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There are 160 ongoing projects worth N3trillion —Works Minister

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Minister for Works, Arch Mike Onolememen, said there were 160 ongoing road projects in the country, formally abandoned but now almost completed, and worth over N3trillion. At an interactive session with journalists, organized by the Nigerian Pilot/Newsworld Leadership Forum in Abuja, he revealed how he restructured the ministry hitherto, bedeviled by underfunding, project management problems, underhand dealings and collusion with contractors and many more. Jamila Nuhu Musa was there. 

What is the condition of major projects undertaken by your ministry?
There are four of such projects for national road rehabilitation. We had the Presidential Initiative project with a total contractual commitment of about N250Bn, the zonal intervention project which has N270Bn, the access road to the port and the refinery amounting to 20Bn, and then the collaborative venture funded projects of multilateral agencies, that is the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank amounting to N20Bn. In effect, we have ongoing projects of over 3trillion naira at the Ministry of Works. And as a project manager myself, I needed to go through the executive summary of the projects and found out that many of them were at various stages of completion but over 80% of them were abandoned as a result of nonpayment of claims and other difficulties.  We first made sense of the number of the projects that were ongoing and it was clear that there was no way we could drive all those projects at the same time. So prioritization was key in identifying the economically vital roads among them.
What were the initial challenges?
Apart from funding problems, the ministry was also bedeviled with management problems as most of our projects were not well supervised. There were a lot of allegations about other billings by the ministry staff, if you like collusion with ministry staff, if you like contractors in some cases, and we needed a structure that will help drive the prioritized projects. That brought about the restructuring of the ministry in the first two months of attaining leadership of the ministry. Restructuring was undertaken and the objectives were clear, to reposition the ministry to better deliver on the services as far as project implementation was concerned.
Give us a breakdown of the roads in the country?
We have a total of about 200,000 kilometres of roads in the country out of which the federal government share is about 35,000 kms, between the 36 state governments we have about thirty thousand killometres while the local governments in the country have about 135,000 kms. although federal government shares account for about 70 % of the movement of goods, services and persons because they are the major arterial roads that connect the state capitals that lead to the borders, international airports, sea ports, refineries and other places of major interest across the country.
What were other lapses of the ministry?
The planning and design department for instance, which is the heart of the federal  ministry of works had only one director who was responsible for all the roads, bridges designs, appropriation of the bill for engineering, measurement and evaluation across the country. Similarly, we had only a director under the highway construction and rehabilitation department, we had only one director in Abuja and I thought the structure was not well suited for efficient service delivery in the road sector. So I got President Jonathan's approval to restructure the bureaucracy at the ministry. And at the end of the day, those two departments gave birth to about 12 functional and active departments. We also created a new highway planning arterial geotechnic and quality control department. For the highway construction and rehabilitation department, we broke it further down into six zonal directorates which means all the 6 geopolitical zones in the country has a director of highway construction and rehabilitation, for us to be able to focus on the federal government ongoing projects in the zones for better supervision and better service delivery. These directors have no recourse to Abuja in terms of critical approval that will move the project forward in the zones.
What measures were put in place to monitor projects at that level?
A zonal ministerial monitoring committee was established for each of the zones and its membership drawn from the private sector, made up of seasoned civil engineers. This made it possible to have independent report apart from the one the zonal directors presented to the ministry. That way we were able to initiate checks and balances in the system and curtail cooked up stories from the zonal offices.
What is the situation of dual carriage ways?
Our plan is a good network of dual carriage ways that would link the six geo political zones of the country. In order words, to ensure that Nigerians in any part of the country are able to set out from their houses in the village through category B highways, and drive to any other geopolitical zone on dual carriage ways. Beyond that, is also the commitment to ensuring that all our roads to the sea port, international airports as well as the road to the refineries are well taken care off because they oil the wheels of the economy of our nation.
What is the presidential initiative project all about?
I was coming to that. It is especially geared towards linking the 6 geopolitical zones on dual carriage way. It was an initiative taken in 2006, under former President Olusegun obasanjo when he awarded the Abuja-Lokoja road, the Kano- Maiduguri road, the Shagamu -0re Benin road, the east- west road. But we have also included the Onitsha- Enugu- Enugu Port Harcourt road as well as repairs of the Abuja- Kaduna- Kano roads; work is ongoing on all these projects. As important as these roads were, we discovered they were not properly funded and the contractors had downed their tools and were not on the sites, so we had to reengage them and kick start the projects. We also ensured that the Onitsha -Owerri dual carriage way was also completed. The Shagamu-Ore- Benin road was also added to ensure that that segment was also completed.
Given the Nigerian factor of delay tactics how far has work gone on the projects?
We have been able to sustain the high tempo of construction activities in all the roads. A typical example is the Abuja-Lokoja road, which during the yuletide, we opened some of the new sections that were under construction, we did the same for all the major carriage ways in the country and this helped to reduce traffic lock jam during the period. In Abuja, we were able to complete work on the Giri flyover bridge and the Gwagwalada bridge and open them to traffic and for the first time, very reasonably we reduced the lock jam that was the usual feature if you were travelling out of Abuja by road. The Shagamu -Ore- Benin road, a portion of the road which was a nightmare to the people was recovered. So people could leave Onitsha head Bridge and make Lagos in 5 hours. The major demarcation that we had around upper Eweka up to Onitsha head Bridge was also a major challenge because it made nonsense of the effort of the federal ministry of works on the Onitsha -Owerri axis because when we were dualising it, we had completed the section handled by Julius Berger but the other section handled by another company was largely uncompleted, so we took it up as a challenge and approached the President who approved a special intervention on that road to the tune of about N2bn naira to recover the major devastation on that part of the country.
How about the northern axis?
We had the Sokoto-Illela challenge in Sokoto state, which is on the road to the boundary with Niger republic. It was a major washout during the year but the federal ministry has intervened and work is progressing satisfactorily now. On the Gombe bypass, we have just completed work there, the Kano-western bypass; work is also being completed as we speak. Then of course, we have Potiskum, Biliri highway which work is ongoing there too.

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