‘We are Working on Over 13,000km of Roads’

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Babatunde Raji Fashola

The state of our road infrastructure, has been a matter of great concern to both the citizens and Government of Nigeria. It has also been the perennial cause of disputation, between States and the Federal Government. That is one of the reasons why the appointment of Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN as Works and Housing Minister elicited so much applause and commendation for the Buhari administration. How has BRF fared in the past five years, managing such a complex and herculean portfolio as Works Minister? In a chat with Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi, the former Lagos State ‘Action Governor’, recounted what can easily be described as some of his achievements in building and rehabilitating Nigerian roads, and providing affordable habitation for Nigerians

Learned Silk, Nigerians have had to cope with infrastructure decay for many years now. Regarding our roads, how far have you gone in bridging the gaps in the infrastructure deficit in Nigeria in your ministerial capacity? In our interview with you over three years ago, we discussed the East West Road (which you said was under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Niger Delta and not yours), Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, Second Niger Bridge and Odukpani Road in Ikot Ekpene. How far have you gone with the rehabilitation of those roads? Are any of the works completed? If not, why? We know that certainly, Lagos-Ibadan is still incomplete.

I think that is a well rolled up question. First is to understand that our roads are very long roads, very long. Some of the shortest are about 20 or 30 kilometres, while some of the longest are about 560 to 570 kilometres.

So, the way we even construct requires us to also understand what completion means. Our roads require that we close certain sections of maybe, five or 10 kilometres, build them and divert traffic to another section. So, by the time you are driving through what we’ve built, you are driving through what we’ve completed. Our roads also connect States, so they are interstate roads. They are not like city roads that you can lock up for six months or one or two years, and when you finish you come and cut the tape. As you build, people are using them. So, I think it’s important for people to understand that concept.

In terms of numbers, we are working on over 13,000 kilometres of Federal roads today. We have finished over 4,000 kilometres, and many more are being completed in phases with certificates coming daily from across the 36 States. So, it’s ongoing progress and development.

Specifically, you speak to Calabar-Odukpani Road, for example. If you go back there now compared to what you saw last year, you’ll see one section which they are mainly working on now. We feel it is better that instead of doing the two lanes at the same time, focus on one section. If you have 10-15 -20 kilometres of work done, it is more completed road works, than trying to do dual carriage way of three or five kilometres. That is how we are approaching it.

Again, we have different contractors. Julius Berger is there, and CCEC is there. We are also trying to award one more section, to complete the whole length. But, things have moved on from last year to now, and SUKUK is helping in that area.

On Lagos-Ibadan, I can be more specific because I have more recent updates, because I visited there in December. Out of 127 kilometres, we have done over 70 kilometres of roadwork. Work is still going on. On the first section between Lagos and Shagamu where Julius Berger is, you will see that out of 44 kilometres, they have done almost 30 kilometres now. They are almost rounding up. They are now building the pillars, the structures for the interchanges, the pedestrian bridges and so on. On the other side with RCC, they are also making progress heading towards Ibadan.

On the Second Niger Bridge, one side of the deck of the bridge is almost completed, the Onitsha-bound side. Hopefully, we should complete that early this year and start the other side, the Asaba-bound side. Simultaneously, the link road from the Onitsha and the Asaba-bound sides are also being constructed; a total of about 20 kilometres of road network. We have now awarded what we call the Phase 2A and B, which are additional extensions to connect the road to Owerri on the Anambra side and to connect it to other parts on the Delta side too. So, work is going on.

In terms of percentage, what would you ascribe to Lagos-Ibadan with regard to completion?

Lagos-Ibadan as at December was about 55 percent completed, but we intend to finish in 2022.

What about the Second Niger Bridge?

The Second Niger Bridge is also well over 50 something percent completed, and is on schedule to be delivered in 2022.

Odukpani?

Odukpani, I don’t have the actual percentage of completion because I just resumed. This is my first day at work. I am giving you some of the data that I still have in my memory, from when I went on leave. But, work hasn’t stopped anywhere.

What was the problem with the Third Mainland Bridge and Eko Bridge? Why did the works have to be done simultaneously, thereby causing so much inconvenience to Lagos commuters?

