SPECIAL REPORT: Amidst inadequate funding, Buhari’s road construction projects across Nigeria continue (1)

As the sun slowly baked his skin, Saliu Babamale navigated his way slowly through Akerebiata road, a few kilometres away from Shao garage, on his way to the Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa-Birni Gwari expressway.

Mr Babamale, 42, is a commercial driver plying the Ilorin-Jebba commercial route. The time was 12.40 a.m. and he told PREMIUM TIMES in a chat that the trip was his second trip of the day. A few years ago, he would still be wobbling through his first trip at that period of the day, he explains.

“Help us thank Fashola (minister) and Buhari,” he said, brimming with smile, “they are the ones that saved us on this road by rehabilitating it.”

Mr Babamale is not alone in his undisguised show of love for Messrs Raji Fashola and Muhammadu Buhari.

Many commercial drivers and commuters who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES admitted that business and commercial activities have never been the same since the government finally constructed the road, after many years of abandonment.

“So many people died on this road when it was dilapidated,” said another driver, who identified himself as Alhaji Karimu. “We appreciate the government for a job well done.”

The Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa-Birni Gwari expressway is one of the numerous road projects the Buhari administration has embarked on since it came to power in 2015. But while the Ilorin-Jebba section of the road has since been completed to the delight of road users, the same cannot be said of other sections of the road from Jebba through Mokwa, all the way to Birni Gwari.

PREMIUM TIMES findings revealed that one major challenge being faced by contractors working on the road and other road projects across the country is funding. This is in addition to peculiar concerns like insecurity, among others.

Lagos-Ibadan Expressway

The Lagos-Ibadan expressway is regarded as one of the most crucial road networks in the country. Plans to rehabilitate the road, for years, have always been subject of controversies with successive governments unable to successfully reconstruct it.

When the Buhari government came to power, the road was one of its major areas of focus and it received commendable attention especially between 2016 and 2017. But when PREMIUM TIMES moved round the two sections of the road in a recent inspection conducted in June, there were no visible presence of contractors on the road.

On the first section of the road––the Lagos-Sagamu section––our reporter observed that there was no major construction work from Lagos through Berger, all the way to Wawa, Arepo, and Magboro. However, at Oremeji area of Ibafo, a few construction workers were seen working on a drainage.

“The work pace is very, very slow,” said John, an inter-state commercial bus driver. “They just resumed even; they left the road totally already, until two weeks ago.”

A construction engineer who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES but asked not to be named because he had no permission to speak to journalists, said there wasn’t enough funds to continue the project as envisaged when the government began the reconstruction.

“About a year ago, we were working at full pace but, as you can see, work has reduced due to funding issues,” he said. “Many of our people have been told to leave sites until recently.”

PREMIUM TIMES also observed that the rehabilitation of the road into three lanes stopped at Aseese village and there was no major construction work ongoing at NASFAT. From Pakuro village, through Mowe junction, up until Sapati, there was no major construction work either.

Although from the front of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, (RCCG), up until Sagamu interchange, the road had been well paved, there was no construction worker on site. “They said they didn’t pay them their money so they all left,” said Akintunde Badmus, a commercial motorcyclist who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES.

Meanwhile, on the other lane beginning from Sagamu back to Lagos, the construction work was done up till Magboro before it was terminated. There were no construction workers on site either.

Sagamu-Ibadan Section

The second section of the road beginning from Sagamu to Ibadan was no better as no major construction work was also done on the road. The road, a single lane track, was in a dilapidated state from Sagamu interchange, through Ogere up until Sapade village. At Isara-Remo, there were two motorable lanes with the third lane in the middle filled with gravel. The lane, ostensibly being built as the third lane, is now abandoned and overgrown with grasses.

Shortly after Isara-Remo, the road diverts into a single lane, up until the location of Foursquare (church) camp. The other side of the road has been constructed but not open for use. There were a few construction workers on site.

“I think our people have not been paid,” said a staffer of the construction company, RCC, who asked not to be named. “Many people already left before they were invited again last week or so.”

A few kilometres away from Al-Hijrah site, the road was still being used as single lane with motorists complaining of the inconvenience of using such a road.

“The road is too narrow and sometimes it leads to accidents especially when drivers are not in a hurry,” said Bashiru, a road user.

From the locations of Macpherson University, to Skelly Quarry, Noor Foundation, Free Trade Zone, Dominic University, and the Technical University Ibadan, the road has been constructed and well paved.

