Why are most Nigerian roads in deplorable states in spite of the efforts being made in this regard all these years?
You need to look at the spending for the sector. If you wish to understand what the spending looks like, then you look at the budget for the Ministry of Works and Housing between 1999 and 2015, how much was budgeted year in year out. I think you should have all the data in your library, and if you have covering parliamentary oversights, you should be able to know how much has been spent. The budget is just the statement of what we want to do. What I wish to tell you as a matter of fact is that the 2015 budget which was left by the preceding administration for year was N18 billion for all of Nigeria’s roads. And the next budget which was 2016 got over 200 billion, and there was a year we actually had over N300 billion. So over the years, what we are just dealing with is catching up the accumulation and we are making progress.
As regards the concessioning of some major Nigerian roads which is on board now, how far have we gone and how it will be able to change the narrative about roads in Nigeria?
I am happy that we are having this conversation today which is actually the day the portal is opened for procurement; that is how far we have gone. We have done a lot of consultation, a lot of background work, a lot of research, a lot of risk assessment, a lot of data gathering, route gazetting and surveying, market sounding to see what the business community, locally and internationally is thinking. The big point to take away is that this is the largest highway concessioning at one time ever undertaken on this continent, the largest in terms of size, scale and scope. We clearly have embarked on a very ambitious infrastructure overhaul, not only on roads and rails, but as you know, also in the aviation, the maritime, and the digital economy and communication sectors among others. So the resources are not enough to do everything you want to do so some people feel that there is an opportunity here for private sector, and we are responding to that now; at the same time we are challenging the private sector. But how big is it: 1900 plus kilometres (KM) is just 5.6 per cent of the 35,000KM federal road network, so it is a very small size. Of course this is phase one of 12 roads. There is another set of 12 roads that we intend to give out after now based on what happens in this first phase.
There are fears in some quarters that motorists will be made to bear the burden of the toll system. Are there ways the private investors can recoup money without passing the burden to road users?
Essentially, we are trying to open up entrepreneurship opportunities around the highways – from the pavement to the corridors and to the right of way, so there is so much to do there, and we should not see it only in terms of the burden, but also in terms of possibilities and better service. If you can have the services of ambulances, patrol vehicles, directional signs that would guide you, vehicle service stations and rest rooms, clearly the rational disposition is to appreciate all that value by paying a fair fee for it. That shouldn’t be seen as burdensome. The process of tolling is also consistent with international standards, and we are not an island to ourselves in Nigeria, we are part of the global community and some of the principles that have been established about toll gates is that where possible alternatives are provided so that those who have made the choice of using them can do so. Only 12 highways selected across the six geopolitical zones will be concessioned in this first phase of the project, the outcome of which will be used to determine the concessioning of another batch of 12 roads in due course.
So if you decide to go a longer journey in order not to pay, there are alternatives; it is all about choice. You could see that in spite of the opposition to the tolling of the Lekki Expressway, there is an alternative. So if we are looking at only 12 highways of 13,000km which represents 5.6 per cent of the 35,000km length of federal highways across the six geopolitical zones, then there will be alternatives.
We are aware that FEC has approved change in scope for the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road project and as a result of that the contract sum has been reviewed, how far has it been implemented?
The contract has been reviewed; what actually changed was the scope of work from rehabilitation to reconstruction. When you rehabilitate a road, the presumption is that the foundation of the road is still in good condition. If the pavement had deteriorated, rehabilitation is a short time fix, the foundation is gone. That is what we have found out; so instead of rehabilitating a road and in the next five years it begin to open up again, we considered it as poor value for money to rehabilitate and better value for money to reconstruct. Yes, it is more expensive but it is not just the road pavement that is responsible for all of the change in price. There is an additional work to be done because that road is an activity centre now so it is a built-up area. And you know in all those built up communities, we now have to add extra lane. So essentially, we are building two lanes additionally apart from the main carriageway, and that is extra cost. If you drive through that road, you see trucks parked on the shoulder of the road at many places, and you have to move them, because they contributed to the deterioration of the road. New trailer parks are part of the design that contributed to the cost variation. Highways normally don’t have street lines on them, but standard requires that you light built-up areas, so in such areas we have to add street lights, and that is another cost factor. An additional cost factor is that we now have to provide weighbridges. Those are the reasons for the changes of price. If I ask you to patch my roof , and you find out that the roof is not patchable, clearly the idea of removing the roof and patching it can’t be the same.
Many have expressed concern that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project has dragged for too long with no end in sight. Can you brief us on the latest concerning that project?
I think it is important first to have the facts and then to be acquainted with what is the global best practice. If you can do me a favour, just after this interview you can just use a search engine like Google to search the world. On the average, how long it takes to construct 100km road in the UK, in the US, in China, Indonesia, and in Malaysia. First of all, before we say it is too long, what is the average global best practice? That is my first response; the second is that If you go into the records, that Ibadan Expressway was awarded around 1974 and completed in 1978, four years as a virgin road which has no traffic on it. So there was no disturbance to the contractor. 1974 to 78, if you remember, was the period of the oil boom and it took four years, was it long or short? It was a dual carriageway of two lanes; now we are reconstructing it to dual carriage way of three lanes each, even as we have keep managing the traffic of over 4,000 vehicles on that road daily. You all know that we had two recessions; oil prices have dipped, they are just rising. You all know that we were borrowing. The road was concessioned in 2006 to a private company. That concession contract was cancelled in 2012, because there was no construction going on for 6 years, because we couldn’t raise the finance. Then it was awarded to the current contractors, JV and RCC in 2012. So that company that was terminated went to court to seek and injunction to stop the private sector from participating in the financing so again funds couldn’t get in. That was the state of the road until I became minister, and the President said, whatever we needed to do, we must resume work on that road, and it was based on that I recommended that we stop the private sector thing on that road because of the court cases, and that government should take it over as no court will stop the government from building its own road. So it was in 2016 that road first got N25 billion start work. So between 2006 and 2015, except for minor repairs, no construction went on there; that is the fact. What we are doing there now is reconstruction, not rehabilitation, we are excavating the whole road up to a metre; removing the asphalt and the laterite, taking it away to introduce fresh laterite and building right up to cross stones asphalt mix and wearing course.
