South-East/South-South governors right in asking for clear-cut policy
At its meeting on July 19, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) took the very important and commendable decision to approve the request by Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, that two federal roads, namely, Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Ahmadu Bello Expressway in Kaduna be re-designated as state roads. Rather than just repairing the roads with its funds and asking for reimbursement, ownership of the roads was conceded to Kaduna State to endow the state government with “the power, without any inhibition, to work on the roads to make them better for Kaduna indigenes”.
It was, however, a different kettle of fish altogether when the Lagos State Government sought the authorisation of the Federal Government to take over the federal road linking the Murtala Muhammed International Airport to Oshodi in order to reconstruct and modernise the badly decayed facility. Work on the transformation of the road into a 10-lane expressway equipped with five bridges, two flyovers, two service lanes and three pedestrian bridges could only commence last week after the resolution of an avoidable and untidy public spat between the governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, and the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), on the matter. This was despite the fact that the state government said it had already sourced the requisite funds for the project from its own resources.
The call by the South-East/South-South Governors Forum at its last meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on the Federal Government to come up with a clear policy on the concession of federal roads and to fast-track the process of its implementation was, no doubt, informed by the seeming arbitrariness that currently characterises the decision on which states to cede federal roads to for repair and maintenance. Given the appalling state of federal highways in the two regions, the concern and advocacy of the governors is understandable and laudable. But they should follow up their call with a detailed proposal that could help chart the way forward in this regard.
However, the issue of failed federal highways is a nationwide challenge that transcends the South-East and South-South regions. This is a cause that should be pursued by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) as a matter of urgency. There are certainly many other states that can fund the repair of federal roads within their jurisdictions, as Kaduna and Lagos are doing. The existence of a clearly stipulated concession policy will help make the process for actualising this more efficient, transparent, immune from negative extraneous considerations and thus more productive.
Some states have expended their own resources on rehabilitating critical federal roads and have been waiting endlessly for reimbursement. While Lagos State, for instance, says it is yet to be refunded over N51 billion expended on federal roads over the years, Taraba State Governor, Mr. Darius Ishaku, recently pleaded with the Federal Government to refund over N30 billion expended on federal roads by his predecessor. These kinds of situations can be avoided with a clear road concession policy in place.
The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) set up by the late President Umaru MusaYar’ Adua administration as a strategy to confront the severe funding challenges in the sector has been largely comatose. It is time for the requisite authorities to look into the laws setting up the commission with a view to strengthening and making it more effective. If the ICRC had been alive to its responsibilities, for instance, the Public-Private-Partnership concession agreement between the Federal Government and Bi-Courtney consortium as regards the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which eventually failed, could have been better handled.
The state of federal roads across the country constitutes a national emergency and the plea of the South-South/South-East Governors Forum must be treated expeditiously. This is particularly so because it has become obvious that the Federal Government lacks the capacity to solely fund the construction, repair and maintenance of federal roads nationwide.