Seeking audience with the Minister of Power, Works and Housing and former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, was not easy to come-by. Certainly not with his work schedule, especially at a time he was touring the six geo-political zones in the country to assess and ascertain the state of the federal government projects as well as see for himself the progress report on some of the ongoing works across the country. But the interview eventually held, albeit without much ado. He had stopped by in Lagos the weekend he concluded his tour (South-west zone) to see his family, from where he proceeded the following week to Abidjan in Ivory Coast and later to Togo in the same week for some international road network meetings. He therefore saw a need to squeeze out time for an engagement with news men on a cocktail of national issues.
With his candour, confidence and deep knowledge of issues, Fashola dealt with critical issues in practically all the sectors in his 3-in-1 ministry. He was excited that the country had begun to move away from the stage of apprehension given the improving economy and reiterated that the problems with power were more human-related and were being dealt with hence he could not put a timeline to stable power. Above all, he claims that the only politics he understands is the one that puts development on the front burner, the very reason he has continued to do his work without conceding to distractions.
Find Excerpts of interview below:
Perhaps, it is only imperative to start with the recent ‘reconciliation’ with your successor in office, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, coming about two weeks after you both had a public spat over issues of interest. What is it to be taken away from that meeting?
There was no spat and I think the matter really was nothing to agonise about. For me, I was on a tour of duty and I went to see the governor of my state. I think we should not just indulge those who want to read every meaning into regular interactions. I think the media must find some more interesting stories especially those that advance the cause of our development.
Maybe we should take it from the lenses of the governor, who accused you of hindering development in the state and many people thought that your defence to that allegation was rather weak. You still don’t think it is worth it to properly clear the air of such an allegation?
I wasn’t on trial and I don’t want to dwell on the issue more than is necessary. I think it is important to just say I wasn’t on trial and my office, through my media adviser, had put out the facts. It is for well-meaning people and right-thinking people to put those facts against the position presented by the state government and draw what I would think are sensible inferences. Of course, there would be insensible inferences also, but I don’t have time for those kinds of inferences.
Do we take it that the meeting had somewhat subdued whatever animosity there was?
There was really nothing to subdue. Look, in the course of, even in your own home, there are points of interactions that are unavoidable and there are also points of interactions that are avoidable. We had planned to be in Lagos weeks before that meeting because we have been going from zone to zone and our plan was that we were going to start from the top of the Southwest, which was Ado-Ekiti and walk our way down and in any event, when the programme was presented to me, I thought it was an opportunity to also come and see my family because I hadn’t seen them for weeks. So, it was fitting and proper that we ended up in Lagos.
Let’s get down to your primary beat now: the ministry of power, works and housing, how have you fared?
I think that the only people who can determine how I have fared are the people I serve. I am not there to serve myself, so in that sense, it would be inappropriate to perhaps ask me how I have fared. It is those that I am serving who should make their assessment. But in terms of sharing with you where I think we are, I can only say that first, it is easy to say now that we are gaining momentum as a government and we are also restoring hope and many indices point to that.
If you look at the macro indices, the global projections are that clearly we should come out of recession this year and I am hoping it is earlier in the year so that on the back on that, we will begin to record some growth. In that sense, the president’s mandate on budget intent to recover from recession and grow the economy would have been achieved.
In terms of specific items, I can say that in my ministry, which is critical to achieving the president’s economic promises and agenda, other ministries that are critical too – Agric, Transport, Finance, Budget – all of us – Petroleum Resources, Water Resources, Aviation – everybody is critical to ensuring that that happens. But speaking for myself and my team, our promise on roads, for example was a very simple promise: improve your journey time experience, reduce your travel time and save you some money. Those are the end users and that is already being recorded from those who are traveling on roads we are constructing even though we haven’t finished.
Sections where we have intervened are improving that journey time. It is improving that travel experience again and it is translating into cost-savings because journeys that used to take five/six hours are now taking two hours and that’s the feedback we are getting from people. So, in that sense, we have gained momentum as I have said.
