The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, last week seized the occasion of a book launch on the activities of his ministries in the last three and a half years to give his closing report. Olawale Olaleye, who was at the event, reports
Typical of him, the event had his signature written all over the place in terms of organisation and content. Save for a slight delay in starting the programme, which was no fault of Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing. Fashola’s events are always business-like.
Apparently pressed for time as he was scheduled to deliver a speech at the one-day retreat for the governors-elect, Fashola would not even let the compere take the national anthem. There was no time to waste – straight to the business, he signalled.
Thus, from the opening remarks by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mohammed Bukar to the review by Taiwo Obe, founder, Journalism Clinic and remarks by a few of the guests, who included the Chairman, Senate Committee on Works, Senator Kabiru Gaya; representative of the Chairman, House Committee on Works, Muhammed Wudil Ali and Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, the launch of the book titled, ‘Proof of Infrastructure delivery Across Nigeria’ was sped up within time to let some of the guests undertake other commitments of the day.
Done giving their remarks, Fashola immediately mounted the podium and started by first serving notice that the speech he was about to deliver would also serve as his closing report on his activities in the ministry in the nearly almost four years that he assumed office.
Firstly, he said, “The story and records of what the ministry of Power, Works, and Housing has done in three years, five months and days, that is from 11 November 2015 to date, is largely documented in the book we are presenting today. The book reviewer has already given a preview of what it contains, and I will not dampen your reading enthusiasm by going into any lengthy detail. I propose only to set a context for evaluation and understanding.”
He, however, added: “I will start by referring to my inaugural press briefing on 8 December 2015, where I set out the agenda that this ministry would be pursuing so that well-meaning Nigerians, who were interested in monitoring us, could track us. In that briefing, I set out what our campaign message of change would mean in this ministry and in respect of the three sectors of this ministry, I set out what should be expected of us.”
In the power sector, he recalled: “I said we will change the paltry budget of N5 billion, which we met in 2015 by spending more and I committed to the delivery of incremental power; as our short-term objective. For Works, I promised that we will increase the paltry budget of N19 billion, and use the same to revive abandoned road projects, restore construction activities, recover lost construction jobs and reduce journey times on our federal roads.”
In the housing sector, he promised: “We will set out to develop a model national housing programme, to ascertain what Nigerians find acceptable and affordable as a prelude to a more aggressive roll-out of the national housing schemes that we are sure that Nigerians accept and can also afford.”
To that extent, Fashola, who acknowledged the efforts of other ministers like Mustapha Baba Shehuri, and Suleiman Hassan Zarma, added that with the help, support and cooperation of “our staff, under the leadership of our permanent secretaries and directors, we have delivered on the agenda I set out at the 2015 press briefing.”
Specifically, in the power sector, the minister said well-meaning Nigerians acknowledged their efforts by saying clearly that their power supply experience had improved compared to 2015, even when he too acknowledged that the work has not finished.
Fashola stated: “The task going forward is to solve the outstanding issues of estimated billing, the supply of meters, add more power and make the supply steady which I stated will be our medium-term goal.”
He said while the whole of Nigeria had focused on power from the grid for six decades in the search for a solution to the energy problem, the Buhari government opened a new page through his ministry about the possibilities in the off-grid sector.
Through this initiative and the Rural Electrification Agency, he noted that seven universities, two teaching hospitals are currently having independent power solution deployed at various states. According to him, preparatory works have been undertaken on all sites. All the equipment had arrived in Nigerian ports.
Delving into works, Fashola said, “there is at least one federal road under construction in each of the 36 states and the FCT; while some have been completed, others are still under construction. Construction workers will tell you that they have a better deal than in 2015. Quarry operators will tell you that the business of supplying sand, rocks, chippings, laterite, and other construction materials is better today than in 2015.
“The volumes and quantities of Bitumen and Asphalt being sold has increased compared to 2015. Supervising consultants engaged to monitor our contractors and even banks, who issue bank guarantees to secure payment to contractors will tell you that they have a better deal than in 2015.”
He claimed that the road transport operators and their unions and commuters alike would admit that their journey times had improved, although work has yet to finish there, arguing that it was one of the reasons President Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected to take the people to the Next Level and finish the job.
Citing the Ilorin-Jebba road, which had collapsed, taking between three and seven days to traverse the 93km-route, he said the road has been finished and now takes a little over one hour to travel.
“Maintenance work on bridges, long neglected is being undertaken on assets like Third Mainland Bridge, Isaac Boro Bridge, Tamburawa Bridge, Eko Bridge, the old Niger Bridge, while new ones like 2nd Niger Bridge, Bodo-Bonny Bridge, Loko-Oweto Bridge, are being constructed and others have been recently awarded,” he added.
Apart from public highways, Fashola pointed out that other areas are being given attention, saying: “We are repairing, building and rehabilitating internal roads in federal universities and tertiary institutions. This has not happened in a long time. FERMA, our maintenance agency is now fully focused on her core assignment of road maintenance under a new leadership and management team.”
The housing sector, he posited, had a similar story of economic opportunities with construction going on in 34 states, most of which are now largely completed.
“We are now in the administrative state of setting better conditions for eligibility and offer to the public, while simultaneously planning the second phase in those states that have given us land. Our intention is to respond sustainably to deliver on the president’s promise to enable more job creation and employment opportunities,” he said.
He said the FHA was back to its core mandate of building houses and FMBN was more focused on lending to contributors to the National Housing Fund.
“We have cleared the backlog of unsigned consent to land transactions and issuance of certificates of transparency. As at 13th April 2019, we have issued1,417 consent to land transactions and 2,400 certificates of occupancy,” said Fashola, noting that some of the beneficiaries had paid for their properties as far back as the 1990s but did not get the title.
While noting that all the modest achievements of the Buhari administration did not happen while oil prices were $100 per barrel, but when oil prices dropped below $50 per barrel and at one time below $30, adding: “Very simply, we have made this place better than we met it. That is what our mandate for change meant and still means – making it better.”
Reiterating that the administration remained committed to delivering more services, he said one of the areas of focus would be an aggressive implementation of the National Infrastructure Maintenance Programme recently approved by FEC.
For instance, he informed that contractors had started closing up major earthworks and keeping flood-prone areas motorable during the rainy season, adding that some of the state governments had been working with them to de-flood canals and drains to allow for easy flow of water that traverse their states.
Fashola touched on a rather sensitive issue, which is the procurement law and some of the processes involved in road construction in the country, so that “members of the public can understand some of what we do here as a basis for future assessment of performance.”
After running through the tedious process of getting any particular road construction done, from the stage of conception to approval and execution, he noted that government cycles in the last 20 years had been fixed tenures of four years at a time, subject to how the electorate votes.
“Since 1952 to date, Nigeria has had 34 ministers of works and I am number 34 in a period of 67 years. This amounts to an average of a Minister every 1.9 years. Further interrogation of the data of tenure shows that very few of them served for up to four years and above and the majority served a little over a year, which is barely enough time to design a road not to talk of undertaking the procurement and actually building the road,” the minister stated.
Reflecting on what had been done, he added that careful thoughts and choices still lie ahead, noting also that the trio of the executive, the legislative and the judicial arms of government must as a matter of urgency forge a national consensus on how to overcome some of the challenges that the country faces in the delivery of her urgently needed national infrastructure.
And on that note, Fashola wrapped up his service to his fatherland in the last three and a half years in the ministry of power, works, and housing, with rousing applause that showed approval and commendation.