Umahi Woos Presidency As Contractors Oppose Concrete Roads

Amid the lingering disagreements between the Minister of Works, David Umahi, and road contractors over the plan to dump asphalt for concrete roads, the minister says he has briefed President Bola Tinubu on the development.

As a result, Umahi told State House correspondents he would fight contractors on the issue, saying he believed concrete-made roads would last longer that asphalt roads.

He said, “So I briefed Mr. President on what we are doing by introducing reinforced concrete technology for our road pavements. Incidentally, Mr. President is also an infrastructure guru. And he fully supports that we should use reinforced concrete for our road pavements.

“So there is no other place you can report me other than to report me to God. So Mr. President is supporting me that way. We’ll redesign our roads in reinforced concrete pavement. I’m aware that the contractors have been quarreling and arguing.”

Road contractors have argued that the cost of changing from asphalt to concrete technology as well as the cost of importing heavy duty road equipment for the new technology may be too high for the government to shoulder at the moment.

As a result, the road construction firms advised the government to set a timeframe for the shift from asphalt to concrete technology.

The contractors had protested against the directive, describing the move by Umahi as an alleged breach of contracts that could lead to huge losses on the part of the government.

They said the decision by the minister to abruptly order contractors to dump asphalt for concrete technology was tantamount to “shifting the goalposts in the middle of the  game.”

According to them, construction companies have invested several millions of dollars in asphalt technology equipment and also imported bitumen and other raw materials running into billion of naira, adding that shifting to concrete technology at the current stages of the road projects will lead to millions of dollars in losses.

But Umahi told State House media on Friday he would “fight” entities poised to frustrate his plan, saying, “I know that there are a lot of fights from contractors, but I’m David, I’m known for fight and I will fight this because I’ve reported myself to Mr. President.”

According to him, using cement for roads is more reliable and cost-effective than the widely-used bitumen, insisting that it can last for 50 years.

“We are sure that this is the way to go and it has a guarantee of 50 years,” he said.

Meanwhile, Umahi said the new government inherited at least N14tn worth of road projects numbering 2,604 spanning 18,000 kilometers from the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

“The ministry inherited a total of 2,604 projects, worth N14tn and for 18,000 kilometers of road, that’s what we had,” he explained.

Umahi revealed that since assuming office on August 21, his ministry has paid N4tn of the N14tn owed to contractors constructing various road projects nationwide.

He said, “Between when we came on board and now, about N4tn has been paid. And so that is a balance of N10tn remaining.”

Although the ministry has identified funding sources to offset N4tn of its outstanding debts to contractors, Umahi noted that it still has a yawning funding gap of N6tn.

“Now, in this N10tn, we have defined sources that could fund up to N4tn. So, we have a funding gap of about N6tn. That is what is there now.

“We have a number of programmes for road development under the previous administration. We inherited all the projects; we have not dropped any of them. But curious to know that some of these projects have lasted for 20 years, some 10 years. In fact, in most cases, they were never appropriated throughout every tenure.

“So I went to seek Mr. President’s nod so that I will be able to terminate some of the projects that have stayed up to 10 years without any defined source of funding,” Umahi explained.

The minister lamented the current appropriation system for federal road projects, saying the piecemeal disbursement of funds to contractors was affecting delivery.

“I shared with Mr president that the way appropriation is being done is not healthy to develop our roads infrastructure. For example, for a road that may cost N10bn, an appropriation of N150m is made.

“It is just for the contractor to take and put in his pockets because where an average cost of projects that we inherited is about N700m per kilometer and you are giving out N150m for the whole year, then you are just enhancing the pockets of the contractor,” the minister submitted.

He said he urged Tinubu to engage with the National Assembly to priotitise projects.