Mr. Babatunde Fashola is the current Minister of Works and Housing. He was a two-term Governor of Lagos State and a Chief of Staff under Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Governor of Lagos State. He is one of the most brilliant men in President Buhari’s cabinet. A few days back, he was our guest on City People Instagram Live Chat with City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, during which he spoke about many things his 2 ministries are working on to achieve. Below are excerpts.
What is your perspective on COVID-19 pandemic, does it remind of your days as Governor of Lagos State when you had to handle Ebola virus at that time?
I would like to express my deep condolence to people who have succumbed to the virus in a fatal way. We have lost lives and may their souls rest in peace. My sympathy goes to the families and their loved ones. And I also give my deep appreciation to all of those who played to ensure we successfully manage the impact of the virus, from the Mr. President to all the governors, to ministers, the Presidential Task Force, the health commissioners, the health workers. It’s important to say to Nigerians that we were better equipped with information at the time Ebola broke out. The Ebola virus had been under observation and study especially in the east and central Africa for over 40 years, so there was a lot of knowledge about its parameter, what to expect and what not to expect. Those who are battling coronavirus today had only 6 months knowledge, so the parameter of what to look for wasn’t there.
Sir, what have you been up to in your second term in office as Minister with 2 big portfolios; Works and Housing? And Did you miss Ministry of Power which used to be part of the ministries you handled in your first term in office?
The second question where you asked if I had missed the ministry of power, is like asking if I miss being governor, well, I don’t.
In terms of what we are doing now, we are executing our mandate as defined by the president and the government. We had a 2-day retreat and during that retreat, each ministry had a clear mandate and clear objectives set for their ministries. You might recall that late last year, my ministries presented our report card what we have been doing since were highlighted, and that’s what we have been doing essentially. It hasn’t been easy. Resources have been the major challenge we have.
What’s the state of the National Housing Project? Are we still on course?
Yes, we are on course. What we started in 2016 was to attempt to define what type of a house Nigerians would accept to live in and what type of house they could afford. You might also recall that I attended one of your events where I broadly set out where we were going. Why we were concerned about the type of house is because we learned from the Shagari era. Not everybody liked how the houses were built then. Let me tell you what we have found out. There are cultural differences in Nigeria as we all know and that impacts the kind of house the people live in. The terrain in the country is not the same across the board, neither is the land availability equally proportional. Therefore, it is sensible to build vertically than to build horizontally. The land use in northern Nigeria allows for building horizontally. So you could see people have a preference for bungalow, and this is even build based on their cultures and way of life.
So this was as a result of our survey in 2016 and which led to the initiation of the National Housing Project we now talk about. Again, we know that the federal government own limited land compared to the state. The State are the ones who control the land, therefore we had to apply to all the state governors to kindly give us the land, and we decided to only ask for five hectares to demonstrate whether or not people would accept those houses. I can tell you today that, in all the 34 states they gave us the land we have completed a phase, we have completed the houses. We have now started the second phase close to where the first phase was. I visited a couple of them in Delta, Asaba, recently just before the pandemic. I visited the one in Niger, Cross-Rivers and a couple of them like that.
But let me also say that our housing strategy using the National Housing Programme is only one of many things that are happening. The Federal Mortgage Bank which is also one of our parastatals is granting estate developers loans. The housing authority is also building houses and all of these programmes and projects are vividly captured from the ministry’s website. But beyond building houses, we also have site and service scheme; there are people who don’t want the government to build for them but they have to like to have the security document of government issuing of land. So we have a couple of many site and service across the country where we provide infrastructure, electricity, water supply, access road and people build in their plot of land. We also have people who don’t want land; they want a loan, so we have started issuing loans.
And there’s no nice way to say this but I must say, not everybody would be able to own a home but they all deserve really good shelter. Some people have to rent. Some mortgage banks also provide home renovation loan. It helps some people subsidize their rents, renovate the houses etc.
We are also intervening in the housing sector by issuing a title document; we are issuing Certificate of Occupancy. I have signed about 4 thousand CofO in the last few years. We have also granted consent to the land transaction. So there is a lot the federal government is doing but it won’t enough if all the state doesn’t involve in doing this and if our conversation doesn’t capture what they are doing.
I’m happy to say that those private developers are thriving this time because of our economic policy and our policy outlook.
How have you fared in the federal road projects?
We are making appreciable progress. We now have over 600 road contracts at different stages of execution. We had hoped that this year we would complete about 22 major roads between 2020 and 2021. We have lost 3 months, which is our prolific period to work before the commencement of the raining season. But will we pick up in the dry season comes September.
I must also say this. When a road or housing project starts, one of the first things you need is sand or laterite for the foundation. Now, a contractor who gets this award doesn’t keep laterite, they have to buy it. Eg, if a Seye Kehinde owns land in an area and they want to buy it, every 20 tons trucks of laterite cost between 6 to 10 thousand naira. On a project like Apapa/Oworoshoki, in December when I visited and we were reviewing our quantity, we had used 5 thousand trucks. So imagine 6 thousand × 5 thousand? That’s 30 million naira.
Just because they have taken laterite from your land! And that’s happening across Nigeria.
