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Monday, September 25, 2023

Interview: FERMA’s major challenge is availability of resources’- Engr Nurudeen Rafindadi


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Engr. Nuruddeen Abdurrahman Rafindadi, an engineer, is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), an engineer,  and Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. He spoke with Olayinka Oyegbile, Deputy Editor The Nation.
WHAT is your vision for FERMA?

My vision would remain that FERMA should be the preeminent road maintenance agency in the country, with a commitment to efficiently administer  road maintenance and to keep all federal roads in good, safe and comfortable  condition with the best value in road transport. We want to have an agency that has the capacity in-house to carry out maintenance and at the same time the capacity to manage works that will be contracted out.  We want to have a FERMA that is in the leadership among the stakeholders on the federal roads across the country.  FERMA is not the only stake holder in the federal roads network. There are other important stakeholders; there are the Federal Ministry of Works (FMW), the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), state governments (because they have their own state roads), local governments, other agencies such as the security agencies and road transport workers and the rest of them – they are joint stakeholders. We feel we want to strive to leadership from these because our job precisely is to maintain the roads and make sure they are in good condition. That is the mandate we have in FERMA. Let me emphasis for now the mandate of constructing, designing, planning, constructing federal roads is with the Ministry of Works that could change depending on the dynamics of the road sector reform activities which we know as we speak are ongoing now. We want to create a preeminent and efficient   operator in the maintenance of our federal road networks and in collaboration with the states road networks. So the bottom line is we want to have a healthy road networks across the nation.
My vision would remain that FERMA should be the preeminent road maintenance agency in the country,
 What about inter-agency collaborations, and collaboration with state governments, how do you ensure these are not at logger heads?
It is important that we have that collaboration. It’s one of the most essential things if you want to have a healthy and efficient road network.  FERMA and Ministry of Works should collaborate in all phases of operation from top to down. Whenever we are planning our works, we should collaborate with them, when we are drawing our budgets we should collaborate with them, when we are planning procurements, and implementing the road maintenance works, the idea always is to ensure we maximize the use of resources. We shouldn’t have duplications, when we are planning they should know what we are talking about  and we should complement each other and not duplicate or compete; and when we are implementing we should know people that will harmonize our programmes and the collaboration should be top to down. That means, at this level the headquarters here and through me should maintain collaboration with the minister and directors at the federal level. Also, at the field level, there should be collaboration with their own field officers, state government because we have seen very useful instances of good collaboration with the state government when we come to the assistance of the state governments or they come to our assistance. I have seen such things happen in different states in recent times.  Beyond ministry of works and the state government we need to have collaboration with the FRSC when we are taking a tally of the critical road condition across the country. The Federal Road Safety Commission has very useful information about every bad spot across the country, we need to have that information therefore we need to have that collaboration at that level.   Beyond that when get to the field and we want to start our work we need to take care of the safety of road users and our own workers and the FRSC work to prevent damages on the roads and in doing that we need their cooperation. We need collaboration with the armed forces and all other security forces too. So this issue about collaboration with agencies is very important.
Road maintenance is an expensive endeavour. How much did FERMA get or proposed in the 2018 budget and if you are given that money are you assuring Nigerians that they are going to get a better deal in road maintenance in 2018?
When I assumed office in early October, we found FERMA as an organization with low activity, low morale and the principal reason for that is the low funding. Which is classically illustrated by the fact that the 2017 budget which is N25.4billion for capital budget for whole federation. There is another allocation about 14 or 15 for overhead works, but totally we have about N40billion and to give you an example, as we speak today, the only release we have for capital is N800million, which is just about few percent now. I have taken it upon myself in the last two months that every arm of government, Executive, Legislature, Federal Ministry of Works and so on to keep making this noise that we really can’t do anything without the capitals release. I have gotten tremendous supports and assurances. In fact, as I am talking to you there should be a release any moment from now. But as you can see this is December, for the recurrent we have had the release of seven months out of 12 months when I came in it was only five months, so there was a little release of the recurrent and we have gone ahead to plan to utilize this. Even that came sometime last week. So it is a big challenge, most of the things that I have been doing since I resumed, has been planning. We’ve planned the next nine months work programme for the rehabilitation of the federal roads. However, now we are running behind schedule. Anytime we have adequate fund we mobilize, even as I talk to you now, I have spoken to all our field officers, discussed our plans, we’ve activated it actually, they are out there on the field, getting ready to receive the funding and mobilize and as soon as we have the money we start the work. We are however, taking some basic, emergency and quick actions which is fixing bad spots, taking care of the most critical and obvious bridge failures, wash outs bad potholes and so on.  I project that once we start we will not stop again. From now, even during the raining season we will keep watch, keep coordinating, taking care of emergencies, failures and so on.
Apart from funding what other challenges do you have as an agency? In addition to this, what is the level of the capacity of the staff?  Do we have enough or we are having a case of the staff who can do this but the problem of funding?
