Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), spoke with newsmen in Abuja on the fate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) after the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, what his Ministry has been doing about decrepit federal roads across the country, among other issues. Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, was at the interview session. Excerpt:
You have been passive in the politics of APC. Let us discuss 2023: which of the camps or tendencies seeking for the presidential ticket do you belong? Secondly, can you give us an appraisal of the APC Caretaker Committee in terms of performance?
Which camps are we talking about now, where do I belong? I belong to a party, APC and it is committed to good governance because I think the best politics is good governance. The beauty of it for me is the opportunity it gives to impact peoples lives. We have elections only once in four years but we have responsibility to provide good governance everyday and that’s the culture.
Now in terms of of the Caretaker Committee, perhaps this is a good opportunity. The first meeting of APC don’t forget, what became APC, the first meeting was convened in my official residence in Lagos, 11 of us and some of you were asking what we were doing, 11 governors and I said you just watch but after that there is a bigger responsibility.
Winning the election is not the challenge, it is delivering the governance that is the big deal and that’s what I am committed to do. So you see at that time, some people, we have party officers some people decided that we wanted to be Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Publicity Secretary, we voted for them. That’s what they choose.
If there is a crisis that has now led us to have a caretaker committee, we must also respect the Caretaker Committee, let it do its job. Those of us who didn’t contest to hold party offices let’s focus on our jobs too and stop barging in each other’s room. So, every support that the Caretaker Committee requires we will provide if it’s within our reach to do so. I am in touch with him ( Governor Buni) at the end of the day we are governed by rules. I know quite a number of them on a personal basis. So let’s support them to achieve the immediate mandate of their responsibility and they brought some stability at least we won an election.
There is the perception out there that the APC might not be able to retain the Presidency post 2023 general elections. What is your take on the fate of APC post Buhari presidency?
To retain power in 2023, certainly if we keep our promises, it is that simple. That’s politics. If you do what you said you will do even if you don’t do 100% and they see that you are making progress, they will even want you to finish some of what you started.
Our opposition has to think better than us in order to defeat us. Right now they are not doing that. When it’s election time they should come and meet us.
What is your take on the zoning of 2023 presidency? There has been controversy that no zone will be foreclosed after Buhari would have spent eight years of the North?
First let’s talk about law, let’s talk about agreement, the law is the Constitution. Constitution decides the age at which you can contest certain offices and there is nothing in the Constitution that says ‘zoning’. All are political parties, political parties are clubs where you write agreements just like a social club and we can decide that it is the youngest person who will be the chairman of the club or we can decide that it is the oldest person or the next female or the next male, that is the matter of agreement between people. But the Constitution that sets up the climate of political parties formation does not prescribe zoning. The truth is that what makes an agreement specification is the honour in which it is made not whether it is written. If it was written there would be no Court cases of breach of contract because it’s document that is written and signed that go to court. But the private agreement you make with your brother and sister can be breached.
The Lokoja -Benin road connects people in the North and the South. It is one of the busiest in the country but it is in an appaling shape. What is your Ministry doing as we approach the Yuletide season?
Again, I just want to appeal to us that in identifying our problems we should be precise. You see, a lot of people who do travel that road (Lokoja-Benin) will derive information from what they read, what they hear. I have travelled that road from Benin. I told you we have five contractors there. From Benin, the road is good, the section between Lokoja and Okene is also good. Between Okene and Auchi we are making a lot of progress. The problematic area there, where trucks get stuck is between Auchi and Okpella. That is the real problem. So it is not the entire road. Let me tell you what the problem there is. The contractor is funded but there is a drainage problem there. If we choose the option we have, it will flood an entire community. So, we are still working on the agreement to see how best, the alternative is to do a complete by-pass around that community and that is instead of this leg of the road which is short and straight, it will now have to go round. That is where we have a problem, otherwise the entire length of that road is covered by the SUKUK. So it’s now a community issue, environmental and ecological that is causing the problem and we are finding a way to solve the problem. Otherwise if you drive through the other section of the road, it is either we are making progress or some of them have been completed.
