Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has slammed economic experts opposed to the federal government’s huge borrowings and debt accumulation, describing them as ‘backward economists’ who could not successfully run businesses.
Speaking during a meeting at the Lagos Business School (LBS), Fashola said such economists had been loudest in criticising the government for borrowing to finance road, power and transport infrastructure projects in the country.
The minister, who justified the borrowings, also claimed that kidnapping of people which has been on the rise across the country was not entirely new and advised Nigerians to adjust their lifestyles which perhaps give them away easily for such crime.
“Today, the government is constructing roads in every state of Nigeria and while revenues are a challenge to prompt completion, some experts who have not successfully shown they can run a small business moan the loudest about Nigeria’s borrowing to fund infrastructure investment.
“A Nigerian has borrowed billions of dollars to build a refinery, petrochemical plant, fertiliser plant and gas processing plant, yet some backyard economists complain that a country whose population is in the hundreds of millions is borrowing too much to fix rail, roads, ports (air and sea) and power.
“They come to the public space to talk about the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and infrastructure of the United States and OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. But they are ominously silent on America’s public debt that exceeds $21 trillion,” he said.
According to him, a lot of Nigerians go on holidays to places like the US for medical treatment, seek for their citizenship, fly their airplanes and use their airports but unknowingly pay in part for the debt these countries have incurred for building the infrastructure they enjoy.
Challenging business students at the LBS, Fashola said: “All of you business school graduates must seize the public space from those half-baked economists and enlighten the public about the necessity to invest before you can claim a dividend.”
He explained that federal roads such as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Apapa-Oworonshoki Expressway, Ikorodu-Sagamu and Lagos-Badagry were built about four decades ago and have outlived their design lives, with their carrying capacities now overwhelmed by a growing population.
He noted that since the country returned to democratic governance in 1999, these have been the roads its citizens have clamoured the most for their reconstruction, upgrade and expansion, adding that nothing worthy of note happened until 2016 when construction either commenced or was restarted.
“What we now hear is the inconvenience, instead of the acknowledgement that government is now responding and providing the service we all craved for almost two decades. Please be aware that all those roads under construction are now construction sites and, in the world that we now live in, safety on construction sites is now a big issue.
“Not only for motorists who have to drive through them but also for our brothers and sisters who are working there to deliver the infrastructure we desperately crave. A camera sees only what the man behind the lens wants it to see. So, instead of inconvenience, I see service, with the hope that things will get better,” the minister noted.
Commenting on trends in national development, Fashola said the government in December 2018, through analysed data it gathered over three years, between 2016 and 2018, observed that crime statistics particularly clashes between herdsmen and farmers increased between October and March every year in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“The data also showed that the water levels from rivers and canals began to recede around this period from October, when the rainy season ends to March which is the peaking period of the dry season.
“While some people still choose to see a Fulanisation agenda, data and common sense clearly reveals the contrary. As water recedes, pastoralists become compelled to move their animals in search of water heading from north downwards to south. This is the obvious recipe for conflict, as livestock passes through farmlands in search of water and grazing opportunities.
“You now think about it and ask yourself how many incidents of herdsmen attacks you have heard about in the last two months in the peak of the rainy season, compared to the number reported between April and May earlier in the year,” Fashola added while stating that the government was however tackling the crisis with the controversial RUGA and National Livestock Transformation Programme (NLTP).
On the recent reports of increased cases of kidnapping as an emerging national trend, the minister said: “I make the point that this is not a novel crime in Nigeria.
“From when I was a child, we were reminded by our parents about the threats of kidnappers. So, what we have is a crime pattern that has come back to the front burner while cases of armed robbery at homes and banks seem to have taken a back burner.
“The question I urge all of us to ask is why has it come back? Is organised crime gathering more momentum? Is the presence of police in deterring bank robberies forcing organised criminals to re-think and re-strategize? Is the gradual reduction of cash at homes and on our persons, through greater use of bank cards and electronic wallets, making home attacks less rewarding and profitable?”
He proffered a solution saying: “Simply put, are the criminals saying to us, if we cannot rob a bank or a home for cash, why not seize the owner of the cash (hostage taking) and get their people to bring the cash to us?
“If this is the case, what are we doing or going to do about it? We should seriously consider and effect lifestyle changes that avoid obscene display of wealth which makes us vulnerable as potential victims.”