How are you going about the issue of housing deficit in Nigeria?
There are a lot of things happening in the housing industry that I find very positive and exciting, because they are happening at the time of the Buhari administration. Let me just put the context to that. The federal government has a Ministry of Housing that clearly has a design to ensure affordable housing for as many Nigerians as possible, but we must remember that the federal government does not control land. The Land Use Act in all the states vests the control of land on the governor, so to build is either to fall back on land already held by the federal government or to apply to the governors for land. So how much can we then possibly have compared to the people who actually hold it. I am saying all this because any housing policy and implementation and impact that we want to talk about must involve an assessment of what all of the states are doing and what the federal government is doing, and that is what gives the full picture of Nigeria’s housing situation. Looking at one state or only the federal government doesn’t give you the full picture. Even then if you merge all the governments together, federal and states, how much can we possibly deliver. So we must now look at what the private sector is doing, and this is why I said I am excited that I am seeing a lot of activities now by the private sector-building, selling, leasing, promoting even on TV now. It is getting to where products should be; products should be available on a commercial and entrepreneurship basis. I am happy that is happening during our administration, and I believe we have contributed a few things. One of the things we have done-anything people come to say we want to partner with government, I tell them why do you want to partner with government, who is partnering with us to sell the bottled water; go to the market. You are entrepreneur; if you need help, come to us. On what we are doing to nip this challenge ; we are building under a national programme in 34 states. We have finished one, and some parts of phase 2 are completed.
We want to launch the electronic portal for the bidding and allocation so that it will reduce human interference. We have over 4500 housing units available across the states and the FCT. But we are also supporting development of houses through the Federal Mortgage Bank, and that is also producing results. The least I can say is that there are over 5,000 houses already funded by bank. We launched a cooperative initiative, encouraging people to form themselves into cooperatives and apply to the Federal Mortgage Bank for a development loan if they are contributors to the National Housing Fund. I think over 50 different cooperatives have benefitted from that, and I think we another 60 or thereabout whose applications are being processed. Essentially, we are encouraging people. Bring your land, do your own plan, come and take a loan, so if you are in cooperative in LEADERSHIP, come and take and go and build your stuff, go and negotiate your cement, your door, etc. That also helps to bring down prices, talking about the issue of affordability. But when you talk about deficit, we must understand that we cannot discuss housing in terms of ownership alone; its ownership and rental, because not everybody will have a house as a matter of fact. And because of the way our world is, we come and go, so if you build a house for everybody, you will have redundant capacity, and I think we already have some redundancies if you round parts of the country. So how do we bring those ones into the market. And that is why I have advocated that those who take for instance 2 years rent bring it down to 1 year; that is a very important component of affordability. Because my salary is monthly in arrears, I can’t afford to find 2 years in advance, but I can afford to pay monthly. That has nothing to do with price; it is about how payment is made. That is not a government thing; it is you and I who are the landlords.
Your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been in existence for at least six years now, with all the recent happenings, the absence of a board, the Oshiomole crisis, etc. Are you comfortable with the party?
Six years in the life of a corporate organisation such as a party is a very short time, even in the life of an individual. A child of six years cannot find its way yet. And because as humans we are prone to mistakes, and can only get better by those mistakes. Those who succeed only do so because they made mistakes and sat down to build on them. So all successes that humankind had recorded are usually built onfoundation of some errors. That is why I am positive that things will get better. Our opponents have made mistakes too. They will be in a better position to tell you whether they have learnt from their mistakes. They were in court for how many years fighting for the soul of their party; who was going to lead. We haven’t had such a situation. And there has been some sense of leadership shown at a time of a crossroads. So we can only hope that things will get better but we are not tearing at each other’s throat. We sought a couple of years back, and we hope that won’t happen again in any political party. We believe that all political parties have a role to play with regards the nation’s wellbeing. As I said earlier, those who claim to have better programmes and projects that are superior to ours have not presented it yet.
You have been piloting the affairs of this ministry for about six years. What have you done differently. Would we be right to say that you will leave the sector better than you met ?
Our achievements rather ( mine and that of my colleague, the Minister of State) is highly commendable. Our achievements are accruing and more are still unfolding. But one thing we can tell you comfortably is that this place is a lot better than we met it, whether from the perspective of the physical structure.
The staff now work in a lot better environment, that can only result in enhanced productivity. Welfare of personnel is not just cash but also improved working environment. One of the things we will be adding soon is our 1.5 mega watts (MW) solar system which will guarantee us uninterrupted and reliable power supply within the complex. In terms of output, with the N18 billion that we met in the 2015 budget, we couldn’t do what we have done today. Now we are intervening in over 13,000KM of federal roads at the same time. We have over 700 contractors working. We are running 67 laboratories simultaneously which is employing over 1,000 persons, and so on.