It however terminates at a spot not far away from the site of Guru Maharaji complex, up until the location of the Ibadan Toll Gate.

Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa-Birnin Gwari

PREMIUM TIMES findings showed that motorists are delighted about the state of the Ilorin-Jebba section of the Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa-Birnin Gwari expressway. Once the vehicle wriggles its way past the tiny road at Shao and bursts into the expressway, which leads to Ilorin and Ogbomoso, it’s a smooth ride all the way to Jebba, they say.

“Fashola really tried for us,” said another commuter who trades in dried fish in Ilorin, Limota Kazeem. “The good state of the road has eased businesses for us and increased our gains because of low cost of transport.”

Another commercial bus driver, Baba Wakili, said he heard that the contract for the construction was earlier awarded to a certain monarch in Kwara, who allegedly abandoned the road.

“When Fashola came, he told them to quickly refund the money or do the road. He came for inspection almost on a weekly basis, correcting them when they did shoddy jobs. Fashola really tried for us on this road.”

Our reporter observed that from the KWASU-Shao intersection, through Camp Olooru, Alagba, Agbele and Shegi villages, the road is smooth up until Bode-Sadu. From Bode-Sadu, through Adena Village in Kaiama Local Government Area, the road was equaly well paved up till the Kwara axis of Jebba bridge.

While the Ilorin-Jebba axis of the road has received attention to the delight of users, the Jebba-Mokwa-Birni Gwari section of the road has however remained in its old decrepit state.

When PREMIUM TIMES inspected the road, it gathered that the construction works terminated at the tip of the River Niger bridge, creating traffic gridlock.

Sam, a construction worker with the Chinese Group of Companies, CGC, the company handling the construction, said they were recently invited to the site after months of being off-site.

“The major problem we heard our company is facing is funding. They said government has not been paying them and that’s why work is slow,” he said.

From the bridge through Ndafu and Gashua, construction workers were on site but the pace of work, according to PREMIUM TIMES’ observation, was slow.

The state of the road from Gashua to Mowo bridge, which had earlier collapsed, was poor, motorists and other commuters complained.

“The road is bad, it’s why transport is high,” said Umaru Umar, a commercial motorcyclist, who spoke with our reporter.

“From here to Minna is N2,500, and that’s because of the road. It should not be more than N1000 if the road was good.”

Meanwhile, PREMIUM TIMES noticed that a section of the road around Tatabu bridge was rehabilitated, but other sections up till Mokwa are still in decrepit states.

“Tatabu bridge area was constructed like this because it collapsed too last year,” said a resident who lives around the bridge but declined to be identified. “It took a while before it was rehabilitated.”

Two construction workers, who requested not to be identified, told PREMIUM TIMES they were awaiting the arrival of President Buhari before works would commence on the Mokwa-Jebba road.

“No money. what we are doing is ‘patch-patch’ work,” said one of the construction workers. ”Real work will begin when Buhari comes for (presidential) campaign or inspection.”

Meanwhile, PREMIUM TIMES efforts to speak with the project supervisor of the Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa road were unsuccessful as our reporter was told he was not on site.

A worker who identified himself as Monday however said, “The project was started in 2014 but abandoned during elections. We have done the Kwara wing; we are waiting for when the Niger wing would be done.”

Enugu- Onitsha Expressway

The Enugu to Onitsha expressway, one of the major roads that is of high socio-economic importance to the people of the South-east, is seen as a gateway into the region as it connects the region from the South-west.

When our reporter monitored the road, about 30 per cent of the road has been done by the contractor handling the projects, even though one of the contractors has had his contract terminated by the federal government due to inability to deliver.

Also, some users of the road and members of the community have lamented since the road became bad. Some of them however commended the Buhari government for the increased pace of work by the contractors.

One of the major challenges that has been blamed for the poor state of the road is the inability of the contractors to find lasting solution to the soil texture of the area which is said to have a very difficult soil composition.

This has led to the road failing almost immediately they are constructed, PREMIUM TIMES learnt. The CCC Construction Company was initially awarded the contract to construct the Abakpa Junction in Enugu to Ninth mile section of the road, which is about 16 kilometers, but it was unable to do the project for many years before the emergence of the Buhari administration.

The other section of the road from Ninth Mile to Amansea in Enugu being handled by RCC construction is progressing and road users equally expressed delight at the quality of work being undertaken by the contractor.

