Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said recommendations for getting Nigeria out of poverty that such recommendations were already being addressed by the Muhammadu Buhari administration with its massive investment in infrastructure renewal and expansion.
Fashola’s Special Adviser on Communication, Hakeem Bello stated this in a press release, pointing out that the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its recent report released in November on poverty index recommended investments in Health, Education and Infrastructure among others as viable means to take the people out of poverty.
While presiding over the 2022 Ember Month Programme’s Press Briefing of the Ministry, Fashola, who noted that many people had been quoting the Report in terms of the poverty rate, explained to the audience of transport stakeholders who gathered at the Conference Room of the Ministry, “That (Infrastructure) was already happening before the recommendation came. President Buhari had started investing in infrastructure. That is why you and I are here”.
Explaining that poverty has different dimensions including, monetary and multidimensional poverty, the Minister pointed out that the importance of infrastructure lay in the fact that it not only addresses monetary poverty but also multidimensional poverty which, according to him, includes absence of access, choice and efficiency.
“And so for me, why is infrastructure so important? It is addressing poverty, the dimensional and multi-dimensional issues. It provides jobs during construction and it makes life better after construction. And as we have seen, as construction is going on journey time is getting better year-on-year”, he said.
Stating that the Buhari administration “is on the right track” as far as addressing the poverty issues are concerned, the Minister, who noted that results would manifest in due course, added that people who express anxiety over the seeming delay in the results of the investments should commend the administration for investing the nation’s resources for the benefit of the people.
Fashola recalled that there was a time before the present administration when funds were being taken out of the country and also from an agency of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to fund elections in the country, adding, “That was the cause of poverty; if they took away money that would have been used to address issues in the country, that is the cause of poverty”.
“NNPC is now investing N651 billion in road construction but that was the money some people used to fund electioneering campaigns and provide cars for friends in the past. Buhari has put back the money where it belongs. These are things that are heading in the right direction”, Fashola said.
The Minister declared, “When there is a problem it takes time to design a solution and when you apply the solution it takes time to get the final results. But ours is past the design stage because we are already seeing the results”, adding that if people who were saying it took them days to travel to a destination are now saying it takes them a few hours to make the same destination, “it means we are heading in the right direction”.
“The other point I want to make is to say that no opposition or adversary of this government can take the credit of our investment in infrastructure away. When all other funding avenues fell, this government found other funding sources. So, we now talk of the SUKUK; we are now talking about the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme, we are now talking about the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund”, he said.
Fashola, who recalled that the President went abroad, early in the life of the administration, to request for the repatriation of those stolen funds from the countries in which they were being kept to enable him fund critical infrastructures like the Second Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kano Road and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway among others adding that the execution of the road transport infrastructure projects are now going on.
The Minister declared, “When the President committed in his June 12, 2019 remark that he was going to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, perhaps, not many people thought it was possible. But that process has started.
“All of these construction companies would ordinarily be out of work if the infrastructure programme is not being implemented; there would be no work for the people. And then the people who depend on construction for their businesses; those who own quarries, those who own construction equipment, trucks, tractors, bitumen, cement, without construction they will be out of job”.
The Minister expressed disappointment that the opposition would only talk about infrastructure without connecting it with the numerous benefits such as creation of direct and indirect jobs, businesses, and others which, according to him, lead to the creation of a vibrant economy and legitimate distribution of wealth through the value chain, adding, that the benefits accruing from the massive infrastructure investment were moving round the nation’s economy.
On the opening of the Second Niger Bridge, Fashola explained that the Bridge would be opened to traffic from December 15, 2022 to January 15, 2023, pointing out, however, that the access would only be for traffic going from the West to the East of the country adding that the flow would be reversed on January 15, 2023 to benefit traffic from the East to the West of the country.
Emphasizing that work on the access road to the Bridge was not yet finished, the Minister who said the reason for the temporary opening was to ease pressure on the first bridge which was usually congested as a result of the huge traffic on it during the yuletide period added that the access roads linking the surrounding towns to the bridge are yet to be finished.
“I believe it is good news so I can confirm it. As I have told you we have completed work on the Bridge. So, as it is now you can walk from one end of the bridge to the other; you can drive from one end to the other. But the connecting roads that link the bridge are what we are working on; that has not finished”, he said.
Attributing the delay in completion of the entire work on the access routes to the bridge to the flooding occasioned by the predicted heavy rains and the stop work order for Mondays in the South East by IPOB, Fashola, however, said that the flood that occurred in the area during the season was also a blessing explaining that the original level for the design of the access road had to be changed.
“We had to raise the height of that road. So that flood has made the design to be reviewed and that is good for us. Happily and thankfully, it did not affect the bridge in any way…”, he said.
Buttressing the positive impact of infrastructure, the Minister asked, “Why do we need the Second Niger Bridge; is it not because we have outgrown the first bridge? Is it not because people spend days there just to go for Christmas?” He added, “That is part of poverty. That is the multidimensional poverty which this President said “I will relieve you of it and provide you a choice”.
“You don’t have to sleep overnight on the bridge because you want to go home for Christmas. That is part of what we are talking about. And he has also approved that since the bridge is finished we should create a temporary access so that in the journey this Christmas you can begin to experience what it will look like when the bridge is finally finished and we open it”, the Minister said.
Fashola assured that the Ministry’s Director of Bridges would work in collaboration with the contractors and the FRSC to work out and publicize more on the arrangement adding, “We still have time of about a week and we will be working round the clock to make sure this plan works”.
The Minister said the impact of the Second Niger Bridge arrangement would also be felt on the Abuja-Kano Road and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway where, according to him, the contractors handling the projects have been asked to remove the barriers and diversions restricting traffic flow for the period of the festivities.