Okay, perhaps, before we go to the Third Mainland Bridge, this is a list. I don’t know if it will be useful to you. These are 23 projects across different parts of Nigeria that have already been completed. So, we have seven in the North-West, four in the South-West, two in the South-South, three in the North-Central, five in the South-East and three in the North-East; and all of these are already completed, but work is still going on the others as I speak to you.

Now you speak about the Eko Bridge and the Third Mainland Bridge. Two different reasons. Third Mainland Bridge is a scheduled maintenance that should have been done; that was done in parts in 2010 and 2016; again due to budget constraints, and now needs to be completed once and for all. It involves the changing of expansion joints on the bridge and the changing of bearings under the bridge. Also, repair of columns and piles inside the water, which have to be protected with epoxy, welding for protection and jacketed to protect them from the elements, salt, chemicals and all the other things. So, we also have welding work that is going on under the Third Mainland Bridge.

The other point about Eko Bridge is that the last time there was rehabilitation on the Eko Bridge was, I think in 1991 during the Babangida administration when Eko Bridge was closed for rehabilitation. That rehabilitation was perhaps the major one on that bridge since 1974 when the bridge was opened. So, you can see the long spans.

What happened on Eko Bridge, I always tell my Team, is that we just dodged the bullets; because bearings had collapsed under the bridge and sections of the deck had moved. At one time, what was holding the bridge was barely an inch. Several tons of concrete could have come down. But, our inspections showed it, and that’s why we urgently had to close it. We would have preferred to do it later, but it was an emergency and we wanted to prevent any accident, any loss of life.

So, that has been done, one side has now been completed. The other side is being done, and we now have a full rehabilitation contract for the Eko Bridge that will take about a year; that is being done in phases, just to renew the bridge and prolong its lifespan.

We are working on 37 bridges across Nigeria, at the moment. There are many more that we will also add this year. So, there is a lot of rehabilitation going on. Incidentally, whilst you are here, it might be useful to let you know that we will close the Falomo Bridge once we finish the Third Mainland Bridge. We kept it open, because of the sensitivity to the inconvenience of the Third Mainland Bridge. But, there is no good time to do maintenance work. This is done all over the world. Tower Bridge in London was closed for six months. At one time, we will do it. We regret the inconvenience, but the main purpose is to serve people.

There has been buck-passing between the Federal and State Governments over which roads are supposed to be rehabilitated or fixed and by whom? This has left many roads in a state of disrepair, with the resultant consequences of lives continuously being lost through ghastly road accidents. What is the panacea to this avoidable loss of lives?

Again, I think you rolled many things into one place, and some of them, in my view, just don’t connect. So, let us start with what you call buck-passing. It’s not buck-passing. That is the essence of our Federation. There are three levels of government, State, Federal and Local Governments. They have different responsibilities. As you’ll see in the Constitution, if you go to item 63 of the Exclusive Legislative List, you’ll see that the Federal Government is responsible for only federal trunk roads. Federal trunk roads are roads that connect one State to the other. Federal Government is the repository of power over the territory of the Republic of Nigeria. The States also have their own boundaries and borders, and they are the repository of power over their local governments. So, they have inter-local government roads, just like Federal Government has interstate roads.

We have been talking about Lagos-Ibadan, Odukpani-Calabar, those are our own roads. But, there will be Yaba to Mushin, Asokoro to Maitama roads, those are the responsibilities of the States.

Then there will be roads between Wards, Ward A to Ward B, those are the local government roads. It is the totality of these roads that give Nigeria a road network of 200,000 kilometres. Total! Out of that, the Federal road network is about 35,000 kilometres. The local governments have the largest of the network.

So, it’s not buck-passing. It is the real essence of our federalism. Every level has its own responsibilities; just like you have primary health, secondary health, and tertiary health, and for education, primary, secondary and tertiary.

Now, why are the roads in some state of disrepair? Many reasons. One, our population, our businesses, our economy have grown faster than the rate at which we have invested in our roads. That is one point. And by our investment, there is a problem. That is why I continue to ask why in 2005, when we had $12 point something billion, we chose to go and use it to negotiate debt forgiveness, instead of investing it. Those roads were there at the time. The bad roads were there. $12 billion could have done a lot in terms of road construction, infrastructure at the time. But, the policy of the Government at the time was ‘lets go and pay our debt, so that we can be credit worthy for more debts.” So, here we are.

