For four years, former Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola was the most powerful minister in the federal cabinet, holding sway over the expansive swathes of Power, Works and Housing (PWH).
But Nigerians, from every border to another, complained about the output and quality of the vast new ministry. The statistics backed up their outrage that, in the hands of Mr Fashola, we were doing increasingly worse.
Even President Muhammadu Buhari, who daily blamed preceding governments for everything, seemed to agree, taking Power out of Fashola’s grasp last June.
It is exactly one year since Fashola undertook what he apparently now regrets: report to the public. “I am proud and happy to report that we have walked our talk and we have delivered visible results and recorded qualitative progress,” he declared in a report assessing PWH.
But the principle is not the substance. Fashola’s report was appearing at a time he disclosed that the budget of Works had grown “from N18.132b in 2015 to N394b in 2018.”
And yet, as I observed at the time, his results and qualitative progress” comprised mainly of “advanced state of procurement…receiving attention…being undertaken…practically completed…progress continues, and sections completed.”
And with the heavy travel season of Christmas approaching, the minister described “53 critical roads” flagged for “intervention…while construction is going on…” I called it “intervention within intervention,” knowing that “intervention without intervention” was probably more accurate.
But with two ministries to salvage his reputation, Fashola, this month chose to repeat the gratuitous error of his first term: describing process rather than achievement.
Anyone who knows Nigeria knows that electricity and roads are the best barometers by which the public evaluates a government’s effectiveness. That is the situation now, but with a chance to console and comfort and apologise, Fashola chose the option of insult and injury.
“The roads are not as bad as they are often portrayed,” Fashola told the press without disclosing which of them he had travelled without being trapped or killed. “I know that this is going to be your headline, but the roads are not that bad.”
To Nigerians around the country who are losing automobiles and businesses and food; to children who cannot get to school or return from one; to Nigerians who are seeing floods where they ought to be well-maintained highways; to businessmen and women, the survival of whom depends on roads; to Nigerians who are seeing ditches and gullies where there used to be highways; to Nigerians stranded on some road as he spoke, Fashola sounded like an alien, at best.
At worst, malicious and confused.
But he dug in, claiming his thesis arose from recent travel…” to the 36 states, 12 hours every day…”
It was unclear that Fashola was not seeing his achievements in his dreams or mistaking planning for delivery. It is no exaggeration that our roads are bad. Nor is it an exaggeration that they are in far worse shape than before he arrived. There are various media and even international research project reports to that effect.
Sadly, rather than accept the situation as a challenge, the minister went on a rant, trying to explain why projects may be uncompleted.
Among them: fund approval does not mean payment. The Minister of Finance and other arms of government. Deficit budgeting. A contract award is different from contract implementation. And oh, the Ministry of Justice. And banks. And materials that must be ordered. And floods. And rains. And permissions from the Ministry of Mines, and perhaps the National Security Adviser to obtain (approval for) dynamite…
Fashola couldn’t have sounded more ridiculous if he had been Baba Sala.
This is the same minister who, at an inspection of work on the Loko-Oweto bridge over River Benue in June 2016, swore that his government was committed to completing all ongoing projects within three years.
“This is one of the many ongoing projects,” he declared that day. “Lagos-Ibadan expressway is one of them; Kano-Maiduguri is one of them; Ilorin-Jebba is one of them and the Second Niger bridge is one of them.”
None of them has been completed.
In September last year, and two years after Fashola’s statement, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said on television the government had “set aside” from the National Sovereign Investment Fund $1.3 billion (N468 billion) to finance five critical infrastructure projects.
He named them as the Lagos-Ibadan expressway construction, the Second Niger bridge, the East-West road, the Abuja–Kano expressway and the Mambilla power project.
None has been completed. Because being“critical”neither confers priority status nor the concept of responsibility.
Two months after Mr Mohammed’s statement, Fashola then announced in his report that the Works budget had leapt “from N18.132b in 2015 to N394b in 2018.”
Despite all those funds and good intentions and years and the proclamations, none of these projects has been completed. The construction of a footbridge across a few lanes of traffic takes us years and tens of lives. By that time, that bridge needs a bridge.
And so, at this time last year, we were actively, frantically constructing the Lagos-Ibadan expressway (as we were the rail line), and as we had since 2009. We still are.
It is this denial mentality that has suffocated the Buhari government and given it such an inferiority complex that the manufacturing of excuses now appears to be the measure of achievement. No official feels a sense of embarrassment; even the head of government has been on another London bed in the past two weeks, taking the presidency with him!
As recently as 2017, a World Bank report on a $300m loan to Nigeria for roads showed that only about 15per cent of federal roads was in good condition, down from 50per cent in 1999. That means that at the time Fashola was undertaking his mythical 36-state tour recently, we were probably less than 10per cent making his tour impossible.
The bank observed that Nigerian roads suffer from “weak designs, inadequate drainage systems and deterioration as a consequence of a poor maintenance system/culture…government policy stance in favour of new road construction and rehabilitation at the expense of maintenance; severe under-funding of road maintenance resulting in heavy road maintenance backlog; irregular releases of budgetary allocations resulting in incomplete road rehabilitation contracts and poor construction quality; and absence of a strategic planning process, coupled with a poor road management information system…”
If we are to avoid a situation where every federal minister owing apologies and roads defaults to bravado and insults at the end of each year, we must go back to a fundamental review of why we are going in circles and officials speak out of dizzy heads.
It is no more difficult to build a good road in Nigeria than it is to do elsewhere. The real problem is that this is far more about our collapse as a people.
Think about it: as bad as former President Goodluck Jonathan may have been, in September 2012 he made his top officials sign performance contracts towards enhancing performance and driving service delivery.
The difference is that we have lost the ability, even to aspire.
Feel any shame?