·      Says steps are meant to correct the mistakes of yesterday and move the country from economic stagnation
·      If we want to make our economy work we must build roads that evacuate our ports and drive our energy for now ,he says
·      Implementing reforms requires interfering with the existing order and no matter how bad an existing order is , somebody has a vested interest in it – Minister

Amidst concerted plans to take the nation’s economy out of recession, Minister of Power Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, has highlighted the specific steps being taken in the infrastructure sectors to reenergize the economy saying the steps were meant to correct the mistakes of yesterday and move the country from economic stagnation.

Fashola, who spoke at the Wilson Centre in Washington DC, USA, while presenting a paper on “Leadership and Politics of Reform In Africa: Lessons from Nigeria”, said the immediate and long term solution to the problem of economic recession lay in massive investment in infrastructure which, according to him, has already commenced.

The Minister, however, explained that it did not mean that Nigeria lacked infrastructure but that what was available was insufficient for the population and  that although the past administrations failed to utilize resources of the oil boom period to make the needed investment, the present administration was determined to turn the situation around even with the lean resources available to it.

Speaking specifically on the sectors under his Ministry, Fashola, who reiterated that most of the problems, especially in the Power Sector, were not technical but man-made, added that his Ministry had evolved clear roadmaps that were already being implemented to achieve sustainable solutions to the problems in the three critical sectors.

 

In the Works Sector, especially roads and bridges, Fashola, who said the Ministry inherited 206 roads that were not budgeted for or poorly funded, added, that the roadmap consisted of identifying and prioritizing on heavy traffic bearing roads that convey essential goods and services across the country.

The Minister declared, “We have to build roads that evacuate our sea and airports, roads that drive our energy for now, roads that go to the tank farms to evacuate fuel from South to North and roads that sustain us, that is roads that bring in our feed stock, cattle and vegetables and livestock from the North down to the South”.

“And that is why you see us building from Lagos-Ibadan road to Ilorin, to Jebba to link all the way to Kaduna and Kano and go on up North. And we are doing the same thing trying to connect River Benue through the Loko- Oweto Bridge and the Second Niger Bridge; Kano-Kaduna, Kano-Maiduguri. Those are the choices we have made , because this is a period of hard choices trying to do more with less”, he said.

According to the Minister, “Those are the choices that we have made, they are not esoteric choices; they are simple and rational choices. All the roads we are working on have been awarded before I got into office by the previous administration, over 206 roads. You don’t have resources to build 206 roads so where you put your limited resources is in those areas”.

Reiterating that the problem in the sector was also man-made, Fashola said the problem lay in under-budgeting which, according to him, resulted in contractors not being paid for three years, lack of project supervision and discipline to manage 206 road contracts that were not budgeted for or if budgeted for, were poorly funded.

“The total outstanding contractual liabilities are in the region of N1.5 trillion and this administration is taking them in batches starting from the critical heavy traffic highways that evacuate goods from ports, fuel from tank farms and move foodstuffs and agro-produce across the country”, he said.

In the Housing Sector, Fashola said the roadmap comprised the designing of houses that would respond to the diverse cultures and climatic conditions of the citizens living in the six geopolitical zones of the country adding, however, that this has been resolved by developing two broad categories of designs comprising blocks of flats for the Southern states and bungalows with courtyards for the Northern states.

Saying that the process of standardization of the house fittings has been concluded, Fashola reiterated the government’s decision to source all the fittings, including windows, doors, hinges, tiles, plumbing and electrical appliances locally in order to stimulate production by medium and small enterprises.

In the Power Sector, the Minister, who said the problem was that of insufficient power to distribute, listed some of the projects currently being implemented to increase power to include the 450MW Azura Power Plant in Edo State, the 700MW Zungeru Hydro Power Plant in Niger State, the Gurara Hydro Power Plant in Kaduna, the Kashimbilla Plant and the 115MW Kaduna Plant.

The Minister also listed areas where transmission expansion projects are currently ongoing to strengthen transmission to include the Eastern Axis where the Ikot-Ekpene – Alaoji Transmission project takes off up to Enugu from where it would boost power all the way to Makurdi adding that the local issues that earlier hindered work had been resolved.

Pointing out that some of the transmission projects have already been completed, Fashola said work was currently going on, on the Kano-Kaduna Transmission Station,  Lambe Transmission Station, Kumbotsu Transmission Station and the Alagbon Transmission Station in Lagos while the Okada transmission station in Edo State has been completed adding, “There are more that have been awarded this year; the Gurara Transmission project to take power from Gurara into Kaduna is  nearing completion”.

The Minister, who maintained that the privatization of the Power Sector, in spite of its challenges, could work, expressed delight that in spite of the ongoing vandalism and sabotage of power assets, Incremental Power was being achieved adding that in the last two weeks about 400Megawatts of electricity has been added to the National Grid from the hydro plants.

