By Nnanke Harry Willie
David Umahi has been in the eye of the media storm in recent weeks.
One of the few Ministers who truly hit the ground running, Umahi has traversed federal roads in ways that probably no recent works Minister did to see things for himself. His testimony, a litany of failed roads and his proffered solutions, the result of a hands-on, feet-on-the-ground approach to the job has ruffled not a few feathers.
Hear Umahi: “Concrete roads have a longer lifespan. They can withstand heavy traffic loads and low maintenance and are less affected by temperature fluctuations. A lot of advantages accrue to the use of concrete to construct roads. Concrete roads last longer compared to asphalt roads, reducing the need for frequent repairs and maintenance. It is stronger and can withstand heavy traffic loads. It also has low maintenance.”
Umahi has said that there are a lot of advantages to using concrete in road construction, stressing that roads built with concrete could last for 50 years without having issues of portholes or washouts.
Pray, why should any sane person even argue with this logic and plan?
To many people, Umahi has been saying the right stuff, revealing the reasons for Nigeria’s decadent and deplorable road conditions across the nation. He knows “where the bodies are buried” as it were. To this set of people, David Umahi is a perfect fit for the job of Minister of Works. After all, he is a certified civil engineer who has practiced the profession before becoming governor of Ebonyi state for two terms. For them Umahi is the reformer Nigerian roads need at this hour.
To his admirers, Umahi etched his name in concrete, literally speaking, in Ebonyi state. During his tenure, he showcased his road construction prowess by building the most ambitious network of roads and bridges across any state in Nigeria. Travellers from neighbouring states could always tell when they arrived Ebonyi because of the well-paved and well-constructed concrete roads across the state.
The icing on the cake was the beautification of the state capital with flyovers, streetlights and even decorative lighting along the various bridges, flyovers, and major streets. It was a riveting and captivating lift for the hitherto rustic, sleepy town called Abakiliki.
Indeed, this writer heard so much about the development in Ebonyi state that in January 2020, he led a team on a fact-finding mission. The result was pleasing to the eyes. Even better was the feedback from the citizens regarding the physical renaissance in the state.
Our team believed that Governor Dave Umahi was deserving of the BRANDPOWER ICON award for that year. The COVID Pandemic however had other plans.
Some other sets of people, however, are not so impressed with David Umahi’s concrete road mantra. They believe he is a recalcitrant gadfly who is trying in vain to upset the apple cart. Umahi has alleged repeatedly that these are mainly road contractors who want the status quo to remain. Without a doubt, they can see that the days of easy money and plundering of Nigeria are over if Umahi has his way.
Their collaborators in the Ministry of Works: directors, supervisors, and workers who share the loot and receive crumbs from the contractors are so shortsighted that they cannot see that they stand to benefit more if quality roads are built across the country according to global-best standards. They are doing all they can to frustrate the change Nigerian roads deserve.
Indeed, most workers who had become serial late-comers and absentees in their offices actually labeled Umahi a “Bully” and assured him that the ministry was not Ebonyi state.
The recent debacle involving David Umahi, the Minister of the Federal Ministry of Works and workers at the ministry would have served as a bizarre comic relief in the face of biting developmental and economic realities but for the galling reality that the whole show encapsulates the reason that Nigeria is currently far from its envisioned greatness.
The date was September 28th. It was a very special day in Nigeria as Nigerians saw in bold relief. The reason why we have the problems that we have in Nigeria. This was audaciously served on live television as errant civil servants mobilized to lock in and harass Minister Umahi.
The House of Representatives has suddenly joined the fray and resolved to investigate the adoption of concrete technology for road construction as ordered by the Minister of Works, Dave Umahi. This was sequel to a motion moved by Zainab Bukar on Thursday. In the motion, Bukar said the adoption of concrete technology for roads could have significant cost implications for contractors…The things we hear!
The lawmaker expressed concerns that “the Minister of Works’ new policy on cement concrete pavement adoption without in-depth studies of the comparative advantages/disadvantages with asphalt may contradict technical specifications, potentially leading to contract breaches and potential arbitration and litigations during a challenging economic time”.
The House should please visit Ebonyi state as well as Oshodi-Apapa expressway all the way to Lagos-Ibadan expressway to see the quality of concrete roads. Besides the Minister has said he is open to contract variations to accommodate the expected extra costs, so what exactly is the House really investigating?
The House and indeed, National Assembly would do well to come up with tougher laws urgently against vandalism and theft of our road and rail infrastructure. They should also investigate those responsible for the outrageous contract variations that Umahi and FCT Minister, Wike have revealed to the Nigerians happened in their ministries before they took office. We need laws to deter people from plundering our assets, not a cavalier attempt at playing advocate for greedy and wicked contractors and their cohort.
Listen to Umahi again: “Nigerians are witnesses to the failure of asphalt, especially in the North-central part of this country and the entire Southern part of this country. And so, asphalt definitely is a big problem.
“But if you insist you want to do asphalt that’s not a problem, but the conditions are that you will guarantee Nigerians that when you finish this asphalt road, you are very sure it will not fail within at least 15 years”.
Just so we know, a lot of roads fail in Nigeria after just one rainy season. Anyone who insists that we must continue in this ignoble tradition must give way to those with a higher, loftier vision. Why are we even having this discussion? Some things are so unbelievably obtuse!
So, whether anyone sees, David Umahi as a reformer, gadfly, or bully is irrelevant to Nigerians, what we need are good, long-lasting roads and Umahi seems poised to make it happen. This ‘David’ must conquer the usual Nigerian ‘Goliath’ baying for his blood over this issue.
Nigerians will do well to protect and support Umahi fully to enable him to confront and overcome his traducers into submission.
It is time to make Nigeria concrete!