You then move on to talk about the quality of roads, as a result of the accidents and loss of lives. The accidents are regrettable. They are a source of concern for our Government. But, I disagree that it is essentially the quality of roads that cause the accidents. It is not supported by the evidence we have. The evidence we have, because we get monthly reports from the FRSC who report on every accident on our roads; the evidence suggests that less than one percent of accidents (and that is bad enough, I must say) is caused by the bad roads. The major cause of accidents, because I have the data, is over speeding, dangerous driving, loss of control, driving under the influence of substances. This is documented. This is monthly data, so you can see the pattern every year.

There was a road, for example, in Kogi State, where there was an accident last year and a lot of people unfortunately died, and it was caused by a petrol truck. The default response was ‘oh it’s because of the road.’ But, when the accident investigation report came, it was excessive speeding and loss of control.

The point we always make is that, if the road is bad, logic, common sense and experience tells you that you cannot speed on that road! And if you actually do, it means that you are an irresponsible driver. That is just the whole truth.

So, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of human behaviour, training of drivers. I have asked FRSC, because they don’t report to us, they report to the Presidency through the Secretary to the Federal Government, to start Patrol-and-Stop programme on the highway. When anybody exceeds the speed limit, flag him down, check his driver’s licence. Is he authorised to be on the road? This will start, I believe, this year. These are some of the things we are trying to do, to reduce the loss of life and property on the roads.

We are also investing in resourcing the FRSC. Just today, Council approved more patrol and recovery vehicles. We are also working with the Ministry of Health. No matter how we try, there will be accidents. So, we are also trying to ensure that there are trauma centres, so that at least there is medical response and rescue at the earliest opportunity, and that can also be very defining for whether people are saved or not.

Before I let you go into the issue of the Apapa road/gridlock, I wanted to point out to you the road between the Carter Bridge before you climb Eko Bridge, there is a huge crater there which causes so much traffic, especially during rush hours

It’s a drainage problem there. We have a contract there. But, we are waiting to complete some, because it is part of the relief for people diverted from Third Mainland Bridge. So, we cannot work on Third Mainland Bridge and lock down that one. We already have a contract to repair it. We tried to do it before, it failed. We need to reconstruct the entire drainage. There is a lot of materials already dumped in the drainage, so we must excavate and rebuild. So, we have to lock up that place when that is happening. We are holding off until there is an alternative route. That is why we have not done it. That is Otto, Ijora Olopa.

What exactly is the problem with the Apapa roads? Why has it continued to be a problem? The Apapa Port is crucial to our economy as we all know. Why does it seem that Government is not taking taking the road repairs there seriously, when it is alleged that due to the gridlock, the country is losing over N200 billion annually?

Well, I like to be scientific and to ask ourselves, ‘what is the cause of the gridlock? Is it the road, or the Port?’ Because, if we don’t identify the cause of a problem we are likely to misdiagnose the problem, and if we misdiagnose, our corrective prescription will be wrong and the problem will not be solved.

I say emphatically, the road is not the cause of the Apapa gridlock. It may be contributory, but it is not the cause. The cause is a Port management problem first of all, and also a Port capacity problem. Our economy has expanded beyond the size and capacity of that Port.

So, we are 45 years older than our Port, if you go to Tin Can. If you go to Apapa, we are 99 years older than our Port. Apapa Port was actually built in 1921! This year is the centenary of Apapa Port. It hasn’t been expanded. The first expansion after 1921 was in 1975, and that was the construction of the Tin Can Island Port. And we didn’t do that as a proactive gesture. It was reactive to the Cement Armada, when we were dumping goods in the sea because we couldn’t evacuate them through our ports! Since then, what has happened? No port expansion, until we started the Lekki Port when I was Governor.

