‘We have Improved in Many Places’

‘We have Improved in Many Places’

He has bestrode the Nigerian polity like a colossus. First as Governor of Nigeria’s most populous State, Lagos, with an outstanding performance which earned him the sobriquet ‘Action Governor’. Now, as Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, CFR, SAN (BRF), has distinguished himself as a quintessential ‘Poster Boy’ of success in the Buhari Administration. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria in all humility, doesn’t think he is extraordinary, but a good team player. In a recent chat with Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi in his ultramodern office in Abuja, he recounted his challenges as Minister for eight years and some of his modest achievements, including cracking the hurdles on the path of and advancing the delivery of the country’s most difficult projects like the Second Niger Bridge, Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, the Abuja- Kano Road and installing a 1.5 mega watt solar power system, the first and the biggest in any public building in Africa, in the headquarters of the Works and Housing Ministry


Learned Silk, as you are rounding up your tour of duty as Minister of Works and Housing, the rehabilitation of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway remains incomplete. For such a very important road, with the vital role it plays in commerce and connecting the South West to other parts of the country, what is responsible for the seeming delay of the Federal Government to complete this road, which was scheduled to have been completed in 2022? What percentage would you say is left to completion?

What is left? The Lagos – Ibadan Expressway is 127km, that is the total length of the road. We have about 3km on the Lagos side and 9km on the Ibadan side left. So, out of 127km minus 12, we have done 115, and that is significant, given where the road was in 2015. 

This was the road that our predecessors had no clue on how to do it, for 16 years. So, in less that time, we have done 115 out 127km. The 3km at the Lagos end should be completed before we go. We left the 9km at the Ibadan end, because the Oyo State Government is constructing a storm drainage channel. Those who know of the Ogunpa River problem will understand the need to support that kind of programme. So, it’s a choice between build the road and then they cut it open after completion, or wait for them to finish their work first, and then complete, in order to get full value for your money. I think it’s a better way to get full value. 

That is really the story of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. In terms of the delays, really there were so many things, some of which are public knowledge, some of which are not. Work resumed there I believe, in 2016, after the passing of the first full budget of this administration. That was when a budget of about N30 billion was allocated for the road, and the Contractor had done about N40 billion’s work. In the next year, when we put I think about another N30 billion, the National Assembly cut it to N10 billion, so we lost a year. So, in the framework of now struggling with a few days, I am sure we would have been in a better place, if we hadn’t lost that time. 

It was after that, that Mr President came up with this Infrastructure Development Fund, investing the proceeds of the NLNG dividends, and also recovered funds from previous administrations that had been stolen out of the country. So, the project, apart from the physical evidence of what you see, the impact in travel time, the employment it generates, was also a very significant  example of the anti-corruption crusade; stolen funds came back to be invested in assets in our country. 

How many kilometres of roads were you able complete in your eight years? During our last interview with you in 2021, you mentioned that you were working on 13,000km of roads across the country. Give us an overview of the rest of the roads you were able to work on throughout your tenure as Minister, and their status as at today. Is the Second Niger Bridge which was also scheduled to be delivered in 2022 complete? What of Odukpani? Akwanga-Keffi? The East-West Road which is under the purview of the Ministry of Niger Delta, now appears to be a mirage which may never materialise, even in the next three decades. What have been the challenges of building such a crucial road, which would no doubt facilitate huge commerce between both regions? Did your office have any say in it?

You’ve asked a number of question. But, if I may start with the total kilometres of roads, that is a moving target. I started writing my handing over notes, since September last year. It keeps moving. Here is the document, with the updated numbers. But, what I can tell you is that we have over 13,000 kilometres of roads, under construction, rehabilitation and repair in the past eight years. I don’t have the numbers offhand now, but they keep moving. 

So, if you talk about completion for example, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, out of 127km, we have completed 115km. On Kano to Maiduguri which is 560km, we have finished three sections, all in excess of over 300km. On Sokoto-Tambuwal-Jega, we have done about 200 and something kilometres there. On the Abuja-Kano, we have done Kano to Zaria which is about 137km and we have done Zaria to Kaduna which is 73km. We have done some portions of Abuja to Kaduna, those numbers are changing.On Abuja to Lafia which is about 222km, we have essentially finished the contract and we’ll soon hand over.

