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BUHARI: everywhere! How ? Fashola explains

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Speaks on Apapa gridlock, Sea port, Road projects, Housing etc

By Onochie Anibeze, Saturday Editor & Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor

Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola, took some time off on Wednesday to address some issues in the works and housing sector in Nigeria, touching on how the administration has actively taken steps to address the nagging infrastructural deficit and decay in the land and how that push is taking millions of Nigerians out of poverty and giving them a sense of inclusion in the administration. fashola, when reminded that even children took note of his outstanding performance as Lagos State Governor and celebrated him as “the man everywhere’ retorted that it’s President Buhari who is everywhere in Nigeria. He explained what he meant in this interview. He also noted that  the President has courageously and uniquely faced, with smaller revenue inflow, seemingly jinxed projects left to rot away by previous administrations which had more resources. Excerpts:

 

Let me start with Apapa gridlock, which has defied all the presidential directives to clear due to the bad roads and trucks. When will this Apapa be ready?

 Apapa is a port area leading up to Tin Can and therefore the major operation there is shipping. It is only collateral that the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing has jurisdiction in the area but our jurisdiction is only on the road that links Apapa to Western Avenue and Apapa to Mile 2 and Isolo. There is a fallacy in the conclusion already drawn that it is the road that is causing the gridlock and it is not supported by any known fact at all. In diagnosis and problem solving there are many layers: First is the causative factor.

 

What is the cause and then the contributory factor. So, if you talk about malaria, you cannot solve the problem of malaria if you are tackling only mosquitoes. The causative effect is plasmodium and if you don’t kill the germ you won’t end the infection in the human body. Let’s face the fact. We have outgrown our port and everybody must understand that. What is happening at the seaports is not different from what is happening at the Murtala Mohammed Airport. That is why it is rowdy and congested. We have outgrown the terminal building just as the port which was built in 1921. Go and check the population of Nigeria and the number of businesses and the Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria at that time. And, the first ever port expansion  in that area took place in 1975, that was 44 years and by the time the first expansion took place we were already caught in the cement armada in that we were throwing cargo into the sea because we could not clear it.

 

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So, our port expansion was not proactive but reactive and that was arrangement with Tin Can Island in 1975-76 and another 45 years have passed and what was the GDP in 1975 and what was our population in 1975 and what was the size of the Nigeria’s economy in 1975? It is that 54-year-old port that is still supporting us till today. But let us look at the Airport too so as to see what the Buhari administration is trying to do. When we built the MMA, it was the best or one of the best on the continent. At that time in 1975-76, London Heathrow was in Terminal two or three but it has now extended to terminal 5 but we are still in the same MMA. So, we have outgrown our assets. So, to that question that you asked and the wrong conclusion that you drew, it is not the Apapa road that is causing the problem but the port that is struggling to support the economy. And this is my analogical answer: If 20 of us want to use one toilet in one house, don’t we have to wait? So, those trucks on the Apapa roads don’t want to be on the road but want to enter a port and drop or pick something. If the turnaround time is not quick enough they will spill on to the road.  So, let’s be scientific when we are analyzing a problem. Yes, we must admit that our roads at the ports were bad but we have built them substantially. The access road to the port is done; Warehouse Road is done, the connecting road to Tin Can is almost done from Mile 2 all the way to Oworonshoki is almost finished. Is that still the problem?

You are right about bad road not being the cause of the gridlock but I work in Vanguard, we see trucks fall every time fall due to bad road. This causes traffic and road jam. It is worrisome.

Let us separate the congestion on the parts of Vanguard road from the congestion in the port. And, let me say that that road you are talking about is on contract and it is being done. In the last one and a half years, the situation on that road is not what it was many years ago. We need time to finish it.

Just a follow up. Don’t you think that the FG is taking more that it should in terms of roads?

The Federal Government is no longer doing any state roads. But let me make this point very clear.  There are some members of the National Assembly, who as part of their constituency projects want to reach their constituents and there are some roads there that fall within the purview of the state governments. But on the Executive side, you won’t see us on the state roads. But the extent that those constituency projects by the federal lawmakers are domiciled in our ministry, we help to manage the execution of those projects because they don’t have such capacity. But let me be clear that the country has roughly 200,000 kilometres of roads but the federal component of it, the Trunk A roads, which are on the exclusive list, as the responsibility of the Federal Government are 35,000 kilometres. The remaining 165,000 kilometres belong to the states and local governments. That is why you will see us on many federal roads – Kano-Maiduguri, Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Abeokuta, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Calabar-Itu, Uyo-Ikot Ekpene etc.  But some of these roads which were on the fringes of the state capital have now been largely urbanized. So, there are roads inside state GRAs that are still Federal roads. Part of Aba road inside the town is a federal road. But at the time they were built they were in the outskirts of the town. For example Kingsway and Mobolaji Bank Anthony are Federal roads even though they are inside Lagos city. So, if such roads have problems I understand why state governors intervene. I did intervene on Lagos-Badagry as a governor.

