Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, speaks during a Channels TV programme, Politics Today, on a wide range of issues including the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential flagbearer, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the debts incurred on infrastructure development, the state of the Nigerian roads, among others. The interview was monitored by JAMIU Afolayanka
Can you tell Nigerians the projects that this government started, initiated, and completed in the last seven and a half years?
Well, we started a couple of projects and we must just understand that we are dealing here with over a thousand different contracts. Each of our work is based on contract, so, we have over, we have about 13 000 kilometres of the road network under construction across every state of Nigeria. We have housing projects in 34 states about to start. The 35th and the FCT and some of those projects have been completed. Many are in different stages of completion in the last six months or so, you have covered as other media houses have covered ministers representing the president to hand over completed sections of roads from North to South-East to South-West and the most recent one are the roads in Ekiti, Efon-Alaaye, Iwaraja road, the Isoko Ring Road in Delta, the Nguru-Gashua-Bayamari, the sections between Nguru and Hadejia, the section between Hadejia and Bayamari, Lafia-Awe-Tunga road and different housing projects inside the universities and federal tertiary institutions, like teaching hospitals. We’ve also been there completing and handing over roads. Some of the roads were not started by us, but they were roads for the Nigerian people not for any particular government and we have made haste with as many of them as we can finance and we have finished them. Again, you must understand that the roads we are dealing with are very long, some of them running into hundreds of kilometres, so, they are awarded in sections, maybe about three or four contractors which is the standard global best practice to distribute wealth in the economy. So, they are completed in sections and open to traffic, so there’s a lot and even if I tried, if I was a computer I couldn’t sit down here and recall everything from memory. So, what we’ll do is touch on some of the visibly obvious ones because not all Nigerian ply some of these roads and but the ones that perhaps have grabbed the headlines, let’s talk about some of them, although I asked the question about initiation, starting and completion.
All these projects that you’re talking about, can you give Nigerian some of these major maybe five of them that you initiated, started, and have completed in seven and a half years?
Well, at the moment I can’t off the top of my head recall what was initiated and what was completed. We are talking about 500, 300, 200, 150, kilometre roads. Who finishes them in two years or three years or five years the process of even constructing a road and I think it’s important to ask, first starts with design. To design a road of about 100 kilometres might take you up to a year or more because today the global benchmarks for road design financing are that you must do an environmental impact study, you must do an environmental social and impact assessment, you must plan to relocate people otherwise you won’t get financed for it, that takes time then you go to the actual design and then you go to the budget, and budget is an annual cycle so if for example now, I am designing a road this year, the core circular for 2023 budget is already out, so, if that road is not ready in design now, it cannot go into 2023, it’s going to go into 24 budget and I appeal to you to please check where in the world you finish a 100 kilometre road in a year or two from the design if you follow all of the approval. So, we need to stop making this pedestrian conversation, who started it who finished it, if governments did only what they finished then we won’t do anything, the real thing is to think ahead for this country, that’s why you have a medium-term development framework, it’s not things that we want to finish tomorrow, we’re planning for the country that’s how government works. We need also to bring the government to account (by all means) for what they say they have done and there is a slow pace of work, I mean where situations have arisen, but let’s start with (okay so let’s go to one slow pace of work) (laughing) let’s begin with the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, that’s about 125 kilometres or 127 kilometres of road, the question a lot of Nigerians who are not bothered about how long did you take, how many years we’ve been on this road, when will this road be completed? For me, that is the most important to the Nigerians watching right now. Okay, the expected completion date now will be in the last month of this year, we are hoping that we will be done before Christmas and that is subject to a lot of variables, as we speak now somewhere between Ojoo, the Oyo State government is constructing a drainage facility so that has slowed down our work considerably. Even though the contractor is now working at night. Recently, Governor Seyi Makinde and I were talking because I called him a week ago that look, we need to make a choice which do you prioritise, the drainage or that road and he said look the road is important but we can’t dismiss the need for the drainage, so, he called me back to say look, he has a solution now, he worked with the contractors, he talked to them and we will discuss it in this new week so these are some of the challenges. Then let me also say that over the years at the time we took $12bn to go and pay creditors in 2005. The road is built in sections, that road has no less than 40,000 vehicles every day that’s the traffic road count that we did. So, you can’t close it down so what we do is to close sections of one side, divert traffic to the other side, complete about 10-20 kilometres and then reopen it and move traffic back, now what you might not know and it’s important to share this, the construction material likely comes from Ogun state so whether you are constructing the Lagos section or the Oyo section, you have to go and move lateral, cross stones and all of that they move in the same traffic, so thousands of daily truck trips and that road is being excavated to about a meter or more deep, so we’re essentially first removing bad material, unsuitable material, filling up and then constructing the road, so I don’t think it is slow, what has happened is that over the years government has not funded it sufficiently, it is this president that has gone abroad to say some of the money that was stolen from Nigeria, please give it back to me, I want to use it to build a road in Nigeria and on its integrity and reputation some of those monies have been released, it is this president that has said okay the dividends from Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) will be applied to this road. So, these dividends were there before why didn’t anybody think about them now if you check on the average, if you google traffic time on that road now even though we are not yet finished it is less than two hours now to go to Ibadan. You can go to Ibadan and come back twice a day now and we haven’t finished, people used to do a one-way trip for a whole day so that’s progress.