37 bridges are selected for rehabilitation across the country, what is the criteria for their selection and where are some of the bridges?
Now, how do we choose the bridges that are under repair, we have them in different categories. Some of these bridges are over 40 years, no maintenance. We have done a national survey of all the bridges and the maintenance and rehabilitation schedule is now from the worst to the best. So we’re starting from those that are really in critical conditions like, Tambuwal Bridge, Eko Bridge recently, the Third Mainland Bridge, Marine Bridge, Chanchangi Bridge, even the old Niger Bridge is constantly maintained while we are building the new one because we cannot afford some of them to collapse. We are moving from the most critical to the less critical and then this will become routine.
What is the position of the Trans-Saharan Road Project?
There is not one project that is the trans Saharan road. There are nine roads that are trans Saharan. Some of them pass through our country, some do not. So, the one that passes through our country is the road that links us to Chad and it links Central Africa from Jibouti through Chad through Kano, all the way to Niger and to Mali. So, the section of that road that passes through Nigeria would be the Kano-Maidugruri highway that goes from East to West of Northern Nigeria. We have the one that goes from Lagos through Ilorin, Sokoto,Tambuwal, Jedda that is road number 2. Another one is road number 3, Lagos, it passes through Seme, Badagary, Benin republic, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast to Senegal.
The first phase being constructed now is the Lagos-Abidjan road and we have awarded the Seme to Okoko and what they are focusing on now is drainage. The first thing they are working on is to construct the drainage so that the road will last and in the last three months because of COVID-19, funding challenges and rain in Nigeria we couldn’t do earth work. There are others that are not part of the trans Saharan highways but they are international roads like the one in Enugu to Cameroon.
This was part of the agreement that ceded Bakassi to the Republic of Cameroon so there is a joint venture to build a bridge and that bridge is almost completed. It was meant to finish in August this year but it was delayed by COVID-19 and it will run into 2021. There are nine such roads but the ones that pass through our country are the ones I spoke about. The funding for them comes from different sources; some of them are funded by loans granted by multilateral; each country’s support, some of them are funded by each country budget to execute their own parts.
Which section of the country would you adjudge as having the worst road network?
The reason why we are here as a party, as a government and Minister is to project hope not to project risk so I don’t know what you want to say about who has the worst roads. What I am in the position to say is that we are not leaving anybody behind. We are doing the best we can to all parts of Nigeria, that is the mandate from Mr. President and we’re trying to make sure that we leave nobody behind.
Clearly, you know that Nigeria is a big country, it has different climatic conditions, different soil conditions, there is Savannah part of the country, there is rainforest part of the country, there is coastal area of the country, there is desert area of the country, there is semi-desert area of the country. Therefore, the roads and roads materials will behave differently and that is why you see now we have been changing some of the things we do in different parts. In some places now we are introducing concrete roads.
Let me go back to what I said earlier, we have a Federal road network of 35, 000 kilometers and we are repairing about 13, 000 kilometers that tells you clearly that we are repairing the parts that have problems, the parts that don’t have problems are there. We are looking at something like one third (1/3). So, how do we get the best out of those roads, I think that is the question you didn’t ask. The way to get the best out of these roads is to stop abusing them. We are going to need you to help us do this. There are those who do truck stocking business, whether it is those who carry food or it’s those who carry petroleum products they must go and get trucks park. Go and look for a place to park your trucks, you can’t add that burden to government. Government is not involved in stocking business, government is responsible to provide a reliable road network. So what do we see as a way of abuse? There is a part of the road just immediately where the road ends and and is called the shoulder, that is where trucks park and that is where the damage to the road starts. It starts in many ways, one of the most notable one is that where they change oil, that is where they drop diesel. Most of the roads constructed with bitumen and the asphalt, petroleum and diesel are the same products of hydrocarbon. They may do different things, the diesel and the petrol dissolve – they are solvents. So once you start pouring substance containing the components, the roads start to disintegrate.