Well it is a combination of all of these. I already told you that the major challenge is the resources. There are technical challenges. I want an agency that is able to do more and more. I must acknowledge that over the years government have been able to invest a lot on  plant and machinery for FERMA; that doesn’t mean we can do all the things ourselves.  At present, I guess that we do not more than 10, 15 % percent of all the road repair works. I would like that to increase over the years, and will also want to see an increase in the number of technical staff in proportion to overall number of staff. In other words, we want to see more field engineers, technicians, craftsmen and skilled artisans and so on.
One of the other things I have done since I started is to review our plants and machinery; find out how many plants we have out there and what their conditions are. So, also our machinery, laboratory facilities, equipment, and road counts across the country. We want to know the condition of the road counts, the purpose of the road count is that they are out there on the field and we inspect every stretch of the federal road networks.  We have about 36,000 kilometres of federal road across the country.  We have many more in states, but those 36,000 at anytime probably we have 2,000-5,000 that under contract with the Ministry of Works and therefore the contractors are responsible for the roads.  As soon as the road is completed, construction or rehabilitation, there is a defect liability period over which the contractor is responsible for and after that there is formal hand over to FERMA to carry on with the maintenance. So we want to have every kilometre of those roads under our care to be under regular supervision that is what we use to plan our works so the capacity to be able to do that we have to improve on that.  We have to set up monitoring teams, in other words when we deploy resources to the field  to carryout repair and maintenance works  we want to have an effective monitoring framework to ensure that what is directed was what was actually executed. I would want to improve on that. And more important, we want to have independent monitoring so that it won’t be the same FERMA that will do the work and certify it themselves.  We would like to have independent verification from competent professionals. I am a professional consultant by background and I know the importance of having independent professionals to certify works that are done. It gives cover even to FERMA staff that what they did and what they claimed they did was adequately reported by independent professionals.  Not least important, we want to have effective media strategy. The work of FERMA is essentially directed to the public. I have seen the need for the agency to interface with the public for us to know what the public is feeling; we should have more engagement and knowledge about that. And that is why since I came, press and public relations unit is always a part of our programme so the public will know what we are doing. There are lots of areas when you go round the country where you will see road repairs that are actually being carried out by FERMA but you wouldn’t know because the synergies,  the signboards, notifications are not there to let them know. So you wouldn’t know if it was done by the Federal Ministry of Works, FERMA or state governments or the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), in case of Abuja. So we will need to clearly mark our synergies and when we want to pass out information to the public, regarding routine maintenance, use of road during repair works, issues like vandalism of road infrastructure, bridge railings, defacing of our signposts, burning of tyres by the road sides, all these are done by the public. We will address this in our media strategies. We are adding social media strategies; we want to get to the point whereby we use social media to get feedback from the civil society and even for the monitoring of our works. We are telling our staff across the country that we will not only monitor you professionally, we will have people from the public monitoring you. We are all on the platform.  Since I came, we have established social media platforms in which I am an active participant. We can see what our field engineer does regardless of what he reports to us. We can ask him questions; keep him at alert to know if he is always diligent. We are tagging the Ministry of Works on our social media platform. We are tagging the Vice President, too. We are taking that risk because we are reporting ourselves, we believe that that engagement will be for the good of FERMA. Because at the end of the day, we are going back to the government for more resources and we believe that the resources we are getting now are not as adequate as we want. I know that FERMA can absorb four times the funding we are getting today on all our road repair activities across the country.
In addition to what we get on regular budget, we want to be able to access funding and resources from the Ministry of Works for special assignments that they want to give to us. We also want to be able to approach donors – local and international – for things that FERMA is going to do.  For instance, we are looking at the area of green construction and sustainability, we want to look for research area of plastics instead of bitumen for doing road pavements, that is a very exciting area that we can use and we can get funding from international donors in that area.
We are all on the platform.  Since I came, we have established social media platforms in which I am an active participant. We can see what our field engineer does regardless of what he reports to us. We can ask him questions; keep him at alert to know if he is always diligent.
 You mentioned the issue of road bumps; I was going to come to that. Now, who is in charge of building road bumps, why is there no standardization, what is the role of FERMA?
Well, the role of FERMA as a major stakeholder is to again engage with the public. The public is putting these bumps, strictly speaking they are illegal, whatever you do on a federal highway, by the way not only on the federal highway, but on the right of way of the federal highway should be something that is permitted by the owner of the road; the owner of the road technically is controlling these checkpoints.  The custodianship of the federal highway networks lies with the Federal Ministry of Works that is the arrangement for now. And the Federal Ministry of Works cedes the control for the roads that are to be maintained by FERMA. So FERMA is also an important stakeholder but the communities where the road passes are also important stakeholders, we do have issues of safety and we have to approach these things in a systematic manner. There should be standard designs for bumps. One of the things that we are doing since I resumed is initiatives for the protection of school children across the country. There is an NGO that we are  collaborating with as major patrons and stakeholder that are dedicated to ensuring safety of children at road crossings near schools.  We just recently came up with standard design, we are designing pilot projects in FCT and that is to be spread across the country while we have standard bumps and their designed signboards warning motorists approaching areas where school children are crossing, and if possible stationing people there to ensure that there is a safe crossing of the children. I think these are initiatives you need even while addressing the bumps because the public is erecting the bumps because of their concerns for safety, I see our role (FERMA) as important stake holders to address that question of safety bring forth standard approaches, standard designs for the roads and then deploy them after that you can then enforce their rule for any other arrangement that is contrary to what arrangement you’re making.
