Engineer Nurudeen Rafindadi is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA). In this exclusive interview with Dada Jackson on 30th May, 2018, bares his mind on a number of topical issues affecting the Agency. Excerpts –
What are the tasks you set to do when you took over this office about nine months ago?
When I assumed duty in FERMA, which was about nine months ago, I set up different task teams. I want to have an inventory of all our projects and their status, of liabilities, an inventory of our liabilities, an inventory of our plant and equipment, staff inventory-the structure of the staff. We have road camps, observation camps all over the country, which are basically facilities where our engineers stockpile material for quick intervention and repair of roads. We have to take inventory of all these and then adopt a very quick response procedure. I want to have standard quick response operating procedures. In case we have emergency in road maintenance. You need to have people move in immediately to take some actions. You have to closely follow that up with the media team. We need to have a media team, so we can present to the public what we are doing. We now have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram pages, where we can report in real time what we are doing. So, at the present time, we are working on an emergency intervention, especially during the yuletide, when people travel massively for Christmas and the Highways are very crucial. We want to have side by side with that, an 8/9 months programme of road repairs. We have finished and submitted it to the Ministry of Works so that they can include it in their own funding projections.
In specific team sir, what are the challenges facing the Agency and how do you intend to address them?
The major challenge of the Agency is funding. Road abuse by the public such as vandalism of road infrastructure; bridge railings, defacing sign post, burning of tyres on the roads, erecting markets, cutting across the road by communication companies and individuals to lay water pipe and communication cables, erecting speed bumps indiscriminately, overloading, militancy in some areas and the current insurgency in the North-East among others.
We intend to address these challenges such that, in addition to what we get in our regular budget, we want to be able to access funding and resources from the Ministry and special assignment they want to give us. We want to approach local and international donors for things FERMA is going to do. For instance, we are looking at the area of green construction sustainability. We want to look at use of cold and hot asphalt for emergency. We want to look at research areas of use of plastics instead of bitumen in doing road pavements. That is a very exciting area we can use if we can get funding from international donors. We need to pass out information to the public regarding our routine maintenance and a periodic repair works. In addition, even issues like vandalism of road infrastructure and bridge railings, burning of tyres on the road and erecting bumps indiscriminately .
These are all the things done by the public and they are signs of lack of engagement between FERMA and the public and I want to see that we address all these in our media strategy. Since I came, we have established social media platforms and it is now picking up.
Not too long ago, the President directed the Agency to embark on the rehabilitation and maintenance of some federal roads in the geo-political zones of the country. How far have you gone in carrying out this mandate?
We have 38 offices across the country, each of them headed by Federal Road Maintenance Engineers with offices, staff and facilities. And the first directive I gave them was to compile for us, all the bad portions along the federal highways network in your State. We compiled a compendium of those bad portions with complete description of what the problem is, what the solution is, idea of the costing and the period for execution and pictures. That gave us a long list out of which we had to put some criteria and brought out a list of all the most critical areas, which we thought we should tackle quickly. And what were our criteria? Our criteria were that those bad spots should lie on the critical arterials, the trunk roads, particularly because those highways of the federal highway network that had high traffic during the holiday season. That was how we brought the quick intervention programme. We put a cost to it, we made a submission to the Ministry of Works, we told senate committee and there was a lot of interest and that was how we got the mandate go ahead and we did. The nature of the problems we were addressing included emergency repairs on bad potholed sections of the highway, immediate reinstatement of washouts, which means the road had collapsed under a culvert or bridge; vegetation control, which means bushes have overgrown the sides of the roads to the extent that they were impeding visibility and causing security risks. Those were the areas we concentrated on.
Before this Presidential directive, FERMA had been unusually quiet in the discharge of its statutory responsibilities, what should we attribute to this development?
At the time I resumed, we were very low on financing but we had plans and ideas on what to do immediately we got some funds. We didn’t really get the funds until towards the end of December but at that time, we had planned and we were ready to go .And as soon as we got some funding we moved in and that is where we are now.
What is your take on the deplorable conditions of federal roads in Lagos with the Agency seeming indifference to addressing the situation?
The Agency is maintaining all federal roads in Lagos. So, quite a lot is happening on Lagos Federal roads.
In the past, the Agency was noted for its vibrancy in deploying direct labor to addressing some of its challenges, especially in road patching. Are we looking at resuscitation?
Yes, we intend to strengthen the direct labour operations to become more proactive and capable of embarking on major repairs. FERMA itself is an Agency that is mandated to do routine and periodic maintenance of the federal highways. That is the basic function. Direct labour is necessary; it comes in handy to bridge the gap during contract procurement processes.
Is it correct to say sir, that your parent ministry i.e Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has not been supportive of the Agency?
No, it is not correct. Indeed the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, if I may use your word, has been very supportive in ensuring that we carry out our mandate.
Is there any information you want to share with members of the public concerning the workings of the Agency, which I have not asked?
My message to Nigerians is to make them realize that the roads are our common resource. Nigeria and Nigerians own them. If the roads are damaged, it is all to our detriment. So I would want Nigerians to use the roads responsibly and patiently with consideration for other road users knowing that if there are damages along the road everyone suffers. My message would be that Nigerians should be patient with FERMA because we know the importance of roads. We are on tremendous transformation drive as far as road maintenance is concern. I would want Nigerians to know that it is an asset that we use to access our communities, to access our work places and I would want Nigerians to know that using the roads responsibly allows free movement of traffic because a stoppage of five minutes can create a day long traffic jam and a patience of just a minute or two can ensure free movement.