World Bank2

RAMP (acronym for Rural Access Mobility Project) is a World Bank-assisted development initiative to liberate the rural areas from the shackles of impassable rural roads, which impede social and economic progress in the hinterlands. RAMP is building sustainable durable rural roads and river crossings in the state. It is supported by Niger State government, through counterpart funding, to deliver 500kms of rural access roads in the first phase of the programme, and now that target has been achieved, an impressed state government has granted RAMP extension to cover more rural roads. Malam Hassan Baba Etsu is the Niger State Coordinator, RAMP, and in this special interview with Newsline on Sunday, he speaks extensively on how RAMP has impacted positively on the rural communities in the state through the construction and rehabilitation of rural roads and river crossings (bridges).

Excerpts:

Newsline on Sunday: – What is RAMP all about?

Baba Etsu: -Like I said, RAMP is Rural Access and Mobility Project and is a World Bank and state government initiative aimed towards bringing sustainable access to the rural communities, through the construction and rehabilitation of prioritized rural roads across the state. Currently, five states are participating in the programme; they are Adamawa, Enugu, Osun, Imo and Niger States, and they are participating under the second rural-assistedprogrmmeof the community projects.

Newsline on Sunday: – How has it been since you assumed office as the state coordinator of RAMP in Niger State.

Baba Etsu: -So far so good; we are consolidating on some of our achievements. Of course, we have just taken over 176 km of roads constructed by our contractors in the first phase of our intervention in Niger State and the Community Based Maintenance Groups (CBMGs) are also working on these roads to maintain them. Then we have also taken over 20 river crossings (bridges), constructed across the state. Sohas been the business, and we are also at the verge of awarding the second phase of 403km of prioritized roads in Niger State. So far so good; these are what we are doing in RAMP in the state.

Newsline on Sunday: – Are you saying that all the 25 LGAs in Niger State benefit from these projects?

Baba Etsu: -Yes one way or the other; you either benefit from rural road or from some critical river crossing. So our projects are spread all over the state; all the local government areas are to benefit in our intervention, either through the construction of prioritized rural roads or construction of some selected river crossings. By that, I mean, bridges, culverts or something like that.

Newsline on Sunday: – When you talk of river crossing, their quality is of concern to an average citizen out there.

Baba Etsu: -Yes, of course, when we say river crossing; I mean the bridges, we do observe international best practices and  we also adhere strictly to all engineering regulations. We don’t just construct these river crossings; they have to be engineering-compliant and after the engineering design, we also look into the basic engineering studies, even the environmental studies before we embark on construction. There are specifications and all other things are strictly adhered to; at the end of the day, we have river crossings that can compete anywhere in the world.

Newsline on Sunday: – You keep on emphasizing on rural roads; why rural roads, leaving other areas of rural needs, such as health care, schools, and other relevant areas the rural communities lack?

Baba Etsu: -In the course of this interview, I introduced RAMP to you; I said rural access and mobility project. By access, it means the only thing we can create is movement from one place to another. In addition, movement from one place to another is possible only by creating all-weather access (roads). So our mandate in the state is the provision of access roads and river crossings, and the idea is to open up some of these areas for their socio-economic development, to boost agricultural development and also assist farmers move their farm produce from one point to the other without facing much difficulties.

Not only in the area of agriculture, even in terms of provision of social services, because when you have roads that are not too good in the rural areas, sometimes travelling from one point to the other becomes very difficult; access to basic amenities, like schools, also becomes a challenge, but today through our interventions, we are able to open up some of these areas. The rigours of travelling from one point to the other have drastically reduced.  Infant mortality rate, suffered before our intervention in some of these rural areas, have reduced. You can now access some of these social services. For instance, we have intervention from Rafin Yashi to Shata, which is about 8.1 KM. Prior to this intervention, for you to travel from Rafin Yashi to Shata, I think it takes you one hour, but today you get there in less than 15 minutes. You can see that economic activities are springing up around that axis because we have good access road.

Newsline on Sunday: -How many of these communities have benefited from these intervention projects in the state within the first phase of the programme?

Baba Etsu: -RAMP in Niger State has so far expended over N2bon projects spread across the state, under the Phase 1intervention. Another sum of N2b was also expended on the construction of river crossings across the state; we also intended to pump over N7b into the construction of projects in the second phase of our roads, which is about 403 kms.

Newsline on Sunday: -Apart from the zones that benefited from the first phase of RAMP, which other area of the state stands to feel the impact of RAMP II?

Baba Etsu: -Some of these critical roads are in Zone A; in Kutigi, for instance, to travel from Kutigi to Tashan Hajiya, which is a short distance, is a nightmare; it is a very big challenge for you to travel on that road. Unfortunately, most of the people living around the area are predominantly farmers, and the road is in a very bad shape. So by the grace of God, RAMP is going to intervene. We have so many river crossings under the Phase 1 of the projects.

Newsline on Sunday: – Can you tell us the quality of most of these projects, particularly the river crossings?

Baba Etsu: -Contrary to the impression that the roads we construct are all feeder roads; it’s not. The reality is that these are feeder roads that are well engineered; there is an engineering drawing for the roads. We have all the attributes, like the environmental issues, adequately addressed. The issue is not just about grading and chipping; no, you grade, you do the surfacing, you do the base cost and also do the surface dressing. Like I told you, in all our projects, we don’t compromise standard.

Newsline on Sunday: -Road construction normally is capital intensive; can you disclose what you have done so far across the zones in the state and possibly how much have been expended on these road projects?

Baba Etsu: – Well; under phase1, for instance, in the area of road construction, we have constructed Wawa- Malele road in Borgu Local Government Area. There is also the AunaTungan-Jikan Shagini road, which is about 40Km or thereabout.

We have also constructed Mokwa-Ja’agi-Kudu road in zone A; after the construction, the roads were handed over to the communities. There is one critical road again, from Wuya Suma to Lemu, in Gbako Local Government Area, which we constructed under our intervention. In Zone B, there is a road from Izom that bursts out to Suleja, through Abuchi. It is another critical road of about 30km or so which we have constructed. Then there is Sabon Wuse to Ijah-Gwari; then there is Dikko junction-Sulu junction to Tafa, which is also one of our interventions. We have constructed today about 176Km.

We have also constructed some critical river crossings in the state. There is a road from Wuya-Kanti to Efu-Tasha; I think sometime last year, the road was inaccessible, but today people travel this road with ease because of the construction of river crossing there. We have one at Dabban, and there is one at Emigi-Nmanzhi. Also there is one in Sabon-Daga; we have Nnakpakuchi and some few others.

The road from Kutigi to Charanti, Dassu, Tashan Hajiya, which is about 56 Km, is going to be constructed by RAMP; then there is another road from Kampanin-Bobi to Bangi, a very critical road, where RAMP is also intervening. The road is about 88Km; very soon work will commence there.

There is also this road from Pandogari to Bassa, on which we are going to focus our attention; then another one is from Makera to Wushishi and from Makunsidi to Bida. There is also the road from old Gawu to Farin Doki. Then there is Badegi to Kateregi through Ebba, there is Pati Bokugi and Gbasa Kuchi Woro; the road to Wusunchi from Yakushi to Etsu Tasha is also going to receive our intervention. Name them; we have so many areas of intervention as far as roads construction and rehabilitation is concerned.

Newsline on Sunday: – Most of these projects centered on rural areas. How did you identify the communities that have so far benefited from these projects?

Baba Etsu: -It is based on prioritization studies; and not based on any political consideration. At the inception of the projects, what we did was to commission a consultant to give us a list of roads submitted by the entire local government councils, four critical roads, from each of the LGAs. After compiling the list, we now have a list of about 100 roads. So it is now left to our commissioned consultant to re-arrange it in order of priority, given some set of guidelines. He did the work, and based on that, we now arrive at the construction of these roads. Some areas of consideration were population, agricultural activities around those areas, the sizes of the bridges along those rural roads, and other parameters. Based on that, we drew a comprehensive list of the projects as well as identified areas of intervention. So, they were not selected based on political consideration; no. We have our list of critical needs in line with developmental objectives.

Newsline on Sunday: -RAMP as a World Bank-assisted project; what has the state government counterpart funding been like so far, because, at times, paucity of funds affect state contribution, thereby affecting the smooth running of the projects. Has the state counterpart funds been regular?

