• 42.74 billion metric tonnes of asphalt untapped
• Nigeria loses N1tn to bad roads yearly
• Ondo woos local, foreign investors as Ogun joins fray
Although Nigeria has one of the largest bitumen deposits in the world with over 42.74 billion metric tonnes (bmt), it has continued to waste its scarce foreign exchange earnings on imports.
With an estimated yearly import of more than N300 billion worth of bitumen, according to a report from the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), the country’s solid minerals can boost its capital market.
Refined bitumen is used in construction industry, especially in paving and roofing applications, with about 85 per cent used as binder in asphalt for roads, runways, parking lots and footpaths.
The Senate had hinted that Nigeria lost over N1 trillion yearly to bad roads across the country, while the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) put the cost of man-hour losses to bad roads and traffic delays at N1.02 trillion per annum.
Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, had stated that Nigeria’s bitumen deposit was the second largest in the world, spanning approximately 120 kilometres with about 42.74 btm. The country, however, imported over five million metric tonnes of the commodity as at April 2019.
DATA from the Ministry of Solid Minerals and Development show there are bitumen deposits in Ogun, Ondo, Lagos, and Edo states.
Experts believe if the government could explore bitumen in commercial quantity, the challenges of bad roads would be managed.
A former president, Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NIStructE), Kunle Adebajo, told The Guardian that, during the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) road rehabilitation programme more than 20 years ago, bitumen was extracted as hydrocarbon by-product from petroleum at the Kaduna Refinery.
This, according to him, meant that bitumen was locally produced, thereby reducing the cost of road rehabilitation works. But its production was discontinued when refineries became unserviceable.
Adebajo noted that, although the initial capital outlay of bitumen was enormous, it would be worth it in the long run.
“Private investors will, of course, be needed and such mining should be removed from the list of minerals exclusive to the government and allow private developers to have access to bitumen mining activities.”
On the future of bitumen in road construction, Adebajo said the return on investment is much lower on concrete roads than on bituminous surfaced roads, and will, therefore, be more attractive to investors in the Nigerian economy.
“Purely from the point of view of the road user, asphaltic roads, utilising bitumen certainly provide a better riding surface and better performance under traffic. A good road surface can be measured by the level of sound generated by vehicle tyres passing at the designated speed. While a concrete surface is relatively noisy, bituminous surfaces are not only quieter, but also user-friendlier. Bituminous road surfaces will, therefore usually be preferred on superhighways where speed and ride comfort are necessary. This may not be quite as important for inner township roads.”
Adebajo, who is also the CEO of Ove Arup & Partners Nigeria, expressed optimism that the future of road construction in the country is bright, stressing that more research and training in materials design and deployment were required.
He added that where road designs were not properly supervised, the design specifications would end up compromised or incorrectly implemented, and would not stand the test of time.
“The future of better road-building in Nigeria lies with adequate participation of local professionals in all major construction activities across the country and supervision of road construction by trained local professionals.
“It is not in doubt that construction of roads is a major catalyst and driver of development in any economy, privatisation and concession of new and existing major road networks across the country should be actively encouraged.”
Also, a civil engineer at FREUND, Adegboyega Rasaq, called for more research to harness full use of bitumen, stressing the need to source construction materials locally to reduce construction cost.
“We need comprehensive research to ascertain those properties. Knowledge about the properties of each construction material gives better productivity, and helps to know how to combine materials of different properties to reduce cost.”
Meanwhile, Ondo State Special Assistant on Investment and Development, Boye Oyewunmi, hinted that the government was talking with firms, such as Southwest Bitumen, Aspect Bitumen, Kebara, and Dangote Bitumen, to begin extraction.
He said the state government had obtained three licences for its own company, BEECON, to drive exploitation.
“We are concluding a bid process to select private investing partners for these licences.
We understand the role to be played by the private sector and many of the bidders came from both local and international fronts. Even the locals have some form of foreign partners. We are open to all comers, local or foreign, as the technology and know-how is not limited to any sphere. We believe, just just as in the oil and gas industry, this nascent bitumen industry will also witness a balance of both local and foreign participants.”
Oyewunmi noted that bitumen production would save Nigeria the forex expended on bitumen imports, adding that when developed beyond local market needs, its export would earn revenue for the country, boost Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and create employment opportunities.
On-road construction, he said: “With cheaper, locally available labour being deployed for the exploitation of bitumen, it should be cheaper than imported bitumen. The expected increased capacity in the associated granite quarries should translate to overall cheaper asphalt.”
Special Adviser to Governor Dapo Abiodun, Remmy Hazzan, said Ogun was collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development on a commercial exploration of bitumen in the state.
“The Prince Dapo Abiodun-led administration created the Ogun State Investment Facilitation Agency (OGUNINVEST) to attract local and foreign investments into the state. The agency markets the state and showcases various opportunities, including opportunities in the area of solid minerals, which investors can invest in.
Hazzan noted that the use of concrete in road construction would not pose a major threat to the bitumen industry because of its advantages.
“Asphalt roads are more cost-effective than concrete roads and take less time to build. Asphalt roads are considered more flexible for road users and motor vehicles and do not lead to faster wear and tear of tyres as it is the case with concrete roads. Asphalt roads can be repaired more easily when compared to concrete roads.
Bitumen is recyclable; it can be melted down and re-used during road repair and reconstruction.”