Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, says there is no cause for alarm over the simmering crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Fashola believes the developments in the party are normal in any association of humans from diverse backgrounds, suggesting that water would eventually find its level.
The minister made the remark while fielding questions in this exclusive interview with a team of The Nigerian Xpress, comprising the managing director, Steve Nwosu, editor, Abdulfatah Oladeinde, editor-at-large, Rose Moses and political editor, Lekan Adeniran, in Lagos.
He also spoke about his experience as minister, the limitations and how the Buhari administration has fared in service delivery in the three important sectors – energy, works and housing- under his supervision in three and half years.
Sir, you’ve been a minister for four years now. What has your experience been like both as minister and working with President Muhammadu Buhari?
It’s been three years and four months, not four years. But I think it has been a good experience in terms of knowing the country, because the scope of work has not changed from what one had to do in the public service. It is the same problem everywhere, healthcare, prosperity, education, security, cost of living and so on. It is the same problem in every part of the world. The grass is not necessarily greener anywhere. What is different is the intensity of the problems. At the federal level, of course, the impact of the responsibility is more far flung. It’s educative, in that sense, better understanding of some of the places I get to read or hear about.
And working with President Buhari confirmed and exploded many myths about the man. He gave absolutely free hand to me. I believe that is true of all my colleagues; he never really interfered in how you did your work except, of course, he wanted to know what challenges you were facing and how he could help. He expected you to do the right thing. And as I have said to many, he never asked me to help anybody get any preferential treatment; he never sent me a private note. He never called me to reference a friend or family member. And he never asked me to assist anybody get anything. That’s it in a nutshell.
Is it that he is not coming to you directly because there is the belief that there are people around him doing things or people…?
(Cuts in) Nobody around him; not his wife, not his relations have come to put pressure on me or ask me for any favour.
Let’s come to the specific; the sectors in the ministries that you superintend. We’ve been here now and generators are not making noise, there is light here. In my own part of town, you don’t have the same story. How do you think you have fared personally in the power sector. Do you think power supply is even better now than before?
Let me say to that first of all that apart from being a minister, I am also a consumer. So, I don’t get any preferential treatment. Secondly, right now, there is no power. The power that is running now is the solar panel on my roof. There was power when I got home yesterday (Thursday, May 9) at about 4pm until about 1pm (Friday, May 10) just before I went to the mosque.
From time to time, it goes off and on like that and that is local distribution problem. I’ve addressed this in many fora. I know that there is power. I know that more power plants are being built. But I also know that there are distribution problems. That’s why when I spoke at a local lecture yesterday, I told people, instead of buying generators, put solar panel on your roof. It is more reliable.
As I’ve said from the beginning, it was first to get incremental power. Hopefully, over the next four years, whether I am there or not, it can move to stable power. It’s a journey; it’s not a sprint, it is a marathon and there is a lot of work to be done. I normally avoid self-assessment. But, as a consumer, I can tell myself that I feel that I am in a better place today than I was in 2015.
I can feel it in terms of how many drums of diesel I am buying. I can feel in how many hours my generator or solar panel has to run in every 24 hours. I can feel it by the comments I hear from citizens. Somebody told me that yet he knows it’s not fully solved, but his own experience is that before, if power came, he used to iron for a week ahead and that today, he doesn’t bother any more. He is confident that even if there are outages, it will come back.
That’s the experience. And there are some people, who are not yet connected. We are trying to connect them. That’s why we are promoting off grid connection. So, I can tell you confidently that by the end of this year, nine universities in Nigeria would have 24-hour power supply. I can also tell you today that markets like Ariaria, Sabon Gari, Sura, Iponri and a couple of others in Ondo, Ibadan now have reliable power. The off grid conversation is what this administration has promoted. It wasn’t there before. Everybody clung to the grid. It’s essentially trying to break the elephant into small manageable units.
So, whether you go to Moscow in Russia, and most of the nations I have been to, it is a combination of on grid and off grid. And this takes some time to happen. We have a four-year plan now about what will happen on the off grid space. We already have the funding from the World Bank and African Development Bank. And we are driving it through the Rural Electrification Agency, REA, as the focal point. People sometimes see the rural electrification agency, as only limited to the rural area.
That is a wrong impression. What we have done is that we’ve created an off grid activity and the president has approved, as required by law a Rural Electrification Strategic Implementation Plan. That plan has domiciled rural electrification implementation in REA. But it has also added an additional mandate to drive the off grid space as well. So, while the Discos and Gencos are doing their own thing, it will be doing the connectivity. But it’s not REA just connecting people, power plant and all of that.
Yes, REA is doing those university projects as a pilot, but it is doing more than that. It is connecting people, opportunities and means. At Ariaria for example, REA has no asset there. It’s just a market that needs power; a governor that wants power for his people. When I called him, I said he should provide land where a private investor, who wants to go in there…
We have the data; we know how many generators they run. We know how much they pay every day. And the private sector man said I can do it for better. We connected him with an opportunity; deal done. It’s the same thing in Sabon Gari, Sura, Iponri and the markets in Ibadan and Ondo. It is not government owning any asset. We are just opening a space that was not there before to bridge the gap. And I could go on and on.
