17th April, 2020
By Femi Adesina
As the Covid-19 pandemic remains unrelenting, a large swathe of the country is under lockdown, some proclaimed by Federal Government, others pronounced by the respective state governors. It’s not exactly the best of times for Nigerians, but the sacrifices are required to stay alive. As it is said, a living dog is better than a dead lion.
However, it is not all gloom and doom for the country. Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet (biblical Samson’s riddle). In the early days of the pandemic in Nigeria, before the lockdown became widespread, good news had wafted out from locations where critical infrastructure works were in progress. And as we hunker at home now, such things can still sweeten our ‘belle,’ as we expect better days for the world, for our country, and for ourselves.
The first phase of the lockdown for FCT, Lagos and Ogun states was proclaimed in a national broadcast on March 29. And while we were still in the doldrums, feeling like King Leah at his worst, a tweet came on March 31 from CCECC, the Chinese company handling the Lagos-Ibadan railway project.
”A stunning victory!” the message read. “The track laying work on the main line for the Lagos-Ibadan railway has been completed at 12.08 p.m on March 28. This marks the fact that the railway is getting one step closer to opening to traffic.”
What a delight! Out of the strong came something sweet. In time of lockdown, things are looking up for Nigeria. The Muhammadu Buhari administration is writing its name in gold.
For those who are perhaps less than 40-50 years old, they have not seen trains working in most parts of the country, except perhaps in Lagos and a few other cities. Now, trains would soon zoom across the national landscape, starting from Lagos-Ibadan. It’s a thing to rejoice over, even at a dolorous time, with the specter of Coronavirus hanging like a diabolical Incubus.
The Lagos-Ibadan railway covers 158 kilometers, across ten stations, from Apapa to Ibadan. From Ebute-Metta to Ibadan has now been completed, while Apapa to Ebute-Metta, an addendum to the original contract, will be done after the Covid-19 emergency.
The implication? People can now live in Ibadan, and work in Lagos, and commute effortlessly. Goods can now be evacuated from Apapa Port to other parts of the country without subjecting the roads to deadweight, and causing premature spoilage. Nigeria is joining the rest of the modern world in the area of haulage and public transportation. I’m sure proud to be part of the Buhari government that is launching Nigeria into new realms. With three more years, by the grace of God, people ain’t seen nothing yet. Ise ribiribi ko duro.
From the Eastern frontier came an update on the Second Niger Bridge, by the middle of March. There, things are surely looking up too.
Scope of work is the 1.6 kilometer bridge, and 10.3 kilometers highway, including Owerri Interchange and Toll Station.
In three previous civilian administrations, headed by presidents from the same political party, the Second Niger Bridge had been an object of unscrupulous politicking. When they wanted votes from that part of the country, they would vow to build the bridge in three months. But the project never took off. Till July 25, 2018, when the Letter of Award came. The contract was signed on August 14,2018, and work commenced on September 1 of the same year. Contract period is 42 months. Buhari is on the march again.
As at the middle of March, approximately 35.50% of the work had been completed. Manpower on site was 1,472, and the local economy of the area was being hugely impacted. The Second Niger Bridge has roared to life in the time of Buhari, and completion date would be well within the lifespan of the administration. No more false political promises.
At the Lagos-Sagamu end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, great things were also happening before the lockdown. At least 596 people were at work, rehabilitating, reconstructing, and expanding the arterial road, one of the most strategic in the country.
The first Letter of Award for the road was on June 13, 2013, two years before Buhari came. The contract was signed on September 11 of same year. Contract period was 48 months. But did much happen, even when the country was awash with money, with oil prices above 100 dollars per barrel? No. There had to be an augmentation of the contact on July 24, 2018, with another target of 48 months. At a time oil prices oscillated between 50-60 dollars per barrel, Nigeria was doing a lot more, while earning a lot less. The same oil price crashed to as low as 23 dollars per barrel in recent weeks, with the Coronavirus causing reduced demand, coupled with the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Before lockdown forced suspension of work on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, roadworks had been completed from Lagos to Sagamu, while drainage works were at final stages. Something to cheer us up as we seek refuge at home, covered by the Everlasting Arms.
Good news abound from different parts of the country, but let me take just one more. The Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road. It has been a death trap for years, due to its parlous state. But trust the Buhari government to bite the bullet. On January 2,2018, the Letter of Award was given, the contract signed on April 24 of same year, and work commenced on August 16. It was to last for 36 months.
Before lockdown led to a locking down of the works, this important road was already 34% completed. In the life of the Buhari administration, it should be delivered.
Sometime in 2016, few months into office as Minister of Power, Works and Housing (as he was then), I had visited Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola in his office, and we discussed extensively. He told me about some roads President Buhari had mentioned to him as priority projects in different parts of the country. He said something which I never forgot since then: “If funds are available, building roads and bridges are simple things. Let the funds be available, and see what we will achieve in the time ahead of us.”
True. Buhari is achieving. Fashola is delivering, despite the modest funds available. Now, those funds have diminished to less than half of what we had projected for the year. Budget 2020 benchmark has been reviewed from 57 dollars per barrel, to 30 dollars. But the good news is the directive given by the President to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed: no matter what, salaries must not fail, pensions must be paid, and infrastructure works must be funded.
With global recession looming, it will be tough. But all things being equal, railway works will continue, roads and bridges will not stop, and the Buhari government will exit in 2023 with its head held high, in a blaze of glory.
-Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari