The Encumbrances of Minister of Works – By Odimegwu Onwumere

Nigeria is fighting many manmade and natural disasters at a go. The fuel subsidy probe and its distinguished scams  (have)  subsided and now, we have ocean surge promoting the many impoverished people in many towns and villages across the country to migrate to set-aside places which are presumably far from being protected considering the relaxed Nigeria’s factor to things. The ocean rushing forward kept travellers and people in the affected areas marooned. The flooding of the River Niger that entered Shiroro and Kainji dams impaired the Abuja-Lokoja-Okene Road and barred people from the South from entering the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The Ajaokuta-Ankpa-Makurdi road was advised to be used as an alternative to enter the FCT and other parts of the North. Canoe was used to ferry people to their destinations. Minister of Works, Arc Mike O. Onolememen (FNIA, FNMGS) led a presidential squad that went and evaluated the affected areas.

Onolememen in his observation held that President Goodluck Jonathan was exceedingly in stroke by the miseries of the flood victims. This is after the Federal Government (FG) has declared the menace as natural disaster. While we may agree that the flood was a natural disaster or a global occurrence as had been posited in many quarters, we must also agree that our government was not prepared and was not behaving like it was preparing for the heralded climate change. This is evident as a traditional ruler in one of the affected areas has advised the Federal Government to beam its watchfulness on the Cameroonian authorities against releasing water from their dam which has been fingered as the cause of the flooding problem that sacked homes, schools, leveled farms and caused other difficulties in some of the affected states.

In a well oragnised country government would have responded punctually to the distress, but what we saw in Nigeria were individual canoes being used to assist the flood victims and stranded travellers and a delegation of pot-belly Abuja politicians who went to the affected areas to make more politics with the situation. What else apart from announcement upon announcement that the affected roads were cordoned off? Maybe, monetary donations! This behaviour has further explicated the problem with leadership in Nigeria: Those in the helm of affairs are ready to die protecting the name ‘Nigeria’ to remain as a sovereign entity whereas the individual’s fate is threatened by carelessness such as we can see in our country that is so loosed to politics to the disadvantage of any other thing that a defined-mentally healthy country is known for. This is why any well meaning Nigerian must be laughing on hearing from Onolememen that the FG has freshly engaged the services of about three hundred and fifty engineers. We also heard that the engineers were not only employed but training programmes has been organized for them before they would be deployed to their different sites. Just to make this loudly.

Onolememen made this disclosure at the cavity service of the 21stengineering assembly of Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), on September 4, 2012. Onolememen did not end there, he also in the information said that the Ministry of Works has transformed its endeavour to revitalize the Highway Training Schools in Badagry, Kaduna and Benin City. To some people, Onolememen might be doing very well in his Ministry with such theories as we could see. But to majority of Nigerians he was yet to show his mettle in matching these theories with action. The Ministry of Works is one federal department that is very fundamentally to the welfare of the country. If in earnest it executes sizeable portion of the Federal Roads as it implements considerable fraction of the annual budget of the Federal Government on the Rehabilitation and Construction of Federal Roads across the Country, the many accidents we have read and experienced on our Highways would not have happened. Unlike the ocean flooding which is attributable to a natural disaster, decayed roads in Nigeria are manmade. And it would take a humane mind to come to the plight of Nigerians in term of road reconstruction and construction. Without a humane mind, there was no amount of engineers that would remedy this peril, no matter such engineers’ proficiencies in the engineering profession. It’s not about the size of engineers that Onolememen or the FG employs that would get Nigeria out of the hazard she had found herself in recent times in term of unpalatable roads but sincerity to work.

For that reason, it’s most to the point that Onolememen forgets his swagger of vowing to work closely with indigenous engineers on assumption of duty because the many roads that the Ministry is supposed to redeem their images are still experiencing vacuum upon his retinue and parading of employed engineers and the ones that are yet to be employed. This has helped in asking if the Ministry of Works under Onolememen is out to work or out to create jobs for his fellow engineers. By the way, who are these engineers? Are they from which states and residing in which states? Is the employment a quota thing or a selected thing or a man-know-man thing? Federal Civil Service Commission and its employment sef!

