Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), the Minister of Power, Works and Housing has made excuses for President Muhammadu Buhari’s habit of reminiscing on the past and blaming past administrations for the economic turmoil in the country, saying “yesterday remains relevant in understanding today in order to make choices that make tomorrow different and better”.
The minister who spoke Tuesday at the Wilson Centre, Washington D.C. at a lecture titled: “Leadership and the Politics of Reform in Africa: Lessons from Nigeria”, was however optimistic about the capacity of the present government to turn things around for the good of the country.
He said although “we manage the time, we do not control the time. We need people to work hard. We are changing the unproductive practices of yesterday”.
Elaborating further, the minister said practices “where the government chose to distribute cash, rice and imported kerosene in order to win votes, rather than invest it in the payment of contractors, got them to build roads, power projects, housing and real infrastructure,” were some of the factors responsible for today’s economic recession.
According to him, “Yes, the global economy is not in the best place across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The impacts are local and diverse, and those who invested well yesterday are better able to cope with a harsh winter while they expect a glorious spring.
“In Nigeria, the choices of yesterday make this winter a very harsh one for our people, because we did not invest in the right things.
“Our government of yesterday expressed its preference for providing ‘infrastructure of the stomach’, giving handouts instead of real infrastructure.
“This is how the seeds of today’s recession were sown. For those who say that today’s government should stop talking about yesterday, with due respect, I disagree.
“Yesterday will remain relevant in understanding today in order to make choices that make tomorrow different and better.
“I once used the allegory of the patient, and I think it deserves repetition. If a patient complains about stomach pain, the first question that the physician is likely to ask is: ‘What did you eat yesterday?’
“The answer helps the physician make a diagnosis and choose a prescription first to solve the problem, and to recommend further dietary habits about what to eat and what not to eat. This is what the current leadership is addressing.”
The former Lagos State governor stressed that what Nigerians ate yesterday was “that we wasted our money”.
“We did not invest in roads, highways, bridges, schools and hospitals. Money was taken out of the larger society and invested in private accounts. The economy began to shrink, construction companies laid off workers, who in turn lost income, which resulted in shrinking demand for goods and services, and in turn led to national under-productivity.
“That was what we ate yesterday. The stomach pain is comparable to symptoms of bad dietary choices that manifest in the recession we now deal with.
“The solution is to spend on infrastructure, which has started. The recovery time is a function of what we can spend and how quickly it will go round… If an arid area of land has not witnessed rainfall in two to three years, you know what happens when the first rain falls. It literally disappears into the ground.
“In order to reach a point where any moisture is visible in the soil that may support the germination of a seed to be planted, more rain water needs to be injected. This is the best analogy I can offer for where our national economy is.
“But I will conclude by saying I am optimistic that we will turn things around,” he said.
Fashola expressed the view that the current leadership led by Buhari and a large number of other leaders in the public sector, at the national and state levels, and in the private sectors were sufficiently mindful of the responsibilities of leadership rather than the status of leadership, saying: “They have started to make choices and will continue to do so in order to provide for the millions of people they are responsible for.”
Making references to the size of the ministry he heads and the progress so far made, Fashola said as far as power was concerned, “I wish to state very clearly that the problems are not technical. They are man-made”.
“As long as they are man-made, they can be solved by men and women and that is what the administration led by President Buhari is determined to do.
“The problems range from liquidity issues, to errors of commission or omission in the privatisation process and the usual teething problems of transitioning from the mindset of public sector-managed power for 63 years, from 1950-2013, to a mindset of public-sector regulated power managed by private sector, between November 2013 and today (a period that is under three years),” he said.
While acknowledging that the problems cover poorly designed projects, which must be corrected and completed, he said they also included contractors that have not been paid for three years and therefore have no funds to complete the projects; community issues over right of way; issues of land and compensation claims resulting in disputes some of which led to court cases; and anger resulting in vandalism of public assets.
He said these issues were not technical in nature, but man-made. “They require proper analyses, understanding and decisive choice-making to get to the heart of the problems and resolving them.
“We have evolved a clear roadmap which we have started implementing, to deliver first incremental power, because we do not have enough, stable power, by knowing how many people need energy and what quantity they need, to uninterrupted power that requires us to conserve energy because what is wasted will never be enough,” he added.
On works, especially the roads and bridges development, he identified the problems as not different from that of the power sector, saying: “It is not that we have not built roads before. It is man-made issues or budgeting, lack of payment to contractors for three years, project supervision and discipline to manage 206 road contracts that were not budgeted for, or if budgeted for were poorly funded.
“The total outstanding contractual liabilities are in the region of N1.5 trillion and this administration is taking them in batches starting from the critical high traffic highways that evacuate goods from ports, fuel from tank farms, and move foodstuff and-agro produce across the country.”
The housing sector, he said, is plagued by how to design houses that respond to the diverse cultures and climatic conditions in Nigeria, but noted that “we have resolved this by developing two broad categories of designs comprising blocks of flats for the southern states and bungalows with courtyards for the northern states”.
“We have completed the process of standardising fittings with a view to using only Made-in-Nigeria windows, doors, hinges, tiles, plumbing and electrical appliances in order to stimulate production by local small and medium businesses,” he added.
Meanwhile, Buhari has cautioned western countries that failure on their part to return funds stolen from Nigeria and other African countries will make it difficult for Nigeria and others to achieve sustainable development.