By Johnson Eze
The reappointment of immediate past Power, Works and Housing minister and former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, may never have come to many as a surprise. This is obviously so in view of his antecedents, which evidently point to his habit of success as highlighted in this piece. He is pretty self-motivated technocrat, capable of making the best out of a difficult situation. Perhaps, for the benefit of hindsight, when he became governor of Lagos State, succeeding the current leader of the ruling All Progressive Congress’s ,APC, Sen. Ahmed Bola Tinubu, many Nigerians were uneasy, wondering if the trained lawyer would fit into his predecessor’s shoes and thus move in the direction of success. Ultimately, he did fit properly; and so, successful he was, leaving Lagos State much better than he met it.
Therefore, when he was tipped for a ministerial appointment particularly with a hint to head the Power, Works and Housing ministry in 2015, expectedly, a fresh wave of endorsement greeted his choice. President Mohammadu Buhari was widely applauded for bringing Mr Fashola on board his administrative train. My humble self was among the first set of Nigerians to send their greeting messages to him hailing Mr President for his decision to court Mr Fashola to head Power, Works and Housing, knowing his excellent pedigree. I added his appointment was the best thing that could happen to a country like Nigeria in dire need of best brains to man her important ministries for results. Mr Fashola falls into that mould of the country’s best brains. His name is synonymous with success, at least going by his good track record.
The concept of diligence never lost on him. Therefore I was neither under any illusion nor in doubt of his capacity to hit the ground running. I was also optimistic he was going to reinvent the power sector especially and would not disappoint Mr President but would give him a reason to trust him for measurable results. Most importantly, I reasoned within myself that: if he could govern a complex colossus as Lagos State with the phenomenal success he did, despite all its many challenges, then the ministry of Power, Works and Housing would be a mere piece of cake.
It was therefore heart-warming when in 2015 he began to tackle the problems militating against the sector one after another with palpable results until suddenly electricity supply appeared to have improved markedly (albeit yet to get to an optimum level of complete stability) and Nigerians no longer peevish over it again.
Until his appointment in 2015, electricity supply was in most epileptic state or perhaps at its worst crisis level even as Nigerians were too increasingly living through power outages which were a recurring dismal at an average of eight times a day in some places where situation is considered better. It was too erratic to be anything comforting. Average megawatt output was a paltry 2000, less than what a city in South Africa can accept for energy supply. Yet Nigeria, five times South Africa’s population, was receiving it.
Yet, was power sector an isolated case? The same was also true in both Works and Housing domain. Both sectors, like power, were in their miserable states of losing total significance. There was a whole evidence of Housing deficit in the country and Nigerians, both middle and lower income class, were finding it ever more difficult to own affordable housing through any form of government support mortgage arrangements. In other words, the state of Housing was critical too as at when Mr Fashola came in in 2015.
Similarly, Nigeria’s Highways were deplorable. From Aba in Abia State through Uyo in Akwa Ibom State to Calabar, Cross River State, Lagos, through Ogun State to Ibadan, Oyo State; Kano, Maiduguri, Abuja/Minna and Abuja/ Kaduna highways, Enugu through to Port-Harcourt, the story was the same: the roads were deplorable, with potholes here and there and roads furniture given way. As a result, a distance that would ordinarily take an hour to cover, could take between five and six hours, depending on the make and state of the vehicle, due to the deplorable states of the country’s Highways as at the time Mr Fashola came in.
Indeed how bad the situation was kept making individuals query what the purpose of any government if it isn’t to provide such basic services as energy for instance. However, how Mr Fashola was able to turnaround the fortunes of his ministry in less than no time amazes most Nigerians; but it is no less than his adroitness and moxie perhaps coupled with his bulldog tenacity. With all of these traits and, not least, his first-rate organisational flair, he introduced far-reaching reforms that translated into visible improvements in his ministry, not least in the power sector, where electricity generation, transmission and distribution reached a reasonable level of near stability for the first time in a decade.
