Worries over Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road

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TOPE SUNDAY writes on the seeming controversy over the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road project and urges stakeholders to allow the project completed within the stipulated time.     

For some time now, the poor state of Abuja/Kaduna/Zaria/Kano road has become a serious menace to its users, giving the dilapidated condition of that stretch of road.

However, some two years ago, the people’s hope for a better deal was raised when the federal government awarded the road to construction giant-Julius Berger Plc. And of course, considering the track record of the company in the construction industry, the people, nay, the motorists’ expectation that the stretch of road would be fixed in no distant time is not misplaced after all.

Allegation      

But some developments around the project have raised some concerns among Nigerians and also industry watchers. A major issue in this regard is the ‘slow pace of work’ as alleged  by Chairman  House of Representatives  Committee on Works  Abubakar Bichi against JB Plc.

Defence

A public hearing organised by the committee was all the giant construction firm needed to clear the air on the allegation by the lawmaker. Speaking at the session July, Managing Director of the firm, Dr. Lars Richter,  said all things being equal, the company  “is working on schedule, meeting and exceeding planned construction milestones and focused on delivering the project as contracted.”

He said all requisite human and technical resources, including new technologies, had been mobilised and deployed along the whole length of the project corridor to ensure successful completion of the works as duly contracted.

House committee visits

And as part of its oversight function, the Bichi-led committee subsequently visited the Abuja-Kano road project site and some other ongoing road projects in the North-west geo-political zone.  For instance,  during the visit to the Abuja-Kano project site, the committee was reported to have said out of the N155 billion contract sum, JB Plc  received N70 billion. The committee chair was further reported to have said out of the 165- kilometre Abuja/Kaduna axis, the company could only accomplish  10kilometres, six kilometres out of the 75 kilometres Kaduna to Zaria, and achieved  less than 20 kilometres  out of the 157-kilometer Zaria/Kano section. From his submission, it can be said that only 10 per cent work was accomplished.

Contractor’s defence

Countering the committee however, JB Plc told the lawmakers that the project had progressed to 49%, insisting that the onus of proof that only 10 % of works  was done rest on the person(s) making the assertion.

The question then arises: how were both the 10 percent as well as 49 per cent scope of works arrived at?

What’s JB’s pedigree?

The shocking ‘slow pace’ of work forces one, particularly those in the built industry to ask if the allegation can be true of this construction giant. Does the firm have any pedigree?  At different times of the nation’s life, It is on record that the German firm, a brand known and synonymous with quality, has been part of the nation’s infrastructure development process.

One of such infrastructure that stands out is the Eko Bridge in Lagos built 1965. This is aside several other quality projects in many parts pf the country.  Why the hues and cries over Abuja/Kano road project? Has JB plc lost its Midas touch? Is there a fifth columnist somewhere?

Independent checks

Our independent checks revealed the real status of the controversial project as well as similar others being handled by the firm. While the House is yet to show the indicators used to arrive at such conclusion of ‘slow pace of work’, checks revealed  that  N70billion payment  made to the contractor, was to take care among others, the initial 15% (i.e. about N23billion) of the project cost of N155 billion that was paid as advance payment for the contract.

This, a source  at the Federal Ministry of Works said, is a common contractual practice in engineering, adding that  the said N23billion is  being paid back periodically by the Julius Berger, being the contractor to the client which is the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Besides this advance payment (N23billion) being paid back by the contractor or deducted, the balance of the N70billion is the actual payment for works duly executed and properly certified by the client, and even further certified twice by international consultants under international due diligence standards, before any payment is made to the contractor.

This, Blueprint gathered, is what the committee is yet to accept as reality.

“We showed the House Committee other contractual agreements with different contractors and how projects are executed and payments made, but we are at a loss with what the House Committee really wants.”

“I can tell you that, this is one of the best roads in Nigeria as the contractor has brought in novel equipment which guarantees strength, speed and environmental friendliness. This is the first time we are having a Cold Recycling Methodology Equipment being brought into the country by a contractor. The technology will guarantee the road to last for a minimum of 30 years before the next maintenance is expected to be carried out like in the United States,” the top government source further said. 

A visit  to communities along project corridor  also showed that at certain portions of the road project, electrical poles are still standing thereby disrupting the project’s right of way, thus suggesting there are still pending issues of compensation for relocation of services and clearance of right of way for certain parts of the project.

Again, our source corroborated this, saying the client (federal government)is “frantically working to resolve this to enhance speedy project implementation by the contractor.”

Further to this, our reporter gathered that like any other project,  the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the pace of work and posed some challenges to supply chains, equipment and staff mobility, a development that ultimately affected the work schedules as initially agreed.

Firm keeps mum

Asked for comment, JB Plc told Blueprint that as a matter of policy, it’s always guided by the confidentiality clause in its contract with its clients and would therefore not speak on the matter.

Rather, the firm advised Blueprint to seek further comments from the supervising ministry.

 Cost per kilometre   

While   Bichi was  quoted to have said “the unit cost of the project per kilometre stands at about N450 million,” the zonal director of works  in the north-west zone,  Engr. Esan Folurunsho and the engineer representatives supervising the project,  James Zira said  “the materials being used for the road project was cheaper for Nigeria.”

Contract nature

Getting to know what the contract nature of the project remains a mirage, as the supervising ministry can’t be reached as at the time of this report.  

Nigerians want to know if the contract terms border on rehabilitation or total  reconstruction of the entire project. Is the contracting firm working as scheduled? Could it be that some people are only trying to play the spoilers and frustrate the project?

These and many other questions must be answered if the people, for whom this project is designed and targeted at, are to really benefit from it.

Any other interest short of that of the people can only be counterproductive.  More than any other thing,  the strategic long term socio-economic well-being of the nation should be topmost priority and should guide the operationalisation of this laudable project.

With its reputation, stakeholders cannot but agree with the choice of JB Plc by the federal government   for the battered Abuja/Kano project.  If this is correct, then all hands must be on deck to ensure the project is realised within the stipulated time so that it can optimally benefit Nigerians. Anything short of this will certainly not be in the interest of the generality of Nigerians. The minister in charge, Babatunde Raji Fashola must also act fast and do the needful so the project doesn’t go the way of other abandoned ones over needless controversy

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