· Says in every state of the Federation there is now one project or the other going on
· A clear government policy on the way to ensure steady supply of gas to power plants being evolved
· Housing programme at proof of concept stage with contractors already working in 30 states
· Advocates support for the government in order to achieve the desired change
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola SAN, at the weekend in Lagos reviewed the performance of his Ministry in the last one year asserting that the promise at inception to restart the economy through infrastructure development was being met in all the sectors under his charge.
Fashola, who spoke in Lagos at the Nigerian Economic Outlook – 2017 Conference organised by BusinessDay Newspapers with the theme, “The Emergence of Green Shoots?”, said in every state of the Federation today there was one project or the other going on and engendering the distribution of wealth as lost jobs were being regained while new ones were being created.
Beginning from the Works Sector, Fashola, who recalled that in his inaugural press briefing he promised to restart the reconstruction of major roads to reconnect states, pointed at the ongoing reconstruction/rehabilitation works on Federal roads and bridges across the country as evidence of the fulfilment of the promise.
“Today, you see roads from Sokoto to Ilela-Tamburawa, to Benin-Okene, Ilorin-Jebba, Kano to Maiduguri crossing five states, Calabar to Akwa-Ibom crossing two states, Lagos-Ibadan crossing three states, Enugu-Port Harcourt crossing five states, Enugu to Onitsha crossing two states, and in every state of this Federation there is now some road work going on”, the Minister said.
Also recalling that he promised that through that initiative lost jobs would be recovered, the Minister, who said the plan was to create more jobs, said, however, that by the time the economy was restarted the first thing that resulted was to recover lost jobs adding that in all the construction sites today, the story by the workers was “our employer has recalled us”.
“We promised that through this process we would legitimately redistribute the wealth of the nation and we are doing that as well; because now, drivers are back to work and they get paid for work done. People are vending, people are quarrying, trucking cement. So once that contractor is paid in my Ministry, the wealth distribution process starts until it gets to the Mama-put in the site of the construction yard”, he said.
Recalling also his promise that through the programme, journey time experience would be improved by first of all shortening journey time and then improving travel experience, Fashola declared, “Make no mistake; the work is not finished; but if you have driven on those roads you have a relatively better story to now tell”.
The Minister, who said he was also “monitoring and collecting data in a more scientific approach rather than these personal testimonies”, said the exercise would help him “know where we are gaining on our promises and where we need to bolster up”.
He was also going round, he said, “to go and see what is happening” and periodically at the Federal Executive Council, projects that have been approved for procurement were announced adding that recently FEC approved 11 roads while last Wednesday, one bridge between Nigeria and Cameroun joining the Enugu-Abakaliki Highway, was approved.
Also, according to the Minister, the Kaduna Eastern Bypass was approved to reduce the pressure on the Kaduna Metropolis and improve journey time for people going on to Zaria. He declared, “And this will not stop as long as the budget is passed”.
Fashola said all the projects were made possible “because President Buhari as the captain and the Vice President and the Minister of Budget and Economic Planning understand the need to increase the infrastructure spend”, adding that although N7Trillion looked like a lot of money, it was small considering the enormity of the problem at hand.
“But it is enormous when compared to where we were coming from”, he said adding that he got a budget of over N200Billion in 2016 for Works, for roads, compared to N18 Billion in 2015. “That is the context; from N18Billion to N260 Billion, that is the context”, he said.
Fashola also said his promise to achieve constant power supply in the country through Incremental Power in the short term to Steady Power in the medium term and Uninterrupted Power in the long term was also yielding results, pointing out that soon after that promise the nation attained 5,000Megawatts for the first time but lost a substantial part of it a few months later through gas pipeline vandalism.
The Minister, who regretted that such sabotage should happen because some Nigerians were angry, however, said the National Grid climbed back to about 4,217MW early last week but lost about 800MW again by Thursday last week due to another pipeline burst at Rumuji in Rivers State adding that efforts were being made to put it back.
According to the Minister, while all these were going on, the transmission line was being expanded and could now carry a minimum of 6,500MW and a maximum of 7,000MW of electricity adding that the talk about the transmission line being able to carry only 5,000MW was false.
