Sunday Magazine

Fashola: PDP must think better to defeat APC in 2023

Babatunde Fashola SAN, former Lagos State governor and Minister of Works and Housing is a stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Recently he engaged journalists on the progress made in his ministry and the activities of his party, just as he said that the Caretaker Committee has stabilised the party. JOHNCHUKS ONUANYIM was there and reports

 

 

 

What comprehensive programme is on the ground for addressing the alarming 16 million housing deficit in the country?

 

Before I came here as Minister, I was thinking that this number is from the World Bank. I asked the World Bank they said it didn’t come from them. Now, if you continue to publish it and reinforce it, it gives the currency of truth. I think it is incumbent on you now to ask yourself is this consistent with journalistic ethics.

 

Is it the truth? Is it verifiable and should it be published? So whether in Abuja, Lagos, Minna or Aba, there are empty houses all over. Has the person pushing these numbers factored those houses into use? I asked the National Bureau of Statistics and they said they haven’t done a housing shortage census. They told me ‘Minister ignore this 16 million houses, these people are not making sense.’

 

If it is 16 million or 17 million for the national household was 35 million or 40 million, it means that half of Nigerians were homeless because it is one household per house. Is that the reality? Is half of Nigeria homeless? We know we have housing deficit, every country has it. It is more in the urban centres than it is in the rural areas.

 

Even in the urban centres like Abuja and Lagos where we have shortages there are still empty houses. So where do you get demand for supply?

 

We must understand that we discuss housing not just in terms of ownership but in ownership and rental because no country has 100 per cent ownership. The idea is to provide decent shelter over your head. Every country has its unique housing problem.

 

If you go online you see that in California there are homeless people. It is global phenomenon so there is nothing wrong with Nigeria.

 

What is the collaboration amongst the three Federal Government MDAs, involved in housing delivery to Nigerians: the Ministry of Works and Housing, the Federal Housing Authority and the Federal Mortgage Bank?

 

Our role as Ministry is to formu-late policies and to try to support parastatals and if you talk about affordable houses there is a financing problem; there is a supply problem.

 

That is why Federal Mortgage Bank deals with the finance and supply problems by granting loans to people who contribute to the National Housing Fund. So if you want to benefit you open an account with them.

 

The loans amount to N15 million or so and that falls within the category of working class people and all of that. Our role through Federal Mortgage Bank is to grant those loans at single digit interest rate.

 

We also reduce the entry qualification for those who have N5 million and less. They are used to be required to pay 10% equity and if they can’t afford N500, 000 so they won’t be eligible.

 

So some of the new things that the Buhari administration has done is to remove that 10 per cent requirement. Then those who are borrowing N5 million up to N15 million with equity contribution used to be 20 per cent.

 

We have reviewed that to 10 per cent to make room for more people to come in. The Federal Mortgage Bank is also supporting at the supply side.

 

It finances real estate developers to build houses for people in addition to granting loans to contributors to buy. Right now they have about 25, 000 units of housing in different stages of development across the country.

 

They are now driving our newest policy which is cooperative housing. Those of you in Abuja can form cooperatives, open your account and apply.

 

We are doing this nationwide – building for people and also encouraging people to build for themselves.

 

So we are undertaking search and service scheme in different parts of Nigeria. I think we have one in Plateau; we have one in Imo; we have one in Anambra, Edo and a few other states. We are also working with PPPs in some places.

When will housing shortage be a thing of the past in the country?

 

As long as we are busy in the other room, there will be consequences for those actions. That is the reality of the human civilisation and in mine opinion that is the way I think, all the period we have been here, how many children have arrived in Nigeria and across the world? So from when they arrived, they need to get a space; they need a school.

 

When they finish they’re going to build a house that’s life and by the time you people have also left that’s sadly the tragedy of life. So some of the housing issues we are talking about, when somebody dies the house is empty you put it for rent.

 

That’s how it moves. So if you tour round Ikoyi, Victoria Island and some other places today, those were the places where the Lord Lugards and all of them lived. There was a time when black people couldn’t move there, it is now owned by black  people. Europeans who come on secondment are now renting the flats.

 

That’s life, so is human circle. No nation has enough houses, I must say. It’s aspirational; it’s a good move and Nigeria continues to work towards that. We are also thinking on how to bring those houses that are not in use into the market.

 

Some of them are rebuilt, some can be modified by the owners, and I must stress that it is not government that is going to do it. It is private property.

 

You are just going to appeal to them that ‘look, this five, six-bedroom house should be re-structured because the people who have the purchasing power today for housing are the younger people but they don’t want big houses.

 

After restructuring, instead of one single six bedroom apartment, now, it’s six apartments. May be younger people might like it if it is en-suite and now reduced, it makes it functional.

 

FEC has been approving funds for some selected roads across the country in recent time. Were they not captured in the budget?