So, the numbers are moving on a daily basis. It’s only when I present my report at the end of term when we hand over, that we’ll have the full figures which is in a few days at the end of our tenure. 

What about the Second Niger Bridge?

The bridge as an asset, is finished. The road that links to the Onitsha side is also finished, 7km road. It’s the road that connects from the Asaba side, that we are working on now. Flooding and so many other things, kept being problematic. The flooding on that side became a blessing somewhat, because it helped us to redesign the approach from that side and raise it by one metre, because what we originally designed would have been washed off completely. They are working day and night there, just as they are working day and night on Lagos-Ibadan; and, fingers crossed, we should finish in the next few days.

The bridge is finished and we opened it for traffic; people used it in December. So, lets get the conceptual understanding of the issues. To cross the river is finished, its just the approach that we are working on, to land on the other side is finished. People drove on it over Christmas, but it was an old construction road they used to access it, and that is not what we want to hand over. Otherwise, we could have opened it. We just thought they deserve better. If you are building a new bridge, finish the new approaches. But, if we open it today to traffic, you can drive through.

What about Odukpani?

Odukpani is one of the areas where we normally have gridlock, in the rainy season. When we got here, Odukpani was one of those roads that was in the news every rainy season, because of the large number of trucks going through servicing the nation. What people may not know is that, between Cross River and Akwa Ibom, they have some of the largest quarries for the construction industry. So, they serve most of the East; and that’s why there’s the Calabar Cement Factory. The tonnage itself, was pressure on the road. 

But, the point I want to really make is that, Odukpani is one of the areas where I said, ‘let’s be methodical about it’, and we established 12 gridlock points in Nigeria that were recurring decimals. Odukpani, Cham Numan, Benin – Okene, Abeokuta – Ota, Ilorin-  Jebba – they are 12 of them, but I am able to say that we brought almost everything under control. The only ones still outstanding are Benin-Okene, and now that we have funding from NNPC, it will be built.  Benin to Sapele also, we now have funding. We couldn’t finish everything, Odukpani falls into that class; year by year over the last three/four years, you will see that the traffic can move even if the construction is going on. We now have funding, the only delay there is compensation issues and the community issues. We have made progress, and the road that it links to, Alesi-Ugep to Ogoja, all through to Katsina-Ala, that one too we have made progress, we’ve finished. It’s work in progress, and I’m proud to say that we’ve solved most of the problems and we’ve brought many under management.

Akwanga – Keffi?

Akwanga – Keffi, as I told you, we’ve finished the Abuja to Mararaba end, the 10km expansion is done. At the time that they were awarding that road, I wasn’t Minister. So, they left the part between Mararaba and Keffi, about 40 something kilometres, because it was in very good condition at the time. From Keffi to Lafia, we will handover soon. It’s almost done. We have started awarding the lane marking contract. That’s about 200km. What we have now done is that, the part that was left unawarded because it was in good condition about 10 years ago, has now deteriorated, that’s the section between Mararaba and Keffi. So, we have now awarded it, and it’s going to be funded under the NNPC Tax Credit.  It’s about 40 something kilometres. So, out of 200 and fifty something kilometres, we have done almost 200km; and if we do that by percentages, I think we’ll get an A in the exam. 

Should we bother to ask you about the East-West Road?

At the time I took office, the East-West Road was under the Ministry of Niger-Delta. It just returned to this Ministry, last year. But the point I want to make is that, I made a duty to tour it because I just wanted to educate myself. As at 2017, over 70% of the East-West Road had been built. It was a point of debate in Council that the Vice President then as Acting President, sent another team to go and verify what I said. They came back to Cabinet to report that what I said is true. So, what was left was the part going towards Oron, and a few parts that weren’t completed in Bayelsa. If you go to some parts between Benin, Warri and Port Harcourt, people were trading on a completed road. 

