In view of many challenges facing Nigeria’s economy the Federal Government has reeled out measures to rebuild the decaying infrastructure in the country and provide new ones where necessary.
Speaking on the state of the nation’s economic situation last week, the Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, noted that for Nigeria’s economy to truly work, it had become imperative to fix the nation’s infrastructure, especially road.
Fashola, while speaking at the Wilson Centre, in Washingto DC, USA, highlighted the specific steps being taken in the infrastructure sectors to revive the economy. The steps he said were meant to “correct the mistakes of yesterday and move the country from economic stagnation.”
The Minister, while presenting a paper on “Leadership and Politics of Reform In Africa: Lessons from Nigeria”, said the immediate and long term solution to the problem of economic recession lay in massive investment in infrastructure which, according to him, has already commenced.
He, however, explained that it did not mean that Nigeria lacked infrastructure but that what was available was insufficient for the population and that although the past administrations failed to utilise resources of the oil boom period to make the needed investment, the present administration was determined to turn the situation around even with the lean resources available to it.
Speaking specifically on the sectors under his Ministry, Fashola, who reiterated that most of the problems, especially in the power sector, were not technical but man-made, added that his Ministry had evolved clear roadmaps that were already being implemented to achieve sustainable solutions to the problems in the three critical sectors.
In the works sector, Fashola, who said the ministry inherited 206 roads that were not budgeted for or poorly funded, added that the roadmap consists of identifying and prioritising heavy traffic-bearing roads that convey essential goods and services across the country.
“We have to build roads that evacuate our sea and airports, roads that drive our energy for now, roads that go to the tank farms to evacuate fuel from South to North and roads that sustain us, that is roads that bring in our feed stock, cattle and vegetables and livestock from the North down to the South.
“Besides, that is why you see us building from Lagos-Ibadan road to Ilorin, to Jebba to link all the way to Kaduna and Kano and go on up North. And we are doing the same thing trying to connect River Benue through the Loko- Oweto Bridge and the Second Niger Bridge; Kano-Kaduna, Kano-Maiduguri. Those are the choices we have made , because this is a period of hard choices trying to do more with less,” he said.
According to the Minister, “Those are the choices that we have made, they are not esoteric choices; they are simple and rational choices. All the roads we are working on have been awarded before by the past administration before we got into office, adding that over 206 roads were involved.”
Reiterating that the problem in the sector was also man-made, Fashola said it was embedded in under-budgeting which, according to him, resulted in contractors not being paid for three years, as well as lack of project supervision and discipline to manage 206 road contracts that were not budgeted for, or if budgeted for, were poorly funded.
“The total outstanding contractual liabilities are in the region of N1.5 trillion and this administration is taking them in batches starting from the critical heavy traffic highways that evacuate goods from ports, fuel from tank farms and move foodstuffs and agro-produce across the country,” he said.
In the housing sector, Fashola said the roadmap comprised the designing of houses that would respond to the diverse cultures and climatic conditions of the citizens living in the six geopolitical zones of the country adding, however, that this has been resolved by developing two broad categories of designs comprising blocks of flats for the Southern states and bungalows with courtyards for the Northern states.
Stating that the process of standardisation of the house fittings has been concluded, Fashola reiterated the government’s decision to source all the fittings, including windows, doors, hinges, tiles, plumbing and electrical appliances locally in order to stimulate production by medium and small enterprises.
On leadership and politics of reform in Africa, Fashola said the biggest challenges facing Africa on the leadership and governance fronts included, but not limited to, diversity of cultures and beliefs and how leaders could engage or balance vested interests to tip the scales in favour of the kind of positive change that benefits the vast majority of the ordinary people.
Arguing that the question of leadership must be set in a context with understanding that nations and communities are different and diverse in their history and in the level of their evolution and their progress, Fashola maintained that whether the most under developed places or the most developed places, the issues and challenges that confront governance remained the same.
The minister, who identified people as central to the issues of governance and reforms as well as the most important in human civilization, said, however, that they constitute the paradox in reform being that they pursue change so relentlessly yet, somehow resist change.
Defining reform as altering a situation or the position of a thing, Fashola cited as example homes, offices, classrooms and even churches where sometimes altering of positions or situations of things, which constitute reform, invoke anger, irritation or dissatisfaction adding, “But that is the burden that our leaders face, altering our lives; oftentimes that is why we voted them”.
The Minister said as a result of the policy of changing leadership every four or eight years, there was need for leaders to be extremely knowledgeable because, according to him, “implementing reforms requires interfering with the existing order and no matter how bad an existing order is, somebody has a vested interest in it”.
“So, a bad road is a vested interest. It might require that somebody’s property yields, so that person has a vested interest in his property; so you will face resistance. And because we are creatures of habit, we hold onto the vested interest because that is what we know. The leader’s responsibility is to transpose us to see what he is seeing”, he said.
Fashola, who recommended communication as the best approach to achieve this, said although vested interest was difficult to negotiate, continued communication was the key as, according to him, “Nobody could be angry forever. At some point and with continued communication, they will yield”, the Minister said.