Blaming the current challenges in electricity supply to the fact that the nation depends largely on gas to the neglect of other sources of energy that are also available in the country, Fashola said his Ministry has also developed an Energy Mix anchored on renewable energy sources such as Solar and Wind energy adding that the plan of government was to achieve 30 per cent of renewable energy by 2030.
He said the government has since signed a power Purchase Agreement with 14 Solar Energy providers to supply 1125MW to the grid adding that there was also a conceptualisation of a massive close to 2,000MW, subject to design in Jigawa State which, according to him, would be modelled after the Moroccan experience in Marrakesh. A piece of land has already been allocated while a team has started work on the project, he said.
In addition, he said, the Ministry has commissioned a 1.2MW solar plant to power the Lower Usman Dam Project in Abuja while work is going on also in several other projects across the nation such as the 10MW Wind Farm in Katsina, the 700MW Zungeru Power Plant which may be delivered in late 2018 or early 2019 as well as the Azura Power Plant where work has resumed after years of court cases.
Noting that all these projects were meant to achieve Incremental Power which he promised in the short term, Fashola, who said government was also working assiduously to solve other challenges such as liquidity, distribution and metering, added that Government would soon announce a clear policy that would secure payment to Generation Companies to enable them pay their suppliers and restore confidence in the sector.
In Housing, the Minister recalled that he promised a National Housing Implementation Programme so that the nation would achieve its National Housing Policy which, since 2012, promised to deliver affordable housing adding that his Ministry has evolved a programme that would address acceptability of what was given to the end users.
Pointing out that past Housing programmes were carried out without sufficient consideration to cultural and climatic diversities in the country, Fashola added that this had created acceptability gap. “But the Ministry has now conceived designs which are going to initial proof of concept stage where contractors are already working at 30 states of the country at the moment”, he said.
“Later in the year we will come back to share the results of what we have seen”, the Minister said adding, “It is only when we have national acceptability that we can then roll out the commodity large scale and that is where the Private Sector becomes our partner in delivery; we will become the off taker through the Federal Mortgage Bank, issuing mortgage to people and giving an effective purchasing capacity through mortgage”.
Advocating total support for the present administration as the only way for the nation to achieve the Change objective which they voted for, Fashola, who likened the government to a football team argued that since Nigerians chose the team themselves because of their desire to change what they did not like, they were morally bound to support that team and urge it on to achieve the desired change.
Speaking on the topic “Infrastructure Spending as a Strategic Tool for Economic Recovery and Growth”, the Minister, who rhetorically posed the questions as to why Nigerians elected the present government and what they expected from the government, declared, “Don’t give up on your team. That is why you voted this government, we all wanted a Change”.
Fashola, who recalled that the component of Change, as campaigned by the administration, was embedded in three promises; Security, Corruption and the Economy, pointed out that although issues of insecurity were global, the one that bothered the nation most was terrorism.
“That was the front burner issue; has this government contained terrorism; you answer that inside you honestly”, he said, adding that although the scourge of corruption was self-inflicted the present administration has demonstrated, more than any other government the resolve to fight the menace.
“Now, in the face of the prosecutions, the arrests and some of the evidences that are beginning to come out, is this government walking its talk?”, he asked adding “You just ask yourselves honestly; because this kind of arrests was not made before this government”.
“Nigeria had a lot of money, oil was selling at $100/barrel, billions of petro-dollars; where did the money go? I tell people, Burj Khalifa, the Dubai showpiece to the world, cost $1.5billion to build. We made more than that kind of money; Google it. What did we do with our own dollars? So that was what you wanted to change as well”, he said.
Fashola noted that in the process of fighting corruption, some people had also taken the mantle to fight government making unsubstantiated allegations against evidences being presented in court by those determined not to let the fight succeed and would bring down anybody’s reputation in order to achieve their purpose.
While assuring that Government would implement the 2017 budget as well as the recovery plan, Fashola recalled, “The economy that you wanted to change was investing 15 per cent in Capital Expenditure and was recording all sorts of growth”.
“But you kept saying it was a jobless growth, you said it. It was in every newspaper headline; “Growth Not Inclusive”. That was what you wanted to change”, the Minister said adding that the present administration has changed all that by increasing capital expenditure to twice the 2015 amount for the same purpose.
According to him, “Now, you have heard from the Budget Minister, working with his President and the Vice President increasing, slowly but surely, with dwindling resources, the Capital investment that is going into infrastructure; that presentation has been made’’.
