When Lagos State Government claimed the other day that the Federal Government owes it N59 billion for works carried out on federal roads, it merely echoed the cries of many other states. By October 2012, the Federal Government was reported to owe all the states of the federation N218 billion for works done on federal roads. At that time, the National Assembly pledged to come up with a comprehensive law for road construction in Nigeria. Now the nation is faced with the consequences of the vacillation in tackling the challenges of roads in Nigeria, caused by lack of executive will to set up an effective agency for roads.
The Federal Highway network of more than 34,000 kilometres traverses the entire country, linking the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Because the road network is a critical national asset, essential for economic development, social integration and national security, it is high time a state of emergency was declared and a National Conference on Roads convened to design an efficient structure for the collaboration of all the tiers of government to give Nigerians good roads.
The demand by Lagos State is not peculiar although Lagos has a unique place in Nigeria. All the major highways and bridges in the state are federal highways. This has its foundation in the fact that Lagos was the capital before the movement to Abuja. In 1925, the Roads Board was set up by the Colonial Administration. The Public Works Department built roads (essentially trade routes) to link the whole country. They were classified as Trunk “A” roads. In Lagos, the City Council built streets, as was the case in the Municipal Councils of other major cities.
After independence in 1960, the three regions embarked on the construction of regional roads. With the advent of Military rule and the creation of 12 states, the Trunk A roads were classified as Federal Highways and clearly defined in the 1971 Federal Highways Decree (Act). In the preparation of the 1975-80 Third National Development Plan, it was decided that 17,000 kilometres of state roads be taken over by the Federal Government and developed to federal standards. Many of these roads traverse cities within the present 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
In the case of Lagos, the construction of major roads in the Third National Development Plan was undertaken by the Federal Government. These were The Falomo Bridge to Victoria Island, Third Mainland Bridge, New Carter Bridge through Herbert Macaulay to Ikorodu road expansion, Western Avenue Link Bridge to Ikorodu Road, Apapa Wharf Road starting at Oyingbo, on to Wharf Road Apapa, Creek Road to the Apapa-Oshodi- Oworonshoki-Ibadan Expressway. It is noteworthy that when the Federal Highways Department started listing federal roads in 1978, Broad Street, Lagos was listed first and also Nnamdi Azikiwe Street and Marina Road. The Lagos-Badagry Expressway was conceived and built by Lagos State under Mobolaji Johnson, but it was also absorbed in the 1974 scoop, while Obasanjo extended the highway into Benin Republic in furtherance of regional integration. The maintenance of this vast network of roads and bridges is certainly beyond the capacity of Lagos State alone.
To the public, there is no separation as to which tier of government is to provide good roads. However, it is the governor of the state who is always the point man even for the federal roads in his domain. On account of this pressure, many state governors have carried out major rehabilitation of federal roads within their areas. An effort by Akwa Ibom State Governor Godswill Akpabio to obtain Federal Government’s consent for him to spend state money on a critical federal road was frustrated even after getting President’s approval in principle. This is where due process and other considerations come into play. Is the road already awarded to a contractor, in which case any foray by a state government or its appointed contractor would be a technical trespass?
In cases where the Federal Ministry of Works would have given approval for intervention by a state, there are so many factors that can delay payment after a decision is made to consider such. The Federal Government would send a Verification Team to inspect the roads, including officials of the Ministry of Finance, Bureau of Public Procurements, Ministry of Works, the Federal Controller of Works in the State and the Federal Road Maintenance Agency Engineer (from FERMA) in the state. Often by the time this team inspects a road under claim, it would be years after the work was done. Wear and tear would have set in. Therefore, the Verification Team would demand Documentary Evidence: Tenders, Contract Papers, Consultant’s Report, Certificate of Completion, and Materials Costs in cases of work carried out by the Direct Labour Agency of the state.
Lagos claims it had gone through this process and the Federal Audit Team had approved N51 billion of the N59 billion being claimed. So the leadership on all sides must put aside partisanship and be dispassionate in resolving the claims. As the Lagos State claim brings to fore the challenges of federal and state collaboration, the access road to Murtala Muhammed International Airport sticks out as a sore thumb in this nation. The environs of the road leading out of an airport generate the first impression of a country for any visitor from abroad. What obtains now is a canvas of squalor. Nigeria’s effort at attracting foreign investment may well founder on account of this eye-sore. Even an offer by the Lagos government to fix the road has not succeeded in getting Abuja out of its endemic lethargy.
The challenges in road financing and management, however, cannot be resolved until the Federal Government carries out its much stated road reform package. The establishment of a Federal Roads Authority that will address all issues is long overdue. The classification of roads should be revisited, and the routes taken over from states in 1974 should be re-assessed. Time is running out.
In the meantime, federal, state and local government officials responsible for roads must convene an emergency meeting. This is a precursor to severance of road issues from the annual National Council of Works meetings. This should then enable the convening of a yearly National Conference on roads that will look into the challenges of road funding, development and management in Nigeria.