The introduction of road construction with concrete pavement by the Minister of Works, Engr. David Umahi, has continued to elicit mixed reactions from the building sector and other stakeholders, TOPE SUNDAY writes.
The Minister of Works, Engr. David Umahi, upon assumption of office was explicitly clear about his mission and resolve to ensure that Nigerian roads were durable and can stand the test of time.
Blueprint Weekend reports that the minister, had while on the inspection of the Abuja-Lokoja Road which he carried out barely 24 hours after his resumption as a minister, vowed to redesign the Lokoja-Ganaja-Ajaokuta Road in Kogi State.
Umahi also revealed plans for long-lasting, low-maintenance concrete roads and assured swift progress on all federal road projects in the state.
He disclosed that the federal government was considering concrete road construction innovation which he said has low-maintenance cost and can last for over 50 years without maintenance.
The minister also disclosed that concrete roads are cheaper in terms of construction cost and the guarantee of construction materials.
The riot act
To ensure the quality of the Nigerian roads was maintained and sustained, Umahi in one of his interfaces with the contractors handling the road projects across the country, read a riot act to contractors handling road construction across the country over the use of asphalt road construction.
He maintained that any contractor who insisted on asphalt road must sign an agreement that it would last for at least 30 years.
The minister explained that his preference for concrete roads was because of their durability, saying that it had at least 50 years of shelf life.
He said it would reduce the pressure on the naira, boost the economy of the country, and create employment since there are indigenous companies producing cement, unlike bitumen that is being imported for asphalt.
Likely ripple effect?
With Umahi’s insistence on road construction with concrete pavement, some Nigerians have alleged that the development would lead to a hike in the cement price.
The fear was equally reechoed by the Cement Producers Association of Nigeria, when in a cautionary statement, expressing concerns that the federal government’s plans to introduce concrete roads could potentially increase the price of cement to as high as N9,000 per bag from the current price of N5,000.
The Association, in a statement jointly signed by the National Chairman, Prince David Iweta, and National Secretary, Chief Reagan Ufomba, commended the minister of works for supporting the idea of cement-made roads but cautioned about potential adverse consequences if the supply side of the equation is not adequately addressed.
“Our findings from various parts of the country show that cement sells for as high as N6,000 per bag in the rainy season. We predict that it will sell for over N9,000 per bag in the dry season, especially with the pronouncement of the Minister of Works on cement technology and the marching order on housing by President Bola Tinubu if the government does not take proactive steps.
“While we commend the minister’s position on cement-made roads, we warn of the dire consequences if the supply end is not properly addressed.
“It would amount to a dereliction of duty not to intervene. And the time is now. To do otherwise is to continue in a worsening pipe dream that prices would suddenly drop on this essential input that will continue to drain the purse of Nigerians, render them homeless, encourage chaos between demand and supply, and worsen the infrastructure deficit it sets out to cure, and lead to an unprecedented price hike,” the manufacturers said.
The association has also called on the federal government to permanently resolve the persistent issue of rising cement prices by encouraging greater involvement in the cement industry, emphasizing that Nigerians should not have to pay more than N5,600 per bag.
To address this challenge, the cement producers have recommended that the government place more emphasis on road design that accommodates both cement technology and asphalt pavement simultaneously.
However, addressing their fears Umahi said the claim that cement price would go up to N9,000 if the government starts doing concrete roads was false.
He said the claims were part of a big campaign of blackmail against him by the cabals in the construction industry, even as he expressed dismay at how contractors cheat Nigerians with the materials they use for road construction.
He lamented that roads that were being constructed in the country would not last for seven years after they are completed.
The minister said the contractors were in the habit of increasing the cost of projects to swindle the country through contract variation and the use of asphalt materials, which were subject to the international price of crude oil.
“There is no project being constructed right now in Nigeria that is going to last for seven years. The question is are we going to be maintaining or reconstructing our roads every 10 years? That is what we have been doing.
“I traveled from Abuja to Benin City through Lokoja, all the stretches of the road are on contract, and ongoing, this is through the policy of the last administration but how much of these roads are motorable?
“I traveled through the roads myself and I shed tears for the kind of pains our people are going through. I spent 14 hours on the road having started my journey from 10 am and got to Benin City at 2 pm the next day. I was very happy I experienced the pain.
“President Tinubu said I must travel through all the projects so that I will brief him on my experience and tell him the truth.
“This is my line of instructions. I will do whatever the president instructs me to do and he is the only one and God that can cancel my instructions so don’t waste your time reporting me to anyone apart from these two.
“No matter the amount of blackmail and lies, it will not prevail. I traveled to the southwest, and I am not unhappy with the project there and the supervision as I gave them 80 marks.
“I am happy that the directors are doing their work. I went to the part of the North-central, and I am very dissatisfied with the quality of work and supervision. I went to Kaduna and I disagreed with the design of Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano.
“I want kilometer zero to 38 to be concrete because it is under a land water level base. I want to see if I can do that and if the contractor encourages me or maybe they can have their way.”
Reacting to the introduction of the concrete road construction, a social media user, Kayode Adebisi, described it as a welcome development, arguing that Kabba/
Obaja Road in Kogi state was an example of how it could work.
He said: “There is no big deal. It has been used in Obajana/Kaba road. The same on Ewekoro in Ogun state. I understand it is cheaper and better than a limited supply of bitumen. I also understand it is being used abroad. It is said to be durable too.”
However, another social media user, Akin Dosumu, asked the minister to be careful with the way and manner he would go about the development and called on him to re-negotiate the contract sum with the contractors.
“Umahi needs to be careful. Contract agreements requested that they should be constructed with asphalt and not concrete.
He needs to re-negotiate with the contractors, most don’t have the resources for the construction of concrete roads.”
On his part, Lucky Gabriel, who backed the minister on introduction of concrete made roads, accused the contractors of engaging in the construction of substandard roads to accrue a huge profit.
“They (contractors) will never agree because they don’t want the best for Nigeria. If they construct a road that will last for 50 years, how will the same road be re-awarded to them quickly, he queried.
Kicking against concrete road construction,
Mr. Francis Henry said concrete roads without solid drainage systems may not last, and argued that concrete roads are not good for the highways.
“Concrete roads without a first-class drainage system won’t last 4 years stop playing. Concrete road is not needed on highways,” he said.