If you look at the construction impact, the promise we made also is that we would recover jobs that have been lost in the construction industry by getting workers back to site. So, contractors who haven’t been paid for two/three years are now saying the first time they got money four years ago was when President Buhari signed the 2016 budget. The impact of that is that architects, engineers and all of those professionals in the built industry are back to work. Road supervision, contractors and consultants are back to work because there is now something to supervise.
As they are issuing invoices, we are paying, so they are bringing back their staff; the construction companies are also bringing back their staff, so the evidence of what we see across is that on the Ogbomosho-Oyo road, there are over a thousand workers back on site; on the Damaturu-Gombe road – they are in various sections – sometimes it is three hundred, sometimes it is two hundred or six hundred across board. On the Osogbo-Ogbomosho, linking Osun and Oyo States, one road that is being constructed there has over two hundred workers on site. The same thing is happening in the Housing sector now, where our people are going back to work and construction is ongoing.
In that sense, the economy clearly is heading back to the place, where it should be and if you look at the fourth quarter NBS (National Bureau of Statistics) returns, the rate of recession has slowed down, and that means now that if we continue the way we are, people’s experience which is the aggregate of the economy will be better. So, hopefully, as the first quarter has ended, when the results are collated, we will again see the movement towards recovery if not fully recovered.
In terms of power, we are beginning to increase the amount of power from the losses we’ve had through sabotage through confidence, especially liquidity confidence as banks were threatening to call the credit of the GENCOS, there is the N701 billion payment assurance guarantee approved by FEC for EMDEX, which is the company that should pay the GENCOS and it is a hundred per cent government-owned company. Government has said look, we will discharge their obligations.
We expect that the total cost of energy should be in the region of seven hundred and something billion naira subject to what the EMDEX can recover more from the GENCOS. But whether EMDEX recovers immediately or not, we have this warehouse approval, not cash, and as a government, we guarantee that every month when you send invoice, we will draw down and pay. This is a guarantee for two years and we expect that in those two years, the reforms that were recently approved, which cut across metering, audits, financial disclosure, governance, sanctions, transmission improvement, constitution of all the relevant boards, signing of all certain contracts and so on and so forth, that two years will be enough time to strengthen the privatisation process, which is in transition.
I alluded to Housing which is a very big programme to trickle down inclusion because we have had growth in the past – 7% growth – and you also used to report that it was not inclusive for people, who are not getting it. So, the housing project that we visited in Jalingo, the one we visited in Gombe, I believe and the one we visited in Oyo, the one we visited in Osun, which were just whistle stops, because we will cover the housing programme more extensively later, because they just moved to site early in January. But it is heartwarming to find 100 in some places, over a thousand people there doing all sorts of things.
One of the people I spoke with was the owner of a cement mixer that they use to make concretes to cast, and he said the mixer had been idle for weeks, for months, but that now they’ve called him to that site, that he would be there for some time and as he puts the mixer to work everyday, he gets paid twenty thousand naira. So, he formed a family there. The husband was a builder, the wife was a food vendor; they had moved from Lagos to Oyo. So, that is the inclusion – everybody getting something to do and participating in building Nigeria and that is why the president continues to say to me, everywhere you go and you see anybody working honestly, participating, please thank them for me. That’s why I said we can talk about momentum now and we can talk about heading in the right direction. We still need to do a lot more.
As far as the trip was concern, it achieved many things. First, apart from the periods, where we went to campaign that we visited some cities – just fly there, go to the campaign ground and go out, I didn’t know all of the routes like this, apart from the states I visited maybe in the course of my practice as a lawyer. So, many of the road that were under contracts, were just names – XYZ roads, Jalingo road, Ohafia-Arochukwu road. There were roads that Senators, House of Representatives members were coming to me to say ‘my road is bad’ but they were just names. Now, going to those roads has transformed them for me from names to places. I can now know why senator A or House of Representatives member B or any citizens, who complains was complaining. I can also now decide that look – this person’s pain is not as bad as this. So, this one can manage.
When we start to implement the 2017 budget, I will know where to put more money and who can still mange, because we don’t have enough. Then, in terms of housing, that trip was also important. I’d said when we were designing the houses that our diversity required us to respond to our climatic, cultural and diversity peculiarities. The houses that people in the South will live in are different from the houses that people in the North want to live in. So, we first did an extensive survey but even apart from that, when we finished and identified the kinds of buildings across the two sides, we then said look, for this programme to be successful it must pass two tests.
