‘Committing works power, housing ministires to one person shameful to engineering bodies’

Lai Omotola is the Group Managing Director/CEO of CFL Group, a foremost infrastructure company with a diversified project portfolio. An engineer by profession, he has been part of various projects from the Lagos Light rail, Tejuoso Market, Alade Mall, Marina Car Park, Captive Power Generation Oil and Gas downstream, Nigeria Local Content and various real estate projects across Lagos, among others. In his 2018 annual press briefing, he speaks on the state of affairs of CFL Group of companies and the state of the Nigerian economy. Tunde Alao was there. Excerpts:

HOW did your various projects fare in 2018?
In the beginning of the year 2018, we continued with the construction of our two major projects, the Triangular Business Place in Lekki and The Omotola Plaza in Ikeja. To the glory of God we are 90 percent done on these two projects. On our flagship project, The Alade Mall, we have been able to take full possession of the site and clear it of every encumbrances, but unfortunately we are unable to commence construction as a result of our inability to complete our financial structure. But the good news is that just yesterday (last week), we got a green light from our financiers and we are optimistic that we shall commence construction at the beginning of first quarter of year 2019. In the course of the year, we also commenced our entrepreneurship programme on radio and to the glory of God the building you are seated today is the ebootcamp, which is our training centre for entrepreneur which will be commissioned tomorrow (Last Saturday). Added to all these are the four social platforms for news namely; The Politico, The Advocate, Infrastructure news and ENTREPRENEURTV, which all doing well on the social platform.

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What is your assessment of the state of Nigeria’s economy in 2018?

As a diversified group of company, we are playing in major sectors of the economy and we are at a vantage position to give a critical review of the economy. To say that our economy is challenged is an understatement and the truth of the matter is that our economy is dangerously moving towards the precipe.  Every nation depends on a strong economy to have peace and Nigeria cannot be an expectation. The current economic challenges we face are caused by 4MS +1, meaning 4 ministers plus a Governor.

The four ministers are the Minister of Finance, Minister of Transportation, Minister of State, Petroleum, and Minister of Works, Power and Housing and Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

 

Your assessment of Power, Works and Housing Ministry?

Talking about the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, and without prejudice to the person of Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), I think the three ministries combined in one person is totally faulty. To be honest with ourselves, one person cannot handle the three ministries that are highly technical, and to be given to a lawyer,  I say shame on COREN (Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria) and NSE (Nigerian Society of Engineers) for accepting this. Is it not insulting that the minister continues to deceive us on Lagos Ibadan expressway? It can be explained why government will spend money on such a lucrative route that should have been done under Private Public Partnership (PPP) arrangement. This minister can’t complete the second Niger Bridge. A minister handling these critical sectors is suppose to be on the front seat to rescue this our dying economy,  but he has perfected ways on how to deceive the people and the government through projects that are more of social sentiments than economic benefits. It’s a shame today that Apapa port remains where it is, resident have to stage a protest. He has failed on housing and this is not new because he was fared better on housing during his tenure as the Governor of Lagos State. On power supply, in terms of generation he has done relatively well by  benefiting from what the past administration has laid down. But the truth of the matter is that the DISCOS (Distribution Companies)  remain the most fraudulent part of the value chain, as they continue to rake in money from consumers without investing in infrastuure.  Just imagine a situation whereby you buy your transformer,  install your cable to your house and all the disco do is to turn on the light and bring crazy bills. Until all these distribution companies are done away with we can’t have head way with electricity.

 

What of the other ministries, especially, Ministry of Finance?

The economic model being churning out cannot bring economy prosperity based on a cut and paste of IMF(International Monetary Fund)  and World Bank economic model. The model is hinged on heavy investment on infrastructure and in as much as this seems to be good, the impact on our economy has been little. The problem is that we can not just say to ourselves that by just doing one thing the economy will come out better. And when your listen to this government reeling out her achievements, the first thing they mention is infrastructure. But unfortunately, there is no synergy between the Minister of Finance and the CBN Governor, as far as policy formulation and execution are concerned!

 

The Ministry of Transportation

For us to achieve a buoyant economy, we must possess the ability to move persons and goods without hindrances. Transportation must be seamless, integrated and efficient. Today, the only thing we hear from ministry of transportation is rail and yet major rail projects that will catapult the economy remain comatose. All they have embark upon are semi-urban and rural rail projects that rarely have bearing on the urban populace, that contribute majorly to the GDP. Look at the blue line in Lagos, the light rail project from Okokomaiko to Marina in the Lagos Island, one would have thought that the Buhari government that destroyed the metro rail embarked upon by former Governor Alhaji Lateef Jakande during the second republic, would have compensated Lagosians by helping to complete the light rail project. Take a look at the rail corridor at Apapa Port, the port that brings the most revenue into the government’s coffer and all we see are rhetoric’s and drama. For close to four years, there is no transportation reform and no master plan.