But the President has now said let us face our own roads and let the states face their own. It is interesting that those interventions took place at the time Nigeria went and paid $12 billion to creditors. Those roads were bad at that time and we said we were seeking loan forgiveness when our house was leaking. That was a major policy decision. If I had the benefit of deciding I would be different. But that was one missed opportunity to address those problems. The second opportunity was that for almost a decade our oil sold over a $100 per barrel but those roads were still there and not done. What did we do? Those are the things that the governors did because the federal government did not do them.

It is this administration that is paying those debts at a time when oil prices have dropped to as low as $30 and $40 and so on.

What is the FMWH still waiting for after receiving the approval of the Infrastructure Concessionary and Regulatory Commission to proceed with the concession of 12 federal highways in Nigeria to the private sector

It is not to give out the roads to the private sector but to invite bidders to bid for the roads. There is going to be a competitive bidding so that everyone at home and abroad can participate in it.  We don’t have any reserved interest. We want the process to be open and competitive, we want to see local and international participation and we have an outlined business case for 12 roads. Just today, I actually presented the report to the Federal Executive Council to update them on the decisions taken. We will soon advertise the request for qualification on an open portal and from there we begin to take entries. 

There is still more work to be done. We have to finish the tolling regulation and tolling policy because that will be part of it. It is more than the tolling of a road and includes weighbridges, warehouses, rest houses for drivers, lane marking and advertising, ambulance services, vegetation control, waste management, toying services and so on. There is a lot that is coming together to improve the quality. We expect to extract investment close to a N1 trillion and 50,000 direct jobs and over 200,000 indirect employments.

It is an ongoing process. We have had local and international consultations and engagements on the matter. One of the webinars we did to sensitize people on it had over 1000 people while the second one had over 162 participants mainly from the business community. So, the process is evolving. We also have international support from IFC, Infra Ventures, who are offering support. We also have support from KPMG, which is local and DFID, UK and NIAF, Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Fund. Again, the momentum is going on. But don’t forget that raising money from the private sector is a long and challenging process.

This proposal sounds very exciting sir but don’t you fear that the implementation of these activities may lead to serious congestion and distraction on the nation’s highways?

No, you see that all of the thing I am talking about is already happening on our highways. The Rest House I am talking about whether it is in Ore, Shagamu, Umuonede, people are stopping to eat and rest but they are not up to the quality we want. We are not trying to displace those people but to empower them to improve their businesses with investments. Whether it is the farmer trapping bush meat, or snail, or maize or fruits and vegetables, we need all of them. But we need a proper farmhouse where foodstuffs don’t perish and nobody loses money. We want them to do business in a sound and sage environment in one umbrella. We need storage facilities where food can be stored and sold in hygienic atmosphere. We are seeing more jobs and nobody will lose under the plan we are putting in place. 

We need a value chain where everyone gains. You have these rickety towing vehicles on the roads but we need to organize them into a system where they can access credit and buy better towing vans and run with respect and strength.

What are the major road projects or infrastructure you can point as the Buhari legacies?

First let me set that in context. At the moment, we are working on 13,000 kilometre roads across the country with over 4000 of them completed. Work is ongoing and we plan to complete more this year. We are rehabilitating 13 bridges under this administration and we are constructing internal roads in 44 Federal universities and tertiary institutions across the country.  Now in terms of delivery, we have completed the Logo-Owete Bridge, the Second Niger Bridge will be a legacy soon, the Kano-Maiduguri Road of 560 Kilometres of Dual Carriageways with fibre optic ducts, Ilorin to Jebba and extending now to Mokwa, Akwanga-Keffi to Makurdi, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Enugu-Onitsha, nearing completion, Yenagoa-Kolo in Bayelsa , Alesi-Ugep towards Obudu Cattle Range toward Markurdi making progress, So, there is just so much that we are doing at the moment across the country. If you look at the Bodo-Bonny Bridge and Road in Rivers State, that is the project that failed three times. 

