Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, in this interview with select journalists in Maiduguri after a three-day tour of ongoing projects in the North-East zone, explains his vision of reconnecting Nigeria by roads, power and housing. BODE GBADEBO was there LEADERSHIP.
Honourable Minister, how would you react to the common notion that all Nigerian roads are bad?
Well, I think that you must understand that English is not our mother tongue and therefore it’s just necessarily translate to the way we express ourselves, because you have followed on this journey and you have recorded the state of the roads. Are all the roads bad? But there are sections of the road that have failed and that’s why we said that one of the first thing we’ll want to do is to reconnect those roads that have been separated by failed sections by restoring the failures. So, I just think there is a way we describe things, sometimes inappropriately but I understand it because in many local languages the translations just don’t follow automatically. So, perhaps we use very large words to describe the impacts of bad roads but that is neither here nor there. I think the important thing is that we are back to work and very soon those experiences will go away, even now we gain momentum and you will see that with our contractors back to site the journey time is getting progressively better. Ultimately, it will return to what we used to know it to be.
In specific terms, what are some of the benefits of the National Housing Scheme of the Buhari administration that you can tell us?
I think your camera should tell the story very vividly. The workers on site their happiness, the trading, the economic benefits, the legitimate distribution of money and that’s very important through developmental projects other than just sharing money to people through procurement process. Contractors are paid, contractors employ artisans, employ workers like the brick layer that we met and Jeremiah, and all of those people we met at the site. That is the benefit, young people back to work, helping to rebuild their country by rebuilding housing, by rebuilding roads and of course a whole support system, those who are supplying food, those who are supplying water, those who are supplying sand. Now we are training artisans and all of that, carpenters, bricks layers and but where will they express themselves if you don’t do this kind of things.
How is the national housing programme different from the National Housing Fund Scheme which has a lot of conditions like getting C of O and other things before you get access?
Let me say that there is a national housing policy and that policy is affordable housing. That’s the policy and we haven’t changed that. But there is no programme to now deliver the houses, that’s what this programme is all about. And this programme is based on first conducting a survey, what kind of houses do people want? So that the off-takers are stakeholders in what we build, those of you who saw the old housing estate at the entrance of Numan towards Jalingo, you saw that it was just an abandoned site. Ultimately because the lesson we learnt from that was that stakeholders were not consulted. We hope that with the consultation we had with stakeholders there will task ownership of this schemes and the acceptability things before you begin to talk about affordability, if I can afford it but don’t accept what you have built because I don’t like it, it doesn’t suit my culture then the programme has failed.
Your Excellency you visited two power projects – Dadin Kowa Power Plant and the Ashaka Coal Power Plant – how important are these projects to the generation of power to Nigerians?
I have been told that there is a coal power plant in Ashaka Cement and that’s why I stopped there to see it. And from what you heard, the coal power plant is still under procurement. It won’t be ready until next year according to the power developer for the company. So, currently Ashaka Cement still relies on the national grid taking about 15 megawatts of power off the national grid. Hopefully when they develop their power, it will become important in the sense that it will free up about 15 megawatts from the national grid which is a lot of power. The Dadin Kowa project again as you heard was conceived and commenced. The dam was built during President Babangida’s time, that’s a long time ago but the power site wasn’t developed and completed, so and then it started I think in 2012 and then again it was not financed, so all of the work that you see there now is based on the implementation of our 2016 budget. The contractor is now on site and is saying that if he continues at this rate, they get money as we intend to give, they should be done by September this year. That’s about 40 megawatts. That will be very very important for the people of Gombe and their immediate environment.
Ashaka cement is one of the possible off-takers of the power, from this year. University of Maiduguri is also one of the potential off-takers and so we are seeing what is possible when the project is finished, but it’s important to the extent that it adds to our incremental power programme. It’s also hydro-power, which means that it gives us the richness of our energy mix and improves the amount of power we get from other resources other than gas. So it’s also a big step towards energy security that I spoke about during the National Council on Power meeting, so that we are not dependent on one source.
Having inspected ongoing projects in the power, works and housing sectors of your ministry in the last three days, what will be your immediate priorities and takeaways from this extensive tour of the North-East zone?
There are a lot of things to do, we all need to work together more closely. You the media helping to get the story of Nigeria’s rebuilding, reconstruction and recovery back to the people in order to keep hope alive. That President Buhari administration means what it promises that this country will change for the better if we all do our work and also a lot of inter-ministerial cooperation by our ministry, budget ministry, and finance ministry may be tremendous. We couldn’t have been here without the support of ministry of defense, that’s why we can drive through the North-East day and night. Because they’ve done a lot of work, working with the security agencies, cleaning up over the last one and the half years, they’re still mopping up but you can see that slowly live is returning to this place.
What advice do you have for the stakeholders in the North Eastern region and the government, the people and even the road users?
Well, I think the first thing that the North-East needs is what it is getting now – peace. With peace, you lay the foundation for prosperity and development. So, having overcome the conflict, we must now seek peace, everybody – we need to just seek peace – from there, the investment under the Presidential Initiative for the North-East, of these projects now form part of it, because we have handed over the list of projects in works, power and housing to the presidential committee coordinating the rebuilding of the North-East. So, everything we are doing here falls within, so it’s not any different, its just harmonizing committee now that is putting things together. So what is happening in healthcare, what is happening in Agric, what is happening in education, what is happening in power and works is all part of redeveloping the North-East. And that is what happens all over the world’s post-conflicts. We’ve seen it in Iraq, we’ve seen it in many other places and it has happened here before too, after the civil war, there was a reconstruction project, so the conflict is over- redevelopment is the important thing. So after peace people must be ready to work, really work hard and those who work hard often are never disappointed they’ll get something.