Secondly, contrary to what people think, Government is not the one running the Port. It has been concessioned to private operators, AP Muller and NTPNL. So, they should do their work. In terms of the road, yes the road was bad. 27 kilometres, we finished 20 kilometres of the main carriageway in concrete, financed by the Dangote Group under the Presidential Tax Credit Initiative. We are going to complete that road this year. But, the point is that the gridlock there, the trucks don’t want to park on the road, they want to go inside the port. Let’s understand it. That is why I say it is an understanding. The trucks are not itinerant, and cannot say ‘let’s just park!’ They want to enter the port. How long does it take to get cargo in and out of the port? So, what spills out onto the road as a result of the inability to get goods out of the port, is what you see people now gaming. Of course, there is arbitrariness there. People are now gaining from the disorder.

So, in solving the problem, whilst we are building road, and we are almost done, even if we finish the road, the problem won’t just disappear unless it is addressed.

That is the point I just sought to make, and I don’t know if that answers your question.

It answers the question, to a large extent.

Many African countries now resort to China for loans with heinous conditions to develop and finance their infrastructure. Would you consider this option with regard to roads and housing?

You know, first of all, we already have China loans for some of our projects. One of them is the Akwanga-Keffi to Makurdi Highway which is about 200 and something kilometres. The loan process was started in the previous administration. We completed it, and we are now constructing the road. But, I think China can defend itself, I am not a China defender. It’s not just African countries who are borrowing from China, other countries are borrowing from China. So, let us get that correctly. The whole world is borrowing from China, especially for infrastructure. United States is borrowing from China. It’s a fact which you can Google to check it. The UK is borrowing from China. Fact. Google-check! In fact, there is a project, the Hinkley Point Power Plant in Somerset, England is being constructed by the EDF, and partly funded by the China Development Bank. So, it’s not only African countries that are borrowing from China.

Then, let’s understand also that there are different types of borrowing. There is development borrowing, which is something like the China Development Bank. There is commercial borrowing, and China has most of the commercial banks which are able to lend for development financing. But, more importantly, there is export credit, and every country, including Nigeria, has an Export and Import Bank. Export credit like China Exim, just like you have the US Exim Bank, and the Nigerian Exim Bank is for financing international trade. Under international trade, in the way that you can buy Agro produce, which we use our Exim finance for, you can import equipment, you can import machines and you can import technology to build your roads which is what we are doing. Again, it is not only Africa, it is not only Nigeria, but the whole world. And, we also use Exim loans from other countries.

As a subnational then, we used US Exim loan to finance Lagos Fire Service. All the fire engines that are running in Lagos State today, were financed by the US Exim loan. What it does, is that it helps the US companies or the funding country to grow its own manufacturers or suppliers to ship things to other countries for sale. That is really what it is all about. As a Lawyer you know this and so you should help explain to our people who have this attitude of ‘don’t borrow from that, don’t touch that, don’t borrow from that’.

It is important to make this point about borrowing, because last year and this year, Government particularly in its Finance Acts reduced taxes on small businesses, on certain cadre of Nigerians. So, that Government essentially is reducing some of its own sources of revenue, without abandoning its responsibilities. So, it must fund it somewhere. This is an important part of Government funding sources.

How far have you gone with your affordable housing programme which you were meant to implement in 33 States of the country? Have you completed the first pilot? If you have, how successful has it been?

Well, it was meant for all the States, but as you know two States didn’t give us land when we started. But, we finished Phase One – Housing, Infrastructure, electricity, and all of that. Phase Two is still at the completion of infrastructure stage, most of the Housing is completed – painting, roofing and so on. But, this year definitely, before the second quarter is over, we are going to launch a portal for the allocation. That’s what was delaying us.

Which States did not give you land for the programme?

Well, all the States including the FCT have Phase One and Phase Two, except Lagos and Rivers. We have since been given land by Lagos and Rivers. But, the land they gave us requires us to sandfill. So, we asked them to change those lands, because if we sandfill we will pass the cost to the beneficiaries and it will make it less affordable, so we are still going through that process.

But, what is going to happen this year is that we expect to see the first set of off-takers once we launch the portal. We want people to do that online, we want to reduce human interference. People will be expected to access the form online, put your National Identity Number, your passport number or whatever identification document you have, show that you pay your taxes and be eligible.

What are the price ranges for the different types of accommodation?

The prices range from N5 and N9 million for the One-bedroom, depending on what part of the country and depending on the type of building. Some are bungalows, and some are blocks of flats. The Two-bedrooms range between N10 and N12 million, and the Three bedrooms run from between N13 to N18 million. I give those numbers with some reservation, that is the general range.

