Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) tells ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI and ISAAC ANUMIHE when the second Niger Bridge would be completed, when trailers would stop parking on Lagos bridges and the constraints in completing the Lagos-Badagry Expressway.
When is the completion date for the Second Niger Bridge taking into consideration the effect of COVID-19 on Nigeria’s finances? Has government adjusted the delivery deadline?
It is true that we have had to readjust the timeliness for the completion because of COVID-19. Not only because of the time we lost, but because of the way people have to work and also because of the limited number of people because social distancing rules still apply at our construction site because we are not out of it yet. So, I plan to pay a visit, to inspect the project. But we are looking at the second quarter of next year. There are still so many variables. Some of the variables may not be visible to you. We are moving transmission lines. To move those transmission lines, you have to shut down power. We have to do it in collaboration with Ministry of Power and the Transmission Company of Nigeria. So, it is not just the road. There are so many other things like compensation, relocation. There are lots of things we are responding to.
Are you not worried about trailers parking on the bridges in Lagos?
Well, we are worried about it and that is why I said earlier that we are compelled to address so much at the same time. The president is so clear in his mind that unless you quickly bridge this infrastructure gap, it is going to be difficult to release the energy of Nigeria. Once the roads are better, the train is moving, airports are bigger and more comfortable, there will be energy and so on and so forth. Our economy is growing, but the port in Lagos was built in 1975. What was our population then? What was our GDP? The best way I will explain it to people is that in 1975, I was 13. So, I am now 58. So, that is 43 years after. So, imagine me at 43 trying to wear the jeans I was wearing when I was 13. It is going to be uncomfortable. That is the discomfort we feel now. Until we have port expansion, it is going to be uncomfortable. That is why you see the government aggressively pushing the Lekki Port. That is what will give relief. The trailers don’t want to park on the bridge. They want to go into the ports. They want to drop cargo or pick up cargo, but there’s a queue because the place is not large enough. The turnaround is not quick enough to process them. Then, unfortunately, the road that used to evacuate the ports -the Apapa-Oworonshki Road – had collapsed; even going to the port through Oshodi/Mile 2 had collapsed when we came in. Now, the road to evacuate the port is not through the city road. Because that road had collapsed, you see them coming through the city and then, on the bridge. Apapa, through Mile 2, to Tollgate, is quicker for them than to come through Western Avenue. So, they will soon go back to that road because we are working, through another Public Private Partnership arrangement to finish that road. So, you need to understand why. We know that there have been some wear and tear on the bridge. But, there is a contract to rehabilitate them. So, it is a tough turf. Do we close down the ports? Or what do we do? As we do the repairs, the Ministry of Transportation, under Rotimi Amaechi, is now bringing the rail to the ports. So, that is the final solution; not just the expansion of the ports to take the cargo off the road. So, we are heading there.
What then is the solution to Lagos-Badagry Expressway, a major economic gateway for Nigeria that is now in shambles because you started the rehabilitation as governor?
As I’ve told you, we have dozens of projects. I can’t remember everything offhand. And I represent Lagos in the Federal cabinet, but my work is across the whole of the country. So, I disagree with you that Lagos-Badagry is in shambles. This is the point. I think we have to be specific. Lagos-Badagry is about 50 something kilometres. Is it the whole road that is in shambles? That is the point. This is what helps us. If you tell us specifically this is where it pains, it helps us in addressing the point of pain. It is like saying ‘I have a headache,’ but instead of saying that I have a headache, you are saying the whole body is paining me. How do you get a good treatment? So, I get the point. Yes, you are right. I started that project as governor and we got approval to do it. We have done up to the first 20 kilometres to Okokomaiko. We ran into some difficulty around that area because of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation pipeline. But, I can tell you we have since awarded the remaining sections. We have a contractor there now. The contractor has been there since two years ago. Now, we are facing the same problem. I agree with you it is a very strategic road. That is the Lagos-Abidjan Highway. Actually, it is one of the 12 trans-Saharan African highways. About four of them pass through Nigeria. That is one of them that links Lagos to Abidjan through Ghana through Benin Republic. So, we have awarded the contract now. It is funds challenge first of all. So, we are trying to see if we can move that project into the Sukuk. You see, it is a fallout of so many things at the same time. But the important thing to also note is that people are focused on pavement. But the real problem is the drainage. So, we are constructing the drainage from the Badagry end to town because the character of the road has changed from the 1970s. There were no houses, no shops, no malls at that time. So, right now, the road can’t drain. So, it is just a matter of finance.
As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and now a politician, do you see politics through the prism of law?
There is no aspect of human endeavour that is not regulated by law. I can’t think of anything. There are some things you can’t publish. It can become defamatory of somebody. What you wear is regulated by law. You can’t get up and say that you can’t wear clothes. What you eat is regulated by law. Who you marry is regulated by law. To that extent all the bridges we are talking about are regulated by law. Everything we do. So, why are we complying with COVID-19 protocols? It is because it is a law. So, that mindset helps me in my job. You are building a house, there are specifications on how you mix your cement. It is a law. Even the politics you are talking about is law. You must have a political party. Law is everywhere in human endeavour. Law separates us from animals.
There is an unwritten agreement between the North and the South with regards to the Presidency. Which region should take it after Buhari?
You are the one telling me.
There is an unwritten agreement between the North and South?
You are the one telling me.
In your first term, you managed three ministries. In your second coming, you are managing two. How do you feel? Are you relieved?
Well, it’s two, it was three and then it’s one, it’s zero.
How do you feel right now?
I feel it’s two.
What is your relationship with Lagos APC and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
Lagos APC…we are cool
We are cool.