- 2 Hrs With POWER, WORKS & HOUSING Minister
- FASHOLA Reveals His Shocking Experiences
It was a Saturday afternoon in the city of Lagos. And the message had come a day before, that Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, the former Governor of Lagos and Minister for Power, Works and Housing had granted City Peoples humble request to have him share with us his 3 years in office as Minister.
We were to meet in his Lagos home. And as we raced to beat the traffic that had built up on the mainland that afternoon, many questions kept racing through my mind like how far he has gone in revamping electricity. And also what he has done so far in fixing federal roads?
And also, how far we are in tackling the housing problem. These and many came to mind. Trust BRF, he was ready to take on all the questions. What first shocked me was the simplicity of the Honourable Minister. He still lives in the same old house he used to live on the mainland before he became Governor. Though he has outgrown the house, he still feels emotionally attached to it.
another shocking thins is that he has added more grey hair due to his punishing schedule of travelling around the nooks and cranny of Nigeria, by road almost on a daily basis. Whenever you call him, he is either in Kaura Namoda, or Kafanchan, or Agenebode. He seldom flies when he goes across the country to enable him to inspect all the federal government projects. He prefers to go by road to enable him to have a feel of the state of federal roads and to see what needs to be done.
Perhaps the only thing that has not changed about BRF is that he no longer has time to play Soccer, his favourite game. But he has not given up on watching football matches on TV. He is still as mentally alert as he was when he was governor, remembering every minute details about his job. We spoke for 2 hours and not for once did he refer to any document to aide his memory. He has all the statistics he needs off hand and his power of recall remains superb.
His interview was a no holds barred with BRF who has gone down in modern history as being the first Minister to combine 3 key and important ministries and he has done a good job of it. Read on. It’s a very revealing interview about Fashola’s experience in Pres Buhari cabinet. He spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE.
What has your experience been in the last 3 and half years as Minister for Works, Power & Housing under Pres Buhari?
Let me start by saying that I have not yet spent 3 years in office. On November 10 this year it will be 3 years. What my experience has been really been, first it is educative. I have learnt more about our country. I have had as a matter of necessity to travel through all the states. Sometimes, once in some cases twice. In some cases 3 times. There have been some places I have visited 4 times.
First, I went round all the states by roads, to go and see the state of the roads. We drove every day for no less than 12 hours. From 8 am to 8 pm, stopping occasionally for those who wanted to refresh and continuing sometimes late into the night. There was a day we drove for 18 hours. What I found out as far as the roads are concerned is that we have described the conditions of our roads sometimes in hyperbolic terms. Yes, some of our roads are bad and the reasons are clear: Roads are depreciating assets. After a while, they need to be rebuilt and we didn’t do that in the past. So, are bridges? But contrary to what people have said that all our roads are death traps certainly that is not true. As I told people, we drove on those roads for hours on end and we were not trapped, we did not die because we observed the speed limit. We never crossed the 100-kilometre maximum speed limit on our high ways.
I have also had to visit our power assets so going to places like Egbin, of course, which I had seen in Lagos before and Kanji. Visiting Kanji was an eye-opener for me. I had actually visited a similar facility in Amsterdam and I didn’t even know we had something similar to that. And the same is true of what we have in Jebba and Shiroro. They are not just hydropower dams. They are very viable tourist centres that we must take children too on excursions to go and see how their country has evolved.
Again, I have had to inspect some of our housing projects across the country of course. Happily, by the time the national housing scheme started maturing across the 34 states where we were constructing, I thought that myself and the 2 Ministers of State who we worked together should break that down. So, we took 2 zones each. So I covered 2 zones. Mustapha Babase covered 2 zones and Suleiman Hassan Zaman covered 2 zones.
So, in that sense, it has been very educative I have seen nature generosity to Nigeria. Driving from Nassarawa through to Plateau is an experience that remains very fresh in my memory. And that is what determines me, even the more to start and finish the reconstruction of roads like Akwanga, Lafia, to Bauchi and Jos, because as you drive, without being obvious, you just begin to notice that you are climbing up but it’s a very gentle slope. And you will begin to feel the temperature change.
It starts getting cooler. And then it’s like you just reach a sudden tableau and you see flat grassland. And, that was when it was clear to me why they used to call Jos the Jos Plateau. It’s like just coming to a presence. And the temperature just changes, automatically. And that is an experience I want every Nigerian to have of his own choice and not be limited because you can’t get there by road. And, you then see natures gift on the Plateau, wild xxx, growing freely, without anybody planting it, and in other parts of the world, they are looking for Cactus, because of Aloe Vera, which it contains. It’s a very, very, rich resource. It just grows freely there. Of course, you know about the Apples, Berries, Strawberry grows wildly without anybody really tending to it. There are so many other things.
If you again go through places like from Gombe, heading through Numa, to Taraba, is another experience. It’s a Tour drive. I remember telling people, that in one day, we literally flew to Dubai and came back, driving by road. We drove for 14 hours. Places that had flown too, like Enugu, Katsina, Jigawa, Hadeja, I now drove through them by road. And I recall telling my team that I now appreciate why some Senators and some House of Reps Members were complaining that their areas had been left behind because driving through it, the places were just names to me in 2015, but driving through them by 2016 they became places. I connected with them and I took detailed notes, on which parts of the roads were good and those that were bad. There are some places where all we needed to do was to fix 5-kilometre sections that had been abandoned and you will have a run through of 120 kilometres in good condition again. Many of those roads were built incidentally, during President Buhari’s tenure of service as PTF Chairman and after that many of them were left untouched.
So, that has been my experience partly. Of course, there are many other experiences, like working in the Ministry. I learnt now, why things are not the way they should be, what some of the people who had the privilege did not do and perhaps what they would have done differently.
For example, I learnt that the way we have built houses before now, we didn’t consult people about houses and what people want. We just sat down in the Ministry to package the previous National Housing Programmes. Yes, it served some interest. But we also some of those houses, never occupied, because it created a cultural conflict. Some people don’t live like that.
And this is not to take credit away from the previous National Housing Projects and give to Buhari. No. We are talking about lessons to learn. Perhaps when I am done, there will also be lessons to learn from the opportunities that I missed.
This time around, we said we are going to do a National Housing Programme and before we do so, we are going to consult people. So we set up a team of Architects from the private sector from different parts of the country. We now merge their thoughts with the thoughts of Architects in the Ministry who come from different parts of the country.
And each could advise us on what is acceptable in his own part of the country.
There was a consensus that people will live in one bedroom, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom houses. That was easy. Our people don’t mind. But they mind very, very seriously and culturally how those one bedrooms are built. In the North they prefer them to be built as bungalows. So you can do 1 bedroom bungalow, or 2 bedrooms, or 3 bedrooms, all in bungalows. They want courtyards at the back because culturally that allows for gender separation and the children can huddle in the evening and because of their climate, it also opens aeration. If there is a courtyard and it’s too hot, the temperature cools in the evening. If you huddle them into a flat, which we don’t mind in the South and we are close to the coast, it makes it difficult for them to live.
So, we are building bungalow types in the North, block of flats in the South. Of course, land use even makes it flexible. They have more land that you have in the South. So these are some of the experience and education that I have acquired. It is not in any book. You can’t read it anywhere.