So, if you have a bungalow, you have more land. So, your Three Bedroom in your bungalow has more land area, than the Three Bedroom in a block of flats. Those are the price differentials we are seeing. Also, we are adding the cost of the infrastructure like water, electricals and road. We are sharing these costs round. So that, at least, even if the project doesn’t make profit, it should be able to recover and repeat itself.

Some finance pundits now see unclaimed dividends and pension funds as the lowest hanging fruits for Government loans. This administration recently stated that they are considering borrowing from those sources to finance the current budget. Do you subscribe to such a move? Is it right to fiddle with other people’s funds, especially those of workers who have worked most of their adult lives and require their pensions to fall back on in their old age?

Okay, of course you will know what my answer is. The biggest problem we have in this Ministry, for example, is how to finance our contracts, to pay contractors on time, and to keep the economy going. Obviously, you know where my sentiments lie, but beyond the sentiment I think it’s important for Nigerians to understand how critical government borrowing and private borrowing is to the whole of the economy.

There is a sector of our economy, called the Finance Sector. Some of their major business is to take everybody’s money – banks, venture capital players and so on. But, they can’t keep that money and be looking at it. They must lend it to somebody, otherwise they too will be out of business, and they will lay off people. That sector contributes N3.64 trillion as nominal GDP to our national economy. That is 2.5% of our total GDP. So, you can see how big and impactful it is. They have a deposit size of N39.41trillion. Deposits that they have received.

They can’t sit of those deposits. It’s impossible, unless they want to go under. So, we must stop seeing borrowing and lending as if it’s a sin. It’s an essential service for the survival of the finance sector, making capital work. Then, that sector employs 1.3% of the total employment in Nigeria.

Let’s start from there. Let’s assume nobody borrows and they are sitting on N39 trillion. What if the owners of the money want to collect their money? So, if I gave you N1trillion five years ago, can the same amount buy the same number? If we don’t invest it, how do you build it, with inflation? So, let us understand it.

You can build it through Fixed deposits with a lot of interests?

Yes. But let us understand. Some people take their interest upfront. Some take it at the backend. So, if that money is not working there is no interest coming in, if you are a backend collector. Let’s just understand this. We need to educate people about this.

Then the pensions funds. The whole essence of pension funds all over the world, is not to keep them and lock them up like money buried under the sand. It’s to make them work! This borrowing of pension funds is making the money work, and keeping the value. The One Naira deducted from your pension six years ago is not the same One Naira again today, with inflation and so on. The money you are expecting down the line, you better let them put it to work so that it earns income, the capacity builds, otherwise you’ll be getting change later.

So, let us understand this. What is important, is to understand that the investments are safe. They are lent to projects and to beneficiaries who have a demonstrable capacity to pay. And, there is no bigger entity like a national government who has a sovereign capacity. If a nation fails, then everything has failed. So, that sovereign capacity to borrow is a comfortable basis for accessing the pension fund. But, beyond that, the Federal Government doesn’t just go and grab peoples’ pension funds. What the Federal Government does, is that it issues Debt instruments, bonds like the Sukuk, infrastructure bonds, treasury bills. Instruments that cannot fail.

It is the pension funds managers who make the independent decisions and say, for example, ‘let me put Onikepo’s pension fund here, let me put BRF’s pension fund here, it is safe.’ That is how Government borrows. Government doesn’t force them.

So, when we raised Sukuk I, Sukuk 2 and Sukuk 3, it contains pension funds. The pension funds have not been sitting idle. It’s not that anybody is just going there now. When I raised bonds as a Governor in Lagos, there were pension funds in it. So, the pension funds have been working, nothing new is happening.

Learned Silk, you must avert your mind to the fact that such bonds or treasury bills failed in a particular country, in Greece I think

To their local investors or to the IMF and the World Bank? But, you see, you also need to understand that our pension fund law was enacted to prevent failures. I am not saying failures are impossible, don’t misunderstand me. I am saying that most of the debts under the pension funds, are secured under our sovereign strength. The Government of Nigeria will pay. The Government of Nigeria cannot disappear as an entity. It can’t evaporate! That, I am confident about.