In essence, when do you plan to finish work on the Lagos-Ibadan road?
We plan to finish this year In December, but the subject to some of these challenges that I’ve told you because we don’t want to finish and then the road is opened again because you have to excavate, so we’re waiting for Oyo State to solve it, Governor Makinde and I will resolve that pretty soon
Will the road be tolled?
Eventually, it will be tolled. It will be handed over to the concessionaires to bring in more financing.
Do you care whether or not the money which you are borrowing is too much of a burden?
I am concerned and every responsible Nigerian should have his eye on the debt and you should be concerned but the conversation to have, so you are ruling out Lagos, Ota, you are Ekiti, Akure/Ado-Ekiti where’s the money going to come from, should we increase taxes, let’s have the debate who should we tax more? Which road, which state will say don’t do our roads? If there’s any state that says don’t do our road, don’t do our bridge, our debt obligation and our finance obligation is reduced by that reduction that is the point.
Your party promised that you are going to do this, you promised Nigerians that you can do it…
We promised you ‘change’ and we are delivering them on infrastructure. We can see them, they are getting better.
The indices when you got into government in 2015 and now, the price of commodities in the market, the debt burden when you get into office. You want to go there, so let’s go there, I want to go there.
If you want to go there, I have the statistics
Let’s go there.
The question is whether the indices are different from what we have today. So my first question to you, I asked the question, Hon. Minister. I’m not obliged to answer. I will answer you rhetorically, you don’t have to answer.
Go ahead, please
Show me one country where the cost of living is going down, that is why nations have wage reviews that is why they do salary reviews, this government has done it. It has not only done it, but it has also helped state governments that are not able to pay. We gave out a bailout. Which Nigerian government did that in our history when there were pains? We have refunded debt contracted by our predecessors for road infrastructure, there is road infrastructure done. We have refunded almost a trillion, seven hundred and something billion that’s part of the debt you are talking about. It was contracted by the previous government.
Let us go back, how much was the price of fuel in 1999, it was N20 they left it at N65, that’s a 300 per cent increase if my math is correct. So, in which country is the price going down? This is the reality of life. How much was the exchange rate? It was about $40. How much did they leave it at? It is the reality of life that prices are headed in the wrong direction and the whole world is facing a challenge let us understand. Let us educate people. If you are talking about FX (Foreign Exchange) for example, the FX is a quantum of what you earn. What are we exporting against what we are importing and what we are demanding? So, if the country is not earning it, the Central Bank doesn’t print dollars. It’s economics. When there is an over-demand for a commodity, basic economics tells you that the price goes up, so it’s that simple. If we earn more dollars the exchange rate will come down.
Security and securing this nation are what this government promised and right now would it be proper to say that this government should hide its head in shame with the situation that we have on our hands, look at what happened to those that are being kidnapped. Would you say or would you agree that security is better today?
I sympathise very deeply and sincerely with everybody who has been a victim of crime, I’ve also been a victim of crime in my previous life and it’s not a nice experience and I hope that somehow this government comes through for them and brings them relief, but having said that, security is not something that I would sit down and politicise. It is like oxygen now. The odds against the government every time is that the government has to be right all the time, and the criminals have to be right only once and that is why I said earlier that the security conversations require some details. If we are not looking at values if we are not looking at how crime proceeds are dealt with, how can we intercept that to make it unprofitable? If people believe for example, that you can kidnap a human being and take body parts and you can make money from a human head and all of those funny things. Look, in this country don’t forget that sometimes it takes a long time for a problem to come to full bloom, but the seeds for some of what is happening now were sold many years ago. Do you remember that in 2001 or 2002 Nigerian policemen went on strike, maybe you don’t recall? They went on strike; the nation was without policemen for like a week or two. Go back into your archives you see it, which was a warning you will see that it is state governments that are resourcing and funding policemen. It didn’t start yesterday and that was also a problem. So, all of the basic law enforcement civilian capacity has not been met by previous Federal Governments and I’m not saying that we have also met them, but and they have all accrued at a time now but I maintain very seriously that until we deal with our value system until we go back through the homes, the religious institutions, reshape values from preaching miracles, sudden wealth because some of these things are driven by that. They’re driven by drugs, they’re driven by parents, me inclusive, not as involved in the development of our children. So, it’s going to take more than saying. It’s going to take a whole nation to come back and say this is where we want to live and I think that conversation is going to be a very extensive one.