For example, the 720 containers of transmission equipment, which were abandoned at the nation’s sea port for several years by previous administration, were immediately cleared and utilized to build substations across the country by Mr Fashola-led ministry on assumption of office. That demonstrates how judiciously careful he can be in managing government resources; as well as a major sign of his determination to hit the ground running in transforming the power sector. Moreover, he built across the federation over 100 substations in four years, which is unprecedented in the history of power sector.
Places like Ariaria market, in Aba, Abia State benefitted from his power reform project, similarly other markets across the federation, numbering 150 including the famous Ibadan market. He made sure he illuminated them with whatever resources at his disposal.
He extended his power reform programme beyond the markets’ cycle to the citadel of learning as part of his contribution to education development in the country, by conducting a power audit in 37 universities in Nigeria. Of this number, nine were at their implementation stages the time he left office.
What’s more! Not to stick all his eggs in one basket, Mr Fashola executed in four years 3,500 solar energy system across the federation. This indeed is a unique feat and first of such project ever executed by any administration in any known time in Nigeria. However, of this number, Ebonyi State, as he gladly disclosed, had its 18 kilometre road draped with solar power system.
As in power sector, Works sector got Mr Fashola’s deft hand of effectiveness and efficiency and therefore similarly looked up remarkably to give him a pat on the back. Not only did he upgrade several thousand kilometre roads across the country, but maintained the existing ones. Even the highly controversial and politicized Onitsha second Niger Bridge did not skip Mr Fashola’s focus as he was said to have mobilized contractors handling the project to site.
As dexterous as he does seem, he had to prioritize his road construction and maintenance projects according to their economic significance. For instance, roads in key agrarian states like Ebonyi received priority in terms of upgrading to facilitate evacuation of agricultural produce as he would explain during the last senate ministerial screening. Akwanga/Keffi roads were upgraded. The uneasiness usually associated with access to sea ports to clear one’s containers was for the first time in decades addressed almost completely by decongesting the existing access routes.
Apparently the maintenance of the existing Highways was a regular feature of his ministry as he resents seeing them slovenly in deplorable states. Across the country, he left no stone unturned to making sure whatever resources tied to road construction and maintenance projects were judiciously utilized.
Similarly, his housing policy was evident in the very Housing audit conducted across 34 states of the country. Mr Fashola, in some section is being refereed to fondly as Mr Builder. This is because of his apparent desire to ensure that all Nigerians, irrespective of background, live in affordable houses. In each of the states, he modelled certain affordable housing suitable for it. And to see how achievable the project is, he had to conduct a national Housing survey with building architects to advise on the desirability or otherwise of such project.
Mr Fashola appears energetically spirited. At least more than anyone previous administration, Nigeria has attained a reasonable stability in power supply to further highlight his efficiency. Unlike before, one can’t be troubled again by nightmare of constant power cuts or low shedding. He has true to type strove to stabilize the sector through workable and functional energy supply policy. As a result, most manufacturers who previously relocated their manufacturing facilities to the neighbouring countries of Ghana, Senegal, and Togo, due to the erratic power supply in the past, are returning back to Nigeria.
Mr Fashola has been able to achieve all these, despite the obvious financial strain where, like he would explain, his ministry would budget N500billion but could hardly get between N250 billion and N280billion to get by. Nevertheless he could justify his appointment by his stellar performance.
When he was tipped for a re-appointment and thus his name forwarded for senate greening ahead of inauguration by Mr President, as in my habit, I was by no means surprised (as I was not in 2015) nor was I uncertain as to whether he would remain true to his competence.
A man of industry with a faculty for reform, he no doubt has disappointed his critics by stellar performance. His reformist enterprise is the central dynamic of historical changes witnessed in his ministry in the last four years which also re-enforced my confidence, and perhaps that of Mr President, in him. At least, from public assessment, which his arch-critics have always failed to appreciate, he is the President Buhari’s most highly valued curator for his industry and resourcefulness and may well remain so for a long time to come.