And the enabling laws to go with it because I remember for a long time, you had power, but the law stopped you from even sharing with your neighbours.
“I keep saying it; people should read the 2005 Electric Sector Power Reform Act. It is an interesting piece of legislation. It does not grant monopoly to anybody. You see the real powers lie with National Electric Regulatory Commission, NERC. If they do what the law says they should do, we won’t have any crisis.” They can amend the already existing licence; they can revoke an existing licence because consumers are not satisfied. They can do it of their own initiative if they feel the licence holder is not performing his duties.
Like the Discos?
Go and read the law and read sections 73, 74 and 67. They can license a new licensee. Discos are not the only licence holders. Gencos are licence holders; TCN (Transmission Company of Nigeria) is a licence holder. So, they license everybody in the value chain. Just like CBN licenses Bureau de Change, Primary Mortgage Institutions, banks, etc.
Even within a Genco, they can license another Genco. It is the same powers that they have, based on regulations and the directives that we gave that has made them license Meter Asset Providers, MAP ,to provide meters.
So, why are the meters not coming?
They rolled out on May 1 and today is May 10. And it is not correct to say that meters are not coming. They are being supplied but not in enough quantity. And if you do a poll out there, in every 10, you will get maybe three, four who would say in one area they don’t have meters and in another area, you would get eight who would say they have. And you need to go round.
Beyond generation, it’s obvious we have distribution problem. Where our office is located in Opebi, we hardly have light. We are on generator for almost 24 hours. What is really the problem with the Discos?
The person who supervises the Discos is not the minister. And I think all of us must understand this. It is NERC; whether you choose to accept or not doesn’t matter, but it is the fact. I addressed this in my speech yesterday so that people can understand what privatisation really entails. The ministry of power used to have over 50,000 staff.
They used to own vehicles; those vehicles with ladders. They used to control the dams; Egbin, Ughelli, all the power plants. All of the people who headed the distribution companies, I remember Engineer Amoda, Akanonu in Eko Disco and Ikeja, were staff of the ministry. They reported to the minister. They don’t exist as staff of the ministry anymore.
From 50,000 staff, I now have 729. That’s the impact of privatisation. So, it’s not a ministry matter anymore. So, even if I wanted to solve Opebi, I can only call your Disco to say what is going on; which is what I do. When I get complaint, I send it to the Disco. And I get them (complaints) from across the whole country. But, I don’t have that truck any more to come and connect you. I don’t have the ladder any more. I don’t have transformers. I don’t have meters.
But if there is no light, it is Fashola
Rightly or wrongly, that is the reality. I can be minister and abdicate my responsibility. I still have powers under the law. And that is why I say, I hope one day, everybody would read the law and really understand that what the minister can do now is give directives, make policies, such as what our energy need should be; what are the legitimate sources for which we can use power.
That’s what the minister can do now. Make declaration like, as eligible customer, if you can’t get your power here, you can go elsewhere. But the minister can’t issue a power licence. It is not his responsibility. And if he can’t license the practitioners, can he withdraw the licence? Certainly not! As a media organisation, your licence doesn’t come from the Minister of Information; it comes from the NBC. So, that is the person who can tell you, close or open. It’s not different. That is the same model we’ve adopted in power. Because one of my responsibilities is power, I, perhaps, take on more than I should and try to solve problems as best as I can.
So, I can say to you, when you call me, that it is not my business. I can say to you, oh, let me find out what is going on. Just yesterday, somebody sent me a text that in his area they didn’t have power for 10 hours. That was a crisis. And you should put this in context because in the past, these people didn’t have power for weeks. A 10-hour outage is now a crisis. And I asked for his address and he said it’s somewhere on Lagos Island and I said, don’t worry. I sent the complaint to the Disco. About two hours later, I got ‘a thank you’ message. That is all I can do. I don’t have a ladder to send to that person’s house.
NERC and I have agonised and asked ourselves why commercial areas don’t normally have power. But what I would do, if I were NERC, is to say that hey, if you can’t power this district satisfactorily within a certain number of days, I am going to amend your licence and take this place out of your franchise. That power exists in the law. It can be exercised if the consumer complains. It can be exercised by NERC on its own initiative, if it’s not happy about what is happening.
From what you have said so far, the problem you are having is evacuation and distribution. What can government do to help the Discos?
There are so many things the government can do as an enabler. And that is the context in which I cannot abdicate. For example, we have issues of exchange rate difficulties. Exchange rate is managed by government, not by my ministry, but the Central Bank. Government is also a 40 per cent shareholder in the Discos; that is federal, states, local governments and former staff.
All jointly hold 40 per cent. And the representative of government on that Board is the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, not the minister, not the ministry. Bureau of Public Enterprises is under the National Council on Privatisation chaired by the vice president. So, that bureau doesn’t report to me.
Again, my job is policy and one of the things I have recommended to government is that as a 40 per cent shareholder in this business and this business doesn’t have money to buy the last mine equipment. Basically, what you’re probably going through in Opebi are last mine connection, transformer grid, breakers that are not working well, a population that has outgrown installed capacity. And that’s a large investment.
