Nigeria’s Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), on Wednesday, stressed that to sustainably maintain the newly-constructed Second Niger Bridge, the facility will be tolled when fully operational.
Speaking when he appeared on Channels Television, Fashola argued that Executive Order 11 made maintenance a part of the infrastructure economy in the country. He explained that while construction and design employed about 30 per cent, the rest benefits were from maintenance and operations.
The minister said the ministry was working on at least 40 bridges nationwide, stressing that infrastructure maintenance remains a major driver of growth and employment.
Fashola stated that the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) was actively working on many roads nationwide, while the ministry had built capacity for “condition assessment” for many Nigerian roads.
He added that the directive that containers on Nigerian roads exceeding certain weight levels should be halted still persisted to prolong the life of existing road infrastructure.
Fashola noted that the road tax infrastructure scheme introduced by the federal government had been relatively successful, with a number of private business organisations, like MTN, Mainstream Energy, Dangote, Bua Group, Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG), and Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, now actively involved.
He stated, “Inevitably, the bridge will be tolled, but that is the job of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) because we must make sure the bridge is properly maintained.
“So, this is where private sector capacity becomes useful. They may not be able to mobilise the capital to buy the asset, but can mobilise the expertise and efficiency to operate it. Of course, not without due diligence being done.
“That was my experience in Lagos, when we built the same model on the Lekki toll gate. We contracted the private sector to manage the toll collection.”
Fashola further said the completion of the project was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the stay-at-home declared by dissidents in the South-east.
“Truth be told, the target is April or May (2023) but the date keeps shifting because of sit-at-home directives,” he added.
The minister also reiterated the arrangement for the temporary use of the Second Niger Bridge, stressing that at some point the facility will be shut down to allow for the completion of the four-kilometre access road the government is building.
He said, “We are building in mash land, so we have to dredge, accumulate sand, fill or reclaim land. You have to wait for it to settle and can’t start building the following day. We are using a technology called pre-fabricated vertical drills to accelerate.”
Fashola stated that the sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) contributed immensely to the delay in completion of the bridge.
“These dates keep shifting and people must remember that on the eastern side, our contractors have not been able to work on Mondays for almost two years and that has affected the completion date,” he explained.
He stated that while construction workers now worked on Saturdays, a 52-day loss in a year could not easily be made up for in construction of an infrastructure of that magnitude.
Fashola asserted that relocating transmission lines connecting the East to the West across the Niger River might have also contributed to days lost and added to the seemingly slow pace that affected the completion of the bridge within the stipulated time.
He promised that the new target date to deliver a completed Second Niger Bridge will be April/May 2023.
He further stated that the construction industry was laying off workers when President Muhammadu Buhari took over government, noting that many contractors have now been mobilised to site due to the renewed attention to of building critical infrastructure in the country.
Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja