•Defends his administration’s high debt profile
•Insists borrowed funds are tied to visible projects
•Inaugurates second Niger Bridge, two others, road project
•Names federal secretariat, Yenagoa, after ex-President Goodluck Jonathan
•South-east governors shower encomiums on president for unveiling bridge
Deji Elumoye in Abuja and David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka
President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that making infrastructure development the focus of his administration was a deliberate policy to create wealth and make poverty alleviation easier. Speaking in Abuja yesterday, at the virtual inauguration of three bridges, three secretariats, and one road project undertaken by his administration, Buhari defended the debt profile of his government, saying, “We do not act on infrastructure by accident.
“It has been a deliberate choice for our government as a tool to fight poverty, to create economic growth and employment, and to open the path of prosperity for our people.”
The president emphasised that while he shared the concerns of Nigerians, the debts incurred by his government were tied to projects executed in transparent conditions, which were there for everyone to see.
He added that the wealth of nations was traceable to their investments in infrastructure made possible by debts redeemed over decades.
According to him, “As we look at the debt profile, I urge us to also look at the assets and investment profiles, some of which were paid for by debt and some by investment income.
“In eight years, I am proud to say that we have doubled Nigeria’s stock of infrastructure to GDP from about 20 per cent to over 40 per cent and that is no small undertaking.
“The projects that we hand over today apart from others such as rail, sea and airports, gas pipeline projects that have been previously completed, symbolise our country’s sharp focus on delivering prosperity.”
Highlighting the significance of the projects, which he described as frontal efforts to address multi-dimensional poverty as well as improve business efficiency and service delivery time, Buhari said of the three bridges,
“The Ikom Bridge is meant to boost trade in and around the Calabar Port and Free Zone and facilitate transport connectivity from the South-south, through the North-central to the North-east. This is a bridge across the Cross River itself.
“The Second Niger Bridge, which has been long in the making, and is certainly now a reality, is a bridge of choice across the River Niger to bring relief to those crossing from the South-east to the South-west.
“The Loko-Oweto Bridge, across the River Benue, will provide a shorter connectivity for those traversing from Benue to Nasarawa and the Federal Capital Territory. It cuts off travel through Lafia and provides connectivity to Keffi and to Abuja.”
Buhari also inaugurated 200 kilometres out of the 365 kilometres Abuja-Kano highway. He stated that the road, Second Niger bridge, and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway were all funded partly from dividend income earned from investment in the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), repatriated funds from overseas, and recoveries from proceeds of crime successfully prosecuted at home.
The president said, “This is an example of the change that we promised; to invest dividend income in visible assets that last for generations and to put proceeds of crime to public and enduring use for the country.
“Our anti-corruption approach does not end in courts. Stolen and recovered assets are utilised for the common good.”
Buhari also inaugurated three federal secretariats in Anambra, Bayelsa, and Zamfara states. He said the federal offices would “reduce the cost of governance by bringing federal civil servants under one roof for efficient service delivery,” thereby reducing expenditure on rent for office spaces.
He named the secretariats after distinguished Nigerians as follows: Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Federal Secretariat in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State; Ebele Okeke Federal Secretariat in Awka, Anambra State; and Malam Yahaya Gusau Federal Secretariat in Gusau, Zamfara State.
Earlier in his remarks, Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said the construction of the infrastructure projects generated economic activities and provided means of livelihood for hundreds of thousands who worked there.
Fashola said, “Travel time is reduced by more than 50 per cent in many of the places we surveyed; property values of landowners have appreciated by up to 30 per cent in the surveys conducted on land values where we have delivered infrastructure.”
The minister added that these were some of the attempts by government to push back against multi-dimensional poverty.
Meanwhile, there was joy among prominent Igbos yesterday over the commissioning of the Second Niger Bridge.
Anambra State Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, described the commissioning of the Second Niger Bridge as a fundamental change that would catalyse new waves of prosperity and economic growth in the South-east.
Soludo stated that he was personally overjoyed because the people of the South-east had long desired infrastructural development.
The governor said, “President Buhari, the South-east will remember you as you leave office. It will not be a mistake to refer to the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, as ‘Mr. Infrastructure.’ This is, indeed, a fulfilled promise. We express our heartfelt gratitude for connecting Anambra, Asaba, and Delta.”
Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State hailed Buhari for completing the Second Niger Bridge and other infrastructural projects in South-east.
Uzodinma said, “We have cried to many governments for years, yet the projects were not done. The state of the First Niger Bridge makes it difficult for our people, who, while returning for Christmas and other festivities, sometimes spend five days or more on the road.
“We thank President Buhari for delivering the projects, even though he begged for our votes but we didn’t give him our votes. He is a hero to me and people of South-east.”
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, in his own address, said the southern part of Nigeria would remember the Buhari administration for good, as the projects would reduce the cost of governance and transportation.