And I made recommendation to government last year to invest money in the Discos by contributing its own 40 per cent shares in cash. This is a company and if they don’t have money, they are entitled to make a call on shareholders to say come and provide more funds. And government agreed with me.
Federal Executive Council (FEC) agreed and we take to a figure of N72 billion. What was that N72 billion about? It was the input we got from all the Discos that look, what is your biggest problem; where is your most commercial franchise that if you had money, where would you invest it to evacuate this excess power, sell it and collect? It was from the data they submitted that we got that number. So, we are now in the procurement stage of all of the equipment. I have about eight memos, pending with the Federal Executive Council to start the deployment of the money. That is another thing that is being done.
I know you would say most things are not supposed to come to you. But, what you have now is people coming to your house and throw all kinds of bills at you and you are expected to pay. What is being done concerning estimated billing?
That is why I said I cannot fold my arms. Estimated billing was a public issue. As minister of power, I gave directives that we need to find a solution. And what we arrived at was to license other people to provide meters. That was a policy directive. And I think we must understand how the system works. It is a regulated industry, highly regulated.
So, my policy then leads NERC to make a regulation. For them to make any regulation, which is going to be the law, they have to consult everybody. That’s how the system works here and in any other part of the world. Regulators can’t make new laws in your media industry without consulting the stakeholders.
It’s the same thing. It’s not different. So, it took time to make the regulation. The regulation then requires certain conditions for a Meter Asset Provider to be able to qualify so that we are not fooling around. Can you raise the money? Which bank is going to give you the money, because that is a big problem; that is why the Discos can’t supply the meters because they don’t have the money. So, if you want to do the business, give us proof. About 120 plus companies applied and 14 have been licensed. May 1st was roll out day.
I asked the question because of what is going on. You ask for the meter from maybe Ikeja Electric and they say they don’t have and somebody now asks you, are you ready to pay hundreds of thousands to get the meter, which means the meters are there but you have to pay something to get it.
Again, as I said, I don’t have meters and I don’t know what is going on in the businesses of those people. I am not a member of their board.
Who is protecting us then?
NERC is the one protecting you. So must petition NERC, not me. All of you must understand this and as you understand it, you break it down because everybody talks about it from the superficial level. And that’s why I try to draw analogy between what is going on in your own sector (media). So, if I have a problem with how a newspaper has behaved, will I go to the minister of information?
We chose privatisation. What is going on is the consequence of privatisation. If I have a problem with how my bank has overcharged me, will I go to the minister of finance? No, I will petition the Central Bank or the consumer protection agency. This is what we chose. Are we without remedy? No, but we should use that law more. There is a lot of relief in that law.
We are currently doing above 8,000 megawatts. As a nation, where do we need to get to before we say we are okay and when are we going to get there?
That would be like guess work. Let’s start from the standard basis for comparison, South Africa. Go and check what is happening in South Africa over the last three months. Go and check Eskom. The company is literarily insolvent. It owes $30 billion. They are shutting down power plants today. The grass is not greener on the other side. Any time people mention South Africa producing 40,000 megawatts, I just laugh because I know that they are in crisis.
They borrowed $2 billion last year from China Development Bank. And the whole country was up in arms, asking what they did with the money. Cyril Ramaphosa (South African president) just patched it up because of the election. They are shutting down traffic lights. Lifts were breaking down; people were hanging in lifts in the same South Africa we are using to abuse ourselves.
I used that in context. How many mines are operating in Nigeria? That is the heart of the South African business. It’s a lot of energy. How many aircraft manufacturing companies do we have? They make airplanes and aircraft parts in South Africa. How many ammunition manufacturing companies do we have here? They make arms in South Africa. What am I essentially saying?
The amount of power that an economy needs is not necessarily determined only by the size of its population. It’s a relevant consideration, but it is not the only defining item. It is also a function of what activity that population is involved in. So, you can have an Ariaria market, for example, with 33,000 shops. What we installed there was 10 megawatts.
They engage in selling, buying. What did they install, bulbs and fans? Each bulb is 60 watts. One kilowatt of energy is a thousand watts. With one kilowatt, you power 60,000 bulbs. It’s all bulbs and fans. It’s different from Ashaka Cement, which is 16 megawatts. It’s one industry. So, it is one consumer to 33,000 consumers. So, it depends on what you are doing.
If you are selling, you are photographing, you are printing, you are not going to consume the kind of energy that somebody who is into frozen food business is doing. Cooling is very expensive. It depends on our daily and commercial activities. If what we are doing is run stock exchange, banking, financial services sector, we won’t consume as much power as an industrial nation.
Is not having enough power not affecting our industrialisation with companies folding up here and there?
I want to be careful with what I say here. But, I want to be as factual as I can be. I know and it is un-debatable that if you have to do your own power generation, your industrial capacity and ability would be more expensive. It won’t be as efficient. Efficiency of industrialisation is different, I dare say, from ability. And I had this discussion with somebody lately and I said I know that not all of India has enough power.
But India is making vehicles and trucks and exporting them to us. India is making tricycles and exporting to us. That country is also exporting textiles to us. But they don’t have all the power they need. And I ask people, which power Aliko Dangote produces with? Our ability to industrialise is a fine margin.