“Let me explain the reason why we divert; we cannot build a 100 km road at once. So we close sections of five, six to 10 kilometres on one side and divert traffic to the other side so that we can complete it. Once we open that road, that section is completed and we open it to traffic”, the Minister explained, adding that the Director in charge of Construction and Rehabilitation had sent the message to all his Controllers and all the contractors to pass the message to their staff.
Noting that the directive was “Don’t open up for construction of any new sections anymore,” the Minister said, “that is what we have done; by the 15th of December, remove the barriers, provide signage, reflective signs and flood lights to guide people through so that it is a free passage”.
According to him, on Abuja-Kano, from Kaduna to Zaria there will be no diversions at all. And from Zaria to Kano, which is over 130 km, there will be only one diversion. And from Abuja to Kaduna, which is about 165 km there are going to be four diversions. So from Abuja to Kano, which is 365 km, there are going to be only five diversions.
Explaining that the five diversions are necessary for operational purposes Fashola added, “I think this is significant and the contractors are working to provide valid access. There are places where we are just going to patch so that you can drive because we are coming back to remove it for full construction which is the main contract”.
“So when you see such things don’t go back to say it has failed, it has not failed, we have not built it, we have just provided relief. When you get to the built section where we have finished, you will see the quality of work we have done there, lane marking and everything and you will know this is the constructed part”, the Minister further explained.
On the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, he said the instruction to the contractors was no diversions or obstructions on the Lagos-Shagamu end from the 15th of December adding that on the Ibadan end there would also be no diversion.
Appealing to the commuting public for patience, Fashola said, “So what I will then say is that you will expect efficient , reduced travel time if we use the road properly. So sometimes you have heard there will be religious events, cross over nights, sometimes traffic might slow down; FRSC is there to move it”.
“Please be patient; don’t be in a hurry and face oncoming traffic because it will just build up the whole place and that is what will cause gridlock and not our work but impatience as it is”, he said adding that he will interact with the FRSC during the period and give the necessary support to ensure smooth traffic flow on the road.
Reiterating the importance of patience among commuters, the Minister added, “Where there is slowdown, bear with us. We don’t intend it but these things can happen with the best of plans. The reason why we are here is that we have come here to plan for the worst and we are now hoping for the best. And the best can only come from the way we use the road”.
To truck drivers, the Minister appealed, “Try and keep your trucks in good condition. Don’t overspeed, if you are tired, take a break and sleep because this is what causes accidents and obstructions. Mostly I want to appeal that the maximum speed on Federal roads is 100km/hr not 101 km. So I’d rather you drive below 100km/hr because we want you to arrive safely”.
Appealing to the FRSC for more stringent monitoring of the traffic, Fashola who reiterated that no driver without a valid driver’s licence should be allowed on Nigerian roads, added, “We are having too many road crashes and we are losing too many lives. In the month of September the data that I got was better than August but it is still not tolerable. We lost over 400 people on the roads. We have to bring that number down”.
“I am glad that FRSC is here. One of my appeals to FRSC is to do random checks, ask people for their driver’s licences, if they don’t have arrest and prosecute them. Only certified people will drive on our roads. The President has approved patrol vehicles for you, use it to control traffic.”
Listing the sections on which motorists are prone to excessive speeding to include Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja-Kano and Abuja to Lokoja, the Minister told the Commission, “Put your patrol vehicles on the road. If necessary let them stay at the end of the traffic to restrict everybody to a maximum of 100km so that nobody overtakes them”.
“These are some of the things we have come to share. We want to reduce the number of accidents. We want people to get home safely. We want it to be a very merry Christmas for them and certainly a more prosperous New Year that we hope to see”, the Minister said.
Fashola also appealed to the people of Akure, Ado-Ekiti, people in Kabba and Benin-Sapele and all the people who use the Benin-Okene Road, the East West Road that government understands the challenges on those roads and is leaving nothing undone to solve them.
He explained further, “Some of them are mired in our procurement processes which as matters of law we can’t change. So we are working to fix them”. He added that the Ministry was also working to make recommendations to the President to get other sources of funding to invest in these roads.
“So our contractors do not despair; help is on the way. We are also mindful of this issue of inflation, we are going to address it; in some cases we are providing augmentations. We can’t do everything. So some of it may have to be quid pro quo, we give some and you give us some. But generally I am optimistic that we are on the right part”, he assured.
To other stakeholders, especially the road users, Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) and Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), Fashola thanked them for their cooperation in the efforts to bring sanity to the roads adding, “I am not blaming you for overloading. I am just advising you to comply with the law and I am happy to hear the report on efforts being made to do so. It ultimately means that the road will serve you for a longer period as designed; because, after all, what business do you have if you don’t have the road”.
The Minister who thanked all the stakeholders and wished all Nigerians a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year, said for those being accused of overloading cement the people concerned were known to the Ministry. He added, “We will call them and we will find a solution working together. So, it is work in progress”.
Those who made presentations at the conference included the Director Highways, South West Zone, Engr. Adedamola Kuti who gave a comprehensive overview of the EMBER Months intervention programme of the Ministry and its Agency from Routes A1 to A6; the Managing Director of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Engr. Nuruddeen Rafindadi who affirmed the Ministry’s presentation while also presenting additional areas of intervention by FERMA; and representatives of the road transport unions as well as the Contractors who pledged their cooperation to ensure the smooth flow of traffic during the period.
Also present at the briefing were the Minister of State, the Acting Permanent Secretary, Directors, Special Advisers and other top functionaries of the Ministry as well as other stakeholders.