The first test is acceptability. People must accept it. So, what is acceptable by the residents or indigenes of state A is quite different from what is acceptable by the indigenes of state B. In one state, for example, we found out that there was a cultural issue, where people can’t use one toilet or male and female can’t use one toilet, so, we had to respond to that, otherwise they won’t accept it, even though they could afford it. They will say I have the money but I don’t like it and we saw an example in Ekiti and in Oyo – classic examples – the same peculiarities but different responses.
The two parcels of land given to us by the state governments were just on the outskirts of town, about 15 minutes to the centre of town. The Governor of Ekiti told me that, look, minister, my people won’t live here. They don’t want to leave Ado-Ekiti and that I will show you houses even built closer to Ado Ekiti, than this one, where they have refused to take them up. So, they are now living outside that, though they gave us the land and so, in testing acceptability, we must listen to the people and that is why I took the controllers with me to create the handshake, because you must listen to these people because they are the ones we have come to serve and if they say something won’t work, we must look at it again.
Now, what happened? The governor now said look, I have another parcel of land, that we have even done the layout, I didn’t know that this was what they wanted to use the land for. I will give you that one, so that people can live, so they are going to swap it. In fact, he called me to say he had signed it, that I should send my people to come and pick it up.
Conversely, in Oyo, similar instance, it’s slightly further here out of town and I ask their local people there, they said no, they are happy with it, that it is close to Kola Daisi University and that in fact, we should just drive and we would see that people live there. So, it is different strokes for different folks. That was also very useful information for me to take back to our team in Abuja.
Let’s single out power. It is very critical to the economy and the people generally. But it appears one impossible task by successive governments in the way they have dealt with it over the years, of which you have not been exempted too. In fact, people now refer to you as the minister of darkness. Speaking truthfully, what really is the problem that has made power impossible?
Well, I don’t listen to such cynical comments. I focus on what I am doing. I understand it more every day. I’d said before and I’ll repeat that it is a human issue; it is not a technical issue. Getting human beings to do what they should do at a time they should do it is the real test of management and capacity that we have to deal with.
People must also understand that power is now actually in the hands of the private sector, so if there is any criticism at all, the person who has a responsibility for delivering should take it. But I am not here to apportion blame, because government is still the regulator; government is still the policymaker; government still also owns some part of it, but the bigger share of the responsibility is now with the private sector. So, if private sector has taken over our assets under a bad business plan, you can’t expect results there. If they had acquired loans they can’t service, nobody will lend money to them to expand or change their transformers or to buy meters.
Now, should we leave them to their designs? Clearly not! That is why we are government. So, those are the things that will come as part of the power sector recovery programme. One of the things that the power sector is challenged with is funding and people won’t invest in an unclear pathway; they won’t invest in an uncertain environment; they won’t invest in an environment, where the plan was flawed and as I have said, privatisation is most welcome but the way we privatised the power sector left some room for improvement.
Our responsibility now is to make those improvements. So, we’ve identified what the problems are. For example, the generation companies were producing power, they weren’t getting paid, so they started turning off. When they have four turbines, they put on only one and leave the three others because they are not sure they will get paid and they owed banks. Then, the people producing and supplying them gas – their fuel – they say, if I am supplying cassava to you to make garri and you are not paying me, why should I bring more?
So, there is confidence problem there. What did this government do? They solved their problem and that’s the 701 billion naira guaranteed cassava producer that they will get paid. You know what has happened, one week after that policy, Ugheli Transcorp Power called us that they wanted to commission a brand new turbine. They didn’t build it in one week. So, the power was there, the gas was there, if they were not sure that they would get paid, why would they switch it on? So, immediately, 115 megawatts comes up to your grid.