So, we need to be careful. Our efficiency at industrialisation is different from our ability. There are some people, give them 24 hours power, they won’t industrialise, they won’t do anything. They would complain. If power comes, some people will still complain that there is another reason they can’t operate. That is the point I am trying to make. Some legitimately would say they can’t be efficient because of the cost. And you can’t debate that. Because, if I can bring down the cost of generation by 20, 30 per cent, prices certainly should come down and become more competitive.
The construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has been going on for like eternity. When is the road going to be delivered? And the 2nd Niger Bridge, when is it coming up?
I think the date for the delivery of the 2nd Niger Bridge is February 2022. I have to check again the date for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. But the dates are predicated on finance. The road was awarded in 2006/07. But, it was given to a private company, who professed to be able to fund it. But they could not mobilise the funding.
The previous administration then cancelled it in 2010 and mobilised financing to start. So, that was the first time, after six years that any attempt was really made. By the time we came in, the company had got an injunction against the funds that the last administration had mobilised and stopped the funding of the road completely. So, if you look at it, it was a contract that was never executed. It is not as if the road is jinxed or that nobody can build it. It was just that they couldn’t put funding into it.
“A week after I became minister, the president sent for me and said look, Lagos-Ibadan, 2nd Niger Bridge, Ilorin-Jebba, Abuja-Kano, are priority roads for our administration.”
What about East-West Road?
East-West Road is not under my ministry. It is under the Ministry of the Niger Delta. It was a priority, but not under my ministry. And the president said that he heard that Lagos-Ibadan is in court, how do we get out (of the court case), so that we can build the road. He also demanded for the PPP for the 2nd Niger Bridge.
He said information had it that it takes a week to cross Jebba and Ilorin and that I should go there and look at the problem. He also sought my advice on how to get Abuja-Kano going and the cost implication. The roads are the major arteries for business and transportation in the country. So, I met with all the parties on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and I realised that they were in court, they were appealing at the Court of Appeal and I said to the president, please, sir, everybody is fighting everybody that I see here.
Take your road back. It is unlikely that any court will grant an injunction stopping you from building your road. They may try, but I don’t think they will succeed. And that was what we did. We put the road back in the budget and I think it was in 2016 that for the first time more than N36 billion was budgeted and we spent N26 billion. And that was the first relief that people began to see. In 2017, the Senate cut the budget down to N10 billion when we were already owing the contractors N5 billion from the N31 billion that we proposed.
Of course, in 2017, work stopped. Last year, the president said ok, I am tired of these games. He went to raise a Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund and now the contractors are back to work. So, the major problem with that road is funding. It is the same thing with the 2nd Niger Bridge. They said PPP will do the bridge and they were busy doing traffic count and all sorts of things. They hadn’t concluded traffic count. When I asked them, they said the fundamentals upon which the business was conceived had changed, the exchange rate had changed; the traffic count can’t justify the business plan anymore, unless we are going to guarantee the differential. If the traffic falls short of the expectation, we will give them the guarantee in dollars.
In terms of tolling of the road?
Yes. As the basis for building and financing the project, and I said to the president, you don’t have the time, you better take over your bridge. If they are saying we should bring the guarantee in dollars, once you are guaranteeing something, it is as good as you are doing it yourself. Take over and put it in the budget, which is again what we did.
And as I kept assuring people, that don’t worry; work has started, they are piling; you will soon see, now, at least, the piles are out. Ilorin to Jebba has the same problem. The contractor had been given 25 per cent of his mobilisation fee of 15 per cent. He was supposed to get 15 per cent mobilisation of a N12 billion contract. He got 25 percent of it in 2012 and stopped work. I went there.
People were sleeping on the road for four days. They ran out of food and were slaughtering their cattle. They were selling their tomatoes because they were rotting. Just to cross a 93-kilometer stretch. And I met the contractor and told him that I was there on a presidential mandate and asked him if he could raise money and mobilse back to site.
I promised him that I would make sure we put the road back in the budget. And the man said he had heard a lot about me from Lagos and said he believed me. So, we got him into the budget, but he had started work. He finished the road in about 14 months. So, the 93 kilometers now takes one and half hours to cross. We awarded the expansion now because it was a single carriage way.
We are now dualising. We awarded the expansion, we also awarded the extension, not only from Ilorin to Jebba now, but from Jebba to Mokwa. If you look at Abuja-Kaduna, it is the same thing. All of these were funded from the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund.
Left to you, if they say deliver one road if you had magic wand, which is the road you want fixed like yesterday?
There is no single road that we want fixed because all the roads are interconnected. We must understand public transport and its interconnectivity. If you fix Sokoto-Tambuwal-Jega up to Tegina and you don’t do Ilorin-Mokwa-Jebba to Ilorin, then where is that road going? It is going nowhere. If you do Ilorin-Mokwa-Jebba and don’t do Oyo-Ogbomosho, where is it going?
And if everybody gets to Oyo and they can’t get their market to Lagos, they can’t traverse Sagamu, it’s going nowhere. If you say you want to take Sagamu-Ajebandele-Ore all the way to Benin and you stop at Benin bypass, where are you going? If everybody stops in Benin, Benin’s economy can’t take everybody. So, some need to move to Asaba and, therefore, you have to traverse beyond Benin go through Benin-Asaba-Okene-Lokoja. And once you hit Lokoja, where are you going? Are you going to Abuja, Kaduna, Kano? It’s an interconnectivity.
