Non-functional refineries responsible for high cost of road construction – NIHTE boss

Engineer Saidu Hassan is the national chairman of the Nigerian Institutions of Highway and Transportation Engineers (NIHTE). In this interview with TOPE SUNDAY, he speaks about the recent policy of the federal government on road construction and suggested a way out.

What will you say regarding the directive that any contractor without a COREN-certified engineer must not be allowed to work on project sites?
COREN certified Engineers to work on a project is not something new in our profession. It implies that you have attained a level where you will know what to do on the site project and you have the necessary technical knowledge to supervise the work that is being given to you. At any project site as a contractor, you will first present the list of your Engineers, technicians, and all the people who will work with you. Even at the stage of procurement, you must present the list of staff before you are even awarded the contract. It is stipulated in the procurement act too so it’s not something new. Their numbers and years of experience so before you even get the job, you’re even supplying the condition the minister is talking about not at the site but they’re there at the procurement act. I think the Minister is talking about those who are given the project but under them, we have engineers who are learning, like the young engineers, IT engineers, and Corp members who will be at the site to see the fieldwork. It is the experience they get that will enable them to go to COREN to register.

Just like horsemanship in the medical discipline, so all these rules are already documented, not something new. But the key personnel like site Engineer, and contractor must be COREN certified.

Regarding the issue of using asphalt and concrete pavements in road projects, the minister insists that contractors must sign performance bond that the road project must not fail within the lifetime of the project. What is your take?
Each road project is designed for a specific number of years like 20 years, 30 years, and 50 years. So, I don’t know what condition the minister is saying because all the life spans of projects are stipulated in the condition of the contract. Under any contractual agreement, you have entered with the government all these guidelines are spelt out. So, in your condition of contract we call it volume 3 or what have you. They’re all stated there in terms of liability, and budget before you start any project you must have signed an agreement.

I just want to be very clear because you can’t just say you must do this without being part of the stipulated agreement.

Can you clear the air on speculations that the use of concrete pavement for road projects is cheaper?
Our position has always been that both concrete (rigid) pavement and asphalt (flexible) are both materials required to do our work. So, it’s not an issue, that’s why we say your engineering judgement and economy will determine which type of pavement you will choose and this choice is based on your design analysis, like what kind of terrain are you appealing to such material?

As a layman let me give you an example in Abuja where you have asphalt all over the place but it’s not 100 per cent asphalt because your bridge is a concrete pavement.

All these flyovers in Abuja are concrete pavement and what they did is they are composite because after finishing the concrete work they now lay asphalt on top of it for uniformity so you won’t know you’re transmitting between one to the other.

Therefore, using asphalt or concrete is not an issue of debate; it is about the terrain.

For instance, in a swamping area, we have them around Lekki and Epe road where you must use concrete pavement because it’s a mashing swamping area.

And where you are supposed to put the bridge, you must do the concrete first. If you look at it all over the world, even America has only five per cent rigid pavement, 95 per cent of America and Canada are all flexible pavement; South Africa only one per cent is concrete pavement the rest is flexible pavement.

We have gathered a lot of experience. You can even have some asphalt designs that can last more than 40 years like concrete.

However, it is argued that bitumen importation is having serious negative effects on naira. What is your take?
We also have a lot of asphalt plants, machinery, and expertise so do you now one day throw them away what do you want them to do? If you’re saying bitumen is expensive because of importation, why can’t we harness our bitumen deposit in Ondo state?

I always ask myself if we have natural bitumen in Ondo state why don’t we say as policy makers that this contractor, multinational go and invest in Ondo state? Is Ondo state not part of Nigeria and can’t we benefit from the resources given to us by God? So, we should be fair to everybody and this is my personal opinion.

So, how can we strike balance because we have bitumen in Ondo state?
What did they want to strike the balance again when it was deposited in the country? You see, as professionals we want to avoid controversial things. Even if you say you want to do concrete, do you have enough cement that will cater for the road construction in the country?

If now we are doing the roads and the contractor goes to the market to talk about bulk cement or sacks, is the volume available for work? I don’t know because I didn’t do the research and don’t have the data.

So, we can research to find out that if we are going to do our roads like certain kilometers what is the volume of cement that it will consume? So, we have that quantity on the ground?
We have to research that and if the existing cement factory in Nigeria cannot cater to this volume, then we must build new industries. And if you’re building new factories in the same period, you can use it to harness our bitumen in Ondo state.

Also, most of the equipment we’re going to use on concrete is not in the local market here so you can carry your money and get them.
You must request it and the factory will produce them for you which you will stay for about six months to one year to have them ready. This is the same dollars you will use to purchase this equipment.

I want to add something again as a practical Highway Engineer, I have been lifting my bitumen from the Kaduna Refinery in the 90s, not less than 40,000 to 60,000. So why are our refineries not working is also a factor, it is not about going abroad we produce bitumen in Kaduna Refinery. Why are our refineries not working?

We are not telling ourselves the truth which is part of all the problems we have in this country. When the refineries are working the contractors collect the bitumen from there. So, when the refineries are working now which dollar do you want to go and buy bitumen?

We need to go deep and think, not just talk on the surface. The only thing you are going to say is that Kaduna Refinery uses heavy crude oil while we have to lift Brent but what the government was doing at that time is exchanging the Brent and taking their light brent and giving them, the versional crude and we were lifting bitumen from Kaduna.

I’m not telling you I heard it but I did it myself and let somebody come and dispute what I said. All this information we are providing from the professional point of view is documented.

What would you recommend considering the fact that both concrete and asphalt pavements are failing?
To have a strong and durable road network in the country, you see the asphalt and concrete you are talking about are parts of the road structure. They’re not everything on the road, they are just the final pavement that you see on top but you don’t know what is under it.

If we will have lasting roads, all the requirements should be met by the contractor and the government. One of the things is that before embarking on construction you need to carry out your traffic studies.

What kind of traffic are you subjecting that road to? When you know this then you will design the road to that traffic volume then you will know the type of material you are supposed to use, also the duration you are designing the road for is 50 years, 30 years, 20 years, etc. they’re all stipulated there as guidelines.

After you have done your thorough design then you will carry out your quality control and quality assurance, they’re very important, for every step you take you to make sure that the right things are done, the right materials are in place, and if you do that you will have the kind of roads you’re supposed to have.

What we are saying is that if these roads are failing, have they carried out studies on why these roads are failing? Is it the rigid or flexible pavement that is the cause of these roads failing or other underlying factors which have to be put into consideration? You cannot put one and leave the other because all of them form the road structure but if all of them are not done the right way the road will fail.

We are talking about 20 to 30 years, some of the roads we have in Abuja are over these years and are still intact, we don’t even have potholes, only alligators crack which they’re maintaining now.

There are guidelines, like the Third Mainland Bridge they’re milling the asphalt after that the concrete, like I told you the bridge is concrete but they are laying new asphalt on it why not concrete? That is what is supposed to be done.

We have gone into this debate in England and all over, it’s either grey or black surface. So even the concrete work is very noisy, not having this comfort, so those roads in England they’re now putting asphalt on it to make it comfortable for road users. We can attribute some of these road failures sometimes to heavy-duty trucks because they are designed for 30 tons of load as most of the federal highways today, but you have truck drivers plying it with 40 to 50 me tritons.

We have existing laws, West African Gazette, that are stipulated against all these trucks. So, the laws are there, gazetted by the government.