So far, RCC have completed one lane of the two-lane road and this has alleviated the plight of road users on the road as the area was one of the worst segments of the road. The third section of the road which was awarded to Nigercat Construction Company, an indigenous company based in Delta state is not progressing.

Apart from the signpost announcing the details of the road project, there is no evidence to show that the contractor was on sight or working when our reporter visited the road.

The Anambra section from the border with Enugu to Awka though not yet done is motorable but travelling on the road is not smooth. Within Awka metropolis, the road is very smooth as it has been maintained by Anambra State government. So also is the segment within Onitsha metropolis.

Many parts of the Anambra segment were scrapped by the contractors and then abandoned for many years without any work done; forcing drivers to use one lane. This is one of the major reasons for accidents on the road as travelers going opposite ways try to overtake each other sometimes carelessly. The bad road in this segment also cause lots of traffic gridlock on the road leading to delay for travelers.

A commercial driver, Ngwu Obinna, commended the president for re-awarding the contract but lamented the poor pace of work on the road.

“It too annoying that we still run on a bad road. I am not in the government system to know how the road is going on but we are quite happy that they are doing some work now unlike before when the whole road was bad.

“We the drivers are suffering a lot because of the bad road. I would say that we are the worst hit by the bad road as about 80 per cent of the money we get from this business, we spend it on maintenance of our cars.”

A trader, Confidence Chukwu, lamented the high rate of accidents on the road which she blamed on the state of the road. A week prior to PREMIUM TIMES’ visit, a family of seven reportedly perished on the road close to Ninth Mile. Ms Confidence noted that the accident ”happened because of the poor state of the road”.

“Many cars divert and use the old expressway reconstructed by the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi led government in Enugu State. That one is in good condition, because of that, we are not making much sales.”

A staffer of one of the construction companies who spoke with our reporter on condition of anonymity attributed the slow pace of work on the road to the non-release of funds to the construction companies.

“You don’t blame the contractors, we only started getting money during the Anambra elections last year when the APC candidate Nwoye started lobbying and using it as a campaign point. Even at that, I dont think they have released enough money yet though the minister on his visit last month (May) promised release of more money for us,” the source said.

Efforts to get the Controller of Works in charge of Enugu State, Oyekanmi Olufemi to comment on the allegation of inadequate release of funds and the poor state of the road were not successful.

He gave this reporter series of appointments but was not always in the office at the Federal Secretariat Enugu when the reporter called.


Alesi-Ugep Road, Cross River

The Alesi-Ugep Road, Cross River State, a major federal highway in the South-south of Nigeria, connects Cross River and Akwa Ibom states to the North-central part of the country.

A single carriageway, the width is about 7.3 metres, although it is wider in some portions, especially at the corners, with 66.75 km length.

The contract for its rehabilitation was awarded since 2014, but its execution only began when Mr Buhari came to power in 2015, Okoi Obono-Obla, Mr Buhari’s special assistant on prosecution, told PREMIUM TIMES.

Mr Obono-Obla is from Ugep, where the road passes through.

From Ikom town to Alesi community, in Ikom Local Government Area, the highway is smooth and has road markings on it. Some people who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said that particular section of the road was constructed by the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan, while others said it was done by the current administration.

“Before, the road used to be very bad, and armed robbers used to rob commuters because of the poor condition of the road which prevented vehicles from speeding through it,” a cab driver told PREMIUM TIMES.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt from the locals and the political leaders that in the height of its dilapidation, there was a spot on the road, somewhere around the Alesi community, that was infamously called Bakassi because of the magnitude of suffering drivers and passengers went through whenever they reached the spot.

In those inglorious days, passengers traveling from Calabar to Ikom and beyond had to step down from their vehicles, with their luggage, struggle to cross the collapsed Bakassi portion of the road, this newspaper learnt.

Often, they had to pay heavy fees to the locals for them to help ferry their luggage to the other side of the road. Most often, they were either extorted or robbed of their property.

After crossing over to the other side, they had to board a different vehicle to continue their journey.

From Alesi, towards Obubra, around the Ochon community, there are potholes at some sections of the highway. From Ochon upward, towards Ugep, through Ohana to Iyamoyong community, there are also several potholes on the highway.

But at some point in Obubra, around where Sermatech Nig Ltd has its construction yard, to Ugep, the road has been asphalted neatly.