Those who speak generally don’t understand what is going on. We understand it and we are going to crack it one after the other. Now, that was not the only issue, the other issue was that they had another turbine under repairs, they are now telling me that within the next few months they are going to complete it. Now, that is confidence. The parts that they will we use to complete it is either going to be imported or some fabricated. It is going to be paid for. These are million dollars project. You don’t do it with your own money; you go and borrow money. If the bank can’t see that you will get paid, that those who are there are not being paid, why would they lend you money?
So that is the masterstroke of the Buhari government – one problem – not the only problem. So, those who are producing power, keep them producing. I visited Olorunsogo and Omotoso, before that approval, they didn’t have enough gas but where they have it, it is just putting on one here today, put on two tomorrow. Except for, I think, the one under the NDPHC, which is government-owned that has done gas, the one with the private sector, immediately we announced the policy, all the turbines are producing power. They were running at half before and we saw letters, where their bankers were saying ‘we are going to call your credit and take over the plants’. That has changed. Yes, we are still at 4000 megawatts but let me explain to you, this is 4000 megawatts in dry weather.
There is no rain now, so we are pushing up the capacity of the gas plant which is what should happen during this time of the year, if our energy mix is right. So, this is not rain because when it was rain last time, I told you it was rain. But I told you we also had extra capacity because of repairs and maintenance. But there is no rain now. The hydros are down; water levels are low but they are still firing. This is also happening in spite of the fact that the escravos Lagos pipeline, which is the main source of gas for Olorunsogo, Ehovo, Egbin, Omotoso is still not fully repaired. Hopefully, by the time the ministry of petroleum finishes that, it will get more gas into the system. By the time we get to June, July, the hydros will raise up their capacity.
That is the production side. The distribution side has all sorts of problems – the right price, the right governance, metering, collection, and estimated bills. Whilst consumers are justifiably complaining about the estimated bills, the other side is that there is another story that is not told to the public – what the consumers are also doing to the DISCOS. I have photographs and reports of where people have been cut up with machetes, trying to install a meter. We have reports on people beaten up that we’ve sent to the police.
In Enugu and Ibadan, we have reports also on people by-passing meters. So, it is a two-way street and until we manage all of that – ensure that there are more meters to protect consumers, to reduce estimated billing, remove the distrust between consumers and their suppliers, rebuild confidence – that’s what the power sector recovery plan, which was approved recently will do.
There are a lot of interests in the power sector: World Bank through its public sector, IFC, through its private initiatives – they all want to do all sorts of things. They want, for example, to fund Jebba and Kainji and add solar because they have land there. What does that do for us if we closed that deal? It is that during this dry season, when the hydro can’t give more power because there are no rain – there is sun – Jebba can contribute solar; Kainji can contribute solar. That is what we should have done 10/15 years ago. Now, how does that situate in the power programme and I said incremental power first. So, we are on our way to getting incremental power and we will increase it progressively.
You have seen me visiting Ashaka Cement, because I heard that they were trying to deploy a coal partner. We need some coal too, so that in future if anybody goes to cut our gas line, we can fire more coal. We need some solar too. We are going to bring out a solar project in Jigawa. We are doing the project planning now to see how many megawatts we can get there but we are going to build on 1900 hectares of land that the Jigawa government has given us. It’s going to be patterned after the world renowned model that received a lot of global recommendation and support, so that again at this period of the year or if they cut the gas pipeline, we will get more power from other sources.
So, for me, we are on our way. There is a clear programme now, what we need to do – the bolts and the nuts are very clear – my team knows who is doing what. Then there is the gas issue and when we went round to the gas plant, I told them about what we had decided we are going to do. Look, we have about 12000 megawatts of installed capacity but we are not optimising it. It’s either transmission problem or gas problem or debts problem, so as we are solving the debts problem now. I am asking each plant to give me a two-page statement: why are you producing five, instead of ten?
Tell me what the problem is and don’t just tell me it is gas. If it is gas, tell me if it is volume, if it is pressure, if you need a new pipeline or a new supplier. If it is transmission, tell me what they are – the details and where, so that when I go back, I am going to go to the persons in charge. I will go and tell the minister for petroleum resources, look, I need a new gas line to this place: can you get it for me? I will go and tell the transmission company, I need you to start doing a design quickly of how we are going to evacuate X more power because it is up and this is project management and project planning – the bolts and the nuts of the recovery programme.