So because of the impact of Covid-19 and the people who benefit from our projects, the president was very quick to approve that some construction works should start again. So some of the contractors have moved back to their project sites. They are handling 53 projects in 26 states because we know the impact on Covid-19 on those who earn on a daily basis.
Our Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) is already waiting to start work in 24 states. So many of our projects would be delivered, many are nearing completion, many are just starting and about 3 more roads were awarded recently.
How do you handle criticisms from the media?
Criticism inspires and challenges me because I believe the critic genuinely asking for service hasn’t done anything wrong. He has entrusted our government through president Buhari to me with the responsibility to serve him. So in the same way, if I go to a restaurant and the quality of food served to me is not good, I have the right to complain, so their demands don’t offend me; it challenges me to do more.
But there are people also who make comments on the things they are not aware of, and that’s why it’s always a pleasure for me to come to this kind of podium to share what I know because I have experience there. There’s no state in this county I haven’t visited by road, at least twice. So it’s what I have seen, it’s what I have read, taught.
What’s your take on Clay Brick prefabrication as a way of fast-tracking construction?
Maybe during Alhaji Jakande’s era they had tried Clay Bricks initiatives, it was not as successful as it was thought. I think in Maiduguri they encountered the prolific use of clay bricks and again, he shared his own challenges with me. The questions are: how much clay do you have? What is the sustainability long term?
In terms of prefabrication, I agree that it’s useful but the question also is that, where is the prefabrication materials coming from? Is it prefabricated within Nigeria or from another country? What we want to do as a government is to respond to the economic of people. So every method we have deployed is to make it labour intensive so that we can employ more people into the system.
Can you explain more about the National housing cooperative initiative?
What we are trying to do again is to increase the scale of construction and scope of construction. We think people would be better of if we allow them with a clear policy to take their destiny in their hands. We had seen that people have been successful in the cooperative either in the artisan doing things together, we have in agriculture, in motor unions. So why not housing? Why can’t we have a journalists cooperative? Why can’t we have a nurses cooperative? So we set a policy to make it easy for these people to do that. And this is how it works! We expect you to register as cooperative in your state, after registration we then expect you to then apply to your state government or anybody in charge of land to issue land to that cooperative and we expect you as a cooperative member to then choose those the type of house that you want. Those who want 1 bedroom, 2 bedrooms or face-me-and-face-you house would choose. Then go to your state authority and get approval that this building is approved and once you have that, go and open an account as a cooperative with the National Housing Fund in any Federal Mortgage bank and apply for a loan. We would do two things: we would do our best to give a development loan build what you have chosen. When you have finished building, we would do our best to also give you a mortgage loan but it’s your own share and you pay in instalment. We expect this will do many things. It would help improve the problem of housing not affordable. We expect also it would eliminate the cost that transfers to the end-users.
This is how an economy in my view can catalyse, actualise the president’s mandate.
Do you think the implementation of the recommendation report of economic sustainability committee in which you are a member would help address the complaints of the populace about unemployment and other economic challenges?
I need to say this before I go into that. I think the government is a small part of any economy. When you look at the GDP of the Nigerian economy, and what government directly contributes, it’s a very small part. The private sector is what contributes the larger part of GDP; I’m talking about SME, they contribute over 50 per cent of GDP in terms of productive capacity and in terms of people they employ.
We are also looking at constructing roads now with more stones, more cement, more iron rods as to make it labour intensive so that more people would be employed. For example, now it’s going to take about 14 people to complete a kilometre of road. So if we are doing more kilometres, we would employ more people. And we are using local cement, local materials. The demand for cement and iron rods which are locally produced will increase and they would be forced to expand production to meet supply.
Let me say that there’s a broad brand policy to make it easier and cheaper for us to continue to converse the way we are now conversing.
This would be called a part of our new normal, holding online meetings and all. So we are looking to roll out about 80 more kilometres of broadband. Some states like Ekiti has started reducing the cost of right of way.
And what that means is that, if we roll out about 80 kilometres broadband, we estimate about 2 million man-hours of jobs and that will create about 50 thousand jobs.
Are we going to see more roads built with concrete cement-like what we currently have on Gbagada/Oworoshoki expressway?
Yes, there would be. But for us to have more of that, we have to create a universal manual that would be applied in the country. That work is being undertaken by my ministry. We have revolved a design but they now have to consult with all stakeholders in the built industry to accept the minimum and maximum standard. In the construction industry, there’s always minimal and maximal.
Sir, I’m wondering how you come up with all the things you say. During your time in Lagos, you used to have books in your car that would always guide you. Do you still do that till now?
From the day I stepped into the public service, my life has changed. I took responsibility to do certain things whether as Chief of Staff or Governor. Unfortunately, time for myself and family has significantly reduced. And in discharging that responsibility it becomes incumbent upon me to seek to know more about the skills set necessary to discharge those responsibilities. Yes, I still read books. The book I’m reading now is called Viral Stall. It’s about diseases, virus and all of that.
And I also know that it’s faster and cheaper to learn audiovisually. Generally, I spend more time now indoor just to discover how life works. And I also do a lot of African Magic. I’m on ROK and all of that.