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Monday, February 27, 2012

Onolememen and the Works Ministry

SINCE the constitution of the Federal Executive Council by President Goodluck Jonathan after his 2011 victory at the general election, many government ministries and agencies have attested to the fact that governance have recorded a great departure from the past.

Some are already counting their blessings ostensibly because of the new dawn capacities that the President has brought to bear in government. One of such places is the Federal Ministry of Works where morale has been on the rise.

The duo of Mike Onolememen and Ambassador Bashir Yuguda, Minister of Works and Minister of State for Works, respectively, are no doubt set to implement the change factor that motivated Mr. President’s transformation agenda.

The Federal Ministry of Works has over the years earned public distrust and battered image due to its inability to bring respite to Nigerian road users.  Onolememen in six months have changed all that, making even the National Assembly, which is the most critical of the Ministry in the past, to begin to re-create a new path of honour for the establishment.

In a recent gathering of the launch of FEERMA’s mechanized pothole patching machines in Kuje, a respected member of the Senate who had called for its scrap recanted his words and urged government to rather increase allocation to enable it give Nigerians good roads. He also praised the leadership of the Ministry.

Onolememen was said to have challenged the new Managing Director of FERMA, Gabriel Amuchi to discard the old ways of using shovels and head pans in patching the many potholes scattered all over the 35,000 kilometres of Federal roads nationwide and called on the agency to adopt newer technologies. Today the agency boasts of these new patching machines spread across Nigerian highways.

One of the major reforms carried out by the present leadership in the Ministry is the restructuring exercise of September 2011 which was designed to make the Federal Ministry of Works more responsive in service delivery. The restructuring gave birth to 16 professional departments instead of the former three.

The upgrading of the quality control division to full department underscores the recognition accorded quality and standards in the construction of roads and bridges under the leadership of Mr Onolememen.

The Minister also set up the road sector reforms committee comprising of international experts and highly experienced professionals from both the public and private sectors to prepare a road map for the sustainable development, maintenance and good governance of the road sector in Nigeria.

On assumption of office, Onolememen discovered that contractors had abandoned their sites due to non-payment.  Being in a familiar terrain, he quickly summoned a meeting of all contractors and urged them to return to sites. The strategies he adopted in bringing them back to sites  left Ministry officials dumbfounded.

Since July 2011 when he assumed duty, visible progress has been made in a number of projects under construction. Among them are projects under the National Road Rehabilitation Programme, Presidential Initiative Projects, PIP, Zonal Intervention Programme, ZIP, Access Roads to Refineries, NNPC depots and ports, roads under the Niger-Nigeria Joint Commission for cooperation, and Presidential Special Intervention projects.

The gridlock experienced by motorists on our roads, particularly during the yuletide period was confronted headlong by Onolememen using an ad-hoc team comprising experts from the Federal Ministry of Works, Armed Forces, Police, Federal Road Safety Corps, Vehicle Inspectorate Office, etc.  The Gwagwalada Bridge and Giri Flyover were completed and opened to motorists to ease traffic flow, while traffic congestion last December in various parts of the country, including Lokoja, Ore, Onitsha, Lagos-Ibadan expressways became a thing of the past due to the improvement of the carriageways and opening of sections of newly completed carriageways.

The critical projects which he also faced headlong include the Ore failed section of Benin-Ore-Shagamu Expressway which was recovered fully, thereby reducing travel time between Lagos and Benin from over  nine hours to four hours. Others are the construction of additional three lanes and drainages to the existing three lanes from Onitsha head-bridge up to Upper Iweka which was completed in December 2011, and the problems of washouts which have threatened federal highways in different parts of the country, among others.

Reinstatement efforts are now ongoing in the washouts along Gombe-Potiskum road, Billiri Highway, Sokoto-Illela road and three sites along Onitsha-Enugu road. The Auchi-Okene road washout has been recovered and the road has since been re-opened to the admiration of motorists who hailed the briskness with which the work was done.

The major challenge facing the Ministry is inadequate funding of its road projects.  Consequently, the Ministry under  Onolememen has been actively engaged in the drive for foreign direct investors in the USA, France, China, Egypt, among others, to develop the nation’s road sector.  As a result, foreign direct investments from these countries and multilateral agencies like the World Bank, Africa Development Bank, IFC and others have indicated their interests in road sector development in Nigeria.

In his unalloyed drive to hasten the public- private partnership initiative in the country, the Ministry recently advertised for expression of interests for the expansion, beautification and construction of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport access road in Lagos;  the construction of the Second Niger Bridge in Anambra/Delta States and the Nupeko Bridge in Niger State. Responses are already being analysed and considered.

The Federal Ministry of Works is also collaborating with multi-lateral agencies like IDA, ADB, World Bank, JICA, etc in financing the rehabilitation of some federal roads, including the          Enugu-Abakaliki road, Abakaliki-Ogoja road; Ogoja -Ikom road, Gombe-Biu road, Akure-Ilesha, and Lafiagi-Jebba road.

The Honourable Minister of Works recently approved the payment of N500 million counterpart funds to Multilateral Agencies to sustain their commitments to road development in the country.

Mr.  TONY IKPASAJA, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Abuja.

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