Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) PHOTO: BUNMI AMOSUWhen the former action Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, took the mantle to head the merged Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, under the Buhari administration, not a few Nigerians were elated that at last, a redeeming grace had dawned that would change the face of this critical road infrastructure. Fashola’s unmatched achievements in Lagos State, which include massive road infrastructural development, underscore the high hope Nigerians placed on him.
Here is a man who plays little politics but is always more interested in accomplishing any assignment given to him. How is he tackling the issue of roads that has remained daunting for many years? I wish to state that I am not assessing Fashola, for it is too early to do that. My aim is to see how he has hit the ground running using the same spirit he employed in Lagos.
Let me add, also, that the merged ministry is not a big deal, as many people think. In other climes, that same ministry is appropriately called Ministry of Infrastructure. Therefore, Fashola’s huge experience in Lagos State, must have equipped him with the necessary experience to do the job. All that is needed is a tactful mind and not greed that is the bane of national development. The question, therefore, is not whether the ministry is too big for Fashola but what he has done within the short period time on the dilapidated federal roads.
For South-Easterners, South-Southerners and others residing in Lagos, whenever federal roads are mentioned, the mind goes to the deplorable Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Benin-Ore-Sagamu Expressway Benin-Asaba Expressway, and many others, especially, in the South-East. Any person residing in Lagos uses at least one arm of these highways going home or returning to Lagos. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is reckoned to be the busiest highway in Nigeria. There are many other federal highways that appeal to different Nigerians depending on where one is residing across the length and breadth of the country.
The last time I used the Lagos-Sagamu-Ore-Benin highway was in May 2016. Driving from Lagos to the Shagamu Inter-change was relatively smooth. Shortly after that, work resumed on sections of the road that was suspended many months earlier. The section of the road from the Long Bridge on the Lagos end came under serious reconstruction that caused vehicles to go on one lane. That caused serious traffic inconvenience but there was hope that the road was going to be better as soon as that work was completed. That expectation is still there as work continues.
From the Shagamu Inter-change towards Ore, the road was rough in some sections, especially in the Ondo axis until one gets to Ore. But from Ore to Benin, Asaba/Onitsha and Owerri, my destination, driving was very smooth, as all that length of the highway has been rehabilitated. My inquiry from people who used the road during the last Christmas and New Year festivities showed that the section of the highway from Ore to Shagamu has remarkably improved with most of the potholes filled. As a matter of fact, work is continuously ongoing on the highway, which, if sustained, would make the troubles faced on that highway a thing of the past.
In reviewing what Fashola has done on roads, it is important to understand the context in which he has been working, which is different from what he faced in Lagos. President Muhammadu Buhari concluded the process of forming his cabinet on November 11, 2015, six months after he assumed power on May 29, 2015. Fashola did not waste six months in Lagos before springing into action. But Nigerians, who are ever impatient, for obvious reasons, are not countenancing the time gap. As far as they are concerned, the Buhari administration started on May 29, 2015, and Fashola, imperatively, started on that day. But that is not the reality.
After assuming office, there was no budget to work with. Again, President Buhari signed his first budget, the 2016 budget, into law on May 6, 2016, almost one year after he assumed power. The budget for roads in 2016 was a little over N260 billion. In June, according to available information, N70 billion was released (that was second Quarter), and another N60 billion in October (in fourth Quarter), making a total of N130 billion. Releasing money for roads in June is environmentally flawed because of the rains. Nothing can be done until the dry season sets in, which is from late November. As a result, Fashola kicked off after almost a year and six months due to budget delays and rainy season.
Having kicked off, information shows that Fashola inherited about 206 road projects that required a whopping N1.5 trillion to complete. When this staggering amount is compared with the meagre N130 billion released for 2016, it is easy to see the predicament of the person given that assignment; he has been given a hard nut to crack. Where would Fashola start from given the quantum of outstanding work vis-a-vis the money available? Which road is he going to do and leave the others? All the roads need urgent attention. Or, which contractor is he going to pay; most of the contractors were owed between two and three years by the previous administration.
The choices to make under such tight situation must be hard and difficult. And that was what Fashola did. The decision to begin with the roads that were most urgent and had more impact on the economy could only be taken by a man like Fashola. Consequently, contractors were re-mobilised back to work across the six geo-political zones. That explains why work resumed on the abandoned Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the remaining sections of the Shagamu-Ore Expressway.
The priority highways selected include the Port Harcourt – Aba road; Sokoto-Tambuwau-Makera-Kontagora road; Sokoto-Kebbi-Niger road; Ilorin-Jebba road; Loko-Oweto Bridge connecting Nasarawa/Benue state; Shagamu-Ibadan; Shagamu-Lagos and Ogbomosho-Oko-Ilogbo.
The others are Funtua-Katsina; Wukari-Akwana; Abriba-Arochikwu-Ohafia; Abuja-Lokoja-Airport; Oji-Achi-Obeagu-Mmaku-Agwu-Adeaboh-Mpu-Okpanku; AjaseIpo-Offa-Erinle-Osun State boundary and Ikot Ekpene-Aba-Owerri road.
Fashola’s aim was “to complete uncompleted road contracts, restore motorability back to as many roads as possible, improve journey time and reduce the cost of travel for commuters.”
This objective is being achieved on the Lagos-Ibadan and Shagamu-Ore roads, as testified by travellers during Christmas. With the 2017 budget passed on time, the hope is that Fashola would consolidate what he has started on roads, which is to give Nigerians cause to rejoice in the months ahead.