Where we need legislative interventions, there will be some. We’ve already shared the framework of this with the National Assembly at its topmost level – the speaker, the senate president, some of the principal officers, the chairman house committee and senate committee on power. We had a three-hour meeting with them and I like their attitude. They’ve seen the problems, they’ve seen some of the recommendations, they agreed with some, they thought we should look at some, and they were going to send us some of their own views too. So, if we plan it together, it should then be easy to implement it. So, for me, it is incremental power and I see the roadmap to it.
You have identified the problem in the power sector as principally human. Why is it difficult to put a timeline to stable power?
You see, it is irresponsible to start saying it is day one, when you haven’t finished the planning and implementation. How can I tell you it is going to take X days when I haven’t even got the feedback from the GENCOS? They may need a new pipeline that is 100 kilometers away. It is only when we know what the problem is that we can now tell you it’s going to take X man hours, X days to lay a pipe line, then I can now tell you that if that pipeline is commissioned in 30 days or 60 days or 90 days then by the 100th day, post-testing commissioning and nothing fails, because you can lay a pipeline and there is a leak.
And that is the point. We must pay more attention to details; we must pay more attention to planning. When you plan properly, execution then is easy and that is why over the years, we’ve struggled as a nation with project completion. The rest of the world that we want to be like, will tell you this house will be finished in 21 days and it will be finished in 21 days, and that is the discipline that is coming into this government. Look, we told you that we will finish the Kaduna road, the rehabilitation to Abuja – just pothole management in one month and we finished two days and one month, because there was a clear plan; there was monitoring, people were held responsible.
That is what we are going to see. In the power sector, every day we are losing money, if power is produced and it is not transmitted, it is a loss to the system; if it is transmitted and it is not sold, it is a loss to the system because you can’t store power. Every day that those losses happen, who gets sacked? That is going to happen. You can’t produce a truck load of Coca-Cola or bottled water and then the production manager doesn’t get it out and he won’t lose his job? You can’t produce your papers and keep it on the shelf for your chairman. You are fired! So, there will be consequences. But before we start implementing consequences, we are telling everybody, tell us what the problems are now, so that we give you your tools and you go and do your job.
So, if the system loses money at the transmission end, somebody has to pay; if it is loses money at the gas end, then, EMDEX won’t pay from that 701 billion naira because you didn’t supply. So, there is no free lunch anymore. Those who get paid for a job have to do the job. If it loses from the policy end, which means I failed to do my job, I must resign. So, that’s the accountability. If it loses money from the point, where the consumer stole money, you must go to jail. It’s power theft; it’s crime. So, that’s where we are going.
It is generally believed that the performance of your 3-in-1 ministry is directly proportionate to the success of the economy. Are you worried about the general state of the economy and the prevalent apprehension?
I think we are moving away from apprehension, we are moving to a state of people seeing hope. There are so many things happening. First, let me talk about this famous 3-in-1 ministry. I think once people form an opinion, albeit flawed opinion, it is difficult to change the mind. They create their own reality and believe it. The truth is that, that ministry has always been three ministries put together. It has always been the Federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Urban Development. So, urban development has just become a department and power, which is now largely privatised, is now being overseen.
So unlike the ministry of works and the ministry of housing, where we have over 5000 members of staff in different states of the country – controllers everywhere – the total staff strength of the ministry of power today is 720, because all the people are now employed by the private sector. So, what we do really is policy and supervision, because transmission is now an independent company. We just oversight them. The people, who administer the regulatory framework is NEC, the Nigerian electricity commission, just like NCC. So, there is nothing really big about it.
Now, in terms of the impact of my ministry, it is not going to be my ministry alone, it is a team. My ministry can’t do anything without a sound budget, so, we must acknowledge the contribution of the minister of budget and his team. Now, no matter how well framed that budget is, if you don’t have cash, you are just dreaming. So we must acknowledge the work that the minister of finance is doing, but that said, even if we now have all the works and we’ve built our turbines and done transmission and there is no gas – that is the fuel – so, again we must salute what the minister of petroleum resources is doing.
