apart from the fact that pending applications from Dangote group were not approved by the previous managers of the economy, which the present administration has now approved and work has commenced on 42.9 km of the Obajana – Kabba  road, this Government has thought it fit to review: The five-year limit on that tax order to a ten-year period to sustain private investment in road infrastructure, because it is a long-term asset; the order by amending individual investment to include groups of individuals because not all potential investors can individually muster the resources alone but can do so as a group, and recover their pro-rated share; The order by prescribing fast track processes for MDA approvals to prevent a repeat of the 5 years delay that characterized the Dangote application, before this administration finally approved it.”

He also reminded the distinguished gathering of the “just concluded and signed an agreement with NLNG to construct the Bodo – Bonny Bridge at the cost of N120.6 Billion with NLNG and Federal Government sharing the cost 50-50. The contracts were signed on Wednesday, 13thSeptember 2017.”

Also, he said the federal government would reconstruct toll plazas and weigh bridges on some roads. “Going forward, we have identified 28 toll plazas out of the old toll plazas, on roads where construction work is currently going on, at which we propose to restore toll plazas.

“We have also concluded traffic surveys on 51 major highways and now have current traffic data on these roads and we can project vehicular traffic movement for tolling and concession purposes.

“We have concluded preliminary designs for the plazas, and we are now looking at how to incorporate technology such as using contact cards, installing fibre optic, using GSM to enable people pay with minimum use of cash,” he said.

The economics of this intervention, according to him, would bring more demand for services and provide opportunities to build the plazas, manage them, provide telecoms and payment platforms, creating vending opportunities for people to buy their toll tickets in the way they buy their recharge cards.

He said, “In addition to these, our roads need traffic signs and road furniture like lane marking and we are working to deploy these very soon across sections of completed roads where we are currently constructing in all the states.

“Fabrication of road signs, poles, printing of the lettering and markings will trickle down to small contractors who will be sub-contractors to our main contractors.

“These are the economics of road construction, arising from solutions we are developing and deploying which will shortly be felt. It will also provide employment for those who will install the poles, cast the plinth, dig the trenches, install the signs and mark the lanes.

“Most of the preparatory work and designs have been done in the Ministry by our staff, working in collaboration with the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), to standardise the signs, the sizes, the lettering, the colour and the dimensions of the poles and the procedure for installation.”

He said to preserve the roads, “which are currently being subjected to excessive axle load pressure of overloading, we are working to install weighbridges at 22 points and 10 points have been completed.

“However, the Federal Highways Act prescribes for removal, storage and transhipment of excessive cargo from overloaded vehicles, after they are weighed.

“This means that warehouses are required near or at weighbridge locations. This was not in existence in the past and we have developed strategies to concession these weighbridges to operators who can invest in the construction and operation of warehouses.

“We are developing rates and charges for storage that will be applicable per tonnage or other measure of excessive cargo so that the operation is governed by Rules.

“We intend to make it cheaper to comply and very expensive to violate our axle load prescriptions.

“This is because those who overload their vehicles are making profit at the expense of other road users and diminishing the quality and life expectancy of our roads.

“The operation of the weighbridges, the construction of the warehouses, the storage of overloaded cargo, will further enhance economic opportunities for Nigerians from labour, to weighing, use of scales and transport opportunity to tranship excess cargo.”

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