The Suleja – Minna road is probably one of the worst roads in the country. However, a few months prior to the 2011general elections, the hopes of motorists plying the road were raised when President Goodluck Jonathan announced that the contract for the dualisation of the road has been awarded. But with just twelve months to the set date for the completion of the contract, the project has been stalled mainly due to paucity of funds and many other issues. Michael Oche reports.
It has been eighteen months since the road contract was awarded but the only noticeable beauty on this road is perhaps the sign post announcing the contract awarded by the federal government to Salini Construction Company.
This road leading from Suleja to Minna, the Niger state capital is probably one of the worst roads in the country. Motorists who ply this road may have heaved a sigh of relief when president Goodluck Jonathan announced in February 2011 during his presidential campaign at the Trade Fair Complex in Minna, that the Federal Government had awarded contract for the dualisation of Minna-Suleja road.
Though, the president made the announcement early February, checks revealed that the actual contract for the road was awarded in December 2010 to the Italian company Salini who quickly moved to site in January2011, beginning with bush clearing prior to the visit of the president in February.
The road is about 100 kilometres long but the state of the road has become something of a nightmare to motorists who daily ply that route.
However, residents began to suspect foul play when it was discovered that only 40 kilometres of the road, less than half of the 100-kilometre Trunk A road, was actually awarded. The road contract, which was awarded at N10 billion would terminate at a 40-kilometre junction at the popular Gurara waterfalls at Bunu, leaving the remaining 60 kilometres from Bunu to Minna unattended.
This discovery was contrary to the president’s pronouncement during the presidential campaign, that the full contract for Minna-Suleja dualisation had been awarded.
But the suspense didn’t end there. About 18 months after the contract was awarded, and with just 12 months left to meet the 30-month deadline given for the contract, the project had suffered several setbacks leading to more loss of lives caused by the bad state of the road.
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY gathered that the inadequate amounts of the contract sum released to the construction firm have also stalled the project.
Checks reveal that in 2011, the allocation for the road was N280million, a far cry from the N10 billion contract amount.
Further checks also reveal that about N500 million would be spent on payment of compensation to individuals that would be affected by the project, an exercise to be handled by a consultant appointed by the Federal Government.
The sum for compensation has not been made available which means that the construction company cannot demolish any house to enable it continue the project.
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY also learnt that the scope of the road tagged: “dualisation of Suleja – Lambata – Minna road” is to cover only 40kilometres out of the 100kilometres distance. The scope covers the provision of two flyovers sited at Diko junction and Maje village, while there are three other bridges to be constructed by the firm within the stretch of the road and the contract.
The site Engineer of Salini,? Engr. Bizzarro Raffaello who confirmed the contract terms his company entered into with the federal government told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that the company has expended the sum of N2billion so far but was only able to access N280million out of the entire sum.
“The allocations are too short, compared to the duration of 30 months and with the contract sum of the project put at N10billion, it means allocation should be N3billion per year. But in 2011 the allocation was N250million and this year the allocation is N1 billion, the allocation should follow the programme of work”, he said.
He said that those whose farms and houses are affected by the road construction were scheduled to be paid N500million but that the money has not been paid.
According to him though there has not been any pressure from the people yet about their compensation, he maintained that the federal government should speed up the payment of the compensation before they begin to mount pressure on the construction company.?
The site Engineer representing the Federal government on the project, Engr. Bakare Umar confirmed that the dualisation would only cover 40 kilometres as against the full 100 kilometres trunk A road.
He, however, said that the process of the procurement of the remaining 60 kilometre was with the Bureau of Public Procurement, adding that the cost for the 100 kilometre road at a stretch was enormous hence the government decided to break it.
When LEADERSHIP SUNDAY visited the site last Wednesday, bush clearing work was seen being carried out by some of the construction company’s graders between Maje and? Dikko junction.
Meanwhile, the indiscriminate parking of tankers and other articulated vehicles on both sides of the current single lane road continues to put other road users at risk.
