As President Muhammadu Buhari begins to compile a list of the cabinet for his second term in office, he has been tasked to ensure the appointment of those who have merit, pedigree and are astute in their areas of discipline.
Speaking on the relevance of experience to infrastructural development in the country, Amechi Asugwuni, the president of National Union of Civil Engineering, Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW), maintained that President Buhari should look at those who are real professionals in the areas of their core values.
He noted that the only way the President could solve the problem of unemployment and take Nigeria to the next level he promised is through infrastructure.
He also dwelt on why Nigerian workers would never support privatisation of public utilities and would call for immediate review of the new wage, should government make any attempt to increase the pump price of petrol.
Challenges in the sector
The sector has always faced challengel; one good thing about infrastructure is to have focus on it. If there is focus on infrastructure, it leads to developing a programme for infrastructure for Nigeria, and I think one of the critical challenges we have in the construction sector is the non-prioritisation of infrastructure in the line of actions of government.
When we talk of economic growth, we talk about infrastructural growth. So, it is actually affecting us as a sector because we live on government’s decision. The section’s growth is on government’s plan. When you have a framework that is consistent, that means you will graduate from a project to project. When you have a chain of development in our sector, that means there would be no stagnancy. So, it is a big problem because the only thing that makes us suffer setbacks most times is when government thinks that they can say, I am done with this project. You can’t be done with a project in a developing country because one project begets another. One bridge begets another road and that road begets another bridge. You continue to change the country until such a time that we can say we are a developed country. We are looking forward to use this period of workers’ season, the month of May and the preceding week is considered workers’ period, we are using the period to call on the President as he prepares to assemble a new cabinet, going forward, he should appoint people with pedigree, antecedents and background. Those who have really contributed to the development of Nigeria.
When we talk about infrastructure, we talk about ministers who will be in charge of Works, Power, Housing. We need people with relevant background. People who can actually read maps and tell you the organogram of this country. From your office you must know the location of Gombe, the location of Calabar and you must know in which area we have economic variables. If Lagos is the centre for commerce in Nigeria, how do you link it up with other cities in order to extend growth to other parts of the country and what would be the benefits of government in all of this? People who understand design, people who know structural effect of a structure, those are the people that should actually be appointed. The interest of Nigeria should supersede all. I think when Mr. President wants to appoint ministers in his second term, he should look at those who are real professionals in the areas of their core values, absolute advantage in their discipline. Definitely, people derive joy when they are given the right place to function in, it would be done with passion. But when you have no knowledge, you will talk from the point of view of your ideas, which may not flow in that sector. We talk about water resources, talk about environment, there is need for professionals there, who will bring in expertise; but when you bring in people with no knowledge, he’s going there to ask people there, Permanent Secretary will begin to teach Minister, then who is the boss? Those are the things I think we need to marry in order to have an effective growth in infrastructure. By so doing, there would be jobs for Nigerians. The issue of unemployment that has been a great challenge could only be managed when you have a consistent chain drive of infrastructure in the country.
How government fared in terms of infrastructure in past four years
To be honest, this government has actually given attention to job completion. At the beginning of this administration, we cried loud that contractors were being owed and nothing was being done about it and based on that they started compulsory redundancy even when they still had jobs, all because there was no money, they were using two workers for the jobs of four. At that time, we had issues with some employers. But I think, last year, 2018, we observed that a lot of these debts had been paid. For me, it’s a plus for the administration. But going forward, having paid the debt, government should also pay, mobilize for the current projects so as not to register accumulated debt, which would be too big for government to approve when you pay according to the stages of jobs. Presently, they are in the small stages and when you pay that way, you don’t feel it and the budget would be able to carry it. Governments have tried as much as they can to release money for infrastructure, but my worry is, let there be infrastructural design for Nigeria such that Nigerians, even the younger ones, would be seeing the future Nigeria from such prospects. The government should be able to tell us what kind of Nigeria we will be seeing in 20 years’ time, the structure should already be seen now and we are working towards that. Are we connecting Lagos railway to Kaduna or Kano or Calabar, or are we linking the South to the North in that marketing and sales of goods and services will be easy and then reduce the pressure on the roads? When you have this type of design, people will be eager to follow yu. It means that, after one government, another one comes. It will mean that Nigeria has a programme, not a political party programme. We should be able to design a programme that will last for our children because everybody will see the 3D view of how Nigeria intends to look like in 20 years. Everybody will start paying tax, everybody will contribute towards achieving that Nigeria that is ahead. But when people just come and the issue of budgeting is done on annual basis. Development is drawn on a long-term basis. Then you use your short-term view or whatever to drive them. I think we should do everything possible to ensure that the issue of development is constant and by so doing it will give us a better Nigeria indeed.