 

What the Federal Executive Council does is to approve the papers in memorandum. So it’s a platform which procurement processes are done. They are procurements because of the financial limits or the amount of money that can be done at the agency level.

 

For example, last week, I presented a memo on behalf of FERMA at the FEC.

 

The reason was because of the amount of money. It is over N1billion and this Ministry can’t approve more than N500 million. FERMA as an agency also has approval level.

 

If it exceeds FERMA approval level it comes to the Ministry. If it exceeds the Ministry’s level it will go to the FEC so what FEC does is not to approve money, is to approve proposals to execute projects put in the budget.

 

May be it is a road project or it is a housing project.

 

How far can the SUKUK initiative help in funding road construction in the country?

 

The SUKUK has been very helpful and I will take the SUKUK in terms of amount of money required to finish our roads. We inherited a number of roads and resolved that we are going to complete as many of them as possible.

 

The construction of many of those roads were started in 2007, some in 2006, some even older. Unfortunately, the reasons that they could not be completed cannot be imagined because as at that time the country was earning more revenue up to $100 per barrel and the total budget for the country was N4 trillion.

It is now that the country is earning less – $40 per barrel – that it is budgeting N13 trillion. So, really those roads should have been done but they are there. Even the ones done by state governments were not paid for.

 

I think that a minimum of half a trillion every year over the next two, three years will be a strong support to really advance and complete as many as the 711 contracts. Again, people are mistaken what I said about 711 contracts to mean roads.

No.

For example from Lagos to Ibadan expressway we have one road but two contracts – JB and RCC. On Benin/Lokoja we have one road but we have five contractors.

So, the totality of those contracts are made of 711 different contracts on many roads across the country and the total road network now under construction or rehabilitation is little over 13,000 kilometers in different stages of repairs out of total federal network of 35,000 kilometers.

SUKUK is helping because it enables us to bring investment into the road sector.

So we have 44 roads under the SUKUK. Most of the roads are spread across the six geopolitical zones. What is important is that the SUKUK is equally divided across the geopolitical zones but roads length in each zone is not exactly the same.

So my zone can cover three or four roads while your own can cover only two. I hope that provides some clarity to what we do and to say that SUKUK is like some form of PPP and investment to supplement the budget because budget is not enough.

So we limit to specific roads and most roads that are benefitting from the SUKUK are those that we normally have problems with. Those are the roads that get into the news; one of them is Lagos- Otta, Benin- Okene- Lokoja- Auchi- Ekpoma.

Another area is Calabar to Itu, then between Adamawa and Gombe, Aba- Port Harcourt area. Those are the roads largely benefiting from it and few other strategic roads that have very heavy vehicles on them.

 

What is the Ministry’s rating of the    quality of roads being constructed across the country?

 

Rating of the quality of roads, I think we don’t have our standard. Roads are constructed to a universal global standard and those standards are not made by Nigeria, they are uniform standards. You can then have minimum and maximum. In many cases we have reached some maximum because of the quality of finishing they have applied.

 

One of the things we are doing on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and a few other places; Enugu-Port Harcourt we are using what they called polymer modified bitumen instead of the 60/70 bitumen. The polymer modified bitumen is stronger so we are constructing at a very high standard.

 

What percentage of work on the average does the current budgetary allocation to the road sector cover?

 

In terms of the percentage of roads done in the current budget, it depends on how you want to report. If you want to report the cash side of government it will be about 75 per cent, because we have received only third quarter release and that is 75 percent over 100.

 

But if you want to measure actual work done, we have done more than 100 per cent.

 

From your survey, which geopolitical zone has the worst roads?

 

The reason why we are here as a party, as a government and a Minister is to project hope not to project risk. So I don’t know what you want to say about who has the worst roads. What I am in the position to say is that we are not leaving anybody behind.

 

We are doing the best we can to all parts of Nigeria and that is the mandate from Mr. President and we’re trying to make sure that we leave nobody behind. Clearly, you know that Nigeria is a big country which has different climatic conditions, different soil conditions.

 

There is Savannah part of the country, there is rainforest part of the country, there is coastal area of the country, there is desert area of the country and there is semi-desert area of the country.

 

Therefore, the roads and roads materials will behave differently and that is why you see now we have been changing some of the things we do in different parts. In some places now we are introducing concrete roads.

 

About 37 bridges are selected for rehabilitation across the country. What are the criteria for their selection and where are some of the bridges?

Now, how do we choose the bridges that are under repair? We have them in different categories. Some of these bridges are over 40 years old and no maintenance. We have done a national survey of all the bridges and the maintenance and rehabilitation schedule is now from the worst to the best.

 

So we’re starting from those that are really in critical conditions like, Tambuwal, Eko, the Third mainland, Marine, Chanchangi, even the old Niger Bridge is constantly maintained why we are building the new one because we cannot afford some of these to collapse. So we are moving from the most critical to the less critical and then this will become routine.

