The Honorable Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, is no stranger to Nigerians. He came into the political limelight when he succeeded Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Lagos State governor. He had earlier served as Tinubu’s Chief of Staff, succeeding Alhaji Lai Mohammed, now Minister of Information and Culture.
Few would disagree that Fashola made some mark as governor. And, thanks to the confidence reposed in him at the federal level by President Muhammadu Buhari, he now oversees three key ministries merged into one.
Fashola was expected to reverse the trend that translates to not less than 80 per cent of the nation’s highways in a bad shape. Power is another kettle of fish altogether, because much of the country is practically in darkness. And given the housing deficit in the country, one cannot downplay the seriousness of the task at hand.
Some sounded a note of caution when three ministries were handed over to Fashola seemingly on a platter of gold. His tepid performance has given credence to the concerns, because, since taking charge of the so-called super ministry, Fashola has only become adept at giving excuses. Not long ago, he granted Channels Television an interview which turned out to be just another litany of excuses. He traced the challenges in the power sector to 1950 when the first electricity ordinance was passed. He also said he needed to visit all the power plants in the country in order to understand what he was expected to manage. Frankly, the honourable minister is beginning to sound like a broken record. Nigerians need stable electricity, not excuses. Fashola should proffer and implement solutions. We all know the problems. It’s not so long ago he was busy lambasting the former administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Now he is in charge, he should act.
This is the same Fashola who in 2014 said it would take just six months to fix Nigeria’s electricity problem. He has been in the position more than a year now, and instead of improvement, what we have is a worsening situation. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. I subscribe to the view of Senator Shehu Sani that Buhari should consider appointing a minister who is an electrical engineer with the requisite knowledge of the industry.
During the last presidential campaign, Fashola urged Nigerians not to accept the excuse of vandalism for inability of the then government to provide regular electricity. Yet now, Fashola is singing the same song. He has been quoted as saying as long as miscreants continue to vandalise oil installations, Nigerians cannot enjoy steady power supply.
To add insult to injury, Fashola wants Nigerians to pay more for light they do not have. He seems unaware that about 70 per cent of Nigerians are poor and cannot afford expensive utilities. Each time he is reminded about this fact, he seems to give the impression that electricity is not for the poor. There is no gainsaying the fact that the task Fashola has been given is too cumbersome for him. His endless stream of excuses betrays the fact that he needs help. He has bitten off more than he can chew.
Allowing him to continue to oversee the power sector will only subject Nigerians to more hardship. We are suffering enough as it is, and everything possible should be done to soothe our pains.
What of housing? We have a deficit of about 17 million in the housing sector, which can only be tackled if we build one million new homes every year. I don’t see Fashola achieving this with his bag of excuses. It is on record that throughout his tenure as Lagos governor, he did not build houses for the low income bracket or the middle class. His excuse was that there were no low-cost building materials, so he could not build low-cost houses. Let’s face it, how many Nigerians can afford to pay between N40 million and N100 million for 2/3 bedroom flats under Fashola’s LagosHoms scheme? Even if the flats were mortgaged, how many Nigerians earn N40 million in 10 years? Take for example someone who earns N200,000 monthly. If he saved his full salary for one year (which is unrealistic), he would only have N2,400,000. In 10 years, he would have saved N24,000,000. How then would he be able to afford the houses built by ex-Governor Fashola in Lagos? How many Nigerians even earn N200,000 per month in the first place?
Back to federal roads. The Lagos-Sagamu Road, the Enugu-Onitsha Highway, and Aba-Ikot Ekpene Highway linking Abia and Akwa Ibom states – are all death-traps. The Uyo-Calabar Road, Ogbulafor-Makurdi Road and the Abuja-Lokoja Expressway – send wrong signals about us as a nation. The Benin-Auchi Road has become a haven for kidnappers.
Most of the federal roads and flyovers in Lagos, where Fashola reigned supreme for eight years, are in a terrible state. The Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and the Ijora Bridge tell better the stories of these roads, as well as that of an administrator who is either confused or overwhelmed. Nigeria makes billions in revenue from the ports in Apapa, yet the roads are bad.
Speaking at a pension conference last year, Fashola said: “It was difficult to get private capital into critical sectors of our economy like infrastructure. Private capital and fund managers were not going to invest funds entrusted to them in infrastructure if we wanted to use them for free.
“As a people, we were willing to pay for these services outside our country but demanded that they be provided for free in our country.”
Fashola forgot to add that in those societies where Nigerians willingly pay for public infrastructure, people are confident that no one is taking them for a ride.
The minister further stated that: “If we compare the quality of service on the Lekki-Epe Expressway, where toll is paid, to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, where toll has been removed, the choice is ours to make. Is it cheaper to drive on a road free of toll and spend five hours for a one hour journey? If you calculate the fuel burnt in five hours of standstill traffic and the stress, you will see that the toll free is not free.”
Fashola is just playing on our intelligence. The resistance is not because people do not appreciate good service. It is that our leaders are often insincere. In most deals dressed up ‘for the public good’, the citizens are being milked dry.
My advice to Fashola: he needs to speak less. Acting and delivering results will endear him more to the people. He should stop giving excuses because he comes across as incapable of doing the job at hand.
All we need are results and not some bogus excuses that Fashola finds rather easy to give. He has been made the ‘prime minister’ of this administration and he should deliver, simple.