Roads in Niger deserve urgent attention –Abdullahi

Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi is the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate. He led the Niger State Caucus in the National Assembly last week to appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, to declare a state of emergency on the deplorable state of roads in Niger, and urged him to provide intervention fund for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the roads. CHUKWU DAVID was there and captured the report

The Niger State National Assembly Caucus raised the alarm last week over the deplorable state of roads in the State. Would you throw more light on this?

Yes, as you rightly said, the Niger State Caucus in the National Assembly decided to intimate the whole world, Nigerians and Nigeria Government in particular, of a very urgent critical issue bothering our dear State, Niger. We felt as representatives of the people, we should lend our voice to the issue, especially given the period which we are in right now; that is the budget session. The three senators in the Senate and the 10 members in the House of Representatives, making 13 in number and we are all of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), felt that it is incumbent on us to cry out with a view to getting attention that our state badly requires at this stage.

As you all know, Niger State is the largest state in terms of landmass in Nigeria. The state is about 76,363km2. And with this also, Niger State has the longest Trunk ‘A’ network of federal roads, spanning 2,176; in some statistics you say 2,365, I think we go with the latter, which is 2,365. Now, as you are all aware, we are located in the North Central zone. The implication of this is that, if you are traveling from the North-East or North-West you have to pass through Niger State, taking the trunk A2 from Kaduna down to Birnin Gwari, down to Tegina, down to Makira, down to Bukani, Mokwa, Jebba before you exit into Kwara State. In the same vein, if you are going to Kebbi and Zamfara or Sokoto state, you now make a detour at Makira to Kontagora and from then from Kontagora you have two or three options to go through either Bangi or to go through Rijau or through Yawuri, depending on where you are going to. In the same vein, when you come to Mokwa, you have an option to take Bida, and from Bida the Trunk A road leads to Agai, Lapai and then up to Lambata to join the Minna Suleja Highway.

How would you describe the conditions of these roads?

Now, all these roads, as I speak to you are in very deplorable state. This is no thanks to some developments especially the heavy rainfall; the down pour this year is so heavy. What we witnessed was first the very bad state of Trunk A2 from Mokwa to Bokani to Makira to Tegina, which will take you to Kaduna because that is the main road that most of heavy vehicles ply. This road became bad.

And fortunately, in 2015 or thereabouts, the Mokwa-Bida road was rehabilitated; it was a total rehabilitation. So, that one and half-hour journey is now a very smooth road. So, most vehicles now use that particular road to travel, and when they get to Bida, it is either they go from Bida to Minna or they take the Agai-Lapai-Lambata road which is Federal Government Trunk A road. The Bida-Minna road is a state government road. The heavy traffic that we have witnessed in the last two years on this road has impacted very negatively on all the roads. The result is that the western bye-pass in Minna is completely degraded and the road from Bida to Minna was cut off twice.

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Apart from the heavy traffic on the road, what other factors do you think are responsible for the destruction of these roads?

The first and foremost is torrential rainfall and then heavy weight. And the situation has remained very deplorable. Now, for those who are familiar with the Suleja-Minna road, there are many sections of the road that are very good but because of the heavy weight vehicles plying those roads were carrying. In the last one to two months, the story on that road is one of cry and anguish because people have had to sleep there for two to three days as a result of a section giving up completely. The place is very muddy and vehicles break down here and there, and it was almost impossible for vehicles coming for rescue to enter there.

This is obviously impacting negatively on our citizenry. Niger citizens are in pains. As you know, the local economy involves people trading from one market to another. Along all these routes that I have mentioned, this daily market is no longer possible. So, this is impacting on the welfare of our citizens and definitely requiring that we call for very urgent action. We have made our case because we felt that it’s important that we cry out in this manner so that even our own citizens will know that we are very concerned about what is happening on our roads.

If you look at the volume of road network that we have, there are about 33 roads coming from one location to another but I have chosen to mention these very critical ones that people are plying from the North-West, North-East, going down to the South normally pass to the South -West and some part of South-East. So, the point am trying to make here is, as much as efforts are being made by the Niger State government to stabilise the roads but no sooner than a particular segment is stabilised than another segment also gives in. And by the time they move to that other segment, this same area that has been stabilised will also give in.