 

Minister of State for Petroleum

Let us cast our minds back when Kachikwu told the country that the refinery will start work in  six months, with only, the Kaduna  refinery that worked but not to the maximum capacity. All our refineries remain comatose and we are still in the subsidy regime. Subsidy regime is a fraud and it will continue to be a tool in the hand of the marketers to blackmail the government. The total litres of PMS paid for a quarter of it are not used by Nigerians, but the neighbouring countries. Therefore, you can do your arithmetic and see how fraudulent cabal are milking us.

 

 CBN Governor

For the CBN Governor, we have come to realise that the appointment of ex-bankers as governors of central bank have not been able to help the economy.  They have a mindset of leaving the core agenda of the CBN, which is monetary and regulatory issues, but have delved into competition with the commercial banks in doing the business of lending. Today, CBN has intervention in almost every sector of the economy. From real estate, to power, aviation, agriculture and so many others with little impact. The CBN is now fully lending to businesses instead of the banks and more recently, the CBN announced to set up microfinance banks in 774 local government. Is this not going back to the peoples bank days?

 

With the above analysis, what is the fate of private sector in the scheme of things?

The truth of the matter is that government policies have crowded out private sector-led economy and government have taken a lead role in doing business, instead of allowing the economy to be private sector driving, not knowing that the wealth of the citizens is the wealth of the nation. The purchasing power of people have been greatly eroded and today, our economy has been reduced to a pedestrian/penchant economy as exemplified by ‘Trader Moni’ of N5,000, being championed by a no less a personality, the Vice President. An assignment that should be carried out by say, a Councillor, or at best, council Chairman!

 

FG targets 2021 completion date for the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway.

The Federal Government has assured Nigerians of the completion date of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, stating that 2021 targeted date is sacrosanct.

This was disclosed last week, during the  temporary opening of a section of the road to commuters, ostensibly, to facilities free movement during the yuletide. The Expressway, which has been undergoing major repairs for close to two  decades is still under reconstruction.

Speaking on the progress recorded during the inspection tour of the site and Shagamu-Ikorodu Road, Federal Controller of Works, Lagos, Mr. Adedamola Kuti, assured that the federal government is committed to early completion of the two strategic roads on schedule.

“Today, we are here to officially open the barricades, to effects the temporal opening of the road to traffic so as to reduce travel time and ease hardship suffered by road users especially during the festive  period”, he assured, adding that work would resume on the road in January so as to enable the contractors maximise the window offered by the dry season.

He emphasised the importance of the 127.6km long expressway, which he said is one of the oldest and busiest inter-state routes in the country. It daily handles more than 250,000 passenger car units (PCUs) and a major inter-state artery that networks the southwest and the rest of the country.

Commissioned in August 1978 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, during his first stint as the Head of State, the clamour for the reconstruction/rehabilitation of the expressway dates back to 1999, during same Obasanjo during his second coming as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

However, controversy has been trailing the contracts for its rehabilitation. Foe example, in May 2009, the highway contract was awarded  to Messrs Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited (BHSL) at the cost of N91 billion and on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, bu the contract was terminated in November 2012.  Thereafter,  former President Goodluck Jonathan, flagged off the project afresh, with the contract awarded to Messrs Julius Berger Nigeria Limited and Reynolds Construction  Company (RCC) Limited at a sum of N167 billion, covering two sections  of the expressway with a delivery date of December 2017.

But due to the non-release of funds to the contractors, as being explained at the different fora by Power, Works and Housing Minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, the project was stalled until the current administration breathed fresh life into the

project by remobilising the contractors back to site, with completion date scheduled for 2018/early 2019. “But as a result of the

increase in scope of work, the road would be delivered in 2021 so as to accommodate the changing nature of the road and additional work including flyover, pedestrian bridges as well as toll plazas for the certain sections”, Kuti explained.

The controller explained that the reconstruction of the expressway is

benefiting from the federal government’s over $650 million infrastructure fund, adding that impediments on all junctions on the expressway have been removed to pave way for free flow of traffic, thereby reducing the

pains and stress of travelers, motorists and commuters.

Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Ogun State, Clement Oladele said despite the removal of the diversions, the entire area still remained a construction zone and, therefore, urged motorists to restrict themselves within  the 50km/hour maximum speed limit and the prohibition on overtaking in the construction zones.

He warned that any defaulter apprehended risks prosecution, including the confiscation of their vehicles until after the Yelutide inJanuary.

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