Whilst Onolememen might have his perception for the Nigerian roads, every Federal Road in Nigeria needs urgency approach that will measure with the numerous numbers of engineers that this Ministry of Works-led by Onolememen has employed so far through the Federal Civil Service Commission. By the way, what is the call for these employments when the Council for the Regulations of Engineering in Nigeria [COREN], and the Ministry of Works cannot boast of a robust coordination which is supposed to enhance bursting cooperation for the realization and promotion of the occupation that Onolememen spent years to study in the formal school? Are we not tired that the talk about of the Ministry is replete compared to the work it is supposed to have done on the Federal Roads?  To buttress a point that this Onolememen-led Ministry of Works is running an anti-people Ministry but is always sermonizing of the capacity of engineers in its employ that will bring down the moon on our roads, it is a shocker that the Ministry now prioritizes projects it knows that will bring money to the Federal Government and not minding those that will bring money to the individual. The Ministry had said that it’s doing this on what it claimed was the Federal Government’s limited resources. But did it not know about this

“Federal Government’s limited resources” at first and they were employing the outrageous number of engineers as we have seen? Hear Onolememen briefly: “We have targeted all the roads leading to the sea ports, refineries, the major arterial roads and major dual carriageways. These priority projects are the Abuja-Abaji-Okene dual carriageway; the Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriageway; Benin-Ore-Sagamu dual carriageway; the Lagos-Ibadan expressway; the section II of the Ibadan-Ilorin expressway; Kano-Maiduguri expressway and the second Niger Bridge”.

At the same time as many Nigerians have now become refugees in their own country due to flooding, it is absurd that the Ministry has not yet proved false its initial announcement during a tour of inspection of the healing work at the Third Mainland Bridge, where the Minister publicized that construction work on the second bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha will begin in the first quarter of next year (Q1 2013). To show that Onolememen is settled with his job, and if not, which serious leader sounds very shylockic piteous in his approach to the extent of not benchmarking his command? But hear Onolememen again: “The deadline we have given to Lagosians on completion of the maintenance work will not change but rather we will work hard to see if we can get some mileage of say a couple of weeks. I thank Lagosians for their patience and perseverance”. Did you see that he was not rigid with his decisions? And he continued: “When the (Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment) SURE Programme was put together, the second Niger Bridge featured prominently and one of the decisions at the time was that the counterpart funding of the project will have to come from the SURE programme. That is why, if you look at the SURE key programmes, over N20 billion was budgeted for the second Niger Bridge. That represents 30 percent of federal government’s counterpart funding of this particular project.” Did you hear about ‘counterpart’ and all that crass that does not enliven hope?

It is not about sounding piteous as Onolememen had always shown, saying that he had directed all Directors and Chief Executives of Parastatals under his Ministry to guarantee that all Contractors managing chief projects in the Ministry meet the terms of employing Nigerian Engineering Personnel, and not about the Federal Ministry of Works continued effort in ensuring far-above-the-ground training and re-training of engineering personnel for its ostensible turn round, but pursuing purposeful works on the many roads we have and do not have that are crying for help. This is paramount that Onolememen should make our Highways benefit more than he has boasted of renewing the Highway Training Schools in Badagary, Kaduna and Benin City and when fully outfitted, will be greatly to the advantage of the  Highway Engineering Personnel.

Conceivably, Onolememen does not know that people are dying on the pit-of-hell called Federal Roads in Nigeria and the individual businesses have dwindled. Consequently, Onolememen should wake-up from slumber to meet with the expectations of the people. The flooding that ravaged many cities in Nigeria and now seemed to have abated, how prepared is the FG to checkmate further occurrence? Your guess is good as mine, when majority of the useless roads in Nigeria do not have drainages. Common flooding from the rains even makes the road impassable for vehicular and pedestrians. We are tired of this Ministry always ‘disclosing’ what the FG is consulting or planning to do with the Highways: It is either the Federal Executive Council meeting was held or a Consultancy Advisory Committee was inaugurated or the other was about to happen, yet Nigerians continue to suffer and die immeasurably from manmade and natural disasters in Nigeria.


Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author, Media/Writing Consultant and Motivator, is the Coordinator, Concerned Non-Indigenes In Rivers State (CONIRIV); and Founder, Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State, Nigeria