Road collapse and rehabilitation
The carnage on our roads and all the bad spots we are experiencing now are actually not caused by vehicles, but our inability to be consistent in our maintenance culture. We actually know how to put things in place, but we don’t know to survive our beauty. It’s a big problem, because, for you to actually encourage development, you should be able to tell us the durability of our projects. Companies are giving these contracts based on specifications. If you check the plan details, you will discover that if the companies follow what was written to construct those roads and bridges there is nothing that will happen to those roads and bridges in a short time, nothing. But the unfortunate thing is the cutting short, which I think the fight against corruption should include monitoring those projects awarded to be built according to the specifications.
Somebody tells you that he would use certain cubic on whatever they will use for roads or bridge, but will go back again to fault it to substandard rates and when they do so, they believe that certain percentage of that part of the money has been paid out to somebody else. So, when you see people giving contracts to certain people and tell them to work with certain politicians, it means that money may be divided into other places, it means that the contractor would have to work based on whatever he has. That also means that the supervision would be poor, because they know that certain amounts of money that would have given them the best in that contract has been given to certain people. So when you make it a practice, as government comes in year in year out, they will be saying the same thing, I want to build roads; the same roads that they built, another governor will come in to build the same. That is wrong! Construction is a continuum. When you come, you construct your roads, another person will link other community. Before you know it, the entire communities within the state are linked up and they can access the city to even sell their local farm products. Now what happened to FERMA, the federal government agency set up to maintain the federal roads, are they still maintaining roads? And at what point do they maintain roads? Roads are not maintained at the peak, but at the starting point of potholes, when you have small potholes, you know they will expand during rainuy season, why not arrest them during dry season to avoid accident, even during end of the year? That is why you see every end of the year you see emergency, they want to arrest potholes. Potholes cannot happened just overnight, it starts from the small crack and it graduates. So, the maintenance culture should also be looked into, such that will protect what we have put on ground. When you see this happen, you will give hope to the coming generation because Nigerian jobs believed that is it not Nigeria. That’s why they privatised everything, all government facilities seem to be poor. You travel out, you see government-managed airport, you go to the restroom there, you brush your teeth, no smell, everything is clean, but you come to Nigeria, you find out that when you enter a toilet, no roof, go to the ministries, to federal parastatals, just visit them, all the ministries in Abuja. I think the media should do a talk on this, sanitary conditions, how are they keeping the environment there? It means that all the staff there, especially the female, could be infected with diseases. That is wrong. We can’t talk about decent work when there is no decency in our places of work. So I think a lot of these things combine to talk about our infrastructural development. It is about the people and if the people are not well catered for health-wise, then the unemployed are not safe.
We have condemned this easy choice of ‘I want to privatise,’ because when you want to privatise, what are the programmes to privatise and what are the intentions to privatise? The intention to privatise any government facility should be discussed, such as how do we believe you that if you are in control, you would do the needful to ensure that facilities of government are protected? Then when you privatise government facilities to your friends or to outsiders who eventually would be sponsored by the same government to rescue the same business that you say you are privatising, Nigerians will pay more money than you have told us you want to save. Look at the issue of NEPA, we thought that the action taken would have earned Nigerians dividend of constant power. Unfortunately, today, there is no change. You cram out these plenty of works and you give it to one person, minister of works, minister of power, minister of housing and the man has been, look at the man, in fact he is old overnight. I am waiting to hear the story Fashola will tell at the end of his four years now because the man himself has finally found out that it is not as easy as he thought. Because even from the background of a SAN not to talk about power, to talk about works, he has little to tell. But they have imposed the works on him. People like Fashola, they are brilliant Nigerians that we would always advocate that they should return, but return them to areas where they can perform effectively. Don’t give me the job of an engineer when you know I studied education because it would be difficult for me to succeed. I can’t query what I have no idea of.
In all of this, privatisation is about running away from their responsibilities. Once you start running away from your responsibility, you have started failing. I think federal government should do the needful, they have all it takes to design a good framework for Nigerians to succeed. And when it is owned by government, that is when we know that the facilities are original. That is when we know it cannot be compromised. When it is given out, Nigerians are not saved. Look at the hospitals for example, when it becomes tough for a private hospital, they will still refer you to a government hospital where they know there is capability to pay the specialists and experienced staff. Those experienced surgeons, no hospital can have them, but they are in government hospitals. How many times has government a hospital refered patients back to private hospitals?