But, what has happened now, is that the last flooding has really damaged the road extensively. We have done an assessment; luckily, it was part of what the NNPC has agreed to take  up, because it’s a logistics road for them and it is in our funding. The contractors are back to site now, working. They have funding, but they won’t finish within the next 20 something days when I’ll leave office, but there is sustainability that whoever becomes Minister after me doesn’t have to worry about awarding the contract, doesn’t have to worry about funding. We’ve secured that as we go, and that is a good place to hand it over.

When can Lagosians expect the repairs on Eko Bridge to be completed?

I just addressed that in a conversation with your sister agency, Arise TV. Let’s understand what happened. We were trying to undertake repairs of a section of the bridge, where the bearings had failed, and then we realised that it was a much more extensive undertaking. Thankfully, the President responded to the emergency we saw, a section of the bridge could have collapsed. I can say today, that we just dodged a bullet. It was hanging by less than one inch. This is the section at Costain; but, we fixed it. While fixing it, we now said ‘look, let’s just do a full scale analysis of all the pillars’, and that led to the award of  a repair and maintenance contract to change all the bearings and expansion joints, and to restore all of the drainage and the railings and light fittings. This is what we did at Ojuelegba Bridge, Independence  Bridge and Mayon Barracks Bridge and so many bridges that we have done across the country. 

Whilst that was being done, they set fire to the Apongbon end of the Bridge. People were trading under it. So, we had to award a supplementary emergency contract, beyond what was in the original scope of works. Some of the components for these works, are imported. As they were fixing Apongbon, fire broke out again at Ijora, where they sell fish. So, when we had stabilised Apongbon structurally, we had to deploy some of the imported equipment to prevent Ijora from collapsing, while we wait for the order equipment meant for Ijora to come. Now, we were dealing with simultaneous emergencies. It’s not even about repairing anymore, its about making sure the bridge doesn’t collapse. 

But, we have everything now under control. Apongbon is almost finished, maybe in May. I can show you come of the slides here. But, they can’t open it, because the access to Apongbon is the part that was burnt. And, until we are sure of the safety of it, I will not authorise its opening. It’s part of our handing over notes, to the next team. If its not safe, don’t open it. Because, this is about human lives now.

How far have you gone with your affordable housing programme which you proposed to implement in 33 States? How many States were able to benefit from the programme? Were you able to keep to the price ranges from N5 – N18 million depending on the type of unit, as planned?

We have made progress, you would have seen reports of the commissioning of some of them. We are actually in 35 States, although its small, 5 hectares per site per State. In some States, we are in Phase 3. In some States we are in Phase 2. Each phase is 5 hectares. But, in some States we are still in Phase 1, because of local issues or the terrain is bad. Like in Bayelsa, the terrain was really bad, the cost of the building went to only the foundation, because of the reinforcements. Again, it shows you the diversity of the nation, and people have benefited. I don’t have the list off the top of my head but our Super Eagles who had been waiting for 28 years to get the houses promised to them, all of them were allocated houses. That is a strong symbol of impact! People who have waited for 28 years to be homeowners. This government changed that for them. So, when we are talking about change, these are some of the things that are symbolic of it. 

In terms of pricing, of course, no part of the world is not dealing with price changes, inflation, cost of living issues. Those are moving numbers that we have had to live with. I must thanks those Contractors who finished on time. We have about 400 and something Contractors who have been hobbled by the astronomic changes and inflation. They are massive movements. So, what we’ve done with regard to those that have not been completed, is to ask for the President’s approval for a general variation of those prices as prescribed by our Procurement Guidelines.     

When price changes on any contract exceeds either N1 billion or 15%, you must get Presidential consent to process it into Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). If it succeeds, then we go to FEC to get approval to vary those contracts, so that they can complete the projects. By the by, we are making progress, but affordability is not just a function of only what we build, what our parastatals are building, Federal Mortgage Bank, Federal Housing Authority. We are also dealing with affordability, in terms of those who just don’t want houses, they want land. So, we are issuing C-of-Os and that is enabling people to access mortgages.

