Here’s the transcript of the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola’s words in his interaction with the State House Press Corps
“I understand the role played by the media not just to report the news but also to educate the public.
I have invited this corps to either convey a one-day meeting where all the issues concerning roads and housing can be addressed and I make myself open to any invitation as may deem fit so that we can have a better understanding on those sectors.
I say this on the context of, when I say that a particular amount was approved for a contract, that doesn’t mean the amount have been paid, contrary to what some media suggest.
You are mindful also that the Minister of Finance, different arms of government are escalating the fiscal challenges we face as a nation in trying to fund the budget. The last few budgets for almost 20 years have been deficit budgets, and these are terminologies and realities in Nigeria that I think we should need to acquaint ourselves with if we’re going to not just report the news but also educate the public.
You must also be aware that, between awarding a contract and mobilising to the site, there is a distance. First of all, there will be an agreement that is the relationship between the Ministry and the Ministry of Justice. Then there is a role that banks play: they have to give guarantees. These are the things that I will like to if I were a correspondent in order to help me better inform the members of the public.
Building materials, rocks, laterite, quarry, iron rods have to be ordered. Construction companies don’t keep them. The process of producing blasting rocks require approval from the Ministry of Mines and even the Office of the NSA to get approval for dynamite. All of these things are going on. So, the point is that there is a distance between approval, implementation, actual construction and the result.
Now, the other point I wish to make to you also is the problem of some of the places like Warri-Benin- Sapele roads and the south-east that you talk about.
First, you must understand that those places don’t just stand in isolation. The Niger Delta is the (inaudible) of Nigeria that rainforest is a high water table area. These problems are not as pronounced as they are now in January and February and the reason is that it’s the dry season of the year.
This is rainy season. It is a weather condition and I know there is no country in the world that doesn’t face transport challenges in extreme weather. In some places it’s winter and snow, they cancel flights, cancel rail programmes. Some places it is typhoon and hurricane while in some places you can’t even come out. So this is the season we are just getting to end (i.e. rainy season).
Floods, it will affect roads. We’ve seen cities submerged, infrastructures blown down in other parts of the world. It’s one world. It is the same rain, same planet, so this is our own time of experiencing it; it’s moving out of Nigeria now and going somewhere else so what we experienced this year is unusual.
It’s not a good time to be in transport business and we also want this season to quickly to end so that we can go back to work during the dry weather and, that what takes us to the point about preparation for the end of the year. You know we have the “ember month” preparation.
The team have started work, we will be working with law enforcement, FRSC and our contractors. The plan is that in places where they are not yet constructed they should make palliative measures so that the heavy traffic movement during the end of the year is manageable and we reduce the inconvenience of our commuters to the barest minimum.
You must understand also that on every road where construction is going on is a construction site so help us manage the understanding of the public that you can’t drive through a construction site at normal speed. The ideal thing is that you close a construction site but we can’t afford to do that so you owe us that understanding which you must pass on that people must face such inconvenience.
We regret it and we’re doing our best bring them to the barest minimum the inconvenience pronounced also by the weather. We don’t control the weather and if we don’t have rainfall it will affect food as well. So, these are the reality of existence about 3 months every year and then we will move on to much better weather.
Let me also say that my colleague in Transport, Hon Rotimi Amechi, announced some initiative. I won’t steal his thunder except to say we expect to benefit from those initiatives on some critical roads during the next few weeks that will bring relief to our roads networks services as when those train services come on stream.
I am positive that all these problems will become history within a short time but we all must understand what we are dealing with here and appeal to you that, yes, we’re here to solve problems. “Problems” is headline news for you but at least the balance is to show that not all the roads are bad because the focus is on the bad part, but you owe Nigeria whose taxes are used to also show them that works are going on because it is not all Nigeria roads that are unmotorable.
On the Benin-Warri roads, for example, many sections of it are motorable. It’s a part that has caved in and collapsed and that is where the pain is and it’s what we are responding to.
Same thing on Lagos-Ibadan and same things in many parts of…and I think it is important to have that balance in order even to encourage people to have hope in the country. Because it is not as bad as some times we portray… that’s your headlines we know….(laughter from the audience) but it is important to let them know that on a 100km stretch maybe 10 – 15 per cent are bad because you actually drive to that point before you feel the pain and those are the places we’re working on. I really have to go. I am late…”