Senator Gershom Bassey, (Cross River South) thinking on the future of Nigeria’s roads
By Raphael Ekpang
“‘The budget should be much larger; this is an agency that affects every single life in Nigeria. As you know road is the artery in which we live and breathe in Nigeria. We transport basically everything by road; we don’t have any other infrastructure as it is. The upkeep of these roads is key to us, if we give FERMA more funds, even one trillion naira, it is not too much to maintain our roads’’ This was the position of the Senate Committee Chairman on FERMA, Senator Gershom Bassey (PDP, CRS South) on the poor state of road’s funding in Nigeria.
Nigeria, a country with estimated 36000 kilometers of federal roads has not been that fortunate with the construction and maintenance of roads across the length and breadth of the country and this has shown in the routine report of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) on a yearly basis where cases of death orchestrated by roads accidents has continue to be on the increase. These accidents mostly occurred as a result of bad roads across the nation.
The present ninth Senate committee on FERMA led by Senator Gershom Bassey is leaving no stone unturned in its bid to get the solution to the challenges facing the road sector of the country. Road, according to the committee chairman, is the artery in which we live and breathe in Nigeria, stressing that we transport basically everything by road, because we don’t have any other infrastructure as it is, therefore, the upkeep of these roads is key to every Nigerian.
Pondering on how to get the roads system working in Nigeria, Sen. Bassey moved a motion on the floor of the senate titled: ‘The deplorable state of Nigeria’s federal roads’ which was co-sponsored by sixteen others.
In the motion, Sen. Bassey pointed out how the deplorable state of the federal roads in Nigeria have become a national shame and an unnecessary embarrassment as there is hardly any part of the country that can boast of good federal roads
He lamented the hazard the bad federal roads are posing on road users on a daily basis.
“Scores of innocent people are kidnapped by bandits, robbed, mutilated and killed daily in avoidable accidents on account of bad federal roads.
“The nation’s economy suffers incalculable losses resulting from poor productivity as immeasurable man-hours is lost in deplorable federal roads.” Sen. Bassey said.
The distinguished senator representing the CRS south senatorial district noted that the Nigeria federal roads have continually not meet the least international standard that provides for a four lane divided roads featuring landscaped Islands and separated bike and pedestrian trails on both sides of the road way.
However, Sen. Bassey decried that; Gaidam-Mainasurua federal road, Bunigari-Daidunkwa, Effurun-Warri, Calabar-Itu, Abuja-Kaduna, Umuhia-Ohafia, Tegina-BirninGwari, Enugu-Onitsha, Jalingo-TellaIbadan, Benin-Auchi, Ibillo-Okene-Lokoja, Ilorin-Omuaran-Otunekiti, Owerri-Aba-Port-Harcourt, Oshodi-Apapa, Ore-Okitikupa-Ijebu-Ode, Akure-Ikere-Ilesa and other federal roads are all crater-ridden and safe haven for men of the underworld to carry out their nefarious activities.
Without mincing words, Bassey stated that, “road transportation is the major means of transportation in Nigeria since air transportation is not within the reach of most Nigerians while rail transport and sea are not well developed.”
His worries according to Bassey was the fact that federal highways in Nigeria required the sum of 215 billion naira to revamp 3.500km of the federal roads every year for a period of 8-10 years for total rehabilitation of existing federal highways.
Yet, in 2016-2017 and 2018 the actual funds released to FERMA by the FG for road rehabilitation were N11 billion,N21 billion and N20 billion respectively which are just about 17% of the required sum.
According to him, “Section 14(i) (h) of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (Amendment Act, 2007) provides that “5% user charge pump price of petrol, diesel and of which 40% will accrue to FERMA and 60% to be utilized by the established state roads maintenance.
“The 5% user charge pump price is already provided for in the current pump price of petrol and diesel but PPRA has refused to remit the funds to FERMA for road maintenance as stipulated by laws.
However, the Senate resolved that its committee on FERMA, Petroleum downstream and National planning to investigate the non-remittance of the 5% user charge pump price of petrol and international vehicles transit charge accruing to FERMA and other established state road maintenance agencies.
During its investigation, the minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola revealed that the implementation of the 5% user charges to FERMA was not enforceable because there was no agency or a group of persons saddle with the responsibility to enforce the user charges act, therefore, it becomes pretty difficult for PPRA to comply, adding that if an agency or department has been detail to force the compliance of the charges by now they would have been compliance from DPPR
In earnest, the challenges of road transportation system in Nigeria is tied to poor funding and management of the facilities across the nation as earlier pointed out by Senator Bassey. It is obvious that the government’s attention to the road transportation system and even the entire transportation sector is poor. Off-course, the money meant for the maintenance of old projects and development of new projects seems not to be accounted for.
Recently, the FG announced it was going to fix 44 roads with the Sukuk funds raised in the bond market.
The Minister for Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, disclosed this in July this year when the sovereign Sukuk Symbolic cheque of N162.55 billion was presented to him by the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed in Abuja
Meanwhile, the Debt Management Office (DMO) had announced that this would be Nigeria’s 3rd Sukuk bond, with the first being an N100 billion bond in 2017 and another N100 billion by 2018.
There is no doubt the transport sector has a positive impact on the economic growth in Nigeria. And if that be the case, the government must come up with sustainable and implementable road development and maintenance policies that will ensure good access and flow in Nigeria, taking into consideration that, economic growth in Nigeria depends on the level of good and accessible road transportation and facilitates business activities.
In his quest to get a solution to the deplorable federal roads in the country, Bassey in October, 2019 sponsored a bill ‘Federal Road Authority (Est, etc) Bill, 2019 which first reading was taken on the floor of the senate on October 10, 2019.
The proposed bill is expected to draw a framework for the private sector to come through the creation of the Federal Road Authority (FRA) which would absorb FERMA. The Federal Road Authority would be funded through an infrastructure fund and will own all roads in the country, with its only priority being to deliver good roads all over the country as it is obtainable across the globe.
“We must find a solution. The new legislation that the Senate is working on now seeks to move road construction and maintenance of the federal budget and let the private sector come in. There is no rocket science here. This idea has been working in other parts of the world and it cannot be different in Nigeria.
“Money will automatically flow into our roads because the private sector will be willing and ready to invest since they know it’s a thriving business and they would recoup their money,” Gershom Bassey said.