Then even approvals in FEC, we have to debate with 35 other colleagues, if they don’t understand or support your memorandum, you don’t get approval. So, again, you must acknowledge what everybody in the team is doing. Now, in terms of what is possible, again I go back to planning; I go back to preparation; I go back to legitimate expectations. I have spoken about a team here and I want to emphasise that it is consensus governance and it takes time to forge a team and those of you who watch football every day in TV will realise that, when they buy certain new players, it takes time. Let’s use the classic, the premier league, when a player comes there, it is difficult to adapt in England – the weather, the food – and until he blends into that team, you won’t get the best out of him.
Now, why is it so difficult to appreciate that the same human relational challenges apply to government? We are all individuals from different backgrounds, put together to come and serve you. We come with our normal prejudices and our previous experiences. Some of my colleagues, who are in government today, have never worked in government before. They have their start-up day. We are different faiths, we are different gender and we just need to forge into a team. That takes some time. Then, we met some people there – the institutional civil servants – who we must also learn how to work with and must learn to trust them. They must learn to trust us. We must see the same thing together, so that our solutions…and it is a matter which every Nigerian must understand and, that is just only the executive arm.
And when you have forged that team with the executive arm, you have to work with the parliament: 300 and something in the House of Reps, 109 in the Senate. You become another big team. That’s what forms government, but only one part of it, there is the judiciary. When we had a judicial order reversing the tariff, there was something wrong and we will need those judicial orders to help us punish those who steal energy. So, until everybody understands what I am saying, that is why I told you the energy recovery plan, I had to go and present it to them first in senate, because they have called a two-day summit saying that they wanted to solve the problem and I said that’s good news to my ear.
This is what we want to do, oh, this looks good, can we hack in, of course, and it is only when we all see the same problem substantially in a similar way that we can then test the efficacy of the solutions that are being presented. It may not necessarily then be that the ministry solution is the best; it may just need to be amended by another insightful senator, who is probably an electrical engineer to say: why don’t you do it this way, in a way that we didn’t see before. So, this is team-building and if I come to your department, you can’t produce a newspaper without a team.
When you need photo, somebody has to bring it. If he takes the photograph from a bad angle, you won’t use it. When you have written the story, somebody has to caption them and that is why you have editorial meetings or whatever you call them. That is it. But you have been working together for years with minor changes here and there. So, these people just come and we expect rapid results. That is why I talked about legitimate expectations, because right-thinking people, well-meaning people know that it won’t happen overnight. What they must see first is clarity of purpose. What they must also see, is clarity of intent. Nobody exhibits that more than the president and his deputy. Their intention is clear; it’s noble. There is no debate about that. So, we the advisers must now latch on to that and help them develop very tactical solutions that they can run with and defend as well as give leadership and they have provided it in all the ministries.
Your appointment was one that was greeted by a lot of excitement from the generality of the people, who admired your reign as governor of Lagos State and that has dovetailed into what is now called: ‘The Fashola Brand’. Are you conscious or guided by this label as you do your work?
Well, I don’t isolate myself from my team. I am part of a team; I am part of a group of people, who formed a political party, who promised Nigeria a better life, whether I am in government or out of government, I feel a sense of personal responsibility for how that common promise is achieved. So, first of all, it is to understand my own responsibility because I can’t discharge everybody’s responsibility and therefore make sure that in that team, I deliver subject to resources that I have to work with.
Again, let’s go back to football: somebody is the striker, his job is to get goals; somebody is the goal keeper, his job is to prevent it; somebody is the midfielder, his job is to get the ball to the striker; somebody is the defender, his job is just to prevent goals, not to score goals. So, he must do his primary job well. But that does not mean that if the defender gets to the opponent’s half, and sees the ball near the opponent’s goal post, he will say no, I won’t kick it. He will kick it.
But even after he does so, the coach will warn him, don’t go to their side again, stay in your house. It does not also mean that if a ball is going into a striker’s team net, he will say it is not my job, he will clear it out because he wants to win. I want to win, but I must do my job well and wherever I can assist to help any of my colleagues do their jobs well in a way that they have assisted me to do my job. So, that’s team-building.