What’s your relationship with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
Our relationship is good.
Has he consulted you on political matters recently?
We spoke about some matters I think about just before the Eid
How involved would you be in his ambition of wanting to become President?
As involved as possible, I’ve been involved all through. I’ve played my role.
Because your quiet has been so loud, your silence has been very loud.
Oh really! I’ve been MMB (laughing)
What does that mean?
I’ve been minding my own business, but I played my role. I’ve played my role all through and I don’t need to be in the public space to make my interventions to offer advice and to offer suggestions, but if at any point in time it becomes necessary for me to do so, I will do so.
If you look at the conversations between Asiwaju Tinubu and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar over the weekend, I mean they’re discussing issues that are at the centre of their ambitions. Would you say that there is some kind of miscalculation in the choice of your former principal, in respect of his choice of a running mate?
I’m going to say first and foremost that for both men, for whom I have a personal relationship, I think, perhaps the exchange of words, at best I would call it a stumble, I hope it’s not a tumble and I mean these in the sense that they should quickly recalibrate and get back to the issues and that is what concerns Nigerians. Those are the debates we should have. How do we move ourselves to the prosperity that is imminent that this country will have because I know it will happen? Who is the best person to drive that vehicle? In my own opinion, Asiwaju is the best person to drive that vehicle because I’ve worked with him at very close quarters. I know his capacity. I know his tenacity and I think that sometimes we need to test some hypotheses and the opportunity to test this hypothesis is there.
What about the issue of a joint Muslim ticket?
My position about religion has been made known on different platforms, I think religion should leave the public space and go back to where it belongs, to the homes and the religious centres. There’s too much religion in our public life. It’s a private thing, praying in public cannot do that. So, I think we should just stop them and get down to the real business when you’re in the office. Go and do your work.
But when it is a factor in our politics. I mean such that it’s also a factor in the bigger economies.
You see, you also have to understand that democracy is an undertaking of numbers. Essentially, democracy is not necessarily always rational, it’s the tyranny of the majority that has replaced the tyranny of the minority because democracy was created to stop one man or one woman from dictating to the majority. So, it was the tyranny of the minority that democracy came to replace, democracy sometimes has become a tyranny of the majority and is an undertaking. I call it an undertaking of multiplication and addition, not of subtraction and division. So, everybody will make his political calculation about what he thinks will best serve his purpose and…
You think that decision…
I think to look at something simply based on A or B is perhaps to miss the point. I have some polls that I did in 2014 that I would have loved to share with you and I think sometimes we should stop being afraid of fear itself. You know if this is the votes will show it eventually and that’s my take. But in terms of, look at the end of the day who cares, who cares really, we both drank water, we don’t ask who made the water during the interlude. So, that’s the issue, people want to drink water, people want good schools, people want good health care, people want infrastructure, and they want to be secure. So, if you go on both sides, you know there’s been a Christian Vice President under a Muslim President, sadly people were killed in the church, sadly priests have been murdered the same way Muslims have been murdered, neither the President nor the Vice President loved those things to happen. Well, it has very little to do with our faith. Those who do it in the name of our faith are not members of our faith, they don’t profess our faith. Both faiths preach peace. And you don’t say that there is something better they preach tolerance, those people are extremists.
It’s only your party that picked the same faith choice for the presidential ticket, why?
I ask one question, we even assume that there are only two faiths. So, if this is about representation, we haven’t represented everybody, there are some people, minorities there, who don’t belong to both faiths. They have a voice too, so let’s find a second Vice President for them or a President for them.
Do you think it doesn’t have any consequence?
No, no I’m just saying that let us demystify this thing about what it is and that’s why my starting position was to leave religion where it belongs in the hearts of people, in the churches and mosques and places of worship, and the homes. And in the public place, no, religion doesn’t belong there
What is your mind telling you about 2023? Some Nigerians may not think that your party can take them further and what happened in 2015 when an incumbent was beaten could happen, do you see that happening?
I think based on what we have done, Nigerians have had the opportunity of two governments. So, and I think that’s why I said the candidates should return to the issues on very deep reflection right-thinking and well-meaning Nigerians will re-elect our party into government. I’m optimistic about that. I think we have served this country as efficiently as we can in the most difficult of times, no government has faced COVID-19, we did, and you know so. No government has faced a global scarcity of resources caused by a war in which we are not involved. We did, and we are still managing that economy and providing hope and support sustenance. I’m optimistic that we will win.
We’ve also been there completing and handing over roads. Some of the roads were not started by us, but they were roads for the Nigerian people not for any particular government and we have made haste with as many of them as we can finance and we have finished them.