By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
Stakeholders who gathered at the Special Townhall Meeting organized by Business Hallmark Public Policy Forum (PPF) held at the Shehu Yar’adua Center, Abuja, have emphasized the need for rapid infrastructural development across the country to ensure national development.
The theme of the event organised by Business Hallmark Newspaper was “Nigeria’s Infrastructure Revolution: Road to a New Future.”
In his opening speech, the chairman of the occasion, former Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Odigie Oyegun, described the performance of the Buhari administration as mixed since it came to power six years ago.
He, however, gave the administration a pass mark in the area of infrastructure development.
Also speaking, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), who was the special guest on honour, disclosed that the administration was confronted with huge infrastructure challenges when it took over on May 29, 2015.
According to him, the poor state of infrastructure was not good for a country that was in dire need of development and growth.
He however, noted that the Federal Government was committed to addressing this gap, which was why it revised the Nigerian Integrated Infrastructure Masterplan.
The SGF also said that while conscious of the economic disruption caused by the 2016 economic recession and COVID-19, as well as the challenges of previous reforms, the Federal Government revised its 23-year, 2020-2043 National Integrated Infrastructure Masterplan.
According to Mustapha, the infrastructure master plan identifies critical enablers with consisting microeconomic framework and realistic infrastructure investment plan.
“For the 23-year period, $2.3 trillion will be required, translating to about $150 billion annually.
The private sector and other partners have agreed to provide 56 per cent, while the FG and state governments will provide 44 per cent of the shared investment to be dedicated for implementing the master plan,” the SGF said.
In his keynote address, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), explained that the most legitimate way of growing the economy and delivering prosperity to the citizenry is through economic activities brought about by infrastructural development.
In order to achieve this, Fashola stated that the Buhari administration has ensured the continued allocation of resources to enable it deliver on its mandate at a time the country is earning less revenue from oil.
While rendering an impressive account of the Federal Government’s infrastructure programmes under his ministry, the minister said 895 road projects and bridge contracts are on-going across the country.
Other on-going projects, Fashola disclosed, are the rehabilitation of internal roads of 43 Federal Tertiary Institutions; construction of six new federal secretariats in Anambra, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Osun and Zamfara States and construction of housing estates in 34 states of the federation under the National Housing Programme (NHP) among others.
“I will like to focus on the larger picture of the resolve to renew Nigeria’s ageing infrastructure, most of which were built over four decades ago.
“I speak of projects like the Kano-Maiduguri Highway, the Enugu-Port-Harcourt Road, the East-West Road, the Lagos-Ibadan Highway, the Benin-Okene-Lokoja Highway, the 2nd Niger Bridge, the Loko-Oweto Bridge and others.
“I speak also of difficult projects that appeared to have defied every attempt to start them like the Bobo-Bonny Bridge and the Mambilla Hydro Power project which contract has been signed.
“These projects and many others like our rail projects from Lagos to Kano, Port-Harcourt to Maiduguri, and Air and Sea ports at various stages of completion, will from the foundation for building our prosperity and national development.
“These foundations will be so strong that they will ensure that we are able, in the near and long terms, to deal with adverse economic seasons.
“They will help to diversify Nigeria’s economy away from oil dependence, and open new opportunities of prosperity for Nigerians in sectors like tourism, agriculture, transport, logistics and manufacturing,” Fashola noted.
Responding to a question on the rising debts being incurred by the present administration to execute capital projects by one of the moderators, Dr. Alex Otti, Fashola argued that that due to paucity of funds, government had to look for alternative sources of funding which include the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund, SUKUK fund, Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme (RITCS), Multi-lateral loans/grants and collaboration with other government agencies like the North East-Development Commission in order to achieve the objectives of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan ( ERGP) as it concerns the Ministry.
He faulted the 2005 Olusegun Obasanjo-led government’s decision to pay $12 billion in cash to Nigeria’s creditors out of the $30 billion sovereign debt.
Fashola claimed at the time that tackling infrastructure was the smarter option, and that if he had been a member of the Federal Executive Council at the time, he would have violently opposed the decision.
He argued that if the $12bn cash that was paid to the creditors at that time was channeled into investment in infrastructure, Nigeria’s economy will not be where it was when the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari commenced in 2015.
He suggested that such a large sum of money would have been better spent on vital infrastructure investments that would have eventually been used to service the debt.
Fashola insisted that when the decision was made, combating infrastructure decline was a bigger priority than repaying the nation’s debt.
“Our government in 2005 as a matter of policy decided to go and pay debt of $12 billion cash but our house was in very dire need. That was a policy choice. I would have opposed that decision if I was in government because we needed to invest urgently at that time.
“If we had invested, the results of those investments would have earned us more revenues, much more income and would put us in a better position to service those debts. Fast forward to 2015, after paying $12 billion, we are now owing $32 billion.
“We look for the resources, invest them in infrastructure and use the returns to pay back this loan.”
While speaking on the impacts of the huge investments on infrastructure on the economic the former Lagos governor explained that Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) had all benefited immensely from infrastructure projects as a lot of activities such as designing, award of contract for supply, direct employment, banking and so on that take place.
“It also generates income for the people any time an infrastructure project is ongoing”, Fashola said. pointing out that the small firms and enterprises were engaged in supplies of cements, diesel, laterites and others in the course of construction activities.
The minister also reminded Nigerians that the recession alarm raised in 2012 by the then Coordinating Minister of the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was the recession that the Buhari administration inherited and was able to overcome despite the impact of Covid – 19 through the massive investment to renew and expand the nation’s infrastructure at a time when the country was earning much less from oil.
While giving his own report card, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, deplored the water crises in Nigeria saying no community in the country enjoyed water supply always.
“In 1992, 30 per cent of the Nigerian population was enjoying pipe-borne water and as of 2015, it had dropped to seven per cent.
“In 2015, we were at 68 per cent national coverage for access to water and as of today, we are at 70 per cent and maybe by the time the result for 2021 comes out, we might be at 71 per cent to 72 per cent.
“As for water quality, 90 per cent of water consumed, including water from the boreholes, are contaminated and water is the basic necessity of life.”
In his own speech, the Chairman, Business Hallmark Public Policy Forum, Sir Marc Wabara, said the aim of the Townhall Meeting was to ensure that public policy met the basic standard of service delivery to the public.
He expressed satisfaction that the event was holding at a time when the nation was going through the path of growth and development.
The occasion was chaired by the former Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, while the Guest of Honour was the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha.
Other speakers at the occasion were the Minsters of Water Resources and that of Power; Engr. Suleiman Adamu and Engr. Saleh Mamman respectively.