 

Which of the projects are of utmost priority to the Ministry and why?

All our projects are priority projects. As I said, we don’t want to leave anybody behind but again we have to understand where the economy is heading.

Our economy is heading towards agriculture, industrialization, energy sufficiency, micro and macroeconomic stability, made in Nigeria for export, ease of doing business, effective and reliable port service.

 

So we target the roads that serve the ports; we target the roads that move petrol; we target the roads that move and supply foods; we target the roads that cross borders that enable us to do export and import business. We also target the roads where we have counterpart funding so that we can pay our counterpart funding. Those are the principles that govern how we utilise our resources on roads.

 

What is the current position of the massive Trans-Saharan Road project?

 

There is not one project that is the trans-Sahara road. There are nine roads that are trans-Saharan. Some of them pass through our country, some do not.

 

So the one that passes through our country is the road that links us to Chad and it links Central Africa from Jiguti through Chad through Kano all the way to Niger and to Mali. So the section of that road that passes through Nigeria would be the Kano-Maiduguri highway that goes from East to West of Northern Nigeria.

 

We have the one that go from Lagos through Illorin, Sokoto,Tambuwal, Jeddia that is road number two. Another one is road number three, the Lagos-Seme-Badagry-Benin Republic – Togo-Ghana-Ivory Coast to Senegal.

 

The first phase being constructed now is the Lagos-Abidjan road and we have awarded contract for the Seme to Okoko road and what they are focusing on now is drainage.

 

The first thing they are working on is to construct the drainage so that the road will last and in the last three months because of COVID-19, funding challenges and rain in Nigeria we couldn’t do earth work. There are others that are not part of the trans-Sahara high ways but they are international roads like the one in Enugu to Cameron.

 

This was part of the agreement that when Bakassi was ceded to the Republic of Cameron. So there is joint venture to build a bridge and that bridge is almost completed. It was to be completed in August this year but it was delayed by COVID-19 and it will run into 2021.

 

There are nine such roads but the ones that pass through our country are the ones I talked about.

 

The funding for them comes from different sources. Some of them are funded through loans granted by multilateral bodies with country support. Some of them are funded by each country budget to execute their own part.

 

As the 2023 polls get nearer, which card are you looking at Vice Presidential ticket or?

 

Which card are we talking about now? Where do I belong? I belong to a party, APC and it is committed to good governance because I think the best politics is good governance.

 

The beauty of it for me is the opportunity it gives to impact people’s lives. We have elections only once in four years but we have responsibility to provide good governance every day and that’s the culture.

 

What is your take about the APC Caretaker Committee and uprising against it?

 

Now, in terms of the Caretaker Committee, perhaps this is a good opportunity. The first meeting of APC – don’t forget, what APC became – was convened in my official residence in Lagos. Eleven of us and some of you were asking us what we were doing. Eleven governors and I said you just watch but after that there is a bigger responsibility. Winning the election is not the challenge, rather delivering the governance is the big deal and that’s what I am committed to do. So, you see at that time, some people decided that they wanted to be Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Publicity Secretary, we voted for them. That was what they chose. If there is a crisis, that has now led us to have a Caretaker Committee, we must also respect the Caretaker Committee. Let them do their job. Those of us who didn’t contest to hold party offices should focus on our jobs too and stop bashing in each other’s room.

So, every support that the Caretaker Committee requires we will provide if it’s within our reach to do so. I am in touch with him (The Chairman) at the end of the day we are governed by rules. I know quite a number of them on a personal basis.

 

So, let’s support them to achieve the immediate mandate of their responsibility and they have brought some stability, at least we won an election. Some governors have joined us where we thought that we could not get water before.

 

Do you think APC can retain power in 2023?

 

To retain power in 2023, certainly if we keep our promises, it’s that simple. That is politics. If you do what you said you will do even if you didn’t do 100 per cent and they see that you are making progress, they will even want you to finish that which you started.

 

Our opposition has to think better than us in order to defeat us. Right now they are not doing that. When it is election time they should come and meet us.

What is your take on zoning?

 

First let’s talk about law, let’s talk about agreement. The law is the Constitution. Constitution decides the age which you can contest certain offices and there is nothing in the Constitution that says zoning.

 

All are political parties are clubs where you write agreements just like a social club and we can decide that it is the youngest person who will be the Chairman of the Club or we can decide that it is the oldest person or the next female or the next male, that is the matter of agreement between people.

 

But the Constitution that sets up the climate of political party formation does not prescribe zoning.

 

The truth is that what makes an agreement specific is the honour in which it is made not whether if it is written. If it was written there would be no court cases of breach of contract because it’s document that is written and signed that go to court.

 

But the private agreement you make with your brother and sister can be breached.

 

 

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