I plead with you to help carry this message in every language. Those who sell diesel by the road side are the first people destroying the roads. Those who distill petrol by the road sides are the first people destroying the roads. Those who park on the shoulders are also the first people destroying the roads. Because once you create that weak point, water sink under the road. So when there is compaction of the laterite, the cement begins to weaken. So if people use the roads properly we can get the best out of roads. But long term is also when we have rail. The Minister of Transportation is making progress there to make our cargo movement to be rail. Of course, the last way is maintenance of the road – maintenance presupposes that you are using the rail very well and not abusing the road.
How far can the SUKUK initiative help in funding road construction in the country?
The SUKUK has been very helpful and I will take the SUKUK in terms of amount of money required to finish our roads. We inherited a number of roads and resolved that we are going to complete as many of them as possible.
Many of those roads we started some in 2007, some in 2006, some even older. Unfortunately, the reasons that can not be imagined at the time the country was earning more revenue up to $ 100 per barrel the total budget for this country was N4 trillion. It’s now that the country is earning less, $40 per barrel that it is budgeting N13 trillion. So, really those roads should have been done but they are there. Even the ones done by State Governments were not paid for. I think that a minimum of half a trillion every year over the next two, three years will be a strong support to really advance and complete as many as the 711 contracts. Again, people are mistaken what I said about 711 contracts to mean roads. No. For example from Lagos to Ibadan expressway we have one road but two contractors, one with Julius Berger, one with Reynolds Construction Company. On Benin/Lokoja we have one road but we have five contractors. So, the totality of those contracts are made of 711 different contracts on many roads across the country and the total road network now under construction or rehabilitation is little over 13,000 kilometers in different stages of repairs out of total Federal network of 35,000 kilometers.
SUKUK is helping because it helps us to bring investment into the road sector. So we have 44 roads under the SUKUK. Most of the roads are spread across the six geopolitical zones. What is important is that the SUKUK is equal divided across the geopolitical zones but roads length in each zone is not exactly the same. So my zone can cover three or four roads while your own can cover only two. I hope that provides some clarity to what we do and SUKUK is like some form of Public Private Partnership and investment to supplement the budget because budget is not enough so we limit to specific roads and most roads that are benefitting from the SUKUK are those roads that we normally have problem with.
Those are the roads that get into the news, one of them is Lagos- Otta, one of them is Benin- Okene- Lokoja- Auchi- Ekpoma. Another area is Calabar to Itu, then between Adamawa and Gombe, Aba- Port Harcourt area. Those are the roads largely benefited by the SUKUK and few other strategic roads that have very heavy vehicles on them.
What is the Ministry’s rating of the quality of roads being constructed across the country?
Rating of the quality of roads, I think we don’t have our standard, roads are constructed to a universal global standard and those standards are not made by Nigeria, there are uniform standards.
You can then have a minimum and a maximum. In many cases we have reached some maximum because of the quality of finishing they have applied.
One of the things we are doing on the Lagos-Ibadan and a few other places; Enugu-Port Harcourt we are using what they called polymer modified bitumen instead of the 60/70 bitumen. The polymer modified bitumen is stronger so we are constructing at a very high standard.
The Federal Executive Council has in recent times approved funds for some selected roads across the country. Were they not captured in the budget?
In terms of the percentage of roads done in the current budget, it depends on how you want to report. If you want to report cash side of government it will be about 75% because we have received only third quarter release and that is 75%/100. But if you want to measure actual work done, we have done more than 100%. That may look strange to you so let me explain.
You see, construction companies often times do more work than we actually budgeted for them so we end up owing them. So sometimes if you budget N1 the construction company will do N5 work. That is why we are owing more than what is in the budget. It is important to understand this, construction company keep building materials. They don’t keep laterite, they don’t keep gravel, granite, sand, cement. So any time we pay, they order it from their suppliers and in any case business incur credit more than others. So while I am working, government hasn’t paid me, my supplier trust me he continues to supply up to a point where he can cope. One of the contractors told me he was owing a diesel supplier N800 million he has paid N530 million. So that credit begins the cycle of credits and supply continue and that is what drives the economy. So it is not exactly N100 budget N100 work. Some of you in your private businesses know that is how credit works, supply me I will pay you later when I get.
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