President Bola Tinubu has given full backing to the plans to use concrete for the construction of roads across the country, therefore breaking the “gang-up” by some road contractors opposed to the policy.
Speaking on Tuesday after he met with the President at Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, the Works Minister Dave Umahi disclosed that some contractors have keyed into the policy just as major cement producers have agreed to discount prices for such government road builders.
The minister also highlighted the advantages of cement roads over asphalt/bitumen including cheaper costs and the need to encourage local production of cement against the importation of bitumen, warning contractors against the dodgy attitude of securing about 20 projects but ended up deploying as few as two units of equipment to the site, threatening that he would drag erring contractors to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
According to Umahi: “There has been a kind of campaign by some quick fix contractors and some elements within who do not wish us well, who want us to continue with the old order.
“But we can’t continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. The truth is that our roads are not good. The past government earmarked 18,897 kilometres of roads, totalling N14 trillion which Mr President inherited”.
“By the mechanism of funding, by the ingenuity of our President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. We are sure of funding of about N5.1 trillion then leaving N6 trillion gaps. And this N6 trillion funding gap is as of May 29, 2023.
“And so if we go by the level of argumentation and price increases, which is one of the bases of our fight, if there is anything like a fight, is that we don’t have this N6 trillion to complete this project based on what we heard it.
“And if we allow the escalation both in terms of scope and in terms of variation of price, then we are very sure that we will not be able to complete even 20% of the present roads going on.”
He continued: “Where we are now is a fight that if you want to do asphalt work, nobody has told contractors not to do as hard work, but there are conditions.
Nigerians are witnesses to the failure of asphalt, especially in the North-central part of this country and the entire southern part of this country.
“And the reason is not far-fetched. We have a lot of rainfall in these locations. We have very high underground water. And so asphalt definitely is a big problem. But if you insist you want to do asphalt that’s not a problem, but the conditions are that you will guarantee Nigerians that when you finish this asphalt road job, you are very sure it will not fail within at least 15 years.
“The design shelf life is 20 years but assure us in writing from a reputable insurance company and from their own company that this road will not fail within 15 years. We are witnesses to see all the roads constructed from Warri to Bayelsa to Port Harcourt, the East-West road. They have completely failed, they are constructed with asphalt.
“Also, when I came on board as Minister, the cost of bitumen was N576,000 per tonne but today, the cost of Bitumen within weeks is N1 million per tonne. And for you to increase any project it has to go to the Bureau of Public Procurement and also to FEC.
“And so with this kind of mechanism on the volatility of the international oil market, which has the consequences on the asphalt because it’s a byproduct of refining and also the dollar pressure, the pressure on the Naira, we are saying if you’re doing asphalt, please let us have a contract, so that you will not vary the contract beyond 5 per cent which is what is allowed in the contract.”
While complaining about the adulteration of bitumen used for Nigerian roads in recent times, the Minister said: “We are all witnesses that in the 50s the roads constructed on asphalt in the 50s were much more durable than what we witness today.
He explained “This is what my Ministry is fighting. We are ready, I’m very courageous to defend this. I learned there is a gang up by contractors but there is no going back and Mr. President is backing this position.
“We are offering an alternative and this is what High Tech is doing in Lagos with Dangote. The alternative is for you to go to Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and see what they are doing with concrete. Every day you have over 500 static loads from the wharf loaded on that road, you will not see any crack. No asphalt work.”
“So, we are saying that concrete is very friendly with water and so we want you contractors to have an alternative. There is a catalyst in the use of concrete pavement. It will create jobs for our people.
“Everything about the construction is local. Ten manufacturers of cement have indicated interest in building cement factories. That is good for our economy. It will reduce pressure on the naira. The road is going to be much more durable. And some people say it’s more expensive. It’s not more expensive.”
Umahi stated further “I want Nigerians to support that our roads should be constructed on concrete. And of course, it’s going to bring a lot of our local contractors to compete and to get jobs and reduce capital flight.
“There is no amount of gang up within and outside that is going to change this, so far that we are fighting for the interest of the people backed by God and approved by Mr President, there’s no going back.”
The Minister issued a 14-day ultimatum to contractors who have been paid already, to mobilise to the site.
His words: “There are some elements within that are also fighting me, who are also benefitting from the system and that is the greatest problem we have and I just pretended. I will flush those elements out and send them to ICPC to handle them because nobody can hold this country to ransom. So I’m giving them the last chance to conform to what we help Mr. President to reset the country.
“Then we’re also leverage on the contract we signed, it’s 14 days notice we are going to give. I’ve had more than 10 different meetings with contractors where we discussed this.
“We developed the design, we even developed the cost of doing concrete from the first principle; how much is cement, and the cement factories, the Dangote, the BUA, have agreed to give special discount to our contractors who are going to engage on concrete road pavement, and many contractors are already doing it.
“Not all the contractors are in this gang up, many contractors have come to sign the addendum, doing the road pavements. Those who are meeting are going to be losers and before them, they will see that we do the job and we will do it very well.”