Engr. Fidelis Kings Nweze is Ebonyi State Commissioner for Works and Transport. In this interview with UCHENNA INYA, he explains the secret behind the massive infrastructural development of the administration of Governor Dave Umahi
Before now, Ebonyi was regarded as the dust of the nation because of bad roads, but this has changed. How was this achieved?
We cannot continue to be the dust of the nation; we had to change from being the dust of the nation to the salt of the nation that we are known for across the world. That was why immediately on assumption of office in 2015, Governor Dave Umahi embarked on massive road construction. Before then, we were all aware that Ebonyi was not only called dust of the nation but the infrastructure decay was something else and almost all the roads leading in and out of Abakaliki and other major cities as well as the local government area of the state were in terrible condition, so dilapidated that even going to Afikpo, you have to spend about eight hours on a road that is less than 50kilometres.
This prompted the new construction in the state called rigid pavement. We should equally be aware that our soil is not like that of Enugu and Anambra, where after it rains, the water will go down. Here, the water settles within one meter within the surface of the earth thereby destroying the asphalts and stone base. So, we have to quickly work on that and changed almost all our construction from the conventional flexible pavement to rigid pavement, using concrete to cast all our roads. The good thing about it is that these roads are meant to last for about 50 years before any further touch on them.
What advantage does the rigid pavement have over other forms of road construction?
Before now, each administration would always construct roads like the first civilian administration of this state. You cannot pinpoint one road that was constructed then that is still in existence, and funds were used to do these roads. For the last administration before this one, you cannot mention two roads that are still in good condition. It is only one road that I know that is still in good condition and that is the 3.5kilometre Abakaliki/Nkwegu road. As the government is going, the roads will follow them and go. But the story is now different; we have changed from dust of the nation to the salt of the nation that we are known for. And actually we are salt because the salt we all know is good to everybody and we are trying to take the lead as salt of the nation in Nigeria.
We have entered into rigid pavement road construction, so that subsequent governments will not spend money on these roads, just little maintenance and may be after 30, 40 years it can be over laid with what we call asphaltic wearing course that will not be much and that roads will stay for close to 60, 70 years again. An example is the Nkalagu/NIGERCEM road that was constructed in the early 50s. That 2kilometre road inside the Nkalagu Cement Industry is over 54 years now and still stable despite that trucks with bags of cement plied on it on a daily basis for over 30 years before the factory went moribund. That road is still in existence till today. So, the little maintenance is to over coat it and it will last for another 50 years. That is value for money.
So, the conventional asphaltic pavement construction is already fading out in Ebonyi. We are already into full time in rigid pavement construction and if you go round the whole state, moving from central to south, you will see what the governor has actually done. We have done marvelously well. Within the urban area, on inception 2015, we promised to do quite a number of things and it was as if we won’t do it and people were asking a lot of questions. But, thank God, the media that asked questions were equally the people that praised us. We have been able to tidy 75 per cent of the internal roads within Abakaliki metropolis, 75 per cent of the roads are already in good shape and we are not stopping there. We are continuing until within the next six months, we will be doing about 15 per cent to move it to about 90 per cent and as we enter into the second tenure, we will complete the roads within the first one year. That is to say that every street, every crescent in Abakaliki will be either concreted or asphalted.
Can you pinpoint the roads constructed by the state government across the 13 local government areas of Ebonyi?
We have been able to asphalt not only the 15kilometres roads that we promised on assumption of office, but we have succeeded to pass that in almost all the 13 local government areas of Ebonyi State. The Nkalagu/Ehamufu road that is 15.5kilomtre is fully completed apart from the four bridges that are ongoing, which would be completed before next year. That road will avail the Ibeto Cement Industry that is taking over the Nkalagu Cement Factory access to the company. We have equally in Ishielu Local Government awarded two contracts; the Ntezi/Agba/Isu road which is another 15kilometres and the contractor is already mobilizing to site. We have equally awarded another road there; the Agbaelu road which is about 10.3kilometres. In Ohaukwu, we are working on the section of Abakaliki ring road with 20kilometres awarded to PATAN Nigeria Ltd. That job is fully completed and we have equally extended it to another 5kilometres making it 25kilometres. The extension is about 35 per cent completed today and we believe that before February, that job wold be completed.
