By Tochukwu Ezukanma
BABATUNDE Fashola, the Minister of Works, Housing and Power, toured the Southwest geopolitical zone between Thursday, 23rd of March, 2017 and Saturday, 25th of March, 2017, and inspected ongoing and completed federal projects and facilities under his supervision. Traveling by road, he left Abuja at 5pm and arrived in Ado Ekiti, capital of Ekiti State, at 1am. He had earlier in the day attended the National Executive Council meeting and subsequently addressed the media where he announced the award of the contract for the Second Niger Bridge.
In Ado-Ekiti, the blunt and sometimes, embarrassingly honest governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, was at hand to welcome the minister, whom he praised for developing federal projects in the state. The governor said that most other ministers would have hopped into town in a helicopter, thereby denying themselves a proper understanding of the state of infrastructure in the country. Fayose stated that in appreciation of the impressive work done in his state by Fashola, he was considering toning down his criticism of the federal administration. Fashola replied that party affiliation is of no interest to the present administration in its enthusiasm to develop the country.
As one of the “senior journalists” in the minister’s entourage, I rode in the same Toyota Coaster bus with him, his aides and a number of high ranking officials of the Ministry of Works, Housing and Power. It was the first time I was at close quarters with Fashola. He is tall, slim and firm-featured. I was very impressed by his extensive knowledge and incisive mind. In discussions on variegated issues, he displayed exceptional versatility, a grasp of highly technical details and receptivity to innovations and alternative views. His answers to questions were terse and clear. And he insisted that the professional experts in his entourage and at project sites answer questions and offer explanations in simple and clear terms, devoid of technical terms) understandable to the layman. In the four-day tour, he talked no politics. Evidently, he is not allowing we-versus-them mindset of partisan politics to get in the way of his service to Nigerians.
The tour winded from Ekiti to Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ogun and then Lagos states. Overall, he inspected fourteen federal road and housing projects as well as the Omotosho power plant in Ondo State and the Olorunsogo power plant in Ogun State. In every state, the governor and his people were delighted to receive him. They were all appreciative of the work his ministry is doing in their individual states. They asked the minister to facilitate the federal government’s reimbursement of the moneys they spent renovating federal roads in their states. Over the years, other federal administrations were unable to maintain and upgrade federal roads. And, as these roads deteriorated, some state governments took it upon themselves to renovate them and then, demand a refund from the federal government. Fashola assured them that the Buhari administration is not only committed to making the refunds to state governments but is already arranging for the necessary funds to do so.
Some of the projects the minister inspected were started during the Yar’Adua administration but because they were not funded, the contractors abandoned them. The Buhari administration brought the contractors back to work and paid them. For example, the contract for the rehabilitation of the Efon Alaaye-Erinmo-Iwaraja Road (at the cost of N3.5b) was awarded on April 6, 2009 and was projected to be completed on June 19, 2011. But due to nonpayment, the contractors stopped work. In November 2016, Fashola brought back the contractor and paid him his outstanding debts. He is now working and has promised to complete the road on 19th June 2017. On the tour, the minister assured the contractors that, unlike in the past, they would now be paid quarterly and promptly.
Paradoxically, when oil sold for $100 per barrel and the country was awash with money, the country was littered with abandoned federal government projects, but now that oil is selling for less than $50.00 per barrel and the country is in a recession, the Buhari government has revived the abandoned projects and is paying contractors on time. This is a powerful testament to President Muhammadu Buhari’s fulfillment of his electoral promise of change – change from official corruption to accountability and probity. In an obvious break with the past, his administration is directing government resources to addressing the needs and solving the problems of the Nigerian masses. So, instead of stealing and salting away public funds in private pockets, it is channeling them through different ministries and agencies to improve the economy and better the lives of Nigerians. In the Ministry of Works, Housing and Power, the funds have been channeled into building houses and beefing-up public infrastructure – constructing and renovating roads, bridges, tunnels, seaports, etc.
The federal government projects in the Southwest are miniature but palpable economic engines, generating both direct and indirect employment and boosting local businesses. Each of the fourteen federal government projects inspected by the minister generates an average of 486 direct jobs and 660 indirect jobs. In addition, tons of cement, granite and sand are being purchased, through sub-contractors, from local businesses. And transporters, drivers, mechanics and laborers are also engaged in the transportation of construction materials to the sites.
The creation of jobs and the bolstering of local businesses are contributing to drive the economy out of the current recession. Getting the economy out of recession is the first step in the Buhari government-planned economic boom and the overall improvement of the quality of life for the generality of Nigerians.
At the Akinyele federal housing estate (outside Ibadan), It was poignant as the Minister entered a “buka” – a makeshift restaurant built of planks within the construction site. It was lunch time and as the “buka” customers busily munched their lunch, the minister sat amongst them, next to the restaurant owner. The lady, stunned by the unannounced presence of this eminent visitor in her “buka”, was somewhat bashful. The minister inquired about her business and how she came to set up a restaurant at the site. She explained that she came from Lagos with her husband. Her husband, an artisan, is employed at the site. So, she set up a restaurant; and serves food to the construction workers.
Ezukanma writes from Lagos.