What is your agency doing to educate road users and especially truck drivers because they constitute, about 80 to 90 percent of the damage of federal roads, vehicle break down and burning of tyres of tarred roads. Do you have plan for truck drivers?
Yes we do, and I think this is also one of those joint responsibility areas with the Ministry Of Works, FERMA, state governments, with the association of road transport owners, union of road transport workers and so on.  You are right, the trucks are some of the major factors contributing to the damage  of our roads, by overloading themselves, most of our highways are designed for 30 tonne trucks and some of these trucks are reaching 60, 70 and above. There are supposed to be weigh bridges strategically located on our highways, there used to be at the toll gates but the lack of their use is one of the contributing factors that led to their failure. Trailers also drop diesel on the road and I have seen a study where it was estimated that on the corridor between Abuja and Kano trucks drop about five to ten drums of diesel on our highways on a daily basis and these liquid gets on to the road and chemically dissolves the road surface and its eventually contributes to the deterioration of the roads.  We have to get into active engagement there has always been an engagement with the road transport owners and union of road transport workers we need to bring that back.  On the board of FERMA there is always a seat in membership from the association of road transport owners and then we should have regular forums engagement for the agency and ministry responsible for us and road transport owners.
Trailers also drop diesel on the road and I have seen a study where it was estimated that on the corridor between Abuja and Kano trucks drop about five to ten drums of diesel on our highways on a daily basis and these liquid gets on to the road and chemically dissolves the road surface and its eventually contributes to the deterioration of the roads
 What about park areas for trucks? This was mooted some years back
The issue of truck parking areas across the country, there is a project that was started by FERMA.  I understand now that it is to be taken over by the ministry, it can go both ways actually having a truck park that brings all the facilities for trucks to get there and park is actually in my mind a joint responsibility not only between FERMA and the Ministry of Works but it should also include the state governments that allocate and regulate the land use, planning the areas, it should include the transport unions and transport owners. The truck park could be there with all the facilities and the trucks would be there on the road parking.  You can’t really force them because there’s no stake holders’ agreement between them. The National Automotive Council, I am aware is also considering that as a project. I have seen state governments considering Truck Park as a project.  I believe that a successful project would be the one that put all these different stake holders together and by the way it’s going to be very highly commercially viable. Such facilities like workshops, spare part shops, resting places, restrooms, even hotels with the right combination of stakeholders should be business worthy, it can be very profitable and can take the trucks away from the major high ways into the truck parks without stress and with maximum convenience to the truck owners themselves and the trucks so we have a very tremendous potential for that. If you check most of the highways you will see at regular locations truck parking areas, they are already there designated what we need is the right means of funding and private sector enterprise and government’s policy support and the project will work. It is our intention at FERMA to see that we play our role to do that.
This is a festive period particularly towards the south, there’s bound to be high density of external movements along our roads or corridors. Is your agency doing anything at all to maintain the roads at those high density areas to avoid accidents?
Yes we are doing a lot but within the constraints of the resources that we have. One of the first things I did when I came here was to throw out a question to all the field road maintenance engineers across the country. We have offices in every state, we have federal road maintenance agency in every state. I asked our field officers to send five worst spots in their areas of operation. I also asked can you send us information on each of this spot? Precise location, nature of the problems, the solution and the pictures. Next, we took the total map of the highway networks and federal highways. With particular references to those corridors that are highly patronised. The ministry of works is doing a similar exercise on to identify what they call ‘eastern movement’.  That is the phenomenon at the end of the year. That means there will be high traffic of those that will be moving from north to east and also from the south west to east, so we have isolated those roads that are in this highly trafficked area. Then we now use the data of these bad locations, along these roads and identify those critical provisions where we need to do something. As a matter of urgency what we need to do depends on the resources deployed for immediate repairs. We have deployed our men to the field, we have actually been doing some within the constraints of what we have along some of the major roads. We are not just standing idle.
We have people on the field who have excellent connections with suppliers of the construction materials with workers. If you notice, the end of the year is usually closure time for construction workers, we have vital plans on plants and machinery across the country we notify them to please hold on for us. We have deployed our men in positions in those areas,  if there are resources we move in to repair them. FERMA is working in many places across the country. And we want to improve on that so we buy the good will to let people understand when we are working and also understand when we are unable to work for whatever reasons.
What is your message to road users on their responsibilities in using our roads?
My message is that the roads are our common resource, it is owned by all.  If the roads are damaged it is to all our detriments. So I would want Nigerians to use the roads responsibly knowing it is an asset we have to access our communities, to access our work places and that when these are damaged everyone suffers. We should all know that using the road responsibly allows us free movements; we should use them patiently with consideration of others.  I appeal for cooperation with our workers, FRSC, workers of the state road agencies and so on.
This Interview was first published in THENATION
About Engr Nurudeen Rafindadi