The revenues that are coming into Government now, from mortgages, consents and subsequent transactions, last year’ numbers were in excess of N2 billion in one year. So, there is a lot of activity going on in the property sector. And, our policies I think, have enabled the private sector to deepen their footprints, and I’m sure for those of us who watch television or listen to radio, you’ll hear one or two adverts inviting people to come and buy property from private developers. The biggest possible capacity that any nation can have which is its private sector, is now playing in that sector, and that is progress, as far as I am concerned.

The funds you raised to build some of your infrastructure through Sukuk 1, 2 & 3 bonds, contain pension funds. Could you explain what kind of bond Sukuk is? Is it short, medium or long term? Has any been due for repayment, or how does the arrangement work? It is important that there be some clarification, since it is not strange for successors-in-office to sometimes ignore prior financial commitments of their predecessors and refuse to honour them.

I must confess to you that I don’t know everything, and I focus more on what is my main remit. The responsibility to raise money in Government belongs to the Ministry of Finance, so that we are not guessing the details.

We have an institutional office, called the Debt Management Office. By law and act of parliament, they manage our debts. My job is to spend the money, and report to them “that this is what I have done with it”. 

So, that’s why all the funds didn’t come here. They are kept under a Board and Management of the Trustees of the Fund. So, when the contractors come, we sign “he has qualified”. He goes to Debt Management Office. Once they crosscheck and the Lenders also have their own Consultants; and when they are satisfied, they pay. We don’t touch the money!

There has been the never ending contention between States and Federal Government over fixing and managing the nation’s highways. State Governors have complained that monies they spend on rehabilitating roads, are never refunded to them. Undoubtedly this has created a huge drawback for all concerned, including the hapless citizens. What really is the true position, and how can this be issue of contention be resolved? 

I think President Buhari has resolved the issue, by telling the State Governments to leave his roads alone. There are three levels of government, the States, Local Government and  Federal. The nation has about 200,000 plus kilometres of road. Federal roads accounts for less than 40,000km of it. Of course, they carry the heaviest traffic because they connect States.

But, let us do some logical thinking here. Which roads are really more important? Which roads do the citizens use more?  How many people in each State, on a scale of 1 – 10  need to leave their State to go to school, to go to the market, to go to the office? I think you’ll agree that many more people need to leave their local government. If you look at it like that, those roads are more important to the local people than  trying to fix Federal roads.

Of course, there are some unique instances where those so-called Federal roads have actually become inter-local government roads. For example, I don’t know why, Kingsway Road in Lagos, Airport Road in Ikeja are still Federal Roads. I have asked the States to apply, and let me hand it over to them! But, they must be willing to take it, I am ready to hand them over. There are roads now that are like that in the city in Aba in Abia State, and I have told the Governor that ‘apply, let me give you these roads’.So, that is the background. 

In the previous administration, the Jonathan administration, they set up guidelines that allowed States to intervene in Federal roads. And, those guideline require you to get Presidential approval first; and when you get that approval, you build according to Federal Ministry of Works’ standards. Then, our Controller (because we have Controllers in each State) will be involved in supervising the projects. That is what we did in Lagos State on Lagos – Badagry Expressway and that is what many other Governors did. But, they were not paid.

President Buhari then said ‘I will pay what you owe’. The first payment came to over N700 billion, almost a trillion. Those are payments, that are part of the national debt everybody is talking about. But, the numbers kept growing. So, in 2016, President Buhari then issued a Directive, I was Chairman of the Committee and said, ‘I promise to pay the backlog, but, don’t incur any more. Leave my own road, you too go and build your own roads’. After all, no State can say, ‘I have completed all my own roads’. So, that is the picture.

And, I have heard in some media that it was a scam; we were not involved in any scam. We followed the process. Apart from those approval levels, we now have a process of physical verification, documentation and photography.   

For those who don’t know what it takes to construct a road, you can’t lie about what you put in a road. There is a process in road construction called coring. And, if you core any road, you’ll know what is underneath it. Also, you can extrapolate from the design, whether the quantities allegedly used were used or not, and you can come to a reasonably near figure.

