Minister voices opposition to scrapping of FERMA

By Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has urged the Senate to strengthen the Act establishing the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) instead of scrapping the agency completely.    

Mr. Fashola gave his advice on Monday while making a presentation at the public hearing organized by the senate committee on works, for the repeal of the Act establishing FERMA and re-enactment of the Federal Roads Authority (FRA) Act.  

The Senate had through a bill sponsored by its Chairman, Committee on Works, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC Kano South) in October, this year , resolved to repeal the Act establishing FERMA and replace it with FRA on an alleged apparent lack of capacity of the road maintenance agency to handle the task of road management in the country, going by the state of some roads over the years.

Senator Gaya in his lead debate on the bill said FRA as a replacement for FERMA, would serve as a semi-autonomous road agency, which would be responsible for the professional management of federal roads in the country, involving planning, design, construction, rehabilitation and maintenance; ending the duplication of functions between FERMA and the Highways Department of the Ministry of Works.

According to him, “the passage of the bill will bring a permanent solution to the challenges of funding and management of roads in the country” and noted that the creation of the FRA was in line with international road management practices as presently put in place in Ghana.

“The best practice around the world indicates that Nigeria cannot
overcome its road infrastructure development challenges unless reforms
are embarked upon to reposition the road sector and bring it in
synchronies with its peers in the developed and developing nations of
the world.”

 However, in his submission at a public hearing on the bill, the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola cautioned the Senate against the move, noting that FERMA is already a brand on its own which should not be changed.

“We welcome the idea of creating roads fund, we also welcome the idea of creating a maintenance agency but we think that all of the recommendations that have been made for maintenance should be embodied in the agency that government has already created-FERMA.

Repeal the existing FERMA law, re-enact it and put all of the new things we want to create inside it instead of creating a new agency because FERMA was set up for maintenance in the very first place. It has acquired the name, it has acquired the brand, we can build on that brand instead of creating new brand. People who managed brands like this change their drinks but they don’t change their names”

 Toll gates

He, however, agreed with the move by the enate to reintroduce toll policy on federal highways in the country as a way of raising funds for maintaining the roads.

“There is the need to institutionalise the maintenance of road assets but much more importantly there is the need for increased awareness and advocacy for users of our road assets that roads are not permanent assets in that way.

They are wearing assets, they are assets that diminish once we start to use them and so from the day the road is opened and we start to ply it, it begins to deteriorate and therefore not only must we maintain them we must use them carefully, we must use them consciously with the intent to get the best out of it.

There has been a toll policy already in Nigeria since the Federal Highways Act in 1971 with deployed tools but for some reasons we stopped it. In other to attract the investment that will enable us achieve private capital inflows into infrastructure; two things for me are very instructive.

The first is the cultural change from our existing mindset and our experience at sub-national and at national level”, he said.