President Buhari’s Investment in Housing, Infrastructure Development Reviving Economy -Fashola
Across Nigeria, the gnawing economic recession that rendered many Nigerians jobless and a larger percentage of the population insolvent, seems to be thawing. And this, the Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, declared, after the completion of a four-day tour of federal government projects in the North East, is significantly due to the heavy investment in infrastructure by President Muhammadu Buhari.
By Olatunji Oke
When, in December 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari caused a statement to be released by his media team wherein he assured that the country would be out of the doldrums of economic recession by 2017, Nigerians – their harried and horrified lot – must have sniggered and snorted in deep-seated disappointment. They can’t be blamed. They believed too much in Buhari’s competence to turn their fortunes around and had surreally ascribed to the former Head of State magical powers that he would wield to clean the mess left behind by previous administrations. But Buhari is no Professor Peller. He is rather a proactive and pragmatic president who, though is sympathetic to the sufferings of Nigerians, is left with no choice than to make hard choices for their long term benefits. At no point however did he take his eyes off the ball. It was in this vein that he declared last December in his characteristic candour, “We are optimistic that the external factors that partly contributed to push our economy into recession will ebb in 2017…We are working hard to turn around our national economy by effectively reforming our macroeconomic environment through measures outlined in my budget speech to the national assembly.” It was a statement that the larger percentage of Nigerians paid scant or no heed. It had been a tough year for all during which Nigerians watched the dollar rise to as high as N500 with many factories and companies closing shops with the concomitant loss of jobs and livelihood.
Three months into 2017, the pace of life which used to be languid in many cities, especially in the North East, has gathered traction. The economy of that part of the world is on the upswing again. Except you are patently and pathologically lazy or physically challenged, there is work to be done with commensurate pay on any of the federal government projects sites. From roads to bridges, power plants and housing projects, the North East states of Taraba, Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe, Borno and Adamawa and everywhere in between, are gradually becoming construction sites. The optimism that the economy is on a rebound is arguably more palpable and pervasive in this region. Understandably because for a region that had been under the viselike grip of the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents, work was scarce and dangerous to accept. The situation is no longer the same however.
As the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, undertook an extensive tour of the North East between 16th and 19th March, 2017, alongside senior officials of the ministry and some members of the media, the rapturous reception he got everywhere he went was indicative of how better things have become. In Gombe, for instance, where the federal government has commenced the National Housing Program with 76 units of houses made up of four units of one bedroom semi-detached bungalows, 48 units of two bedroom semi-detached bungalows and 15 units of three bedroom semi-detached bungalows, the artisans were a study in excitement, leaping and spinning at the sight of the gangling former governor of Lagos State. About 200 workers, and sometimes more, depending on the volume of job available, are engaged here daily. The Federal Controller of Housing in the State, Mr Pius Eneji, who conducted the Minister round, disclosed that the site was on 16 hectares of land adding that of the 19 contractors, 15 have reported to site and were currently working on five hectares of the land. Eneji said that the number of workers engaged on a daily basis varies according to the volume of work available adding that when the buildings get to the stage of casting lintel, more workers would be required as well as at other stages of work.
Currently ongoing across 33 states, the Federal Controller of Housing in Taraba State, Tpl. Yalin Luka Barnabas who conducted the Minister round the housing project, said that there were altogether 76 housing units made up of one, two and three bedroom semi-detached bungalows. In Taraba, Barnabas said that about 500 workers are engaged on a daily basis, an assertion that was lent credence by Sanni Mohammed, a carpenter. Mohammed said that since the commencement of the project, he and many of his friends resume their daily. “On an average day, we make between N2, 000 and N5, 000, which was not the case when this project had not started. Then, we used to pray to make as little as N2, 000 in a week to sustain our families. This is a new dawn for us.” In Bauchi State, 40 units of various houses are ongoing in the Ningi-Airport section with a commendable direct and indirect employment capacity. Also in Borno, the ongoing National Housing Program consists of 40 semi-detached bungalows, with 12 units of 3 bedrooms almost at roofing level, 26 blocks of 2 bedrooms at lintel level and 2 blocks of 1 bedroom at DPC level.
Apparently surprised at the multiplier effects of the intervention in infrastructures, Fashola delivered a message of commendation from President Buhari to the young men and women working tenaciously in the designated housing sites which he reckoned signifies their readiness to make Nigeria work. He disclosed that the whole idea behind the road and housing development projects going on across the country was to provide a vent for creative and useful energy that young people are known for especially in a region that had witnessed restlessness and terrorist attacks, mostly perpetrated by equally young people, create jobs for the teeming unemployed youth, get those who had lost their jobs back to work and, thereby, revitalize the flagging economy.