Apart from that process, it then goes to BPP, which is the statutory cost adviser of this Government by law. It is the final figures certified by BPP whose members are involved in this Committee, that go to the Federal Executive Council where all Ministers also debate it and vote to pass it with the President in the Chair. After that, it then goes to the National Assembly Committee on Debt, represented by people from the various States who would say ‘Yes, we approve for the Federal Government to pay this debt’. That is the entire summary for the process of paying. Its uncharitable and unkind for some people to sit one place, and say it’s a scam. 

For completeness, we have denied some loans, either because they didn’t get the approval, or they didn’t bring the process of the award of the contract from their States. You can’t go and doctor these things. You can’t create new ones now, and ask people who have left to come and sign. We have declined not a few, for many reasons, either  they were outside the threshold set by the President, or they didn’t comply with the approval process.

From your experience in the last eight years as Minister of Works and Housing, would you support the suggestion that the Ministry be split into two, to reduce the heavy burden of administering two crucial sectors?

The Ministry of Works has lived many lives. In the 70s, it was Ministry of Works and Housing; at some point it became Ministry of Works, Lands and Housing. It depends on what the President wants to do. Yes, there is the burden and the workload. That is one side of it. The other side, is that Government departments are interdependent. When you don’t have interconnectivity of the personnel running it, it takes longer to get things done. If you take away Works from Housing, what you’ll take away from it for instance, would be the Lands Department. So, how do you build a road without land? The Lands Department is where you have the Surveyor General’s office and so on. When people complain that service is slow, these are some of the things we must look at, before we ask that one be ripped away from the other.

For example, we have one Permanent Secretary coordinating the both of them. That brings some speed and efficiency. We hold joint meetings together. If you separate them, they don’t know each other. So, they correspond by letters. But we hold monthly management meetings here, where the people in Lands, and the people in Works, Engineers and Surveyors all know each other and work together as one large team. So, it depends on how quickly and how far you want to go, or what you want to achieve.

 Well, that is like the argument in which they say that the office of the Attorney-General should be separated from that of the Minister of Justice…

Well, first of all is to ask them, how many of them have full understanding of what they are saying. Are they seeing the titles alone, or are they going back to look in more detail at what is the role of the Attorney-General and what is the role of the Minister of Justice?

 Some feel that maybe there is some kind of conflict

Why should there be conflict between an Attorney-General whose major focus is law enforcement, and the same person who wears the same cap as Minister of Justice whose job is to ensure the efficient operation of the administration of justice system entirely. Administration of justice is not just the courts alone, let’s be clear. They are interwoven, but, if you want to split, split it. But,  every choice has a consequence. As people say, the cure for a headache is not beheading. So, you need to stand back and ask, ’what do I really want this office to do?’

First of all, it’s always important for me – define the job, and then look for the people who have the skills set, who can do this job; then you head hunt. And, that for me is the approach. It’s not just what people say.

Some have argued that the Attorney-General usually seems to see himself or acts more in the capacity as Lawyer to the President, and not as a Minister of Justice of the people and the Government …

Yes. I had a Commissioner of Justice as an Attorney-General, who understood his role as my Adviser, Adviser to the Government, and also as the champion of our justice reform system. We saw that the good work done by the Asiwaju/Osinbajo regime, in strengthening the High Court was creating already an overload, and before time, if we didn’t do something, the gains of that reform may be lost. And, it was his view, and one shared by us that  majority of people entered the justice system through the Magistracy. We found out that the Magistracy was still circumscribed by jurisdiction. So, we increased the jurisdiction of the Magistracy to millions, and therefore, reduced the number of cases that were going to High Court.

As we expanded that jurisdiction, we started infrastructure; built new Magistrate courts across the State. We opened up Divisions, Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu, places where all of them use to come to the centre in Lagos – opened it up. And so, I don’t see any conflict of roles there, it’s just an understanding that you wear two hats. It is the person who understands what his job is, that must be sought. If there is no efficient administration of justice, you become inefficient as Attorney-General! One inexorably leads to the other.

 You have been an astute politician for over 20 years. How did Lagos lose the Presidential election to a neophyte Labour Party? Is Nigeria imbibing voting personalities, rather than parties? Some of the opinion polls conducted before the election showed that the Labour Party would win and many are still so convinced that LP won. Kindly, comment on this.