Baba Etsu: – Let me re-affirm that Governor Abubakar Sani Bello has been very passionate about our projects. We have been getting all the required support from the government under the leadership of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello. So far there have been releases, in terms of counterpart funding as at when due. It has never been a challenge and that is why we have been performing as far as these projects are concerned. The commitment of the state government is not an issue at all, because they have been given us the required cooperation. So, we are very appreciative of Mr. Governor’s efforts.

Newsline on Sunday: -Are you trying to say that the state counterpart funding of RAMP in Niger State is not an issue?

Baba Etsu: -Yes. I can boldly tell you that we don’t have any issue as far as the state counterpart funds are concerned. The issue of counterpart fund is not a challenge at all.

Newsline on Sunday: – You said most of these projects embarked upon by RAMP have no political undertone; how come?

Baba Etsu: -Of course, I can convince you beyond any reasonable doubt that RAMP has no political consideration. We have so many communities that felt the impact of RAMP positively. Just like I told you earlier, there is no political consideration in most of the projects RAMP has executed so far.  The idea is just to open up the rural areas; that is, as far as these projects are concerned, it’s all about the people to benefit from the projects, particularly those living in the rural areas. So the issue of political undertone or political consideration does not arise.

Newsline on Sunday: -We have seen such programmes put in place by successive governments; among such programmes were the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), Mass Mobilization for Self-Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER), Peoples Bank of Nigeria (PBN), all interventions begun by Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s regime; they have come and gone. How are you sure that RAMP will be sustained after this administration?

Baba Etsu: -I can tell you that the sustainability of RAMP by this administration is certain; that is one of the reasons why we have the community-based maintenance group scheme of our roads, operational now by the project.  In each of the roads that we constructed, we have a group that maintains them.  For instance, the 8.1km pilot road we constructed, we have about 10 groups that are carrying out routine maintenance of these roads, and they are being paid a monthly stipend of N20, 000 by RAMP.  This is one of the measures put in place to sustain RAMP projects, even after the exit of our development partners.  We also have some projects executed in Lemu, Gbako Local Government Area, linking Wuya-Kanti, also in Gbako Local Government Area, which is over 30 km. We have over 20 people on the payroll of RAMP to maintain this road and even after the exit of our development partner there will still be routine maintenance exercises.  These are some of the things we are doing to ensure the sustainability of these projects, even after the exit of our development partners.

Newsline on Sunday: -Sir, how long will the development partners stay in this project in Niger State?

Baba Etsu: -The Phase 1project is for a period of five years; it will stop at the end of five years.

Newsline on Sunday: -After the tenure elapses, is there any likelihood of renewing it?

Baba Etsu: -Well, I expect that  you know Niger State is very large in terms of landmass; we are hopeful that there may be extension, because we cannot be implementing 500kms of roads while Osun is implementing just a few kms, and Niger State is twice the size of Osun State. The governor has made a passionate plea for the extension of our project; so now we have increased the scope of our roads from 500kms to 1000kms, and after getting the approval, we may likely secure the extension of our project. We are very hopeful that, going by the commitment of Mr. Governor, Alh. Abubakar Sani Bello, we are set to get that extension. It is not out of place that you may encounter some challenges while piloting the affairs of this office. 

Newsline on Sunday: -Are there challenges confronting or which confronted you as the coordinator of RAMP?

Baba Etsu: -Yes! You know that for people to understand the mode of operation of World Bank Intervention Projects, especially in terms of procurement issues, it is very difficult. There is the misconception that the whole show is just about going to get this and that job; no, the project is far beyond that. Things are not done the way people think; we have been sensitizing people in our own way and through our guidelines for people to understand the way the project operates. So it’s not really easy with us here. Of course, when you do lot of such projects, what people expect is to get contract, contract. However, our contracts are 100 percent World Bank compliant. So we really face multiple challenges, but we try to explain things to them to understand that the World Bank has their specifications as far as their projects are concerned. Thank God; because of our endless and competent development communication outfits, sensitization has been on and we have been making appreciable progress in that regard. So we have been able to sensitize the people on our operational activities here in RAMP.