“At the time when we had $100 per barrel we were budgeting 15 per cent, we were budgeting N4 Trillion and our number was growing. Now, at the time that we have less money, we are budgeting almost double of N4 Trillion and spending more on the Capex. That is the hard road that we have to walk but it will be a road worthwhile if we persevere”, Fashola said.
Still on the economy, the Minister, who argued that it was important to know where the nation veered into recession in order to successfully chart a course out of it, recalled that during the period of under-budgeting, roads were not built while contractors were not paid for three to four years.
As a result, he said, the construction companies started downsizing both human and resources and equipment and in the process many artisans, drivers, welders and other construction workers lost their jobs and means of livelihood and so money ceased to flow down as even indirect employees like food vendors and suppliers also lost their jobs.
Fashola, who noted that economy started contracting four years ago, pointed out that immediately the free money from oil tapered out, the result was recession adding that it was important to understand how recession came in order to know how to get out of it. “And I speak only to the facts and not as personal opinion; these are the facts, and I think this audience can engage with the facts and the truth”, he said.
Also noting that if the understanding of how the nation got into trouble was collectively understood there would be united purpose on how to get out of it and the critical role everyone had to play, the Minister pointed out that global economic slowdown also played a part in the economic recession adding that both China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other big economies experienced it in one form or the other.
The Minister said one of the steps taken by President Muhammadu Buhari to restart the economy was to cut down on public spending by reducing the number of Ministries adding that as a Minister in charge of Power, Works and Housing, he, along with a Minister of State were now managing the three-in-one Ministry hitherto supervised by five people.
According to him, “President Buhari compressed 42 Ministries to 24 and he told all of us then that if he had his way he would have stayed at 24 but the Constitution says there must be one Minister from each of the 36 states. So it is important that we just begin to locate our contexts as we deal with these issues”.
On the role of the Private Sector operators in the economic recovery plan of government, Fashola urged them to invest in the Government Bonds when they would be issued adding, “We need the money; I think that is where you are more prolific”.
The Minister also emphasized the need to play by the rules, expressing dismay that the roads constitute the major area where people break the rules building their businesses within the Right-of-Way on the highways. He cautioned those concerned to relocate voluntarily or risk being forced out.
“We need those businesses but they must be built outside and not within the Right-of-Way. It just denies other people the opportunity to use the assets built with their money. Those of us who are involved in haulage business for example must set up proper stabling yards for our trucks”, he said adding that it was a Private Sector issue.
Still on rules, Fashola frowned at the practice by Petrol tanker drivers who, according to him, exceed the approved capacity by 100 per cent loading 60,000 litres instead of 33,000litres of fuel adding, “This is flouting of the rules”.
Noting that the ECOWAS Commission has notified Nigeria as the only country in the sub-region that is still not enforcing the Absolute Compliance, Fashola declared, “So be sure that we are going to restore weighbridges. We are going to build warehouses next to them; we are going to offload that excess cargo. You are going to pay penalties for them because that is what happens all over the world, those are the rules”.
“So what I need us to do is just to play by the rules. It won’t be Christian and Muslim, it won’t be North and South, it won’t be geopolitical zones; just rules and we will be a happier people if we play by the rules”, the Minister said.
The Minister also said the Private sector could bring more efficiency into the over 60 per cent of the power assets within their management because that was why the privatization took place in the first place adding, “We wanted to see your efficiency and power of implementation and that would be helpful in terms of what could be done to support us to deliver”.
He also urged the larger members of the Private Sector who don’t own power assets to pay their electricity bills “if they are fair because I know that there are disputed bills” adding that they should use existing dispute resolution mechanisms-the Consumer Centres-instead of going to court.
Reiterating that the economic situation could be overcome if only Nigerians could deploy their resilience to use he declared, “It is only resilient people that can make determination come true in the face of daunting realities”, adding, “Now I couldn’t think of more resilient people than Nigerians. It is a strength that we have not projected proudly”.
The well-attended BusinessDay Economic Summit 2017 also featured the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who made a presentation on “Key Pillars of the 2017 Federal Budget, and his Industry, Trade and Investment counterpart, Dr Okey Enyinna Enelemah, who also gave a presentation on “The Impact of an Improved Investment Climate In Attracting the Needed Private Capital for Sustained Growth”.