I don’t know if the polls that you saw, showed that Labour would win the Governorship election in Lagos. Because the polls that were shared, were mainly about 1,000, 2,000 sample polls. And, at that time I said they were self-serving, self-seeking polls, and they have created a problem for a generation of people who have no political experience, thinking that those polls showed that they were going to win. But, people who have polling experience, and I say that I do, because I have been polling for 21 years now, since 2002. Not just for elections, even for governance, I use polls to formulate policies. I came on air to say that those polls would cause a problem, because they were misleading; at the time they were being presented, the sample size was so inaccurate. The number of people who didn’t participate, or who expressed an uncertainty about a view, was in excess of the number of people who responded. And then, it was only an online thing, which showed you that a certain swathe of the population was excluded. But, those who wanted to own it, those who were pushing it, knew what they were doing. 

But, the poll I have been conducting by the same team who used a sample size of 5,000, in-person interviews, showed us at the end of January that APC was leading by 10 points, and that the APC Presidential candidate already had 25% in 23 States, and we were looking for two more. Because we knew it had to be 25 States, out of the remaining ten States that we targeted. Eventually, we got six more and we had 29.

But, the interesting thing about those polls that may help to answer your question – Lagos was secure by those polls in the Presidential election. As I said on a television station, we were blindsided by the turnout in Lagos, so our people didn’t turn out, the opposition turned out. But, what was also blindsiding, was the fact that a Party, the major opposition that had been competitive in Lagos for 24 years, suddenly just disappeared. They didn’t get 10% of the votes, and it showed you that their voters had moved into a new relationship with the Labour Party. But, in terms of surprise, it wasn’t a surprise in that sense.  It happened when I was Governor. The PDP won the Presidential election in Lagos, Jonathan won.

I remember that day, as people were voting and I was sitting and people were telling me, ‘Governor don’t be angry, next week we’ll come and do your own’. And, that is what happened again, this time around. The private sector became afraid, when they saw who the Governorship candidates were. That is why they tell you, every politics is local. They didn’t want a change of policy, they wanted continuity. The President was too far off from them. But, in that State, they turned out and changed it. 

 Kindly, share your views on the opinion expressed by some, that Lagos is ‘No Man’s Land’, seeing as you are a Lagosian yourself.

Lagos is my home. It’s my ancestral home. I am a 5th generation, my children are the 6th generation of Lagosians. We are Aworis. That is our land. We have people we have welcomed to stay with us, and the only thing to say. is that they must respect their host. Everybody has a place they call home. Lagos is the place where we call home, and people must respect that. It has been the home of my ancestors.

I think the problem came from, when the constitutional history of the country started. When it was being decided whether Nigeria was going to be a Federation or not. That was in the 1957 or 1958 Constitutional Conference. The Action Group led by Chief Awolowo, and the NPC led by Sardauna, wanted a Federation. The NCNC led by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe wanted a Parliamentary system of government. That was when the issue came up. NPC pushed the position, that Lagos must not be part of the West. Because it would meant handing a Federal capital to a region to be governed by a Premier. And, I recall that in the exchange of notes, the words used then is that ‘Lagos must remain a neutral territory’, a neutral land. And, I think in the overhang of some discussions or some subsequent speeches, people  have interchanged ‘neutral’ for ‘no-man’. That is possible overtime. That is the way, because it was supposed to be a capital. That was why you would see Lagosians then, the concept of ‘gedegbe l’Eko wa’. They used to call themselves ‘Eko Federal’, because that was where Federal Authority was dispensed from.

Of course, we have lost that status as Federal Capital  now to Abuja. But, can anybody really say in honesty, and come here now and say ‘Abuja is a no-man’s land’?! It is the land of the Gwaris. You can’t deny that. 

Political evolution, if you go up North for example, people have  migrated to live in parts of the North. Can you now take away the land of the original settlers, like the Hausas, Nupes, Tivs, Jukuns and say their land is no-mans land. I don’t think it’s a conversation, that is worthy of the time we spend discussing it.  

