Coming off from his duty as the head of three ministries— work, power and housing — during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term, very few had doubts that Babatunde Fashola would be renominated.
So it became no surprise when his name was one of the 43 ministerial nominees sent to and screened by the Senate.
Mr Fashola came with a rich dossier in the public sector, notably: a two-term governor and about-to-be two-term minister.
This perhaps informed why his session with the Senate took about two grilling hours as himself would reckon on his Twitter page.
On 29 July, I was screened by @NGRSenate as a ministerial nominee of President @MBuhari . It was about 2hrs of healthy interaction with the distinguished Senators. Here, for the records, is the transcript. Hope you’d find it illuminating. https://t.co/QaPFrknxfQ Cc: @SPNigeria
— Babatunde Fashola (@tundefashola) August 7, 2019
Questions he fielded ranged from what he would do differently, why certain projects have not reached certain parts of the country, depending who his interviewer was.
Regaled in his traditional agbada and his trademark cap, every question thrown at him, he tossed aside in measured, lawyerly tones.
“This renomination imposes a sense of immense responsibility,” he began when Senate President Ahmed Lawan asked him to tell the lawmakers what his CV was silent on.
“We recovered 720 containers of transmission equipment belonging to the Nigerian government that had been left at the port for over a decade,” he added, lapping his agbada on his shoulder for the umpteenth time.
After about two hours, he took a bow and left. He would later be appointed the minister of works and housing, with power yanked off, and Abubakar Aliyu was appointed the minister for state to assist him. Saleh Mamman now heads the ministry of power.
PREMIUM TIMES, in this report, examines how the ministry headed by Mr Fashola has fared in the last one year.
Works: How far thus far
Infrastructural development has been a focal reference point of the Buhari-led administration. A bulk of this has been piloted by the ministry of works and housing.
Across the six geopolitical zones, there are over 200 ongoing highway projects, all of which stretches to a total of 7,483.04 km with N2.4 trillion worth of contracts. Some are funded by local and external loans as well as sukuk bonds.
This is alongside flyovers and bridges, particularly the second Niger River bridge, which, according to presidential publicist Femi Adesina, “should be completed by Q1 2022.” Also is the Loko-Oweto bridge linking Benue and Nasrawa States.
“As I speak to you, we are executing over 600 roads across all states in Nigeria, including in universities,” Mr Fashola told ChannelsTV in June.
Also is Bodo-Bonny bridge, Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Abuja-Kaduna highway, which Mr Fashola said “will be delivered in Q1 2022,” the Kano-Maiduguri, Benin-Lokoja highways, all done in collaboration with state governments.
Accused of imbalanced distribution of the projects across states during the parliamentary screening, Mr Fashola downplayed this, saying preference is given to road projects on the basis of seven criteria.
This includes roads with heavy traffic, roads leading to port, roads sponsored by counterpart funding, which connects border communities, roads leading to agro areas and roads inside universities.
Although the coronavirus pandemic halted the construction projects for a while, but contractors have been remobilised since the first easing of the nationwide lockdown.
As of July, 11 construction companies are now executing 53 projects in 26 states, the lawyer said in an interview on TVC.
He added that later in the month, FERMA, the road maintenance agency under the ministry, would be directed to begin the repair and maintenance of roads across 92 locations in 24 states.
Termed the “Highway Project and Management Initiative,” Mr Fashola said in June that the federal government planned to ‘concession’ 10 highways to raise a total of N163.32 billion and over 23,000 jobs at the initial phase.
The roads include: Onitsha–Owerri–Aba; Shagamu–Benin; Abuja–Keffi–Akwanga; Kano–Maiduguri; Lokoja–Benin; Enugu–Port Harcourt; Benin–Asaba; Illorin–Jebba; Kaduna–Kano; and Abuja–Lokoja.
In its first five months, the ministry reportedly impacted on 514 highways projects that covered, 826.84 producing about 144,395 jobs (49,080 direct, and 95,350 indirect jobs). FERMA also maintained 2075.24 km stretch of road, involving 406 contractors and 150 people.
Housing: How far thus far
As a spillover from his first coming, the minister, last year, told lawmakers that there were ongoing housing projects in 34 states, the FCT inclusive.