We are working on a road called Nwiboko Obodo road; Ishieke/Odomoke road in Ebonyi Local Government Area, which is 31.8kilometres. First 15kilometres of it is fully completed and we have rewarded to the contractor the remaining section of 16.8kilometres. In Izzi, we have been able to complete the construction of Hilltop/Nwofe Agbaja road and by the grace of God, we will be awarding the Offerekpe/ Ndiechi road this November.
In the central zone, we have been able to completed 5kilometre road in Onueke metropolis in Ezza South. We are working on 19.8kilometre Umuoghara/Ebiaji/Achiegu road. About 70 per cent of that job is done. In Onicha, we have been able to complete the six span Ebonyi River bridge in Isinkwo and we are constructing Abaomege/Isinkwo/Ukawu/Ugwulangwu/Okposi road which is 25.4kilometres. That job is about 78 per cent completed. Hopefully by the end of this year, that job will be fully completed.
We did Ezzama/Oshiri/Onicha/Obiozara/Uburu road which is 32. 3kilometres fully completed and handed over. We equally did the Presbyterian Joint Hospital road which is 12.3kilometres in Uburu and quite a number of internal roads in Uburu. We have also constructed Uburu/Isu road which links Ishielu.. The Amasiri/Uburu that is 25.5kilometres is about 95 per cent completed. Governor Umahi has actually done very well. We have Afikpo internal roads which will be completed this year. There is a section of the Abakaliki/Afikpo road which is 14.5kilometres that was abandoned for 17 years by the federal government, but we came on board and we took over that road and within 18 months, we completed it.
How did the state government state tackle traffic congestions and accidents at busy locations in the capital city and other busy locations in the state and its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), which is equally very poor?
We all know the bridges governor has constructed within three years. We promised during the electioneering campaign that we are going to build three flyovers. We have not only completed these three flyovers, but these three flyovers are the best in the country starting from the former Presco junction to Akanu Ibiam flyover and Margret Umahi international flyover. These flyovers are between 630 meters to 780 meters and were done at a reduced cost of less than N2 billion each. We have not done only these three flyovers that his Excellency promised to reduce traffic congestion and accidents within these busy locations, we have started another flyover in Abaomege junction because of the difficulties experience by commuters within that location.
We have equally commenced and nearing completion another flyover beside the Akanu Ibiam flyover that is linking the Ecumenical Centre and the shopping mall. We know that the Akanu Ibiam round about is a very busy road and when people will be going to the Ecumenical Centre; thousands of persons into the shopping mall at the same time, that area will be jam packed . We decided to create a flyover whereby if you are going into the shopping mall or Ecumenical Centre, you don’t need to follow the Afikpo road.
How is the state government getting finances to do all these capital projects because we are aware that Ebonyi is one of the states that receive very meager resources as allocation from the federation government?
It is about fund management, prudency in fund management, dedication and commitment. I may be tempted to say that some people entered into governance unprepared, but Umahi was prepared before he became the governor and that is why he is doing well. He has been a guru in business, a successful businessman and that is why in politics and administration, he is very successful. He has been able to manage the little funds in the state very carefully and doing these wonderful works. He is actually God’s gift to Ebonyi State and we are happy with what he is doing.
The state government is planning to begin the construction of an airport early next year and also the Abakaliki ring roads. These two projects are capital intensive projects. How is the government going to fund them?
You have asked two questions, one is the airport project. Recall that we have a Ministry of Special Duties and that ministry is handling the airport project, the Akanu Ibiam Park and quite other things. So, it is not the Ministry of Works that is handling the airport now. But the ring road is a must; it is something that must happen within this administration because it will open up the number of the businesses within that corridor of roads. It is a 198kilometre road that runs across the whole of Abakaliki zone of this state. That job has been designed and the environmental impact assessment completed and compensations are ongoing and the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank are co-funding the project.
This fund is not coming straight to Ebonyi State government purse. This job will be awarded to contractors by these banks and they will be paying the contractors. Ebonyi State government will not have access to these funds. Remember that we have already completed 25kilometres of the ring road.
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