A News Analysis by Leonard Okachie, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
According to the World Bank, by linking producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to school, and the sick to hospitals, roads are vital to any development agenda.
Roads are vital for the development of any nation as they are a significant influence in developing a country’s socio-economic growth facilitating how citizens, goods, and services are accessed.
As such, the perceived delay in the timely completion of Umuahia-Ikwuano-Ikot Ekpene Road total reconstruction project has begun to raise a lot of concerns among various stakeholders in the state of Abia and beyond.
While some express worry that the project might be abandoned just like any others in some parts of the country, others are of the opinion that the delay might not be unconnected with the common bottlenecks in the road construction project delivery.
However, a recent visit to the site by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), shows that some portions have already been completed while some places are yet be fixed.
The portion between Ndoru and Okwe has already been fixed and is displaying it architectural beauty, to the delight of the road users and passers-by.
The 49km Umuahia-Ikwuano-Ikot Ekpene Road Federal Road project was awarded in 2019 to Hartland Construction Company Limited, at the cost of N13.2 billion, and was expected to be completed in four years.
The federal road linking Abia and Akwa Ibom had prior to the award, become a deathtrap, as people usually undergo some groaning, pains and trauma coupled with the huge economic loss, while plying it.
The project was facilitated by Chief Sam Onuigbo, the immediate past member, representing Ikwuano/Umuahia North/Umuahia South Federal Constituency, Abia, when he moved the motion in 2016.
Onuigbo, according to our findings, followed it up with several letters, including meeting with Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN), then Minister of Power, Works and Housing in 2016, drawing the government attention to the deplorable condition of the road.
Onuigbo had complained about the attendant colossal economic loss to the nation due to high vehicle operating cost leading to exorbitant haulage charges on the road.
Consequently, the minister had directed the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to do palliative work between December 2016 and April 2017, to allow people ply that road, until it was awarded in 2019.
Unfortunately, paucity of fund had hampered its progress until the Federal Government later approved it for funding by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), through the Road Tax Credit Scheme in late 2021.
Our investigation revealed that the contractor came back to site in 2022, after the funding challenge was addressed.
However, a constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Dr Monday Ubani expressed misgivings, saying that there was no significant improvement on the contract since it was first awarded in 2019.
Ubani, Chairman, Section on Public Interest and Development Law, NBA-SPIDEL, argued that the contractor lacked the capacity and competence to execute the project.
Reacting to the development, the Federal Controller of Works, Abia, Mr Tochukwu Onwubiko, admitted that the work was not moving at the expected speed, but blamed the delay on certain challenges.
He identified cost, compensation, mobilisation and rainy season as some of those challenges, while assuring that the government was doing everything possible to ensure timely completion.
Onwubiko, an engineer, explained that prior to the NNPCL takeover, the contractor was hampered by insufficient fund leading to reduction in activities on the site.
The controller admitted that some areas on the road were bad while affirming that those were the areas they were yet to work on due to the mobilisation challenge.
According to him, the inability of the government to compensate those whose structures are not within the Right of Way (RoW) is a huge challenge to the project.
“You can’t touch some part of the road until this issue of compensation, which runs into billions of naira, for those whose shops, houses, and crops will be affected, is sorted out, because if not, they will take you to court.
“That is why sometimes we do some palliatives – finding a way to patch, instead of the main construction,” he said.
Onwubiko continue: “Let me correct the impression people have about the contractor being funded. There is no money anywhere to be carried. You work, we evaluate and you get paid.
“Before fund is released, the contractor gets Advance Payment Guaranty (APG) from banks.
“The banks have their engineers to evaluate your work and they will be giving you that money in bits, while ensuring that what you get is commensurate with the work.”
He dismissed the speculation that the contractor lacked capacity for the project, saying “A lot of people don’t understand the difficulties involved.”
However, the Public Relations Officer of Hartland, Mrs Grace Gbagi, said that the company was not slow on the job, rather they had been on the site, working very hard since it started being funded recently by NNPCL.
She also said that those who were complaining about the pace of the job didn’t understand the technicalities involved in construction work.
According to her, between 2019 and 2022, the road was not funded, so we came to site, left and came back again in 2022, when NNPC took over the funding.
Gbagi said: “Our team is currently working at the Ikot-Ekpene axis and because of weather – rain right now, we cannot do earth movement jobs.
“We are concentrating now on asphalt, on drainages at that Ikot-Expene axis, because all the drainages on both sides of the road towards Umuahia had already been done.
“The earth movement section cannot work now because of the heavy downfall.”
Meanwhile, the facilitator, Onuigbo said that some progress was done, but would have loved the contractor to move faster, even as he mentioned the rainy season as a big challenge.
Onuigbo explained that when he inspected the project in April, where he went with a couple of journalists, to also commission other projects he attracted, he saw that the contractor was working.
He expressed confidence in the contractor, saying that the job done between Ndoru and Okwe was enough to make a sincere assessor to know that the contractor had capacity.
According to Onuigbo, I drove to Ikot-Expene the other day, I saw that they were working on that axis and they have asphalted a lot of areas that are stable, just like they have asphalted from FMC, Umuahia axis to Ngozi Filling Station.
He said: “Between Ndoru and Okwe which has now been fixed used to be the worst section that neither cars nor trucks could drive past because it was covered by a pool of water.
“Even after the road was awarded in 2019, up till 2021, nothing much was done because there was no funding.
“I wrote additional letters and met with the minister and that was what led to the road being transferred to NNPC Road Tax Credit Scheme.”
Onuigbo, said that he had convened several meetings with various stakeholders including the traditional rulers, community leaders, the clergy, the contractor and the Federal Ministry of Works among on how the goal could be achieved.
Despite leaving office, the immediate past legislator said that he was committed towards ensuring that the road was successfully completed.
He, therefore, urged the contractor to put in more effort saying, “If they don’t move fast, they will now encourage or create the appearance that they are deliberately delaying the job.” (NANFeatures)(www.nannews.ng)