The Federal Government and leading road construction companies working on several major highways across the country may clash any moment from now following the government’s desire to replace asphalt with concrete technology.
The new Minister of Works, David Umahi, had last week directed all contractors handling Federal Government highways across the country to immediately dump the use of asphalt and adopt concrete technology.
The minister further directed the contractors to meet with engineers of the ministry to redesign all the ongoing Federal Government road projects in line with the requirements of concrete technology. As a result, several ongoing highway construction projects will be stopped.
Some of the ongoing federal highway projects that may be suspended as a result of the minister’s directive are Benin-Warri dual carriageway and Benin-Sapele sections 1-3 in Delta State, Maraba-Keffi road expansion in Nasarawa State, and Minna-Zungeru-Tegina-Kontagora road in Niger State.
The list also includes Zaria-Funtua-Sokoto-Shema road in Kaduna State and some parts in Gusau in Zamfara State, Mubi-Maiduguri and Bama-Konduga-Maiduguri road in Adamawa and Borno states.
Some of the major construction companies working on ongoing highway projects that will be affected by the minister’s directive include China Harbour Engineering Company, Gilmour Engineering Nigeria Limited, CBC Global Civil & Building Construction, Setraco Nigeria Limited, Decency Associates Limited, and Zephrygold International Limited.
Others include Levant Construction Company Limited, Geld Construction Company Limited, Triata Nigeria Limited, SKECC Nigeria Limited and Mothercat Nigeria Limited.
The minister has reportedly directed the Bureau of Public Procurement to withdraw Certificates of No Objection issued for all federal road contracts awarded by former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration under the former Minister of Works, Babatunde Raji-Fashola. This, however, could not be confirmed as of press time.
Meanwhile, contractors handling ongoing highway projects across the country have protested against the directive, describing the move by Umahi as an alleged breach of contracts that could lead to huge losses on the part of the government.
They said the decision by the minister to abruptly order contractors to dump asphalt for concrete technology was tantamount to shifting the goalposts in the middle of the game.
According to them, construction companies have invested several millions of dollars in asphalt technology equipment and also imported bitumen and other raw materials running into billion of naira, adding that shifting to concrete technology at the current stages of the road projects will lead to millions of dollars in losses.
Top officials of construction companies mentioned that if the minister failed to reverse the directive, some contractors might have no other choice but to approach the court to look into the matter.
A top executive of a leading construction firm said, “What the minister is trying to do will lead to chaos. This is one of the reasons foreign investors shy away from doing business in Nigeria-a situation where the government wakes up and decides to change the terms of contracts. It is not done anywhere.
These contracts in question have been approved by the Federal Executive Council, Certificates of No Objection have been issued by the BPP. The designs for the roads were approved by the Ministry of Works. Contractors have imported bitumen from overseas, personnel and asphalt technology equipment have been deployed in sites and works are ongoing already. How can these work stages be reversed just like that?”
Findings show that the minister’s directive will lead to immediate suspension of works on all sites across the country, redesigning of the roads from asphalt to concrete by Federal Ministry of Works and Housing’s Department of Highway (Bridges & Design), and re-tendering or variation of contracts.
Officials said the development would lead to new investments in equipment for construction of roads with concrete technology, commencement of importation of cement due to lack of domestic capacity to produce cement for roads and other building projects in Nigeria.
Some analyst claimed the development might lead to increased congestion at the ports and ports access roads.
According to them, it will also lead to increase in demand for forex for importation of cement and iron rods which will put more pressure on the naira, while also noting that it will lead to increase in cost of construction of road per kilo metre.
Industry analysts said the looming clash between the government and the contractors might lead to litigation that might cost both parties huge sums of money.
It was learnt that the contract agreements have liquidated damages clause.
Umahi has argued that cement technology is needed to achieve durable roads in the country. He also said he was not move by plan by some contractors to go to court, adding that he was ready to fight them.
He noted “ There is a binding law. It is called general condition of contract and it is a regulation that all engineers must conform to. In our contract agreement with all contractors for every project, we bring general condition of contract as part of the requirement of that contract and it is binding. I will read Clause 51 of the conditions to remind those contractors that want to initiate court action.
It states that the engineer shall subject to the approval of the employer, make any variation of the form, quality, or quantity of the works or any part thereof that may in his opinion be necessary and for that purpose or if for any other reason it shall in his opinion be desirable.
I am ready to fight anyone who wants to go to court. I did contract law at my university and I know what my limits are, a client can state whatever specifications on any contract signed. We can change from asphalt to concrete.”
The minister has also said ongoing road projects that are more than 20 per cent may not be affected by the directive.