Sermatech’s project engineer, Iheanacho Chibueze, told PREMIUM TIMES ”the bad portions on the highway are not part of their project”.

Heavy equipment and construction workers from Sermatech were seen working on the road shoulders when a PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited the highway in June 2018.

“We have had a very peaceful relationship with the communities here,” a supervisor in Sermatech, Joel Pius, told PREMIUM TIMES. “I think that is because the company has employed many people from the communities to work in the project.”

The asphalted road terminates in Ugep, shortly after the Ediba junction. Sermatech’s project engineer, Mr Chibueze, said the project is 60 per cent completed.

“From Obubra to Ediba junction in Ugep is 45 km. We still have about 21 km to cover, which terminates at Akpet 1,” Mr Chibueze said.

Apart from fixing the road shoulders, there is still some pavement and concrete work to do, he said. The project engineer said ‘fragmented’ payment from the federal government was their major challenge, for the project.

Drivers, passengers, and people living around the communities where the road traverses expressed their excitement over its rehabilitation.

Vera Moses, a food vendor in Alesi, said she had had several terrible experiences then, at the Bakassi spot when the highway was bad.

“We dey call that place Bakassi because we been dey suffer no be small,” she said in Pidgin English.

“I have been traveling through this road, and I can tell you how horrible the journey used to be,” a journalist who was traveling from Uyo, in Akwa Ibom State, to Ikom also said.

“We appreciate Buhari’s effort for this road,” Ebri Isobo, a local food vendor at Ediba junction, Ugep, told PREMIUM TIMES. “Him try, him try,” he added affably in Pidgin English.

Mr Isobo said big trucks used to ‘spoil’ (break down) in the middle of road when the highway was bad, thereby preventing the free flow of traffic, and sometimes causing accidents.

“Today, as you can see, big trucks and cars are moving freely on the road,” he said. “You can now have a smooth ride, without many potholes,” Ayang Azom, who works for the Cross River State government as the Director-General, Border Commission, Calabar, told PREMIUM TIMES.

“Before now….” Mr Azom giggled as he began to recount his experience. “The road was really really bad. You needed to put in at least three hours if you are driving from Alesi to Ugep, a distance that is less than 1.25 km,” he said.

He said he sometimes felt discouraged but didn’t have a choice since he had to travel to his village in Ikom.

“I was spending more money on the maintenance of my car, and changing tires, and fuel. And my health too, because every time you go and come back, you would need some rest.

“To God be the glory, we thank God that the federal government has finally done something about the road,” he said.

He added, “But from Ugep to Calabar is terribly bad. So, you just come from this way happily, and after Ugep you start feeling the same problem.”


Elated Presidential Aide

Apparently, out of excitement, the presidential aide, Mr Obono-Obla, took to Facebook to castigate previous Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led administrations for not rehabilitating the Alesi-Ugep Road.

“The road was not rehabilitated despite the fact that (the) people of Cross River State voted massively and consistently for PDP for 16 years. However, the three years old administration has fixed the road,” Mr Obono-Obla wrote on the social media site on April 30.

Mr Obono-Obla, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said the road was of great economic importance because it is a link between the North and the South-south.

However, the member representing Obubra II State Constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly, Elucate Ekom, faulted the quality of work done by Sermatech Nig Ltd.

“From Alesi up to the first community in Obubra, the construction work there has quality. But as soon as you enter the Obubra part of the road, you find out that the quality of the delivery there is low,” said Mr Ekom, who is from Iyamoyong community.

Mr Ekom was elected to the House under the PDP before he defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The lawmaker said the federal government’s intervention on the road was commendable, but that ”what is worth doing, is worth doing well”. He said he has issues with the thickness of the road and the overall quality of work done by Sermatech.

He called on the federal ministry of works to strictly supervise the project.


Nigerian Government Keeps Mum

For months, efforts to get the reaction of the Nigerian government on issues raised by the contractors/residents were futile as our correspondent never got any response.

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Hakeem Bello, spokesperson to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, in July, he promised to get back to our reporters on details of the payments made to the affected contractors.

But several weeks after our reporter sent the questions and followed up with reminders, he did not respond.

This article is a product of a partnership between PREMIUM TIMES and #Buharimeter to fact-check the state of major roads being constructed by the Buhari administration.

Buharimeter is an initiative of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and the Department for International Department (DFID).

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