How Abuja community pays nearly N10m to access good roads in 3 months

Commercial motorcyclists and other residents of Byazhin, Kubwa, a town in the Bwari Area Council of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT) paid nearly N10 million for access to good roads between July and September 2023 due to government neglect, IJEOMA OPARA reports.


EVERY morning, excluding Sundays, a group of women, about 12 in number, gather at the Byazhin area of Kubwa in matching T-shirts branded “Able Women,” fixing potholes on roads with a mixture of cement, granite and other materials.

Between July and September 2023, the women employed labourers working on potholes at Liberty Junction, a popular crossroads in Byazhin.

On a typical day, they assume strategic positions along the different lanes that lead up to the crossroads, requesting donations from motorists to support the road repair as the labourers work, a process which goes on till 2.00 p.m., sometimes later.

Ordinarily, the contributions do not look mandatory, and The ICIR observed that private motorists voluntarily donated money to the women on many occasions.

However, at about 8.00 a.m., when the roads get busier, the women mount partial roadblocks on three busiest lanes to restrict traffic flow, making it easier to demand money from motorists.

Partial roadblocks mounted by Able Women at Liberty Junction. Photo: The ICIR

During this time, their attention mostly shifts to commercial motorcyclists and tricycle operators from whom they demand the sum of N50 daily, after which pieces of cardboard paper are issued as tickets.

Tickets issued to motorcyclists. Photo: The ICIR
Tickets issued to motorcyclists. Photo: The ICIR

While some motorcyclists contribute willingly, unwilling drivers are often coerced by the women into making payment, with assistance from members of a security group wearing uniforms branded “Special Squad Vigilante,” also a part of the road repair team.

Special Squad Vigilante member subtly blocks road to enhance ticket sales. Photo: The ICIR
Special Squad Vigilante member subtly blocks road to enhance ticket sales. Photo: The ICIR

For motorcyclists and tricycle operators, the easiest way to avoid the payment involves meandering through the road, sometimes recklessly, in a bid to dodge the women.

Tricycle operator runs out of vehicle to avoid payment. Photo: The ICIR

However, the women are sometimes more strategic. In many cases, motorcyclists are chased down the road and forced into abrupt, dangerous stops, a process that nearly resulted in road crashes on three separate incidents witnessed by The ICIR.

One of the incidents involved a motorcyclist conveying two children, who narrowly escaped running into an oncoming vehicle while trying to evade the women on Saturday, August 26.

“Don’t kill somebody here because of N50,” the leader of the group, identified as Bola Shitta, screamed at the motorcyclist in pidgin English.

Tricycle operator forced to a stop by group member demanding payment. Photo: The ICIR.

Many times, the process of demanding money from unwilling drivers results in a build-up of traffic within the area.

Traffic build-up at Liberty Junction. Photo: The ICIR.

Although the amount demanded seems negligible, checks by The ICIR show that the money collectively paid by residents summed up to nearly N10 million between July and September.

On Saturday, August 26, The ICIR observed that 400 tickets were issued along one of the lanes between 8.00 a.m. and 10.00 a.m. but as the sun got hotter and energy began to wane, sales dwindled.

By noon, at least 648 tickets had been issued to commercial motorcyclists and a few tricycle operators by the Able Women along one lane alone.

The ICIR also observed that 540 tickets were sold on a different lane between 8.00 a.m. and 12.00 noon on Saturday, September 2. Based on these observations, The ICIR estimated that an average of 594 tickets were issued per lane between 8.00 a.m. and 12.00 p.m., which translates to 148.5 tickets per hour on one lane daily.

Motorcyclist purchasing a ticket. Photo: The ICIR.

When this figure is multiplied by the N50 demanded from each motorcyclist, it amounts to N7425 from one lane and N22,275 from the three lanes every hour. In six hours, the minimum number of time Able Women spend on Liberty Junction daily, the sum amounts to N133,650 per day and N801,900 in six days.

Working with this figure, The ICIR estimates that motorcyclists and tricycle operators paid N3.2 million in a month and N9.6 million between July and September at Liberty Junction.

This excludes the freewill donations made by private motorists and residents of the area.

Residents pay for government neglect

During a conversation with The ICIR, the head of the group Bola Shitta, estimated that the Liberty junction road costs about N7 million to fix, which leaves an excess of nearly N3 million.

“I have to go through my books, but it is up to seven million because by then, the materials were high. That time we bought cement at the rate of N5000. It was so high,” she said.

However, Quantity Surveyor Simon Onyilo, who visited the site with The ICIR on Wednesday, October 11, said the repairs carried out at Liberty Junction should ordinarily cost an estimated sum of N3.7 million using about 370 bags of cement, leaving an excess of at least N5.9 million.

Findings by The ICIR show that a bag of cement costs around N4,800 and N5,000 between July and September 2023.

This puts the total cost of the 370 bags between N1.77 million and N1.85 million.

Onyilo estimated that the road is a stretch of about 616 square metres, which would have cost a little over N8 million, using more durable materials like asphalt, based on market prices in October 2023.

This includes the cost of hiring equipment like the asphalt cutting machine asphalt roller, and is less than the sum already paid by residents of the area based on calculations by The ICIR.

According to the Surveyor, mending asphalt roads using cement is ill-advised due to the difference in the texture of both materials.

“We have two different materials. It’s like binding plastic to paper. It won’t stay like if I bind paper to paper. The road is asphalt. Binding asphalt to concrete may not blend,” he said.