 The 2023 Presidential election seems to have been the most keenly fought election so far during the Fourth Republic. Do you agree? If you do, what do you believe is the reason for this? Unfortunately, it seems to have left Nigerians quite divided, particularly with regard to ethnicity. What steps can we take, to heal as a nation or do you think it will all blow over?

I think first of all, it was a keenly fought election. Whilst we seek improvement, we must not dispense with the progress that we have made. The figures for winning a presidential election are becoming narrower, and we see also that there are more players.

If American elections are decided on one or two million votes or three, and there are majorly two parties, and their population is more than ours, why should we expect that our elections should be determined by 10 million votes?

I think one of the things we want to interrogate, is to further look at the Voters Register. Do we really have 90 million registered voters? Or is there a period where we have not perhaps, married the old analogue register properly with the digitisation of the register from 2011? But, what we are seeing with technology is that, the room for manipulation is clearly narrowing. This was an election in which vote buying was the biggest fear before it. But, vote buying was not an issue in this election. If you look at the numbers compared to 2019, you’ll see that the only party that has remained the same, was the party that won. And, as people predicted, its popularity will dip, because the longer you stay in government, the less popular you become. And, Buhari was not on the ticket anymore. So, the Buhari Factor was a little obvious in the number of votes that turned out, because he wasn’t on the ticket anymore.

But, what did the other side also do? They split into three! So, how were they supposed to win the election? When they were united in 2019, with Buhari in APC as a candidate, they lost by almost 4 million votes. So, both parties lost their strengths in effect, and some parties also gained. For example, we won Kano in 2019, but Kano was taken now by NNPP. So, if you add Kano to us, we’ll  almost be over 10 million. And, it shows how keenly competed it was, it shows how incumbents lost; it shows how the President and the President-elect lost in their own States, in the presidential elections.

And, those who claim that victory, must accept the losses in the places they lost. You can’t say the horse rides one way when its convenient, and on the side says no. And those who believe that, it shows that their understanding of the political terrain has to improve. I was confident, that we were going to win. But, I wasn’t arrogant about the space that some of the opponents had covered. I knew there was no chance in Kano, because I used to visit Kano for my work, and talking to people, they could not dismiss the Kwankwaso Movement. So, I knew that we had to find a map. And, if you go and look at our candidate, he was the only one who came first or second in five out of the six geopolitical zones. He was not third anywhere. His votes were the most widespread. That is a pan-Nigerian Mandate. But, if you are looking for it to be a gap of 10 million votes, then you don’t know politics.

 As a Lawyer, because that is your primary constituency, there is this ongoing about the interpretation of Section 134(2)(b) of the Constitution. That you need 25% of Abuja to be able to win a Presidential election. Some of your brother Silks have that opinion. What is your view?

That matter as you know, is now before a court for determination. So, I am not going to speak about it. The much I think I want to say, is that in January we had 23 States where we had 25%. And, I told you we were looking for two more. That is my answer! That is all I can say about it. All of us have read the Constitution, and we have seen the decisions of the Supreme Court about the status of Abuja, so let the courts deal with it.

 You left a legacy of security, cleanliness, orderliness and infrastructure in Lagos in the eight years you served as Governor in Lagos, earning yourself the nickname of ‘Action Governor’. What legacy are you leaving behind  in the Works and Housing Ministry. How did you improve the work ethos of the Civil Servants in your Ministry, since many have complained that the Nigerian Civil Service is less than a shadow of its former self. Are there any aspects you would like your successor to concentrate on?

First of all, I tell myself to look for goodness in people. I didn’t come here, with a negative mindset. I came with an open mind, to work with those who wanted to work. I met civil servants who were digitally savvy, who were computer savvy. I met those who were not able to embrace change of digitisation. There is a book I read, its called Lemon Leadership. The juice of that book is that, not all of us have the same skills. We all have different skills. Some people’s contribution is just talking about an idea, while some people’s contribution is getting it done, while some people’s contribution is ensuring that there’s proper process. So, I came with that mindset and I saw many people I could work with. For me, it was also about learning a lot about the diversity that is here. 

One of the things I introduced is monthly management meetings, so that we could know each other better. We are supposed to work in teams. I didn’t come with the knowledge that I know it all.