Do you find it curious that a lot of people assume you are averse to real time politics?
What is politics? I am not averse to politics. It depends on what you define as politics. Politics is public service. The only reason I am here is that I am able to influence how the lives of people in my country get better. That’s what politics means to me. It is development; it is service. So, that’s why I am never satisfied until people are happy and their wellbeing improves. That is all what I am concerned about; that is the only purpose it serves and we’ve had this discussion at different fora, and I said what you people ascribe – quote and unquote – as politics is some bad behaviour, nothing more.
In fact, everybody who sees himself in a position to serve must understand the enormousness of the privilege to be among that less than one per cent, who take the decisions that affect over 99 per cent and I think the more we understand the burden of expectations that comes with that privilege, the better we will be. That is the only reason. That’s what it means to me: service!
What would you consider your greatest legacy in Lagos?
It is a very simple one: I improved on what I met; very very simple. I added value and that is all I seek to do everywhere I am – add value. Wherever you find yourself, improve it and pass it on.
Although this is impossible, however, if you had the opportunity of being governor again, what would you have done differently?
Hmmm…what would I have done differently? I don’t look back, once I have finished, I have finished and that is why some complained at some time ago that I was running too fast when I started and I said well, I will run my marathon like a sprint. So, all I do is give it my best shot. There is no guarantee that I will succeed. Success is a matter of God’s grace, but what you will not find me wanting for is making an effort. I will make one big effort and once I am done, it means I have nothing else to give. I have given it my best. You know, sometimes, you do something with all your heart and the job is not good enough and so, if they put you there again and again, there is nothing else to give.
The orange has been fully juiced; there is nothing else to take out of it and so, in the same way that I am here now, I am giving it everything I have. I am working as hard I can, I am learning as much as I can, so that I can do as much as my skills can take me. Everybody is limited by his skills and his ability and his knowledge. So, once I have done that, I don’t look back. That chapter is zipped and closed.
By May 29, it will be two years that this government came on board, do you think it has been able to justify the confidence that the people reposed in it at inception?
My answer to that in terms of trust and confidence is absolute yes for the right-thinking people – well-meaning people. There are some people who don’t fall in that category and it is a very small minority. You see, one of the things that this government has done is that as small as that N5000 is, this is the first time a government in this country is actually putting cash in people’s hands directly, not to go and farm; not subsidy for fertilizer. For those people, who get that money, you go and ask them. If you go to the North east, go and ask the people of the north-east, what their experience was on May 29, 2015 and what their experience is now.
Go and ask the people of Benishek; go and ask the people of Mainok, in Borno. I saw them. Yes, there’s still bombs being detonated here and there by some brainwashed people and all of that, but that is no longer a daily occurrence. You know I was in a discussion, we were at an event, I recall and there was a military parade and all of that and something exploded in that city and people panicked. But somebody from the North east just sat down, very calmly. This was July 2015, and he said why are you people running? This is our own ringtone in the north-east. That I hear this every day. That has changed. We traveled from Gombe to Jalingo, 7 hours to go and 7 hours to come back, we traveled at night; buses were running between those two states, it didn’t happen like that before.
They showed me on the road to Gombe from Damaturu, when we were going, vehicles on the road seized at military checkpoints that contained explosives that had been cleared. When we got to Benishek and Mainok, they told us at about 9:30pm, we saw people out in the streets. The governor had installed solar light; it is like getting to the old Oshodi at night. You had to drive through them. They had occupied one side of the road, and so we asked what was going on: life has returned. At 9pm, they were outside, enjoying themselves, drinking, selling, buying, and playing music. They said two years ago, there was no soul in that city during the day. So, in answer to your question, examples are many. If you asked the construction workers, right, on Enugu, Port Harcourt; go and ask the young health worker, who found a job from Aba Port Harcourt road with CCECC.
Or Jeremiah, the foreman at Garden Kowa power plant or Abubarkar, the mixer, who was mixing cement and laying block. I think that was the guy I met in Gombe. Go and ask them; they will tell you that this president has justified the hope and the confidence. Go and ask the truckers on Lagos-Ibadan expressway, what their journey time experience is or go and ask the truckers on Ilorin-Jebba road. They used to sleep on that road for four days. They now travel it in one day, within two years without money. These are the people you should ask and they will tell you what their experience is. Oh yes, we are in a recession; it is tough.