The Lagos-Ibadan Road which is almost coming to fruition is a road that just couldn’t get off ground. If you look at the Second Niger Bridge, you see that it was more of an Electoral Promise than a reality. So, when you look at these projects you will appreciate that this administration is facing and tackling the most difficult projects that past administrations tried to get off ground and failed, this administration has gotten them going under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. The most difficult projects: That is one thing that is unique about this government. All the projects, including the Ogoni Clean-up,  that have defied previous administrations in Nigeria have been successfully undertaken by the Buhari administration, even under serious financial difficulties.

All the difficult things that Nigeria could not do, this president is getting them done even with little or no money. This is very very instructive. Before now, Nigerians were complaining there was no rail system in Nigeria, and we are seeing rail now. They were complaining about airports and now the Ministry of Aviation is delivering on the airports. So, all the heavy lifting that had confounded previous administrations when there were more resources have been overcome by the Buhari administration. Second Niger Bridge etc.

May we have an idea of how many houses your ministry has undertaken or completed under the National Housing Programme?

We have over 4000 houses built under the National Housing Programme in 34 states. But those are what we have built directly. We are building indirectly under the Federal Housing Authority which has over 5000 housing units under construction and we are also building under the Federal Mortgage Bank which funds developers to construct and also funds off-takers to acquire by giving them mortgage loans and they have built thousands of housing units across the country.

  Federal Mortgage Bank has been mandated to implement our Cooperative Housing Development Policy. And what is this all about? It is for the cooperatives to start building for themselves.  They find their land, design their buildings and take a loan and find a developer and we will fund it. Almost 60 different cooperatives have already gotten approvals and we have hundred of requests which we are processing.  

But more importantly, we are encouraging the states to also build houses for Nigerians because the bulk of the land is under the control of the state governments.  We are also working with private developers which is the ultimate answer because in Europe and America and all those big countries the private sector ultimately drives housing and we are seeing that off-take now. There is some appetite now in this Buhari administration about the private sector involvement in housing development. This is how it should be. 

It is not a federal government thing alone but something for everyone to be involved in it and as a policy , we will continue to promote and champion policies that make it easy for everyone to play in the sector. That is only for housing delivery. There is also housing by acquisition. People want to buy.  In that case, we are expediting the process of Certificates of Occupancy. We have issued over 5000 C o Os and granted over 4000 Consents for those who want to buy, sell or mortgage. There is also the Site and Services scheme, where we provide roads, access to water and electricity for those who want to build their houses. There are people who don’t want government houses but need land to build their houses and we need to provide for them.

 

Can you now say that Fashola is everywhere in Nigeria given the number of projects and services undertaken by the FMWH? Kids in Lagos used to say Fashola is everywhere because of your projects spread across the state.

Well, it is Buhari, who is everywhere as the leader of the team that is driving development across Nigeria.  He is clear in his vision that in a decade 100 million Nigerians can come out of poverty and we in the FMWH do understand how impactful infrastructure delivery can be to achieving that vision of poverty reduction. All that we have said, we have not talked about the thousands of tonnes of laterites, crushed stones, bitumen, reinforcements, which support families because these are people’s businesses. 

We are just looking for the hard road but before the hard road comes into being there is a value chain of professionals from geo-technics, geologists, consultants, designers, lawyers who make the contracts, bankers who provide the guarantees and so many people involved in that value chain. That is one side. In addition, when you look at the roads that are being built, you see that they are being done across states and they are helping the rural economy and taking money inside. 

That is why Buhari is everywhere in Nigeria. Quite aside from that, every road that we build enhances the value of the adjoining land and there is capital appreciation for the owners of the land. So, that journey out of poverty is already being implemented. I give you an example. We recently paid a contractor some money for the work he did for us and shortly after we paid him he paid one of his diesel suppliers N800 million and that shows you that our work of infrastructure has created a credit supply of N800 million worth of diesel. Now, if you calculate N800 million worth of diesel at N250 per litre it will give you 3.2 million litres of diesel sold on credit. That is just what infrastructure is doing apart from direct jobs. So, Buhari is everywhere.

How would you describe Fashola the Minister and Fashola the Governor? And what are those things that you really miss as an ordinary Nigerian? Are you still playing soccer in Surulere?

Well, I am still in Surulere and I still play soccer any time I go home. But Covid-19 has kept me away from the football field. But let me say that the responsibilities of a minister are different from those of a governor of a state especially if you are a governor of a small state in terms of land size like Lagos. But if you are a minister in a ministry like Works and Housing, the scope is wider and you are looking at the whole of Nigeria, not as a state. For instance, to do a national tour it takes at least 6 months. I have done it two and half times when I visited every state at least twice. 

The relationships one has to deal with are more than what a governor deals with. In the case of a minister, you deal with the FEC, National Assembly members, the governors and in some instance, the state Houses of Assembly.

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