I told my political aides, not to interfere with the work of the civil servants. So, you won’t see any of my aides touch a civil service file. They had their own files, by which they addressed me. If there is anything I thought the Permanent Secretary needed to do, I would then make a copy and minute on it to the Permanent Secretary.

Every institution has its own practice, respect it, improve it. We created awards for hardworking and diligent staff. It was always a big day, for their families, and there was always celebration. We also held quarterly retreats, away from work. And we made sure we held it North South, and we moved  from zone to zone, for any Governor who wanted to host us. 

And, of course, in particular we improved the work environment. Here today, we have our own 1.5 megawatt solar power, the biggest solar power system in any public building, anywhere on the African Continent. This is where they spend their longest hours, and they can’t work in frustration. We have improved on water supply. If you look at the environment in front, that place was almost like a dump yard. But, we have greened it, we created a big Green Park. People come here and say ‘what did you do to this building’? We created multiple conference rooms. We are starting a new building, to provide room for expansion for the future. We are digitising the whole record keeping of this Ministry. But, we got the approval late and I hope it will continue. We have completed the digitisation of the whole Lands Registry. 53,000 files, covering millions of pages have been scanned. There is efficiency in what we are doing. Their welfare is something of concern, to all of us. But, a lot has been done, but there is so much more that still needs to be done. You can change some things in form of some target driven reforms. 

 You are seen as one of the very few poster boys of success that has anything to show in this outgoing administration, which many agree, more or less, has been a failure. What do you have to say?

This administration is not a failure! Contrary to what people say, there are many other areas of success that people may or may not be aware of. If you look at the reforms in agric for example, the impact on our lives. Yes, there’s still room to cover, but, if you look at the people that it employs now, if you look at the gains we have made in terms of the turn around in the production of certain staples that we use to import, that is progress, that is not failure.

If you look at the airports now, yes, there is still work to be done on some terminal buildings, but I know the investments that have been made it in terms of life saving, fire fighting, navigation, landing systems that have been installed in five major international airports. That is progress; that is probably not visible to the passenger, but go and ask the Pilots, they’ll tell you now, that our airport runways and approaches are some of the safest in the world today. The next phase of work is to repair and upgrade the terminal buildings, which is what defines the customer experience. But, safety first!

If you look broadband and digital roll out, if you compare the cost of broadband in 2015 to now, the NBS report indicates that broadband costs have dropped, and we are still rolling out. That is not a government of failure.

If you look at even security that you talk about, yes, there are new problems that have arisen. But, those of you came to Abuja in 2015, this town used to shut down at 7pm. But, now, nightlife is back!

Yes, there are new challenges that have come up. If you want to talk about Chibok Girls; one administration was in denial, there was no response, but this administration has responded. Over 100 have come back. Have they all come back? No! So, the job is not finished, but that is not failure, that is progress. This is the way to see governance. There are so many examples.

Its not only me, its been a team, working together. Its just like me saying ‘oh, you are now the Poster Girl of THISDAY LAWYER!’ You are not the only one; its your name that appears on the screen and the page. What of the people at the back, who made it possible?

That is how teams work. In a football match, the captain goes to collect the trophy, but did he score all the goals? No!

There are people whose job it is, not to do anything visible.  I have told you about the Ministry of Finance, they don’t build anything. But, without them, how far could we go?! So, we have not been a failure, we have succeeded, and many of my colleagues have held their ground and departments to commendable admiration. There is room to improve, I agree. But, we have moved the needle. Revenues have improved, even though expenditure has increased. 

 So you’ll giving your administration up to 50%?

We have improved in many places. And, there are places where new challenges have come. That is how government works. No government solves all the problems. It’s not Eldorado!

 Going forward, as you step down as Minister of Works and Housing, is there more governance for you, or will you be coming back to Lagos to continue with law practice? Are you fulfilled? Or is there more you still want to do?

I am fulfilled!

Where do we expect to see BRF after May 29, 2023?

Everywhere! You’ll see me everywhere!

 BRF, let us be the first to wish you a happy 60th birthday (in advance). Congratulations!  Thank you Learned Silk.

Thank you very much. 

Related Articles