One thing we also want to report is the fact that vehicles plying these roads are overweighed or carry overload. Some of them are designed for 30 tonnes, some 40 tonnes but what you see today is 60 tonnes to 90 tonnes. As these trailers are passing, you will see the road sinking in as they move, and of course you know the implications. When that happens, during the rainy season, it gets washed off and it becomes bad road. So, the essence of this our raising alarm as you people in the media will call it is to actually call on the Federal Government in particular, under the leadership of the Minister of Works, and indeed our father Mr. President, to take interest in what is happening.

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What will interest you is that the bulk of these vehicles are not vehicles belonging to Niger State. They are vehicles plying the roads to do their business; vehicles belonging to Nigerians. But the impact that is left behind as a result of their movement is felt by indigenes of Niger, and that is the most painful part, and that is why as their representatives, we felt duty bound to address that press conference which we did in order that Nigerians and Mr. President will know that this issue is truly genuinely a serious issue. And what we are asking for is for a state of emergency to be declared on three roads in the first instance. Of course, it will be our wish that all the 33 roads be fixed but we are aware of the financial situation. However, three roads are critical to solving the bulk of the problem. The roads are the Minna-Suleja road, which is a dualisation. We are asking for this because we are aware of the policy that says all states roads adjoining the FCT should have a dual carriage road.

Niger is the only state that does not enjoy that dual carriage road and Niger State contributed 75 per cent total land area of the FCT. I think we have given our due to this country and we deserve to be given something back. We need that dual carriage way so that our people can have succour. The second road is the trunk A1 leading to Etu, that is the one that came from Mokwa to Bukani, Makira, Tegna down to Birnin Gwari and onward to Kaduna. That road, if fixed, will reduce the pressure on whatever is going to be done to the two other roads I have mentioned. Those who are going to Kaduna are forced to take this road because the other road is bad. So, if that road is fixed, those going there will have no option but to follow that road and leave this other road. Then the third one is the Bida-Lambata road because those who are coming from Mokwa to Bida and coming to Abuja will find it easier to come through that road. So, these three roads are in need of emergency because if you fix Suleja-Minna road without fixing these other two roads, all you are doing is to put pressure on this road.

What do you actually want government to do to rescue the situation?

So, this is our cry and we are convinced beyond reasonable doubt that beyond what is happening under the budgetary atmosphere, we are calling on Mr. President to please do the needful for our people by giving a special intervention funding so that these three roads I have mentioned can be fixed. And we believe that if that is fixed, it will help in the diversification of the economy that we talk about because right now, we are convinced beyond reasonable doubt based on what we are seeing on the ground, that supplies that are meant for industries either in the South or in the North are being held down unnecessarily. And when supplies are held down you know production will not be achieved, and when you are not having production, you will be losing revenue in return.

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So, we know the implications and that is why we are appealing. Again, our people will like to have their routine movements from village to village for their social engagements; for their marketing because they want their little earnings to continue. We wouldn’t want a situation our state is cut off from civilization. If nothing is done, this is what is found to happen to us because these roads will give in and movements will be stalled.

It is our hope that this message will be well received and the needful will be done as a matter of emergency. We believe that government has what it takes to do the needful. Remember we are not in session; ordinarily we would have been debating these issues on the floor of the Senate. That is why we resorted to addressing the press because the issue is getting worse by the day. So, we can’t wait until we resume plenary. We are going to meet our principal officers and also intimate them of what we have done and what we expect of them.

Repairing the roads without addressing the issue of overweight or overload by vehicles will be like treating a symptom without getting to the causative organism. What would you do legislatively to address the problem of defaulting vehicles in weight carriage?

Well, let me tell you that we are aware of this and there are already existing legislations, and we are also aware that the Ministry of Works and Housing has intimated us of the fact that they have made arrangement for Weigh Bridge. Now, what we are expecting is enforcement. If the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) is doing its enforcement, it knows when somebody is carrying an overweight. We are also appealing to them to do the needful, and I believe that if there are gaps within the context of the legislative framework as you have said, we are willing to take the matter up because it is not about the Niger State roads alone in this regard; it is about all the roads in the country that are affected. It is a bad thing that we designed roads for a particular weight and then people are carrying two times that particular weight, and nobody is doing anything, definitely it means that we will just continue to throw our money to the ground and that investment will not last. Road that is supposed to last for ten to twenty years or even more, will not last because when you see vehicles carrying mad weights, I think something needs to be done and along this line we are emphasising that the Federal Ministry of Works should strengthen the issue of weight bridge in a policy. Then the FRSC should also try to enforce it because sometimes our key issue is not the law but the enforcement.

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