Minister of State for Works and Housing, Abubakar Aliyu, in an interview with selected journalists, speak about the challenges the present administration is facing in its bid to deliver infrastructure projects. LEON USIGBE brings details.
THE year 2020 witnessed unprecedented crises occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. How did the Ministry of Works and Housing navigate through these difficult times?
No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has immensely affected the plans and programmes of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. There was a reduction of government activities as a result of the total lockdown and this has affected the execution of projects. But the ministry is still on course, we have adjusted. We are now working tirelessly to complete and deliver most of our projects.
Specifically, what projects has the government delivered even in the face of the pandemic?
First of all, let me make it clear on how we go about doing projects. When you talk about the completion of projects, you may likely mean completion of a road project which we might differ in thinking. Let me give you an example, if a road starts from point A to point B with a distance of say 500 kilometres, you may find three or more different contracts on that road which we refer to as project sections, being handled by different contractors or a single contractor. Because they are different projects, even if we have completed one or two projects on that stretch out of the different projects, we usually wait until we complete the remaining parts before we commission the road. Otherwise, we have many projects that have been completed.
A typical example is the Kano-Maiduguri road project where we have five contracts handled by five different contractors. Two out of the five contracts are completed and the remaining three have reached advanced stage, but we are delaying the commissioning of the completed section until the remaining three sections are completed so that we deliver a pleasurable travel experience and world-class facility to our people travelling along that corridor. However, we have not restricted traffic movement on the completed sections. Out of the total 200,000 kilometres length of road in the country, only 35,000 kilometres belong to the Federal Government. We are currently working on 13,000 kilometres with over 700 contracts of roads and bridges on them.
Execution of road projects by the ministry of works and housing appears too slow, why?
Unless rain recedes and the place starts getting dry, you hardly do much as far as road constructions are concerned. At the time the world was opening up following the COVID-19 lockdown, the rain was heavy. It was around June/July. The lockdown affected a lot of businesses worldwide. In Nigeria, contractors were laying-off most of their staff and closing sites because they were running at a loss. Even without COVID-19, raining season is not a good period for road constructions. In most cases, we do only remedial works during that period. That is trying to protect what we have built earlier. So, these are some of the things that affected us in 2020. The time that we were supposed to work, the dry period, there was lockdown and when the lockdown was eased, there was another lockdown by rainfall and up to November. We planned, but the best planner is God, the Almighty.
So, what is the outlook like for the works sector in 2021?
We pray that the Almighty God makes things easy for us in 2021. We are already working, we have started our programmes and we are working on all our roads and all our major contracts such as Lagos- Ibadan, Abuja-Kano through Kaduna is going on very well, and the second Niger bridge, among others, are going on pretty well. Our projects across the country are progressing considerably. We might not finish the entire major signature projects in 2021, but inshaAllah, we will achieve significant level of completion on some and our target is to complete some as well.
What has the ministry achieved in the housing sector?
The Ministry of Works and Housing makes policies on housing, but that does not mean that, sometimes, we don’t come up with pilot programmes to ensure acceptability and affordability before we release the design to our parastatals to continue to deploy. In that regard, we are currently working on national housing programmes in all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The programme has not taken up in Lagos and Rivers states because the state governments that own the lands have not given us land that is suitable for the projects. They gave us lands that were not easily accessible and as you may be aware, the housing projects we are building are supposed to be for low-income earners. Therefore, if you put more money into land preparation, the end product may not be affordable to the target beneficiary. Securing suitable land is key factor to the success of the projects.
From our experiences, most states are reluctant to grant sizeable/viable land to the Federal Government and this is impacting negatively on the Federal Government’s ability to develop housing and other infrastructure. So, we have not been able to build in Lagos and Rivers states, but in most of the states, we have completed phase I, which we plan to roll out the sale in 2021. The programmes for the sale of the completed houses have reached an advanced stage now.
When are you commencing the second phase of the national housing programme?
We have already started the second phase of the housing programme and they are designed in line with our standards. The Family Homes, the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria and other mortgage institutions are also working with us to address the housing deficits in the country. We have developed the Affordable Housing Development and Management Initiatives (AHDMI) where we bring in housing developers across the country to deliver affordable housing units for the low-income earners. The Ministry of Works and Housing has a dedicated PPP desk that handles this intervention. The pilot scheme has already started at Gwagwalada (FCT) where we intend to build 3000 units over 100 hectares of land. We are also working with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to bridge the housing gaps in the country. Currently, our attention is on building affordable houses for low-income earners aimed at reducing the housing deficits. The Federal Housing Authority is also delivering a lot in that regard. The FHA has built a sizeable number of houses across the country. So, we are doing all that we can to ensure that we reduce the housing deficits in the country.
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