N420billion debt: Road projects and planned legislative intervention

After the calls for the declaration of  emergency on federal roads in the country, the legislature last week sought for intervention on N420billion debts owed contractors. TAIYE ODEWALE reports

Categories of Road Projects 

In Nigeria there are three categories of roads, from trunk A to trunk C. While trunk A roads are categorized to be federal roads, trunk B roads are the ones that fall within the ambits of state governments for construction, rehabilitation and repairs.
The trunk C roads are the feeder roads linking one remote community to the other at the various local government levels which are for want of resources, not always asphalted but graded from time to time for road users at that level, particularly, farmers.
Based on volume of vehicular movements and strategic positions as regards linkages from one state to the other, the 35, 000 kilometers federal roads across the country are the most used by motorists and other road users and in need of constant rehabilitation, redesign and reconstructions. 
Resolutions on state of emergency on the roads 
Before the presentation of the N16.39trillion 2022 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly on Thursday, 7th October, 2021, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had on the strength of motion sponsored in plenary by members, called on the federal government to declare state of emergency on all the federal roads across the country due to deplorable conditions of most of them and attendant hardships on motorists, commuters and other road users.

2022 budgetary allocation 

Few weeks after the resolutions by both chambers of the National Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari in his budget presentation, earmarked N350billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation of some of the approved federal road projects in the 2022 fiscal year.
Expectedly, like other budgetary proposals, both chambers of the National Assembly after debates on general principles of the budget,  passed it for second reading and mandated their relevant standing committees to interface with the various federal government owned Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), for further scrutinies of the proposals.

Issue of N420billion debts and legislative intervention 

As part of the budget defence sessions between relevant committees of both chambers of the National Assembly and MDAs under their purview of oversights, the Senate Committee on Works, last Friday, had an interface with the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola on implementation of the 2021 budget on Road projects and proposed plans for 2022 fiscal year.
The Minister in his presentation before the Committee told the Senators that the total money owed contractors on already completed contracts on road projects is  N420billion.
The liability, he explained, is far above the N350billion projected for funding of road projects in the 2022 budget.
Aside the N420billion outstanding debts owed contractors, Fashola also told the lawmakers that there was need for N45billion emergency fund for road repairs on yearly basis as done in other countries. 
“For roads to be in good shape at any time of  the year for users, in Britain for example intervention from special fund, is made to put roads in good shape particularly after winter.
“Here in Nigeria, since raining season is the period roads and bridges used to have problems, fund for emergency fixing of any affected one should be put in place which may be between the radius of N45billion”, he said.
He added that in the 2022 budget, a total of N450billion was proposed for the Ministry and its Parastatals for capital, overhead and personnel estimates.
According to him, the focus of 2022 Budget proposals of the Ministry is on completion of some priority road projects, especially those on Route A1 – A9.
“These are roads and bridges that lead to ports and major agricultural hubs and carry Heavy goods vehicles across the six geo-political zones”, he said.
In specific terms, the Minister declared  that the second Niger Bridge and the Lagos Ibadan expressway would be completed next year.
Worried by the position of the ministry as far as execution of road projects and payment for contracts are concerned, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Adamu Aliero ( APC Kebbi Central), told the Minister that the National Assembly will intervene for raising the N420billion owed contractors.
“This committee and that of the House of Representatives will meet with the leadership of the National Assembly for needed collaboration with the executive on how to raise the money and offset the debt.
“The N350billion proposed for road projects in the 2022 budget should be used for completion of the ones that are up to 70% execution across the country.
“Road sector is very important and vital in evaluating the performance or otherwise of any government, the very reason federal government should continue with the massive road projects being executed across the country.
“Honourable Minister, for us in this committee and  by extension, the Senate, the tempo should be sustained in presenting concrete things to Nigerians in 2023 for the purpose of election.
“We shall from this end collaborate with the executive for emergency fund to clear the N420billion liability as required motivation for key players in the sector to do more”,  he said.
The Minister was however taken up by members  of the committee on state of Federal roads in their states and perceived lopsidedness of planned road projects for 2022 fiscal year.
Specifically, Senator George Sekibo, alleged that while there were about over 1,000 kilometers of roads to be constructed or rehabilitated in each of the three geo-political zones of the North, the South-South zone, has just 81 kilometers of road projects to be executed.
Expectedly, Sekibo’s poser to the Minister created bad blood among members of the committee as the Chairman, Adamu Aliero (APC Kebbi Central) and Danladi Sankara said topography of the North is different from that of the south as far  as road construction, re – construction or rehabilitation are concerned.
A position also taken by the Minister in his response which, however, did not go down well with Senator Sekibo who angrily walked out of the session.
But disagreement or no disagreement among Senators , the major thing at the session was that certificates on completed road projects by contractors totalling N420billion, is before the Ministry of Works to be settled, which is far above the N350billion budgeted for road projects in 2022, the basis upon which the federal lawmakers resolved to collaborate with the executive for an intervention fund. 
Will the fund be raised or not? Time will definitely tell.