So, what I would like to say in specific answer to you is to make the A1 to A4 all functional. The A1 is Lagos to Sokoto and that’s the road that goes from Lagos-Oyo-Ogbomosho-Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa-Kotangora to your left. To your right is Tegina and you are going towards Kaduna. A2 is Warri-Benin-Okene-Kano. A3 is Port Harcourt-Enugu to Katsina. A4 is Calabar-Katsina Ala-Maiduguri. All those roads come from the Sahel and end at a port.
What happened to the Coastal Road initiative?
You are asking me if there is one road. There is no one road. I have 565 contracts at the moment. So, if you are asking me to choose one, I am saying there is no need. They are all connected. So, if I wanted to do Enugu-Port Harcourt, I want to finish it. I want to finish 2nd Niger Bridge. I want to finish the Loko-Oweto Bridge because they go somewhere. It is not a question of choosing one road.
How then can we be expecting that our roads would get better when funding is poor, when we don’t have all the money and we need to do the roads to boost the economy?
We need to also understand that we went through periods in this country when there was no developmental work at all. Let me switch on your mind, 1993 to 1998, what were the other countries in the world doing? Moving on. Can you imagine those periods when we didn’t go to work. Just do an analysis of how our population ballooned. How many children were born then? Those children are now in their 20s and 30s. Look at the decade from 2007 to 2015/16. If you went to Dubai or Saudi Arabia then or any of the major oil producing nations, what they were doing was just construction. What did we do? Nothing.
“We suddenly have a president that simultaneously wants to do the road, the airports, the rail and power. He is looking for money everywhere to attack the infrastructure. He is not stealing your money. He is borrowing wherever he can. Then they say he is borrowing too much. And if he can’t find money to borrow, they say the infrastructure is not good”
I’ve been through that situation before. When I raised the N275 billion bond in Lagos, they said I’ve mortgaged the whole of Lagos. But you cannot do what we did with that money again. It’s just that simple. At the time we were doing it, the exchange rate was N110 to the dollar. We were even negotiating at N109. So, we did today’s infrastructure with yesterday’s money.
That Alexander, Bourdillion, Gerard, Ozumba Mbadiwe, the ramp at Falomo, the Lekki-Epe Expressway, we did all from that money. Interest rate was then 12 percent. Close your eyes and imagine we didn’t do those roads. They are going to be there for another 25 years if you maintain them. That was the period we did Western Avenue, Adeniran Ogunsanya, and all those roads in Alimosho.
That was the period we started the Lagos Homes. It was the period we started the rail; you can’t mix that concrete again. With the same amount of money, maybe you will do one third of what we did at today’s exchange rate. That’s what the president is doing and if he doesn’t do it today, it’s going to get more expensive tomorrow.
You touched on a few things in Lagos and maybe I should ask you a few questions about Lagos. When you were leaving, you laid a foundation, fortified and launched it. Is today’s Lagos still going on that trajectory? Is today’s Lagos what you expected it to be about four years after you left office?
I’ve stopped assessing what is happening, because I’ve told people it is a public trust, not a private company. Once you finish with a public trust, you move on.
But you have some attachment to the state…
I’m just a citizen now and a resident. It is a public trust. It is finished. My job is done. I’ve handed over.
What is the relationship between you and Governor Akinwunmi Ambode?
I’ve answered that question many times. We are cool.
What’s government doing about Apapa Road?
The road leading to Apapa is under contract. The one that is my responsibility Apapa-Mile 2-Oshodi-Oworonsoki, the contractor has been mobilised and they are setting out. If you go there now, the contractor is there and we are building with cement this time around.
Going to Apapa now is hellish because of traffic…
Just like Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, give me the authority and let the citizens hold a referendum and say you can shut it down for six months and that they won’t use it and you’ll see what we will do. Give me the authority to close it for six months. We have to construct while people drive through it.
What we have now is a commitment that it won’t be patched, it will be reconstructed and I think that’s a big commitment. No government in recent time has made any attempt to reconstruct that whole stretch. That is 35 kilometers over 10 lanes. Essentially, we will be building 350 linear kilometers inside the city.
And that’s almost the distance between Kano and Abuja. Kano to Abuja is 360 kilometers. So, we are building 350 linear kilometers inside the city. We have to move the materials there; the sand, the cement, trucks, diesel, water. We have to manage traffic to allow you to go to work and back home. It is a logistic nightmare.
Can you give us the timeline for its completion?
It’s a 24-month project.
What’s going on concerning Ikeja-Sango-Abeokuta Expressway?
That stretch of road is a three years project, subject to regular funding. Let me tell you, when the minister for finance says they need to raise fund, it’s a very serious matter. What I got for second quarter was N50 billion for all the three ministries. She can only give me what she has. So, we gave N30 billion to works. There is one contractor we are owing N48 billion. But we can’t give all to him.
We shared the money round so that it can move round the system and hope that the next quarter will be better. We gave N11 billion to power and N9 billion to housing. There are contractors being owed there too. It’s the reality of our society.