He explained, “We have increased the capacity of the hydros by fixing turbines that were abandoned or unmaintained for about three decades. In the last one year, we have done a lot of repair and maintenance work. Of course, there is increased circle of rainfall and water levels, but if you have three turbines and only one is working you can only depend on one”.

“So where we had one working, we now have two, where we had two, we now have three. So the hydros are giving us almost 400MW of power and that is a lot of power given our situation. And we have added about 1MW of Solar and there is more coming. So I think we are on our way”, he said.

On leadership and politics of reform in Africa, Fashola said the biggest challenges facing Africa on the leadership and governance fronts included, but not limited to, diversity of cultures and beliefs and how leaders could engage or balance vested interests to tip the scales in favour of the kind of positive change that benefits the vast majority of the ordinary people.

Arguing that the question of leadership must be set in a context with understanding that nations and communities are different and diverse in their history and in the level of their evolution and their progress, Fashola maintained that whether the most under developed places or the most developed places, the issues and challenges that confront governance remained the same.

Security, he said, would still be an issue even if of different complexities and so would Healthcare, Education and others remain global and ongoing issue even in the most advanced economies, adding that the challenge lay in how change could be institutionalized so that governance reforms could endure beyond one leader’s tenure.

The Minister, who identified people as central to the issues of governance and reforms as well as the most important in human civilization, said, however, that they constitute the paradox in reform being that they pursue change so relentlessly yet, somehow resist change.

Defining reform as altering a situation or the position of a thing, Fashola cited as example homes, offices, classrooms and even churches where sometimes altering of positions or situations of things, which constitute reform, invoke anger, irritation or dissatisfaction adding, “But that is the burden that our leaders face, altering our lives; oftentimes that is why we voted them”.

The Minister said as a result of the policy of changing leadership every four or eight years, there was need for leaders to be extremely knowledgeable because, according to him, “implementing reforms requires interfering with the existing order and no matter how bad an existing order is, somebody has a vested interest in it”.

“So, a bad road is a vested interest. It might require that somebody’s property yields, so that person has a vested interest in his property; so you will face resistance. And because we are creatures of habit, we hold onto the vested interest because that is what we know. The leader’s responsibility is to transpose us to see what he is seeing”, he said.

Fashola, who recommended communication as the best approach to achieve this, said although vested interest was difficult to negotiate, continued communication was the key as, according to him, “Nobody could be angry forever. At some point and with continued communication, they will yield”.

“What is enough communication? I have not heard any leader in a long time and perhaps in recent times or perhaps ever accused of over communicating. All we hear is “We don’t know what they are doing”, even if they are on television everyday”, the Minister said.

Citing the issue of the review of electricity tariff in Nigeria as example, Fashola, who recalled that the initial reaction of consumers was that they were not communicated with on the intention of government, pointed out that the resistance to the review also overlooked the fact that there was a fixed capacity charge that was in the old tariff order that consumers didn’t like and which the new tariff order removed adding, “But it is a test case for what enough communication is or what insufficient communication is”.

Fashola, who noted that one of the challenges facing African leaders was the channel through which to communicate to the majority of their people, said the difficulty lay in the fact that the Continent comprises over one billion people who were “previously kingdoms, empires in their own rights, many nationalities within them, speaking different languages, holding different religious beliefs”.

“In Nigeria, for example, the language of business is English and there are about three, four major languages widely spoken and pidgin, a corruption of English and local language. So if I were to enunciate policy, after I have done this, I haven’t communicated until I have translated it into Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Fulfude and probably to catch everybody, put some of it in pidgin. And there are some people who still don’t speak those four languages”, he said.

Also stressing the importance of communication in consensus building, especially in a democratic setting, Fashola said leaders must also be mindful, explaining that a leader must understand that he or she is responsible for peoples’ lives and that what he or she does or fails to do determines whether or not the aspirations of the people would be met or would be dashed.

Mindfulness, the Minister said, entails that a leader understands that whether or not the people lose their lives or their properties would depend on how he reacts or fails to react in times of emergencies and to understand that “within the concept of leadership there are, perhaps, two extremes, the responsibility of the office and the status of the office”.

He declared, “If you focus more on the responsibilities of the office, you are beginning, in my view, to be more mindful; of course if you focus on the status you are almost inevitably likely to lose your job”, adding that within mindfulness would also be found the issue of ego.

“We all have ego, every one of us, big and small, brittle and tough.

Building up consensus requires that you understand that the ego is yours, you own it and it does not own you. And so if the ego controls you, you won’t be able to build consensus because at all times you are required to compromise”, the Minister said.

Citing the example of Nigeria where at the Federal level there are 108 Senators and 360 Congress men from across the 36 states of the country, Fashola said mindfulness was important in building consensus as it enables the leader to realize that his compromise is not in his own interest but in the interest of the people for whom he is responsible adding, “It becomes the more so in a democratic setting where the head of the Executive has to work with Parliament; a Parliament that is diverse”.