The Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Toby Okechukwu, has stated it will be difficult for Nigeria to have good roads across the country until the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), assent to the road fund and road authority bills passed by the National Assembly.
Okechukwu, however, decried that the two bills had not been signed into law.
The lawmaker made this known at his office in Abuja on Wednesday when the President of the Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, Rabiu Ali, led a delegation of the professional body to notify him of the conferment of a honorary fellowship of the Nigerian Society of Engineers on him.
Okechukwu appealed to Buhari and all concerned Nigerians to give attention to the bills.
He said, “I am happy that the NSE placed me at the top of their professional calling and reward system. On a serious note, engineering criss-crosses our lives. It controls 90 per cent of our lives. If we neglect or ignore engineering, we do so at our peril. When we came in as Committee of Works, we were able to diagnose the challenges in the industry, capacity, personal issues and how the profession is practiced. That was how we came up with the idea of amending the COREN Act. We also diagnosed funding issues regarding roads construction, maintenance and we came up with Roads Fund Bill. We also dealt with the issue of organisational structure of that outfit that will maintain and develop roads. We also came up with the idea of Roads Authority Bill.
“Those bills passed all through the platforms of the National Assembly – in the House and the Senate. It was passed to Mr President. Unfortunately, we were not on the same page or they (presidency) could not be up to speed regarding approving it. Luckily, COREN bill passed and it is now an Act of the Parliament, and I am happy that you are here to follow it up. So, it is our prayer that the Roads Fund Bill and Roads Authority Bill should be paid attention to.
“The other day I was listening to the Minister (of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola) and he said they had over N10tn liability and N765bn outstanding certificates. There is no way you can develop growth in this country without dealing with the issue of reforms in the system, and those Acts were meant to cure that. So, I am really happy that at least one is down; then, the other two to go. We must follow up the activism and the pressure from the press has to be momentous. Anybody who tells you that road construction in this country can get any golden era without those roads reform bills passed into law or without Mr. President signing it is joking.”
Okechukwu recalled how another lawmaker, Solomon Maren, moved the motion for the House to investigate the Public-Private Partnership arrangement with regards to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge.
“When he did that, we knew what we wanted to achieve because the PPP arrangements were not working. We called motorways and all those people who were involved and eventually, those PPP arrangements, after our public hearing, we were on the same page with the minister. The Federal Government had to take back their assets and that is why they re-awarded them and that is why you got them to finish.
“So, if anybody is telling you ‘we are completing this or that,’ it is not possible. Nobody is the problem of roads in Nigeria, it is the method and plan we have for it. So, the earlier we dealt with it, the better. And the NSE is at the forefront. If the practice for construction work is going well, our people will blossom. There is not any problem. It is not because of incompetent contractors. Nobody is taking your money. Unless you have asphalted, nobody is going to give you any penny. But they are not in a position to do so because it is not funded. So, I want to use this opportunity to make that point.”
Earlier, Ali, while presenting the award letter, said the fellowship was sequel to Okechukwu’s contribution to engineering in Nigeria, especially on the amendment of the COREN Act.
Ali said, “Engineering has suffered in Nigeria. The Act that you have given us will go a long way in putting engineering in the front burner and in proper perspective in Nigeria. The fruits might not be seen immediately but I want to inform that we have started implementation of the Act and we are already seeing signs that the Act will change the face of engineering practice in Nigeria. So, we are here to deliver this letter for the award of honorary fellowship of the NSE to you.
“Sir, what you have done the Nigerian engineering family and profession as a whole can only be imagined. We appreciated it because no one that I know for thirty-something years I have been in practice in engineering has contributed so much to the development of engineering practice in Nigeria like your good self. To think of it, you are not an engineer. You are a lawyer by profession. So, we thought and wondered how to show appreciation.
“There are four grades of membership in NSE. The fellowship grade is the highest grade of membership, which is usually given to engineers who have reached a certain level in their areas of practice. And of course, non-engineers like you who have made enormous contributions to the development engineering profession in Nigeria. The NSE is 64 years today. It came into being in 1958. And since then, we have less than 20 honorary fellows of the society and you are one of those 20 honorary fellows.”