* Says gang-up, intimidation won’t stop use of concrete
* Gives contractors a 14-day ultimatum to fix the bad road
By Mathew Dadiya
Minister of Works, Senator Dave Umahi has boasted that President Bola Tinubu has given him support for the use of concrete in road construction in the country, vowing not to succumb to the gang-up and blackmail from contractors.
The minister spoke with State House correspondents after he met behind closed doors with President Tinubu at the Presidential Villa on Tuesday in Abuja.
Umahi, who is an engineer by profession said that some contractors have keyed into the policy just as major cement producers have agreed to discount prices for such government road builders.
He 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.
The minister warned contractors against the dodgy attitude of securing about 20 projects but ended up deploying as few as two units of equipment to the site.
On the essence of the meeting with the President, he said, “I came to see Mr. President to discuss road infrastructure I want to thank God because Mr. President approved all my requests. These requests are requests that will renew the hopes of Nigerians in our road sector development, the approvals will rejuvenate proper road construction.
“But let me clarify several issues, especially for the benefit of Nigerians and our stakeholders.
“There have been a kind of campaign by some quick fix contractors and some elements you know, 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 truth is that the past government earmarked several roads, which Mr. President inherited, close to about 18,897 kilometers of road totaling N14 trillion.”
The Federal Government has given contractors handling road projects but abandoned them a 14-day ultimatum to return to the site or face revocation of the contracts.
The government also threatened to drag contractors ganging up against the use of concrete for road construction to the anti-crime agencies including the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences, ICPC.
Umahi however, clarified that “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.”
Fielding questions on how the projects would be funded, the minister said, “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.
“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 flight, is that we don’t have this N6 trillion to complete this project based on what we heard.
” 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 percent of the present roads going on.
“I want to thank Mr. President very highly. He is a man who is committed to changing things in this country. Any other president would have come and said oh, let me start my projects. But no, he has not started any new projects.
He is committed to the completion of this 18,897-kilometer road.
On the failure of asphalt, the minister explained: “It shows that governance is continuity and it shows that it’s all about the welfare of the people. So 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 that 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 the asphalt 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 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 on asphalt. Sometimes they construct this road below the floodplain.
“That is number one number two. When I came on board as Minister, the cost of bitumen was 576,000 per tonne, today the cost of Bitumen within six weeks is 1 million per tonne. And for you to increase any project it has to go to the Bureau of Public Procurement and it has also come to FEC.
“So with this kind of mechanism on the volatility of the international oil market, which has the consequences on the asphalt because its 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 five percent which is what is allowed in the contract.
“So you are not going to import adulterated bitumen. Why is it that when you bring bitumen here you are putting modifier and enhancer? The question is, where do they put all these things?
“So why would you allow adulterated bitumen and then you come here you say you’re putting modifier? We are all witnesses that in the 50s the roads constructed on asphalt were much more durable than what we witness today.
“So these are what we are saying. We are not saying people should not construct roads on asphalt but if Nigerians are saying they should not have value for their money, that roads should be continued to be constructed every year, the same roads. That is very unfortunate. And that 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. What is the alternative? The alternative 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 on 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, no matter who did it can sustain that.
“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. Some people put even three binders on their road construction, I get the roads will fail.”
He said the alternative is not by force, adding, “And Clause 51 of the general conditions of contract which form part of the contract signed with contractors allows us to do this and that Clause says that the employer, which is Mr. President, represented by the Honorable Minister for Works, shall have the powers, the legal rights, the liberty to change the quality of an ongoing contract, to change the quantity, to change the scope to change the quality and this what we are leveraging to do.
“And 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.”
He further said, ” If you go from here to Lokoja to Benin to Warri, there are no roads. You will see queues. I got a warning letter from NUPENG threatening to down their services if the roads in Warri, Benin, and Port Harcourt are not fixed.
“We have directed the contractors to go and start work. After 14 days as allowed in the contract, any contractor that fails to be on site doing permanent work will have his contract terminated. That’s what the law says.”
On the alleged meeting of foreign contractors against the policy, he said, “I want to assure contractors that our local people can do this work and do it very well. So there is no need for a meeting because the contract was signed individually. And so if you are meeting to present a common front to frighten me with a high cost of concrete cost, it is a waste of time because you have concrete costs in the bills you signed.
“So what I do is to come and combine your concrete cost and your reinforcement cost and give you a cost for placement. And that’s what the contract allows.
On East/West road, Umahi said, “Let me also announce to Nigerians that Mr. President is a listening President. All the interventions we requested in our East-West Road in Benin-Sapele road, in Lokoja, in Shandam Lafia, you know, the bridge that has broken, in the two bridges in Enugu that got broken, in Owerri-Onitsha road that got broken at two points. The third mainland bridge resurfacing and the underneath work. I can’t finish all, they have all been approved by Mr. President.
“So we have set up Taskforce in all the locations where these approval were made by Mr president to ensure that within three months we would conclude all that is needed based on their approval.
“Let me also announce that we have a force that would supervise contractors, all the way from Lokoja to Benin, to Warri, Bayelsa, Rivers State, and Cross River. We are also deploying consultants to supervise our roads. Our engineers will also be sites to learn from experience. Mr. President has also approved.
“I want to also warn contractors, that there are some contractors that are quoting for jobs and they have two equipment on site. It can no longer be the same. We have minimum requirements of equipment on site for a particular work. And if you don’t have it you will leave the site. Nobody can hold this country to ransom.
“Our local contractors are advised to wake up. I did it in an Ebonyi State, every civil service became an engineer our stakeholders became an engineer. We have to do it again and again and again. But we will welcome our expatriate contractors. We want them to respect us, to respect our culture. Because what is being done here cannot be done outside this country.
“Many of the contractors that NNPC paid have not gone to the site, some got N33 billion and have not been to sites. And I want the stakeholders to know that it is about our country, it’s about our children and this is very important.”
He re-emphasized that “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, and the Band UA, have agreed to give special discounts to our contractors who are going to engage in concrete road pavement, and many contractors are already doing it.