Entrenched Interests Move To Scuttle Cement-based Road Construction | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Entrenched Interests Move To Scuttle Cement-based Road Construction

road works
Posted: Apr 7, 2016 at 3:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)



With an estimated N500 billion earmarked for major constructions especially roads across the country, a major showdown appears imminent between those Independent learnt are the ‘bitumen cartel’ and companies offering alternative in cement for road construction.

As gathered, the brewing rift may have scuttled a planned tour of South Africa and other places where cement is the mainstay of road construction by senior staff of the works department after the presidency was said to have weighed in on the matter.

Ostensibly, the alleged intervention by the presidency in the works department of the ministry was hinged on a text message, alleging skewed arrangement in the planned overseas tour to be sponsored by Lafarge, a cement manufacturing company which is said to be angling to key into projects in the ministry.

Reliable sources in the ministry said that the cancellation came from the presidency after a staff protested that beneficiaries of the overseas training were directors due for retirement in a year or less.

“With government policy favouring direct labour in major construction works in the years ahead, Lafarge had offered to train key staff in major construction works in France and other countries in Europe,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the source, the company had then asked the permanent secretary of the infrastructure development ministry to shortlist staff who should be trained ahead of the coming projects.

“Rather than choosing younger staffers with longer years in service ahead of them, the permanent secretary chose directors and senior officers whose tenure in office would expire by a year or two,” the source narrated.

An assistant director said that the planned trip was not cancelled but that directives were issued to the permanent secretary to drop officials who would be retiring in short a while. But he also added that the purported protest to the presidency was not about who has been shortlisted for the said trip. Rather, according to the second source, it was all an attempt to scupper the minister’s resolve to consider an alternative to bitumen in road constructions if it will make for more durability of the highways.

“The tour is meant to give critical stakeholders sponsored by the cement company a firsthand view of concrete cement highways. It would afford opportunities for engineers to see the best laboratories in road constructions and so on. By trying to scuttle the trip, they are planning to make sure that nobody is able to speak in favour the cement alternative in road construction before policy makers in the country,” the assistant director said.

An officer with Lafarge Africa corroborated the story. Though asking not to be mentioned, he also stated that the planned tour has been on for some time and it is not about those in the federal ministries.

He stated that a 14-man team left the country to South Africa last Saturday for the tour. “We took critical stakeholders from the Nigerian society of civil engineering; members of the National Assembly who oversee works and some media personnel,” stated the personnel.

Lafarge and ASCA, two giants in cement manufacture and application to civil engineering construction in the last few years have been pushing for a replacement of bitumen in road constructions in the country.

Lafarge made significant progress in the campaign in Lagos under former Governor Babatunde Fashola. Road constructions in Ibese, an outskirt settlement in Lagos, were done with cement concrete.

Engineering experts say initial costs of the alternative may be higher, its durability, they added, eventually outweighs the initial costs. It is longer lasting, they say, and rarely due for maintenance in the first ten years.

But major highways in the country are essentially bitumen based. Even more, there is a consensus that most construction giants in the country, currently may not have enough engineers to handle concrete cement highways.

Even so, bitumen, like oil, has its own cartels with strong influence in the corridors of power. “They will not yield an inch of the lucrative works sector to anybody without a fight,” said the assistant director from Works Ministry.

But with Fashola’s appointment as minister in the key infrastructure building ministry, advocates of cement concrete for road constructions hope that it would provide a leeway to introduce the alternative on major highways in the country. They have moved in to key government ministries with lobbyists, offering trainings and tours in countries that use the alternative means to do their roads. But with development in the ministries and words abuzz in the corridors of power, it might well appear that entrenched interests backed by construction companies may not give easily.