Niger State is like a hinge that connects the south-west and the Northern parts of Nigeria. Hence, it is home to a key or critical federal roads like the Mokwa-Tegina-Brinin Gwari road.
Again, of the 32,182.80 kilometres of federal roads across the country, Niger State has the largest share traversing the length and breadth of the state with 2,374, the highest in Nigeria.
However, what is meant to be a blessing because of the economic prospects it holds for the state because of the influx of people transiting through the state, became a cause for concern due largely to neglect or abandonment and absence of maintenance of the federal roads.
Niger State Government, under the leadership of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, has since the inception of his administration been carrying out interventions or remedial works on some of the federal roads in the state, mainly to ameliorate the sufferings of its citizens despite the paucity of funds in the state Treasury.
This singular act by the state calls for consideration from the relevant federal authorities to support the Niger state government.
Governor Abubakar Sani Bello in an effort to improve on the state’s roads, also went a step further to inaugurate an infrastructure, project monitoring and implementation committee headed by the CoS to the Governor, Ibrahim Balarabe which carried out its functions diligent in ensuring that all state road projects were regularly monitored.
One of the spiral effects of the neglect of the federal roads is the untold pressure is brought to bear on state roads.
Where the state government awards contract for construction of its own roads within the state, the heavy volume of trailers that travel through these roads will not allow for seamless construction work to continue.
For instance, the state government awarded the contract for Minna-Bida road a few months ago! Not long after, the contractors cried out of frustration due to the inability to fast track the work because of the heavy traffic of trucks that ply the road.
In order to prevent the total collapse of its roads and bridges, the Niger State Government ordered the closure of Minna-Bida road to heavy-duty vehicles. The decision, according to Governor ASB, was not meant to inflict pain on the people, but to protect their most important road.
The decision led to a shortage of petroleum products up Northern Nigeria, as Niger State, particularly Minna-Bida road became the transit route for tankers moving premium motor spirit (PMS). Other heavy-duty vehicles between the South to the North suffered a similar fate and food shortages stared all in the face.
Worried by the development, a stakeholders meeting was convened in Abuja at the weekend, chaired by the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, with the Inspector General of Police, the Director-General of the Department of State Services, the Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Minister of Works in attendance.
The meeting resolved to reopen the road for tankers and trucks to use, but with a caveat.
Briefing the press after the meeting, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State explained that the meeting looked at the shortage of the supply of petroleum products up north.
He further said, “We also looked at causes of why we are having a problem today.
Over time, most of our highways have been ignored. We all know that the main road most people travel from the South-west to the northern part of this country is the Jebba-Mokwa-Tegina-Kagara-Brinin Gwari-Kaduna. That is a trunk ‘A’ road that has been abandoned and neglected for many years. It is not motorable at the moment.
“The option was to take Mokwa-Bida-Agie-Lapai-Lambata, which also is very bad.
“One of the causes of the deplorable state of the roads is that over time, no one has paid attention to trucks and trailers. So, tanker owners decided to increase the carrying capacity of their tankers from between 45,000 to about 90,000 litres. For dry cargoes, they carry 60 to 70 tons. I don’t think any of our Nigerian roads have been designed to carry such weight.
“So, within two to three years, we realised that most of the roads, especially in Minna town, from Chachanga Bridge to Kpakungu roundabout, have been destroyed by these trucks, not because of the volume of the trucks but the weight. The number of trucks that ply that road does not really matter, as long as they carry specified tonnage. But once the weight is too much, one truck can destroy the road.
“So, at the moment, everyone has resorted to going down south-west or northern Nigeria, using Minna-Bida road, which is still good.
“Recently, we awarded the contract to Dantata Construction Company for the reconstruction of Minna-Bida road. Unfortunately, the contractors are complaining that the pace of work is so slow because of the volume of trailers that ply the route.
“Another reason the contractor gave for the slow pace of work is, the part they have already cleared and done earthwork keeps getting destroyed easily by trucks. So, they are doing one step forward, two steps backwards. We also realised that all our bridges were getting weak. Now, with the recent flood and the weight of trailers, there is an imminent threat to our bridges. If we allow these trucks to continue to ply those roads, the bridges will collapse. Once those bridges collapse, that will be the end of it.
“So, the government decided to close Minna-Bida road and other state roads to protect what is left, pending when we are able to control weight.
“I am glad today, in the meeting, we discussed this and agreed on 45,000 litres for PMS, which I believe is still too much but we can work with it, or 35 tons for dry cargo.
“The idea is, if we control the weight, the road will probably survive the rainy season. We will do some remedial works, meaning, the failed section will be maintained and the bridges, whose integrity test is questionable or show signs of weakness will be fortified just to survive the rainy season.
“I am aware, the minister of works is making arrangement to fund those contracts. His ministry has already awarded but at the moment, our major concern and challenge are to survive the rainy season. Once we are able to survive the rainy season, the contractors will go back to the site when the rains are over.
“We did not close the Minna-Bida road to inconvenience people but to save and protect the only road that connects the South-western and northern parts of the country.
“My understanding is, while the state government is doing some remedial works on Farin-Doki up to Chachanga, City Gate to Minna town, then Pakungu to Bida road, the Federal Ministry of Works will concentrate on Lambata-Bida
“Hopefully, they will also concentrate on Mokwa-Kagara-Teginna-Brinin Gwari road. Once those roads are fixed, people in Minna will begin to see a reduction in the volume of trailers passing through Minna town”.
On the measures been put in place to ensure compliance with the new directive, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello explained:
“First of all, we expect the depots not to load any truck that is more than 45,000 litres of petroleum products. We also expect, especially the cement companies not to load any trailer that is more than 35 tonnes.
“The state government is in the process of building weight bridges across sections of the roads in the state, so that, some of these trailers can be weighed. But of course, we also know that, when you see a tanker carrying 60,000 litres and the one carrying 45,000 litres you can easily know”.
Governor Sani Bello, however, noted that there are companies that obey, giving example with Oando Oil which he said is still carrying 33,000 litres. He pointed out that if all Nigerian companies will adopt Oando’s kind of policy, Nigerian roads will last much longer.
It is equally so sad to note that at the point of putting this piece together, the famous Bida-Minna road has finally given way, as motorists especially the truck drivers are scampering through another state road Bida-Lapai-Paiko road, which could spell disaster for the state.
It is in this Catch-22 situation that Niger State, and its Governor Sani Bello, find themselves. Which way, Niger?
Mary Noel-Berje is the Chief Press Secretary to Niger State Governor.