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Federal government building castles in the air

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By Dele Sobowale


The column last week was titled “Tunde Fashola, SAN meet Bola Ige, SAN.” It summarized why the two illustrious sons of Nigeria, as well as others, had been absolute failures as Ministers of Power. This article could easily had been titled as “Minister Fashola meet Minister Wahab Dosumu” and it would be just as apt.

As with Ige, Fashola has a few things in common with late Dr Wahab Dosumu. They were both born by highly respected parents in Lagos Island despite the years separating them. Pa Dosumu and Pa Fashola, living on Andrew Street and Epetedo, six streets apart, were Muslims who were nevertheless among the first to firmly embrace Western education and sent their kids to Christian Mission Schools.

Dosumu attended Baptist Academy, then on Broad Street in Lagos Island, and was so good in Bible Knowledge,   he was one of few members of his set who collected distinction in BK at the Cambridge School Certificate among a string of other distinctions. He went further to bag the prestigious ASPAU scholarship to study in the United States – becoming the first “Lagos Boy” to do so. He was in the Midwest of the USA where he and Dr Kalu Idika Kalu and others made Nigeria proud by their achievements. Each collected a doctorate in his field of study. Wahab’s was Engineering.

He was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lagos in 1979 when President Shehu Shagari appointed him Minister of Housing with a lot of promise – very little of which was fulfilled. Fashola had already been described last week.

Today, Fashola has completed his first thirteen months as Minister of Housing and he is not any more near achieving commendable results than Dosumu did in four years and three months. In fact, the Ministry of Housing is the second worst when reckoned as a burial ground for Ministers’ reputations. Nobody can remember a Minister of Housing who was successful. The first question now is: why? The second question is: what can be done to remedy the situation? Yet, for sheer potential to create jobs, the Ministry of Housing is second to none.

Engineers, contractors, suppliers of over hundred different items, as well as thousands of workers are engaged in a giant housing project. So, why is the Ministry of Housing not delivering the benefits to the country it can? One reason should be discarded immediately – the Ministers appointed. The odds are against them and failure is assured. Even former Governor Jakande, a successful house builder in Lagos State, failed when appointed by Abacha to perform the same magic at the Federal level.

Before providing reasons for our perpetual failure, let us return to history and take a look at the only successful Federal Housing project. Those under the age of sixty and especially if not born in Lagos, might not know that the housing units along Akerele, Adeniran Ogunsanya, Ayinde Giwa etc were Government housing projects established when Lagos was the Federal capital and the Lagos Central Business District was becoming a congested slum.

The government then earmarked places along Nnamdi Azikiwe Road, Breadfruit Street, Taiwo and Martins Street for demolition. Government proceeded to construct the buildings at Surulere before forcing the occupants of the buildings marked for demolition to leave.

One of the most obvious benefits to society accruing from this initiative to create “New Lagos”, as the project was called, was massive job creation. From the beginning to its end, there was scarcity of skilled carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians etc. Kids who could not go to school gladly learnt one of the trades because there were jobs waiting on getting “freedom” from apprenticeship.

But, that success was possible because one man had not become Head of State. In 1978, Obasanjo promulgated the Land Use Decree vesting all the lands in any state in the state governor. It was a selfish decree because it was largely motivated by Obasanjo’s desire to acquire lots of land at Sango Ota and he was being frustrated by the landowners.

Abusing his Presidential powers, he took peoples’ ancestral lands and gave them to the Military Governors. He then promptly applied to the MILAD of Ogun State, his appointee, for the lands previously denied him by the owners. Like most short-sighted but self-centred people, he thought that was the end of the matter. A little over a year after that Wahab was appointed Federal Minister of Housing and the evil intentions of Land Use Decree became quickly apparent.

President Shehu Shagari and the National Party of Nigeria had promised more housing during the campaigns of 1979 and Dosumu was appointed to fulfill that promise. It was not to be for the most part. Dosumu’s encounter with late Chief Bola Ige, then Governor of Oyo State (at the time Oyo and Osun) best illustrates why, even till today, any Federal Government promise to build houses amounts to building in the sky.

The Federal government has no land outside the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, it can call its own. To build Federal housing units the Federal Government must apply to the state governments for land. The request is seldom granted – even when the central government and the states belong to the same political party. But, first we take a look at the confrontation between Bola Ige and Dosumu.

Ige had been elected on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria and Dosumu belonged to NPN. So, when Dosumu applied to Ige for land to build Shagari Low Cost Housing units, Ige’s response was swift: No land. Never mind that the people of Oyo state would benefit, the over-riding reason for the response was politics. As the UPN saw it, a Federal Housing project creating jobs and benefiting hundreds of families would be used four years later by the NPN to capture Oyo State. Never mind that the NPN in fact captured Oyo state in 1983, but the battle line was drawn.

Wahab insisted that the Federal Government had the right and the power to acquire land anywhere in Nigeria for public purposes. That includes, if need be, the Governor’s Mansion occupied by Ige. It took the intervention of some traditional rulers and elders of Yorubaland to bring sanity to the situation, after Ige vowed that the Federal Government’s bulldozers would have to demolish him with the Mansion.

In the end, Ige granted land – but at Ikire – almost forty kilometers from the state capital and entirely virgin land. The Federal Government was then forced to start from scratch clearing land and installing infrastructure. The housing until was not finished until the coup of 1983 swept away the Shagari administration. It remains till today one of our thousands of abandoned projects.

Was Dosumu more successful in any of the remaining eighteen states   — including the twelve two thirds NPN won? Perish the thought. The only successful Shagari Estate nationwide was in Sokoto – Shagari’s state.

Even now state governors are still reluctant to grant land for Federal Housing projects. At the risk of being accused of personalizing the matter, is it not fair to ask the question: where is the parcel of land Fashola granted the Federal Government in his eight years in office as Governor of Lagos State on which he can now proceed to build Federal Low Income Housing units?

“For every folly of their [leaders], [Nigerians] feel the lash.” Horace, 65-8 BC (amended). VBQ p 61.



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