Less than a month to its expected completion date, the Minna-Bida highway is still a nightmare as less than 10 kilometers of the 86-kilometre road is completed despite gulping billions of naira.
This leaves motorists plying the major road in the state with no option than to endure the nightmare for as long as it will last, as the project is still ongoing 17 months after it was flagged-off.
Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, about a fortnight ago, commissioned the N1.3 billion dualized Broadcasting road amidst fanfare, and promised to complete all projects he started before leaving office in 2023.
With the road completed within the stipulated eight months, as disclosed by the governor, the Minna-Bida road flagged off on February 22, 2020, with a completion period of 18 months is still in a sorry state. August 2021 is the expected month of completion.
The trunk B road, which was awarded to Dantata and Sawoe Construction Company at N23 billion, remains a nightmare for motorists, and its bad state has claimed many lives and caused untold economic hardship to commuters.
The condition of Minna-Bida road worsened as the rain intensifies every year, creating more potholes and craters. The stretch from Garatu through the Police checkpoint to Kataeregi is the worst. section. Across several kilometres, the tarred surface has peeled off while the shoulders have been virtually eaten up over time. The road becomes almost unpassable when the rains get heavy, creating more gullies along its path.
21st CENTURY CHRONICLE findings showed that less than five kilometers of the road, beginning from the Headquarters of the National Examination Council (NECO) to Garatu has been completed. The Garatu-Kataeregi stretch is still in its same bad state.
Mohammed Nma, a commercial driver, told 21st CENTURY CHRONICLE that the current state of the road is not any different from how it was before the construction began, saying “we still spend two and a half hours from Bida to Minna, which used to be a journey of one hour.”
“Our vehicles still breakdown incessantly on the road due to the bad potion that stretches from Garatu to Bida,” he said, adding that “we still experience accidents as drivers try to dodge potholes or avoid bad portions. This sometimes leads to head-on collusions and loss of lives.”
Another driver, Umar Danjuma, who was trying to fix his car after it broke down on the road, said “some portions after Garatu village are so bad that you need to choose which of the gullies to enter with your car. And which ever one a driver chooses to enter, the vehicle bears the brunt.”
“Passing through this road is very frustrating…on this road, the driver, the passenger and the vehicle suffer,” he said.
Niger State Chairman of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Garba Musa Bala, said though the state government had tried fixing Minna-Suleja road within the shortest time, it didn’t accord the same speed to the Minna-Bida road. Bala, however, blamed the contractor for the slow space of work.
“The only portion that is good is from Minna to Garatu, but the remaining section of the road from Garatu to Bida is very bad. The only thing the contractor has done is to patch and grade some areas, but deep potholes have resurfaced as the rain intensifies.
“We plead with the contractor to quickly finish the work. It has become a nightmare to our members and other road users,” he said.
Before the major work
21st CENTURY CHRONICLE learnt that the Minna-Bida road was constructed in the 90s and had undergone some repairs over the years. In 2004 Triacta Nig Limited was engaged to complete the road construction, which it did a year later. Since then, it has been rehabilitated several times, but fails not long afterwards.
The situation worsened as more motorists from the Lambata-Lapai-Bida and Mokwa-Bokani-Tegina and those of the Birnin Gwari axis in Kaduna resorted to the road following inaccessibility of all the federal roads which have hitherto provided alternatives to road users. The Lambata-Lapai-Bida and Mokwa-Bokani- Tegina roads collapsed at a time, while Tegina-Birnin Gwari-Kaduna road which is also in a deplorable condition, was being avoided due to bandit attacks.
21st CENTURY CHRONICLE learnt that these forced the Niger State government to award the contract for total construction of the road. The road was closed to articulated vehicles and heavy-duty trucks in October 2020, and diverted to Lambata-Lapai-Bida highway, to enable the contractor to speed up the work. But despite this measure, work is still at its usual slow pace.
Early in November commuters and other stakeholders began to grumble over the slow pace of work on the road. This prompted the state House of Assembly to summon both the then commissioners for works and the finance, Ibrahim Panti and Abubakar Zakari, respectively, to explain the slow pace of work.
Panti told the legislators that the contractor had requested for additional N1.5 billion to continue the project after it had paid N3. 3 billion mobilisation. But Zakari said the request was contrary to the assurance earlier given that with the N3.3 billion, there would be an appreciable level of work on the road. He, however, said the government was ready to oblige the contractor’s request to hasten work on the road. But after the payment of the said amount the story is still the same.
One road many loans
Towards the end of 2019, the Niger state government announced it was going to secure a $181 million facility from the Islamic Development (IDB) to construct and dualise the Minna-Bida road. Few days after the announcement, the immediate past governor of the state Mua’zu Babangida Aliyu told journalists during his 64th birthday celebration that his administration negotiated and secured approvals for the $181billion IDB interest-free loan for infrastructural development in the state, including the Minna-Bida road. This created a heated confrontation between him and the present administration in the state which dismissed Aliyu’s claim, describing it as “baseless and cheap propaganda aimed at promoting his political party preparatory to the 2019 local government elections.”
However, the state Commissioner for Works, Mamman Musa, in an interview with 21st CENTURY CHRONICLE said the money for the construction of the road as at present was not from the IDB loan, rather a N23 billion bond internally secured by the state. He dismissed criticisms that work was in a slow pace.
“The Minna-Bida road is a full package standard dualised road. We have a lender which is the IDB and it has its own regulations and standard, and we have to meet the standard before approval. And until we have such approval we cannot go into contract,” he said.
“Looking at the hardship people on the road the government decided to take a proactive measure by engaging the Dantata and Sawoe in advance before the completion of the IDB procedure which is almost concluded.”
“The government made an internal arrangement for a bond of N23 billion, which is being used to execute the Minna- Kataeregi-Bida road by Dantata and Sawoe. The N23 billion is just for a segment, not for the dualisation of the road to the national standard which is above N60 billion and will be done with the IDB loan.”
However, as the government owned up to have taken procession of the N23 billion from the bond, stakeholders in the state have questioned government’s approach in paying the contractor in piecemeal instead of a full sum in order to hasten the completion of the special intervention on the road.
Governor Bello had promised to complete all projects he started before leaving office in 2023. But as the time ticks towards 2023 elections, residents of the state believe that the governor will not achieve this objective following the attitude of his administration to the project.