Engr. Rafindadi was born in Katsina in 25th March 1960. He attended Federal Government College Sokoto and ABU Zaria. He holds B.Eng. in Civil Engineering, with a Second Class Upper Division (1981) and M.Sc. in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering (1986), both from ABU. He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (1998) and is registered with COREN (1990).
He served NYSC at the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre, Lagos. Under the River Basin Authorities in Sokoto, Katsina and Kaduna states, he acquired project experiences on large dams, hydraulic structures and on irrigation projects. At the agriculture ministries of Kaduna / Katsina states, his experience expanded into small holder irrigation schemes and on rural infrastructure. In 1989 – 1990 he coordinated a programme of wheat production on over 10,000 hectares of irrigation schemes / Fadamas.

In 1990, he joined 4 other professionals to found Afri-Projects Consortium, a multi-disciplinary firm on projects management consulting. APC’s outstanding role as Management Consultants to Nigeria’s Petroleum Trust Fund (1995 – 1999) supported the PTF to rapidly establish a reputation of positive interventions in several sectors. Among other things, it opened opportunities to over 620 professional firms, 15,000 other professionals, over 500,000 personnel, and over 10,000 contractors and suppliers.

Since then, his consulting engineering experience has extended into other sectors, including the telecom sector (Regulatory Framework), World Bank assignments in rural development and urban upgrading and works on large irrigation schemes. He has coordinated significant nationwide programmes for clients including Galaxy Backbone PLC and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. As Lead Consultant to the Presidency on monitoring and evaluation of Nigeria’s DRGs funded MDGs programmes, he worked with civil society organizations to coordinate the assessment of progress toward attainment of MDG’s in Nigeria.

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Engr. Rafindadi has served leadership roles in the NSE – from branch levels to Council membership at the national level. From 1997 he has been an active participant at annual conferences of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers FIDIC and at several other international conferences. His outstanding success as President of ACEN (2012, 2013) has enhanced goodwill to Nigerian engineers – both locally with the built environment professionals’ forum as well as internationally at FIDIC and other forums.

Recognitions and awards received have included: Shell BP Prize – Civil Enginering, Morgan Omonitan Prize – Structural Engineering (ABU, 1981); NSE presidential awards (2004, 2014); ACEN awards at annual conferences (2000, 2002, 2004); conference speakership awards (APBN, 2002; NIQS, 2014); Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Civil Engineers (FNICE, 2009).

International recognitions: for contributions at FIDIC: Davos, Switzerland (October 2011); Livingstone, Zambia (April 2012); Khartoum, Sudan (April 2013). In 1999 he successfully met the requirements of the “Private Finance of Infrastructure”, by the International Law Institute (ILI), in cooperation with Georgetown University, Washington DC.

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He has served on the Board of the Nigeria’s Maritime Authority (NIMASA, 2009 to 2011) and participated at the International Maritime Organization IMO (London), the International Seabed Authority ISA (Kingston) and the International Labour Organization ILO (Geneva). He presently sits on the Council of COREN.

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