But when you now compare: what did we really get when there was money? Contractors were not paid, so the rich were just looking after themselves. When there is no money now, this president said go and pay workers. That is difference. In fact if you asked those people, they may even say no, this country should not have so much money. If this can happen when there is no money, almost in a tongue-in-cheek way.
Contractors were being owed four years; we had uncompleted projects everywhere, yet we had money. The Chinese lent us money, 80% to do rail we didn’t bring our own 15%. If that 2 billion dollars that was shared had been put there – he is a contractor – hundreds of construction workers would be at the rail. That is what Rotimi Amaechi is doing now, so that they can come and flag-off Lagos-Ibadan-Kano rail without money.
Do you think this your confidence can earn your party another chance at the election in 2019?
Well, I am always amazed that immediately after one election people are planning another election without asking themselves ‘why did we get this responsibility’. Before you even begin to think about that, do the work first and that is what must be our focus. We are not thinking election because an election is a referendum on our performance. We all understand that. Many of us are former governors. So, indeed, if you want to go for that referendum, you must take your result sheet and if you want to take result sheet, you have to work, so that even things that you haven’t completed, people can then say come, although they haven’t finished o, these people have made more strides given the limited resources. They stand a good chance.
And then, it all depends on what the issues are. The issues in an election are always different. No two elections are the same. People don’t understand that. Look, the 1999 election, I call it a pacifist election. The South-west felt aggrieved at the stolen mandate of June 12 and so they were like, look, let’s find a way out. That was the issue. How many economic policies were debated in that election? The 2003 election was a consolidation election. This democracy must not fail. Most right-thinking people, who were even interested said, let’s just keep this thing going, so that we don’t embarrass ourselves again.
Two thousand and seven elections, in my view, was an election about sustaining the principle of time limits. So, it wasn’t a vote in my own personal view for any policy, it was a vote that two terms is two terms. That was the issue. And the 2011 elections, was unification on diversification election: every Nigerians should participate. Let the minorities have power. They are part of this country. The 2015 was security. This country must not collapse. That was the big issue. We saw the polls.
The biggest issue in the polls was security. 20,000 people that were sampled in the polls said the biggest item was security followed by corruption, the economy and the impact of those two things became consequential that if security improves, then activity will take place in Mainok and Benishek; construction and transport will return to the north which is happening. If corruption reduces, then, we can build the rail because instead of sharing 2 billion dollars, we would have used it to pay our counterpart funding. So, what will be the issue in 2019, we don’t know yet.
And it is not here alone. America’s election 2008, the only issue in the election was the economy. The US election of 2004 was about security. The economy was bad. Veterans were not getting their pay cheques. They were not getting their drugs. They all lined up to go and vote behind Kerry. But Al Qaeda was there and they said, look, you will get your pay cheques and Al Qaeda is coming to kill all of you and this man has no military experience o.
That was what changed the election; we have to be safe first, so let this man continue. Now, in 2015, after eight years, when the economy had returned, jobs had returned, income was growing, they now said, wait a minute, who really owns this country? We don’t want some people in our country again. So, it became a nationalistic election. They were not discussing economy again. The price of fuel had gone down from 4 dollars a gallon to 2 dollars; the price of oil had crashed, so it wasn’t affecting them anymore. They had more money; more jobs.
Twenty-something million people now have healthcare. They now said, look, who are all these strangers self? We don’t like them anymore. We want to take back our country now, forgetting that it was a nation of immigrants. So, the issues are not usually all predictable. All the issues are usually always there but one just shoots to the top. Oh, jobs are always an issue in every economy in the world; employment, income, food, health, but one issue will just become more important than the others.
Lastly, whether or not anyone likes it, the race is on for 2019. What’s your reading of the turf – your projections about the elections?
I have no reading. Which race? Who is running? The only race that is on is the race to put on power, to fix the roads and to build the houses. That is the only race I am running and that is the only race I see.
Source: ThisDay Live.