FG to Pay N1.5trn Debt Owed Contractors, Says Umahi

The Federal Government says it is set to pay up the N1.5 trillion debt owed contractors for the construction of federal highways across the country.

The government, however, advised them to be serious in executing its projects. The Minister of Works, Sen. David Umahi, said this at a meeting with the contractors on Thursday in Abuja.

Providing insight on plans to clear the debts, Umahi said the Federal Government had set up a verification committee to screen contractors’ certificates and recommend payments.

“I want to assure you that every verification made will be paid; we are going to have an automated payment system. You are requested to come up with proof of how these debts are generated.

“The earlier you do it the better, the economic team and Federal Executive Council will expect us to give them facts;  I assure you that every verification that has merit will be paid but it shall be on a first come, first served basis.

Umahi frowned at contractors closing up sites during the festive season when the traffic on the roads were high. He said the attitude of contractors to close site at the critical time of the year would no longer be tolerated.

“We are almost in the middle of January, most of you closed sites on Dec. 15, to reopen on the 15th of January, losing a most valuable one month that would not be allowed to happen again.

“That is not good, we have to agree, if you have to take off, you can take one week but to close site at the critical time of the season to observe festivities will not be allowed anymore.

“Going forward, we are going to track our projects. On our part we are addressing late payments; we mean business in 2024 and we want to work with serious contractors.

“Contractors of Lokoja-Benin road should please return to the site or their contracts will be terminated.” The minister said the government planned to complete 150 kilometres of roads in each 36 states and the FCT.

He said the target excluded the palliative work and other special projects embarked upon by the Federal Government like those of the SUKUK, Presidential special funds or the Tax Credit Scheme.

The 5,550-kilometre road network target according to the minister is the minimum projection for the year. “Nigerians will want to see us complete 150km in each of the 36 states and the FCT and you will see the total number of roads completed and that will be a good way to start.

“We are not talking about the palliatives. And if it is a dual road it is just 75 km so let’s just start and I am sure that we will get there,” he said.

He warned that only registered and certified COREN members are allowed to be on sites.

He said the Federal Government had divided the projects into 12 zones, to be headed by directors of special duties, all in a bid to remove the bottlenecks delaying road construction.

The minister also revealed that the president had directed a review of FERMA to make it more effective.

He charged controllers to do everything possible to clear highways of traders, adding that the roads were not meant for such activities

Umahi further said the Federal Government was working to introduce solar lights and hire retired police and military personnel to secure the roads.

The former Ebonyi state of said all these measures are to make highways safe and reintroduce night travels. Umahi barred contractors from carrying out earthwork without deploying necessary equipment on site.

He explained that Asphalt material was not banned but that the government was only trying to cut down on its geometric pricing.

 “We have not banned the use of asphalt but it is to moderate the escalation of asphalt prices.

“And in 2024 going forward, some projects will still be on asphalt but their shoulders will be on concrete while some will be fully on concrete. There are some places that we must make our roads fully on concrete,” he said.

The minister had earlier announced that the Federal Government was dumping the use of asphalt in the construction of roads across the country. Naira Rises by 19% as Forex Market Pressures Ease

The announcement, which was met with stiff resistance from contractors, stalled the completion of several roads, including the Benin-Warri dual carriageway. The minister disclosed that the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) had approved 80 per cent of palliative allocation.

He admonished contractors to stop going through the back door to obtain documents but rather come forward for any documents they need for their use. He said using ministry staff to illegally acquire unauthorised documents could lead to the staff loosing his/her job when caught.