Fashola commended the prompt response of the Gombe State Government in providing the needed land for siting the Housing project of the FG, saying, “This is all what it is about; it takes care of the vulnerable members of our society. That is what housing does; it energises the industry and it energizes employment. You will see trucks moving in and out, you will see bricklayers, you will see carpenters, you will see welders, you will see food vendors; and this is what we are igniting across the whole country.” He continued, “That is why President Muhammadu Buhari said this year’s budget is a budget of growth, getting people who have lost their jobs previously back to work, putting money in their pockets and restoring their dignity so that every morning, they can tell their wives, they can tell their husbands ‘I am going to work.” Here, Fashola also stressed the importance of affordability and socio-cultural relevance of the housing designs to residents of Bauchi while noting that the number of houses to be built depends on the ability of the state to absorb them as they are meant for “people who live or work in the states where the houses are built rather than those who are indigenous to the state.”
Interestingly, the effects being witnessed in housing may pale into insignificance when juxtaposed with what is going on in construction of new and renovation of old federal government roads across the country. In the course of the tour, Fashola inspected the emergency reinstatement of the collapsed section of the Gombe-Bauchi Road. Gombe has seven Federal roads totaling 680km with work on-going on two of them, Bauchi-Gombe Road and the Phase II Gombe-Numan-Yola road. The Permanent Secretary, Works, in Gombe State, Alhaji Abubakar Baba, pleaded with the Minister to help facilitate the refunds of projects that the state had undertaken on behalf of the Federal Government. Responding, Fashola disclosed that the Federal Government is thinking along the line of issuing bonds in order to offset the money owed several states in the actualization of these projects. He assured that President Buhari is working at getting the debts paid for which verification has begun while emphasizing that the FG is not in competition with any state but ready to partner and support them to develop at their own pace. In a rare demonstration of his no-competition stance of the Federal Government with states Fashola inspected the construction of Phase 1 of the Jalingo-Kona-Lau-Karim Lamido road, Jalingo, Taraba where he commended the Taraba state government for a great job done. Fashola further opined that the road no longer qualifies as a Federal road as it has become a municipal road. He disclosed that if Taraba State applies, permission for its maintenance will be given without prejudice to reimbursing the money spent. Is there any other way to walk the talk of development via partnership within the framework of the constitution than this?
The six road projects from which Bauchi is benefitting are the dualization of 142km Shwari to Azare, 106km Azare-Potiskum road, 38.2km Ningi road, 5km Duguru-Yola road, 15km Yola-Bashara-Dengi road and 15.5km Bauchi-Alkaleri road rehabilitation while employing hundreds of skilled and unskilled labour. The Minister went on to inspect the Potiskum Bypass section III (Azare-Potiskum road) and the dualization of the 106.3km Kano-Maiduguri Road where the project manager of the construction firm in charge disclosed that part of the economic benefits of the project is the over 700 direct workers working on the project.
In a video that has since gone viral, Umar Abubakar, an artisan, excitedly showed the minister how to mould while telling him how happy he was to be back at work. Fashola patted him on the back and assured him that the President was committed to ensuring that people like him are gainfully employed while enjoying the social infrastructures that make the world easy and exciting to live in.
In view of the importance of power in the economic recovery plans of Nigeria, the Minister inspected the ongoing construction work on the 40MW Hydro Power Plant in Dadin Kowa, also in Gombe State where the foreman disclosed that he has 50 workers under him alone. Other benefits of the dam to the nation include more regular water supply to the agrarian communities for irrigation, increased yield which in turn births more earnings. He proceeded to visit the Ashaka Cement Plc in the remote Ashaka Village of Funakaye LGA in Gombe State where he promised that the federal government would assist the company to actualize its 16 megawatts coal power project. “The coal power project still has about a year plus away but we will support them in whatever way to deliver it because it would help the energy mix and energy security in Nigeria,” he said. While fielding questions from journalists, he spoke on the 40 megawatts Kashimbila Hydro Power Plant in Taraba where he promised that work would begin this year. “We have made progress in terms of project planning. We are in the final stage of pricing and we expect that we will start work this year,” he said.
In a January 1st message to Nigerians, President Buhari maintained that his administration would sustain existing programmes aimed at lifting a vast number of youth out of poverty and at the same time create the opportunities for people to fend for themselves. The investment in infrastructure, Fashola noted, is part of government efforts to create value chain economic activities aimed at empowering Nigerians all over the country.
From an objective assessment of the tour, it became necessary because of the need for the public to continuously be briefed on the goings on in these critical sectors of their lives, through first hand reportage by the media. This is sine-qua non in the quest to successfully manage invested public trust, thereby bridging the gap between the government and the governed. The tour not only brought to the fore the collective challenges we have as a people, it also showed the possibilities that exist, given our willingness to surmount them. In this regard, Buhari’s message of economic rejuvenation via infrastructural development thoroughly resonated
The tour afforded all to see a Fashola who subscribes to the William of Ockham’s dictum of “never multiplying entities beyond necessities” by seeking to simplify hitherto assumed complex situations. This tour is no doubt one of the measures in such direction. Next stops are the Southwestern states of Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ogun and Lagos.
Olatunji Oke, Editor-in-chief, Nigeria Indicator is a certified “Project Monitoring and Evaluation” personnel by the RIPA International, London, UK.