The three exceptions were yet to be incorporated because their state governments have not provided land for the projects, the minister said.
He said to bridge the housing deficit in the country, the ministry rolled out a national cooperative housing scheme which gives 80 per cent developmental loans to cooperative groups.
Funded by the Federal Mortgage Bank, the initiative has under its radar about 5,301 mortgages worth N38 billion.
“(We are) moving to cooperative housing. You register yourselves as a cooperative, design your lands after getting permit from the state governments and you will be given 80 per cent of the developmental loan,” Mr Fashola said.
The bank provides funding for interested cooperatives to build houses of choice, sell at affordable prices to members, who then pay back installmentally at an annual rate not exceeding 10 per cent.
In February, 150 houses comprising 82 units detached two-bedroom bungalows and 68 units detached three-bedroom bungalows, were launched in the North-east. Each respectively sold at N6.3 million and N7.5 million.
The ministry also saw to the housing documentation and issuance of certificates of occupancy. Mr Fashola said he has issued about 3,450 CofOs and granted consent to almost 2,000.
The minister also said a sites and services scheme has kickstarted in Edo and Imo. Under the scheme, state governments provide sites free from all encumbrances, and the FG designs the site, provides infrastructure and allocates to the public to build.
How fair in works?
Although not completely a function of bad roads, roads mishaps have continued to be recorded on federal roads.
Likewise, while the minister has repeatedly downplayed the bad roads in the country, saying “they are not as bad,” bumpy roads continue to give commuters nightmares. An example is the road from Isua, Ondo State, to Okene, Kogi State.
“I spent almost an hour on that road. I had to pay N1,200 to some guys who helped pull out my car from the ditch. Their own trailers too were stuck,” Yusuf Mojeed, who plied the route when he traveled for Sallah break, said.
“It was a sad experience,” he added, “as I had to spend thousands in fixing my car bumper and fender, which were shattered.”
Femi Osuntokun, a Port Harcourt-based development expert, said relative to other regions, the South-south still grapples with bad roads.
He mentioned Aba-Port Harcourt road, East-West road, Calabar-Itu road as some roads that could open massive economic jackpot for the region if fixed.
Some of the roads in the region, however, are domiciled with the Niger Delta ministry.
Mr Fashola has often been criticised for his assessment of some of the bad roads. His critics say he lacks empathy for the plight commuters face. Bamidele Salam, an Osun lawmaker, recently challenged him to a 90-day road tour last year.
How fair in housing?
Before it was revised, the 2020 budget planned to build 2,383 homes. Meanwhile, Nigeria needs at least 700,000 units annually to breach its housing deficit, a world bank data the minister has repeatedly denounced.
Mr Fashola said because the country has not conducted a recent census and empty houses in the urban centres were not factored in, the housing deficit in the country cannot be conclusive.
Asked if the ministry has an estimate of its own, the minister’s publicist, Hakeem Bello, directed PREMIUM TIMES to its director of housing, Architect Odusanya, who declined comments.
Even so, the APC administration promised to build four million new homes in its 2019 manifesto. But Mr Fashola said to measure that, the private sector has to be factored in.
“The national housing story cannot be told without mentioning what the private sector does,” he said in June, adding that the administration has done “a commendable job” compared to the “mess we inherited.”
Joy Armah, a real estate expert, said to make housing affordable, the government needs to create a friendly atmosphere for developers.
“At times, it is developers that would be responsible for construction of roads leading to sites,” Ms Armah said. “This is not supposed to be as they may not sell the property at an affordable rate.”
On his part, Mr Osuntokun urged the government to partner with the private sector while also simplifying land ownership procedures.
“Mortgaging needs to be simplified and the acquisition of CofO be made easier,” he said, recalling how difficult it has been for his acquaintances to secure the document.
More so, cases of building collapse persist.
In May, two people died in a collapsed building in Imo. By June, another crumbled building killed two children in Lagos. By July, a two-storey building collapsed in Abuja, trapping ten and injuring one.
Some analysts believe the mayhem persists because of the absence of a National Building Code. Ms Armah noted that the problem is largely because there are no strict regulations.
She said building approvals are granted without proper on-site monitoring.