Then another area of challenge is about environmental issues. When we want to construct these roads, we encounter some environmental challenges, like payment of compensations. You know, there are areas where we need to pay compensations in some affected places that we want to embark on projects. Though, these are little challenges, but like I told you, the people are very conscious of these projects. We have taken on these challenges, and try to see how we can get compensations adequately paid. And we thank God, our team are really working round the clock; the challenges are surmountable.

Newsline on Sunday: -Let me take you back to those politicians seeking for contract from you. Were you able to convince them to really understand with you?

Baba Etsu: -Of course, there is no government agency that is politically oriented; ours is just one of them, not an isolation. The project is also overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. It is a government agency, not a political entity. And like any other government agency, RAMPis about the people.

Newsline on Sunday: -Do you mean that the political class is not in any way interfering in the award of contracts from this office?

Baba Etsu: -Not at all. They are all aware of the position of our contract procedures.  Because of our sensitization programmes, they understand. Our sensitization programme has greatly assisted us. All what the government is interested in is:  what can we offer to its citizens in terms of service provision, and they gave guidance, where necessary. It’s not about interfering or giving notes to get contracts, it is about guiding us on what we are supposed to do. We have a state project monitoring committee that monitors what we do. We don’t operate in isolation of the government; we are a complete government entity.

Newsline on Sunday: -What is the relationship of your office with Ministry of Works that is saddled with the responsibility of roads construction and rehabilitations in the state?

Baba Etsu: -Of course, we try as much as possible to avoid what we call duplication of duty, whenever we have our budget; we interface with the Ministry of Works based on our areas of intervention so that we do not stress government budget. This is what we are doing through the efforts of the World Bank. So we don’t have any conflict in terms of executing our own responsibility. As you are aware, what we do here in RAMP basically is rural roads and when you look at the Ministry of Works, in most cases, what they do is urban roads. Of course, they also do rural roads, but in trying to do that, we also make them to know that this is our area of intervention. We are all partners in progress and working towards the same goal.

Newsline on Sunday: -So there is good synergy between your agency and Ministry of Works.

Baba Etsu: -Yes, the synergy is marvellous. Sometimes we call on the professionals from the state Ministry of Works to see also how they can add value to whatever we are doing in RAMP and they are always there for us. So our relationship with the ministry is quite impressive. All our contracts are usually given out to competent firms. We have procurement guidelines, we abide by the guidelines, in most cases, we place adverts (Tenders) of our projects on national newspapers. It’s something that is competitive and we run a very transparent contracts award procedure. The idea is just for us to have value for money; the issue is not about just giving out contracts, we advertise, we evaluate, and at the end of the day, we do what we call responsible bidding where a qualified bidder will emerge. This is one of the practices that accounts for our progress in the state, especially projects implementation.

Newsline on Sunday: -Is there any reported case of contractor abandoning project site for any reason, such as shortage of funds or non release?

Baba Etsu: -In World Bank Projects; it’s very difficult for any contractor to abandon site when you go strictly by the rules of contracts. Even if they abandon any project, we are not at a loss, but the contractor is at loss. Because any contractor that emerges will be issued with what we call performance guarantee; so if you abandon the project, we don’t have option than to revoke that clause, then we pay some liquidity damages.

So far we don’t have cases of abandonment. But we sometimes witness delays in the execution of some contracts as a result of circumstances beyond our control. Thank God, we are able to overcome all these shortcomings, and the projects are progressing. When you work we pay you. When you don’t work, there is no payment for you. That is why we have our consultant; we don’t delay payment, you work, we pay you. When you don’t work, there is no payment for you.

Newsline on Sunday: -Having said all these, as the coordinator of RAMP in Niger State, what do you intend to leave behind as a legacy?

Baba Etsu: -That is a big one; as a state coordinator of RAMP in Niger State, it is my wish to have sustainable rural roads across the nook and crannies of Niger State; to have all weather, good roads for the rural dwellers, because once you build or construct good access roads across the hinterland, people will feel the impact of the government and they will be happy to benefit from the government of Abubakar Sani Bello.

Also, when we have all-weather roads across the rural areas of Niger State that will last for many years, whoever plies them, at least, will say it is a road constructed by RAMP and be grateful for it. He would say this is not an ordinary feeder road, but RAMP road, distinct and durable.

TAURARUWA