It’s not one private corner shop, that can file liquidation. If the Government of Nigeria files liquidation, let us all go home and go and join another Heavenly Republic from somewhere. That is a point I want to make. I think you should talk to the pension funds managers. All their treasury bills operations have been well met, and fully discharged.

In closing on this matter, my own position is that it is uneconomical and not sensible to just leave money somewhere. Money must work.

But, there is an option in the possibility of going to a Bank to put one’s funds there for a fixed period and be certain about a return on the investment

That is it! That is one option. You are talking about pensions fund sitting down. They can go to any Bank if it’s approved, because there are approved investment portfolios under the pension law. There are things that you can do with the money. So, why are the dividends idle, somebody should make them work. The joke is on all of us, if we think anybody is keeping those dividends idle. In the banks and the institutions in which they, some people are working with them and keeping the proceeds to themselves. The plan here is, let’s use it to build our collective infrastructure. Don’t forget that where we started this conversation, was under investment in infrastructure and it is infrastructure that delivers the greatest good to the greatest number of people.

The perennial complaint of Federal Government owing contractors for various works done has continued. What are the challenges that prevent contractors from being paid? Some of them groan under the heavy burdens of bank loans.

Well, we just answered the question. It is insufficient resources, missed opportunities. I have talked about the $12.5billion that we used to repay debts. That was an opportunity lost to have renewed our infrastructure, at fully resourced payment. We also lost opportunity when oil prices were very prolific, between 2008 and 2014. But, the infrastructure gap won’t go away. Population size is still a matter about which we must have a very serious conversation. Because, if we are living in a Two Bedroom house and you and your wife are producing twins every two years, then you need to upgrade your infrastructure very rapidly. That is what is happening. So, there has to be a kind of slow down on one side, and a ramp up on the other side.

But many Nigerians are of the opinion that the people are the ones that have always been called upon to make the sacrifice. While we are telling the people to tighten their belts, there is recession and so on, the National Assembly was taking delivery of hundreds of state-of-the-art vehicles for its new and returning members. Government or officials and politicians spend lavishly, while asking the people to bear the burden of taxes, increases in petrol prices and so on; and therefore, people get alienated and often doubt the sincerity of government

That debate will never go away, whether in Nigeria, whether in the UK or the US. Every time Parliament resumes, in the Congress you’ll see chairs and other furniture out there in the corridor and new ones coming in. I have seen it before, I wasn’t told. It’s what they do there, that is happening here. It happens everywhere. That is the constant challenge of large governments, and the need to reduce and minimise waste. So, it’s a debate that is global, it’s not local.

On the Nigerian side, I can only speak for the Executive arm of government and say, because I can’t speak for the Legislative arm, that the point to make first is, since 2015 to date for example, those of us appointed as Ministers, our wages have not changed. We haven’t had a salary review, and we use the same markets. We contributed some part of our salaries during the Covid-19 lockdown. We did something, but the question is, who is the Government really? The Government is not only those of us appointed or elected. The Government is all of us! That is the essence. That is why it is Government of the people, by the people and for the people. You are part of government!

I am not!

You are part of Government. Because, what you are doing now is part of what makes Government function. Government is also about duties, it’s not only about rights. It’s a two-way traffic. It’s not only those of us.

Government starts from the home, the Community. We are just representatives of those Communities of the real owners of Government. So, the question to then ask yourself is, when you isolate what it takes to run Nigeria’s Government in real terms : When you isolate it and put it together, how many roads can you build, really and truly? I have done the Maths. It’s a lot of money, don’t misunderstand me. But, it doesn’t solve the problem we want it to solve. Let us say we take all the salaries of Government officials in the Executive, all that of the Parliament, how much does it amount to? Do the Math, and let’s discuss it and put it against our need for rail, pipelines, refineries, airports, seaports, roads and bridges. Let us match the numbers. You’ll see that it won’t take us too far. But we need to manage waste, I agree.

I disagree

Do the numbers! It’s not an abstract thing.

I see some of the numbers, I can see the salaries of the National Assembly members

How much are they? Let’s total

The amount being collected by the lawmakers as given by Senator Shehu Sani

There are 109 Senators.