However, upon examination of the work done at Liberty Junction, Onyilo said the cement ratio deployed by the labourers seems rich enough to last for a while.

He also noted that the topmost layer of asphalt on the road had worn off, leaving it rough enough to bind reasonably with cement.

“The concrete mix ratio looks rich, so it might last a while,” he said.

Road at Liberty Junction not awarded – FCDA

The ICIR sent A freedom of information act (FOIA) request to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) on October 18, requesting details of any prior contracts awarded for the rehabilitation of the road.

A response from the FCDA was received on Friday, November 17. In the letter dated November 1 and signed by Director Engineering Services F. O. Ezeoha, the agency disclosed that it has not awarded any contracts for the rehabilitation of the road.

“We wish to inform you that FCDA did not award and is not supervising any contract at Liberty Junction Road Project in Byazhin Area of Kubwa, and therefore the Executive Secretary, FCDA has no information about any such contract,” the letter read.

It is not clear if the Byazhin road has previously been awarded by the Bwari Area Council, as a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent by The ICIR to the Council on Friday, December 8, has not yet been replied to.

Although some residents perceive the repair as a noble job, commercial drivers consider their daily remittances to the Able Women while determining the fares they demand from passengers, who indirectly bear the financial burden despite being taxpayers.

Who are Able Women?

A search on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) website shows that the organisation was registered in 2022 as an Incorporated Trustee under the name Able Women for Community Development Initiative, with registration number 172605.

Shitta and another member Yunusa Khadija are registered as trustees, and the organisation has an active status on CAC.

Speaking with The ICIR, Shitta said the group has been carrying out rehabilitation activities on roads in Kubwa since 2019. She called on the government to improve upon the work they have done so far.

“The problem of Nigeria did not start today. And if we are looking at the government every time, things will go wrong. The only thing that we beg the government for is, if they see where we’ve worked, let them come and pour coal tar to seal it up so that we can enjoy it more.

“At Liberty junction, water is too much. You know cement can only hold water to an extent. We need the coal tar to sustain it so that the money we collected and our own efforts will not be wasted,” Shitta said in pidgin English.

What does the law say about individuals fixing roads?

The activities of the Able Women may not be illegal, as the Nigerian constitution does not expressly kick against residents fixing roads in their localities.

However, in some states, residents are required to obtain approval from the government before fixing roads, according to legal Practitioner Chibuike Azoro.

“No law prohibits it. But in practice, the executive won’t allow you unless you first get approval from the government,” Azoro said.

Recently, the Kwara state government warned residents against fixing roads without approval.

The Head of Public Relations and Information at the FCDA, Richard Nduul, told The ICIR that private citizens in the FCT are required to formally apply to the Administration before carrying out road repairs.

“Any individual or corporate organization that wishes to do anything on any of our roads is required to formally apply to the Executive Secretary stating what he or she wants to do as well as the location where the action is to be taken attaching pictures/photographs. The Executive Secretary will send such application to the relevant Departments who will carry out due diligence and advice as appropriate,” Nduul disclosed.

Speaking further on the issue, Legal Practitioner and Public Affairs Analyst Olu Oyeniji said while people can address problems in an area, this should be done without infringing on the rights of others.

“People can determine that they want to let go of their own rights and put it in an individual who they trust can manage their affairs. Now, with respect to them charging a fee for repairing roads, there is nothing legal about that because, first, the road is a public utility, and the freedom of movement cannot be fettered by a private individual under any guise at all.

“There are several judgements that have effectively cancelled the restriction of movement. Now, if we decide to apply that logic, it goes without saying that nobody can challenge anybody from using a road on the condition that payment has been made. It will be seen to be illegal on the basis of freedom of movement,” he said.

Oyeniji stated that citizens are not obliged to undertake the repair of roads or public utilities. He encouraged citizens to promote accountability and public compliance with the law as far as such issues are concerned.






     

     

    “While we have established that citizens cannot compel anybody, it’s not recognised under any law that anybody should take up the responsibility of government, which includes fixing roads.  An average Nigerian doesn’t believe they pay taxes. All our consumables are taxed, but people believe that they don’t pay taxes, so in exchange for their responsibilities and obligation to pay taxes, they rather do what they call humanitarian projects,” he further stated.

    Referring to an incident where Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana threatened to sue the Nigerian government for harm suffered due to an uncovered manhole, Oyeniji noted that accidents or losses suffered by residents as a result of faulty public utilities are actionable against the government.

    “There are instances where whatever injury or devastation you have suffered as a result of using bad public utilities, you have a claim in law against the government,” Oyeniji concluded.

    By October 2, Able women concluded work along Liberty Junction. They have now commenced repairs on a new patch of road by the Byazhin police station, where residents are, again, collectively being made to part with millions of naira for access to good roads.

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

    Join the ICIR WhatsApp channel for in-depth reports on the economy, politics and governance, and investigative reports.

    Support the ICIR

    We invite you to support us to continue the work we do.

    Your support will strengthen journalism in Nigeria and help sustain our democracy.

    If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

    1 COMMENT

    1. We paid 163 million naira for the construction of efab estate life camp, from Polaris bank junction to efab estate and each house owner will pay 100k for the road project

    LEAVE A REPLY

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here


    Support the ICIR

    We need your support to produce excellent journalism at all times.

    - Advertisement

    Recent

    - Advertisement