Motorists plying that route say their lives have been endangered by the bad state of the road and urged the contractors to speed up the pace of the work because of its importance.
A concerned motorist told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY: “More than 18 months on, the Minna-Suleja road, which is only a distance of about 100 kilometres, still take motorists about one and half hours to cover due to its poor state. In fact, the impact of the dualisation project is nothing to talk about because the work seems to be stagnant.
Another motorist, Samson Alfa lamented that it was unfortunate that even the Federal Government is playing politics with the lives of the citizens. He said: “I know that the Suleja – Lambata – Minna dualisation project is politically motivated right from the onset because of electioneering campaign, the contractors were hurriedly mobilised to site. The pace of work is so slow that 16 months after the President’s announcement of the award of contract, not much progress has been made by the contractor.
Also, the Secretary of the Niger state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Abubakar Suleiman said: “Everyone is aware of the bad condition of the Minna – Suleja road and the slow pace of work is another disturbing issue”.
“Apart from the bad road and the slow pace of work, there is also the hazard of broken-down heavy duty vehicles that are abandoned on the highway without any caution sign to alert on-coming vehicles. This has caused several fatal accidents on this road”.?
According to him, “when we learnt that the on-going dualisation project was awarded for just 40km from Suleja, we concluded that the road accident on the road is not yet over because the remaining part of the road which was not covered by the contract, is over 60km.? Therefore, we want to appeal to the state government in the interest of the citizen welfare to source for funds to complete the remaining part like other state governments have been doing”.
Another motorist plying that route, Musa Ahmed said in the last two years he has been operating as a commercial driver running the Minna – Suleja route, he has seen several accidents that have claimed many lives.
He said, “I was very happy when I saw that work has started on the road. Many people have lost their lives on the road. But I and my fellow drivers we are now very concerned at the slow pace of the work. It is taking too long and we don’t understand. It takes the company like eternity to build a simple curvet. We noticed that the contractor keeps jumping from one site to another. Today, they work a bit here and tomorrow they abandon there and jump to another place to work a bit.”
Other motorists who spoke to our reporter say government must ensure the road project is completed so as not to end an another white elephant projects of the government. A legal practitioner, Mohammed Mohammed who resides in Suleja said: “If it was money to be released for foreign trips or medical treatment abroad for themselves and their family members, it would have long been approved, but this road that concerns the poor man is being abandoned. And more people continue to die on the road”
Despite the calls from the motorist for the contractor to speed the work on the road, it appears the government cannot pressure the contractor since money has not been made available to them. And for once, residents are beginning to think the government is playing politics with the road contract.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, senator Dahiru Awhesu Kuta, representing Niger East senatorial district said the attitude of the federal government towards the Suleja-Minna road has heightened the suspicion of the people that the government is not sincere.? He also criticised the slow pace and handling of the project, Though Kuta said he was aware that the slow pace of the work has been caused by the non release of funds to the contractor.
He said, “I really want that project to be completed even because of the sacrifice we have made to the federal government.
Two-third of Niger state is in the federal capital and when the relocation was made, President Obasanjo promised us that, as part of the compensation to our state, they will dualised the Abuja-Suleja-Minna road which was about 35years ago and until now, nothing has been done. People are beginning to think that the presidency is only playing politics with the Suleja-Minna road
“This year has gone, but by next year, we want to see if they will give out more money concerning that project. The truth is that, the work has not even taken off. After establishing their headquarters and constructing some culverts which portrayed them as working, nothing has been done since then”.
Speaking further, Sen. Kuta said: “As it is the federal government and because before any contract is given, there must be requirements by the contractor but the federal government should come out and tell us how much they have released to them so that we will know where the problem is or whether they are seriously underfunded.
We have not been taken along and the federal government has not been fair to the state because where we are today used to be Niger state. We are seriously feeling the negative effect of the non-completion of the road project”.