Yes. The figure I came up with at N30,000 minimum wage will pay 50 million Nigerians and at N60,000 which is more of a living wage, it will pay 25 million Nigerians. Compare that number to 109 Senators

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying it won’t make a difference. You are just talking about the consumables, and you are not going to build a nation based on consumables. You can only build a nation based on investments in infrastructure. That is the point I am making. If you look at the consumption side, yes it looks like a lot of money. But, if you look at the investments side, which is our biggest problem, which is why our competitors in the 1970s have left us behind, they have invested more in infrastructure, it won’t take us far, that is the point I am making.

To what extent has the Covid -19 pandemic affected your work in the Ministry of Works and Housing?

The Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down the whole world. It has affected everybody. It has affected our work, because we first need to comply with the safety guidelines in terms of masking, social distancing, frequent sanitation and all that. So, we’ve had to retrain all our staff. The photographs and videos you will see in the period before March 2020, were of people working without masks. Post-March, from June when we opened the first ease of lockdown till today, on every site you will see people with masks, you will see people with sanitisers. You see them changing shifts to clean steering wheels, to clean levers, all the equipment they use jointly. All of that is taking place. We now have much more extensive medical facilities on each site. We have changed how our contractors who supply nourishment to their workers, in terms of feeding habits. There is no longer a supply of reusable items in terms of cooking utensils. A lot of disposables are now in place. People even bring their food from home.

So, a lot of things have changed, and that also has a cost impact. But, we are adapting and we are working, but certainly we’ve been impacted.

There has been a raging debate about the ultimatum issued by Governor Akeredolu to Herdsmen to vacate the Ondo State forest reserves. As a Lawyer and Senior Advocate, kindly, comment on this vis-a-vis the position of the Constitution and laws like the Land Use Act, and whether Governor Akeredolu’s ultimatum is in order, bearing in mind the deterioration in security in his State and the South West.

You know the point I’ll make is that, I haven’t read the exact text of what was said or credited to Governor Akeredolu. So, it would be inappropriate of me to render an opinion as to its constitutionality or otherwise. The only thing I will say and that is my training as a Lawyer; unless you have the full facts, you can’t venture a responsible opinion.

But, let me say, we have come too far to endanger our own interconnectivity and interrelationship across this space called Nigeria. What I found ironic about it, is the fact that we have an Inspector General of Police, because I read in some of the stories that the IG had asked that somebody should be arrested and some things like that.

I found all of that very interesting. There is something that struck me. The Commissioner of Police that was asked to go and effect the arrest, has an Igbo and Yoruba name, Ngozi Onadeko. I found that interesting. The IG that is giving the order has a Northern Hausa-Fulani type name. So, essentially, it’s Nigeria really rubbing against herself in a very ironic way.

For me, the lesson is that we are much more connected. We are much more integrated than we were 30 years ago. We are not yet a perfect union. And, we must just be careful in our choice of language to one another. Essentially, we have integrated more than we care to accept. I have looked at so many marriages and I always tell people, if you want to know how integrated Nigeria is, go to the marriage registry on a Saturday and see the generation of Nigerians who are of marriageable age today, they are marrying across ethnic lines, they are weaving the fabrics of this country together in blood union and family ties. So, you can’t put that at risk. But, at the same time, we must fight criminality. There must be a way to do that. You have to build consensus and say, ‘crime is crime.’

I don’t know how people see themselves. I can’t apologise for how people see themselves. I just see Nigerians, and that is all. You are the one who will now tell me, you are from this or that place. That is not my business, and I can’t take responsibility for how you see yourself. I take responsibility for how I see you. ‘You are a Nigerian, oya let’s talk.’ Those are my own thoughts about all these things, but we can do without all these conflicts and sabre rattling that is going on, and deal with crime. Crime must be dealt with.

In conclusion Learned Silk, this is 2021 and with 2023 around the corner, what do you think the future holds for you?

Well, the future I hope will be bright. I am getting on in my years slowly, and my major desire now, is to advance this undertaking of the mandate of the President in our Ministry as far and fast as possible, before our tenure ends.

Will there be more governance for you after 2023?

Most unlikely. I have done a lot in Government, so it’s time to go back home.

Thank you Learned Silk

Thank you very much, most learned of all learned!