Friday, March 27, 2009

The Abandoned N4bn Asphalt Plants

One negative attribute of the Nigerian nation is its enduring capacity to sustain wastage even in the face of acute needs. That is why imported hospital equipment and drugs would be left to rot away at the ports or in warehouses while our healthcare delivery system suffers from inadequate drugs and other necessary equipment. It is also why hundreds of thousands of electrical transformers would lie waste in NEPA/PHCN stores while several towns/cities are perpetually in darkness for lack of transformers to service them.
The recent revelation that about 47 plants worth N4 billion procured by the federal government for the production of asphalt, a major input in road construction and repairs, are lying idle in various states of the federation is not very surprising. For, it is in line with a well-known culture of waste. What is however surprising is the crocodile tears often shed by successive works ministers over the poor state of our roads. For, is it not hypocritical for such public officials to continue to sulk over the dilapidated highways in the country when in fact right at the back yards of their ministry's zonal and state offices are the tools to rehabilitate those roads.
Those equipment were procured during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration and specifically during the tenure of Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe as Minister of Works. They comprise seven giant plants and 40 smaller ones. The giant plants were said to have been distributed to each of the six geo-political zones and one for Lagos while the smaller ones were distributed to all the 36 states of the federation.
There were plans to give the remaining four to some universities to use in the training of their engineering students. And that was the end of this great dream, as that equipment have remained idle ever since the completion of their distribution.
Apart from helping to reduce the domination of road construction in the country by foreign firms, the plants could easily and at reduced cost address the problem of bad roads and create jobs for thousands of Nigerians and other ancillary professionals in the roadconstruction sector.
In fact, it was partly to promote this direct labour policy in road rehabilitation that the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) was established by the Obasanjo administration. But the agency's officials, in whose care the abandoned asphalt plants were kept, appear to have been at a loss as to the usefulness or necessity of their purchase.
Apart from this, it was obvious that in some states of the federation, some politicians had other motives in setting up FERMA, as its operatives, especially in Lagos during the last administration, were engaged in duties other than road repairs or maintenance. This could have understandably caused a lot of distractions to the personnel, who were more visible on federal roads in the state controlling traffic or doing one battle or the other with Lagos transport officials.
We call on the Federal Government to demonstrate its sense of patriotism in handling issues of public welfare and societal necessity by taking urgent step to fix those crucial plants and immediately put them to use.