Is it the Lagos HOMS (Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme) mix you are using to address the housing deficit in Nigeria or don’t you think there is a housing deficit?
It depends on how you want to write this; whether an intelligent or generalised discussion. First of all, there is a lot of data being thrown at us that I disagree with. Unfortunately, many people have gladly owned, but I don’t own them. The data of the poverty capital of the world has been thrown at us; I don’t own it. I disagree. There is poverty, but relative to who?
Every society is dealing with poverty. If agencies want to amplify our problem in order that they continue to be relevant in our system, and we don’t collect our own data in order to reply, that is ok. But I won’t own that data. Even the 17 million housing deficit I’ve tracked and tracked, everybody who then referred to that data is now saying they didn’t see it. Even the World Bank can claim ownership of the data and it was supposed to have come from them. So, where is the investigative capacity to say where did this all start from and what are the facts?
What the facts are is that there is a problem called urbanisation. It is a global problem. The whole world has urbanised more rapidly in the last 50 years than it has urbanised in all its existence. And what it simply then means is that more people are beginning to live in cities and as such, there is a bigger demand for houses. It’s a demand and supply matrix at war.
And, therefore, you’re likely to see more contenders for housing, challenges in urban centres than you will see in the rural areas. Most houses in the villages are empty. Is that part of the deficit? It is an urbanisation problem. There is housing problem in urban cities. But, even within the urban centres there are empty houses. In Lagos, Awka, Port Harcourt, Kano, there are empty houses. I challenge all of the estate managers to give me the numbers. I don’t have the temperament for unintelligent discussions because it doesn’t help me to define my problems.
Where do I begin to chase 17 million deficits from? You know what 17 million is? Do you know what a million people is? How do we build 17 million apartments, assuming that was our problem? But I am not satisfied that, that is my problem. It may well be a few millions. But, I need to be able to define my problems so that I can then sensibly and logically mobilise, look at my resources, look at what I have to fight the war.
Or say that the war will defeat us, so we should ask for help. In that context, we can begin to talk about our housing strategy. Is it that everybody must own a home? Or are we generally talking about first and foremost, dignified shelter, rent and from there, we can move up to ownership. On one side of the spectrum, there is unemployment.
So, is the man who doesn’t have a job entitled to own a home? I think what we owe the man first is to find a job for him so that he can then rent a house. But if we are encouraging him to own a home without a job where is he going to get the money to pay. They are fixing broken pipes in my house now, so, who is going to be repairing the house for him.
Now, what are we doing, now that we have this background? We are trying to find first what type of house do Nigerians like? And then, what type of house can they afford? Because the empty houses suggest to me that there is a disconnect between what this man has built and what the people want or can afford. That was how we diagnosed the problem. We are trying to find out how many, but we know that there are many empty houses. What can be the cause (of empty houses)? They either don’t like them, can’t afford them or both.
What do they like? We sent out architects across the country and they came back with feedback. That first of all, Nigerians like one, two and three-bedroom houses. But they are particular about, depending on what part of the country you are, how you build them. Up North, they want them built in bungalows, so they want one-bedroom, two-bedroom, three-bedroom bungalows. They don’t want to live in flats, cultural issues. They want courtyard at the back. So, some of the old Shagari type flats that were built in the North are empty till today. Nobody lives in there. So, if you build it again, they won’t live there. That’s the reality of what we are dealing with.
And everybody is facing the Federal Government, but don’t forget the Federal Government doesn’t own land. The pilot we decided to do to test the water was subject to land given to me by state governors to whom I applied. When people are also comparing the housing policies in other countries, ask them how many federal republics are they comparing with.
Singapore is not a federal republic; United Kingdom is not a federal republic. And in the United States, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the American government talking about building houses. Those are state level activities. Even if it is one million, 20 million, 17 million, the Federal Government can’t build such huge numbers. What roles are the states playing? That is why I was champion of housing here (in Lagos).
It’s like in the power sector where everybody is saying federal, federal but if you read the constitution, read my speech; states can set up their own plant. They can generate, distribute and transmit power. The only limitation is that they can’t distribute or transmit power in places covered by the national grid. Now, if you say that only 55 per cent of Nigerians have access to power, it suggests that only 55 per cent Nigerians are covered by the grid. So, the 44 per cent that is left, where are they? Are they in Abuja? They are in the states. So, instead of doing grid extension, which they always do, build your own grid network and isolate it within your state; generate your own power.
But Lagos did under Asiwaju Bola Tinubu with Enron but it didn’t work…
It worked eventually. At that time the constitution hadn’t been amended. But now, the constitution has been amended. At that time power was exclusive, now it is a concurrent matter. I built seven power plants. How big is the problem? They tell us we have 10 million children out of school. Who did the audit?
But that is not denying the fact that there are several children out of school…
There has been a war. Don’t misunderstand this. (President) Jonathan went to the National Assembly and told them he needed money to fight a war. What happens after a war? Destruction and displacement; that’s what happens during war. The soldiers are not there to make everybody happy. That’s why sensible people always say don’t fight a war.
One bridge in Mubi, Adamawa State, it was our own forces that blew the bridge. The commander told me that they blew the bridge to cut off the insurgents. There is nothing beautiful about war. After war comes rebuilding. Did you see what Iraq became when they wanted to flush out ISIS? Every building within the vicinity was leveled. Who are the victims you see? They are women and children. When there is war, go to school now. This is where we are. In that part of the country, there is war going on.
Whether we like it or not, people will be displaced. It happened when I was young. There was a war going on in the eastern part of Nigeria. So, what is going on in the North-east is not new. When we finished, we decided we were going to rebuild Nigeria. By the time the war finished in 1970, I was seven years and certain policies had evolved such that when I entered form one at 10 years, I had 18-year-olds who were in form one. They were brought here (Lagos) to go to school.
Every time people say we should go to Rwanda to learn how to manage aftermath of war, I tell them to keep quiet. We’ve managed post conflict in this country before. It was the civil war that led to the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, and the National Sports Festival as integration tools.
From all indications, you’re a technocrat in government but you still have to play politics. You just came back from mosque and there were people waiting for you, so you can’t escape from politicking. Now it’s like there is so much crisis in APC. Rochas Okorocha in Imo State, Akeredolu in Ondo State. Ogun State was just managed somehow and Edo State is there too. What’s your take?
Like I used to tell my children when they ask me, daddy, why are you in politics? I tell them, look politics is a noble undertaking; a noble calling, but it brings together people from different backgrounds. I say to them that in some homes, they eat at a particular time and they eat together. And in that home, when it is time to eat, maybe it’s the father that eats first, the children second and the mother last. In some homes, the children first, the wife next and the father last.
Each house has its own order. In some homes, they don’t eat together but there is always food. Like in this home, we don’t have set dining time, but there is always food. In some homes, they don’t have set dining time, but if you don’t rush, you won’t get fed. And even in some homes, they have set dining times but if you don’t struggle, you won’t get meat. In some homes, the stronger you are the more you get. In some homes, the smaller you are the more you are protected.
Those people from those different homes now come to one political party, all political arrangements, all associations of people, all clubs, all institutions of human beings. That’s what happens there, people from diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences. Some are used to struggling. Some are used to being calm. Some have survived simply by making a noise. If you understand that, there is no cause for alarm.
APC might turn like PDP. The moment you don’t hold power at the centre, the party could just scatter…
This is 20 years of an evolving democracy and you are going to see a lot of things moving around. And every time we isolate our challenges. I always like to draw parallel from other sides. In Barack Obama’s second election in Florida, the governor was Republican. Immediately they lost, he crossed party to become a Democrat.
That wasn’t reported here. In Barack Obama’s re-election, if you recall Chris Christie was his most vocal critic until Hurricane Katrina came and leveled New Jersey. And the only help he got was from the Federal Government. And immediately after they sent their FEMA there, he started campaigning for Obama and his party said what are you doing and he said that was the only person we saw; that the politics of New Jersey is the politics of survival. Donald Trump was a Democrat.
He used to buy government property throughout Obama’s period and re-developed them. There is one property on Pennsylvania Avenue and it was Bill Clinton, who helped him to get it because Obama wasn’t going to sell. It was an abandoned government property. He has become a Republican and they are even saying that the Republican Party is the party of Trump.
That’s Abraham Lincoln party. And somebody has hijacked it. They held a national convention; all the known Republicans were absent. It was organised by the Trump family. John Kasich, who was the governor of Ohio, the host state didn’t go. That’s after more than 300 years of their democracy.
Bernie Sanders is an independently elected senator. He was looking for the platform of Democrats. And when you go further down at the state levels, there is a lot going on. I follow it.
Now, let’s quickly shift to the UK. The party in government couldn’t deliver on its own agenda. One minister after another wanted the prime minister to go, starting form Boris Johnson and others. They sabotaged their own agenda. How much dysfunctional can you get? On the Labour Party side, (Chuka) Umunna and about six people have left. They said they were not part of that party again and have formed their own party. That Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitism.
Theresa May now said if you people don’t want to make a deal, I am going to make a deal with Corbyn and they say, no way, you can’t make a deal with the devil. And you know what’s happening? Most automobile companies, Honda and others have closed; aircraft manufacturing are closing down, banks are repositioning their businesses.
Generally, GDP is dropping, confidence is being lost in the economy and nobody knows what will happen. That’s after 600 years of democracy. Compare that to 20 years because these are the analyses that we should have. This is what I spend my time studying. How bad are we? You are talking about Rochas, he was in APGA and from there to PDP. He was everywhere. We are trying to move things along. In a cultural setting where the zero sum game is difficult to accept, there is a cultural issue also about democracy; it is winner takes all. And that is why the culture of concession is still high, the culture of I will fight another day is still high.
And it is not in politics alone. It’s in our football, where it is almost an anathema to lose a home match even if you play badly. We are a nation in evolution. Even when we go abroad and we know that we have played two matches and we have lost, we will start calculating; how one nation is going to beat another so that we can come in when we didn’t deserve it. It is in that cultural context. It is not so much a systemic problem but also our own problem in the sense this can’t be all about me.
For me to win, somebody has to lose. Some people used to ask why I was campaigning so hard and I replied that it’s an election; I can lose. They say no way, it’s not possible and I told them it’s possible. I play football. I’ve seen team that we should have walloped, it didn’t go in that way and before you know it, maybe we just score an own goal against ourselves and they defend with their teeth. If you call the match one hour before, we would beat them eight nil. But on the day, that’s how it is.
And the electorate just decide we don’t want Nwosu, after changing Nwosu, they come and say we are not even sure what we were voting for. But that’s the tyranny of the majority in a democracy. It was after the electorate had voted Brexit that they said it was not well explained to them. It is a system created by men; it is flawed. It is also a place where ego is at play.
And this is why I try to remain within my space. I always tell myself immediately first you become former governor; after a while you become one-time governor and then, you go quietly into the night. And when you go quietly into the night, you have peace. I want to quickly go quietly to become one-time governor, one-time this, one-time that let Nigeria move on.
There is one question I want to ask and I don’t know how fair it could be. But as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, in the government, what’s your take on the way the former Chief Justice of Nigeria was treated?
I won’t personalise what happened. The important thing is to first understand that there are process issues. And there are questions also being asked and nobody can run away from those questions. The only thing you can say is whether the process to initiate it was probably the best process. I would probably have had a second look at it.
But you see, hindsight is always 20:20 and I think that’s the most important thing. At the end of the day, I think what matters most as a member of the legal profession; one of the things the profession has demonstrated over time is its ability to self-remedy whenever there is a problem. And we’ve seen all of this from the famous Port Harcourt, Owerri conferences where almost the whole bar was going down. But like the phoenix, we repaired.
And this won’t be different. It just called to attention for us to introspect more as officers in the temple of justice; to look more in the mirror and ask ourselves do we like what we see? And every time we don’t like what we see, we must not lack the courage to quickly change what we don’t like because the members of the public gave probably seen the same thing. I would refrain from personalising vis-à-vis any officer. It raises question about a fundamental institution to our own existence as a people, the judiciary, because that is where our freedoms as a people are validated.
That’s where our liberties are protected. It is not in the executive arm, not in the legislative arm. It is in the judicial arm. So, whatever happens that must concern all of us very seriously. And the quicker any issue, relating to the judiciary is resolved, the better it is for all of us because really and truly, now that we have talked about all the elections, all the party crises that we talked about; somebody’s certificate was not given either for duress or no duress, somebody joined one party whether he had certificate or did not have certificate to contest election, whether somebody is a Nigerian, all these things are going back to one place. And that place is the judiciary. That place must not be blemished. That’s my take.
What stage are we on the National Housing Programme? Secondly, you are handling three very big ministries. Is it so easy and how have you been coping because we’ve not had it before, where one minister is in charge of about three main ministries?
We’ve finished over 85 per cent of the houses in phase one. And the one we haven’t finished are the ones going to four floors. The main challenge has been funding. Apart from the building, we now have infrastructure, water, electricity, drainage, roads. We have finished about 90 per cent of most of that.
Again, funding is what is holding us because these are small businesses, which really can’t afford to raise money on a long term basis, especially when they are not sure how quickly they will be paid to finish up the job. And we are starting to award a second phase because beyond housing, we are concerned about employment. Those contracts attract small businesses, as a supply table. So, we want to keep that going. We want to award that under the 2018 budget. We are in the final stage of procurement before the budget expires.
How do I cope? Well, don’t forget that contrary to what everybody says, we were two ministers from day one. Mustapha Baba Shehuri was appointed with me ,as a minister of state. We became three because Suleiman Hassan Zama joined me, as minister of state. He was later deployed to environment after Amina Mohammed left and the minister of state there became the Emir of Nasarawa, so the place was vacant.
And the president already had vacancies from Ekiti, Ogun, Taraba, and a couple of other states where people had left and he hadn’t filled. So, he was shuffling just as he moved Zainab from budget to finance and because I had two, he moved one.
In terms of work load, it is not more work than I normally did either as chief of staff or governor. In fact, my tenure in the public service, I think my hardest was as chief of staff because you don’t control your time. You are dependent entirely on what your principal wants you to do and all of that. Yes, it’s better as you go along. We have permanent secretary and directors too in the headquarters. Then I have zonal directors in each zone.
There is zonal director of works for south east, south south, South-west, North-central, North-east, and North-west; the same thing for housing. Then, there is controller in each state. So, it is not one man. And really and truly, I think we should have a conversation and I am throwing it on your lap; what do ministers do? What does the minister for housing in America, Ben Carson, do?
What does the minister for housing in the UK do? So, what do you expect of your own ministers? Let’s have this conversation. We had this election going on, except for President Muhammadu Buhari and, perhaps, the vice president, none of the candidates, who wanted to be president said a word about the civil service. I will do this and that, it is the civil service and the public service that would do that. What does a president do? What does Trump do? What does Theresa May do? Really and truly, let’s have this conversation.
But you direct…
How many times has the president directed? As the leader of an Infantry, he (Buhari) did his job. When insurgents came, he led his men and pushed them back. He did the job. But that’s not his job any more. He can only give directive now. What’s going on here? Go and deal with it. All of us have to get it done.