Sunday, September 22, 2019 7:32 pm
By Bolanle Bolawole
I found ex-Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola’s explanation to the media after last Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council meeting very interesting. Answering questions on his Ministry, Fashola made disclosures on how helpless and hopeless those of them who are Ministers could be. Yet, they are the ones the public hold accountable for the failures of governance, especially as it pertains to ministries and or parastatals under their wings. Fashola, whose wings were clipped with the removal of the Power ministry from his portfolio, now has Works and Housing to answer for. How many abandoned projects does he have? Reporters said there were 20,000 abandoned projects – 20,000! There is no smoke without fire and reporters usually know their onions. They may not be dead accurate but you can be sure they will be somewhere close to it. If there are 20,000 abandoned projects in just one or two ministries, need we probe further why infrastructure deficit is so severe everywhere? Fashola’s answer was a mixture of truths and half-truths glued with semantics and sophistry. Hear him: First of all, about abandoned projects, it is important we all speak the same language and I think there is a very clear distinction (between) a project that is uncompleted and a project that is abandoned. They mean two different things. If you say there is a report of about 20,000 abandoned projects, my ministry does not have 20,000 projects and I think there was a report from the previous administration that did a compilation”
Talking seriously, 20,000 is a whopping lot. But rather than bicker about the number, why not simply release the report that both sides seemed to be referring to and which Fashola agreed was compiled by “the previous administration”? Let’s try and understand the difference between “uncompleted” and “abandoned” projects. An uncompleted project is still in the process of being completed, regardless whether it takes donkey years for this to manifest. Examples are the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the East-West road and the 2nd Niger Bridge that have outlived three presidents. The powers-that-be are still interested in an uncompleted project but circumstances beyond their control may be tying their hands. An abandoned project is that which the powers-that-be have turned their backs on, regardless of its importance or relevance. But fortunes may smile on an abandoned project if the political equation changes or there are new entrants in the corridors of power picking interest in it. So, the difference, really, is tenuous and may not be cast in iron. As scripture says, “time and chance happen to them all”
Hear Fashola again: One of the things we have done…is finding out why projects have not been completed; in some case the rates have become obsolete, so the price of cement has changed, the exchange rate has changed, inflation has gone into the quantities in which it was awarded before we came” The crux of the matter here is inflation and the culprit is the exchange rate of the Naira. If you are not careful, you will just flow with the Fashola smooth narrative without picking out the salient facts. In 2015 when the APC/Buhari administration came into office, the exchange rate was N185/7 to the US$ but due to the government’s hare-brained economic policies, the rate depreciated so badly that, at its peak, the Naira exchanged over N500 to US$. Inflation that was 9.01% in 2015 rose to 16.6% in 2017 before it stabilised at between 12 and 14 percent in subsequent years. To allow the lay man understand this: a litre of petrol that sold for N87/litre climbed to N145/litre and a bag of rice that sold for N7000 jumped to N15/17,000. With the recent closure of the country’s borders, a bag of rice now sells for N22/25,000. The self-sufficiency in rice production that the government flaunts exists only in their fertile imagination!
So, the major factor leading to the abandonment of projects not only in Fashola’s ministry but also in other ministries; not only in the public sector but also in the private sector is the depreciation or devaluation of the Naira caused by the APC/Buhari administration. This devaluation has also balloon our debt stock, especially those held in foreign currencies. We need at least twice the same quantum of Naira to service or repay the same debt stock. Not ending there, devaluation also depreciates salaries and incomes earned by about 60%; increases cost of services, foodstuffs, transportation, imported items, Medicare, housing, school fees, name it. In other words, the economic policies of the APC/Buhari administration has not only led to the abandonment of projects all over the country because it hiked the cost of completing such projects, thus exacerbating an already bad infrastructural deficiency they met in place, that policy failure has also further pauperised citizens as well as thrown the country into a debt trap that the PDP/Olusegun Obasanjo administration extricated it from a few years ago. Today, even the creditor nations and organisations are agreed that Nigeria is already drowning in debts. A cash-strapped Federal Government is now tying the noose around the neck of State Governments, demanding for the refund of a bail-out funds those states are not in the position to repay.
Let’s listen to Fashola again: It is the government policy to ensure that we complete as many projects as possible. Unlike in the past, this government has focussed on completing projects. In addition to that, we have increased the budget size so the budget size for all roads in 2015 was N18bn. So those are accumulations we now have to manage and overcome as a result of under-budgeting and underfunding. Now there is a distinction: We have increased the budget to roughly about N300bn but we still can’t find the N300bn. So, when we get the approval, that is the one-half of the story; the other half is that we don’t get all of the cash. So your investigation must include how much is being released against how much is being approved in the budget”. What a mouthful! When Fashola said “government policy (is) to complete as many projects as possible”, he said nothing and made no tangible promise. Try to hold him down to that “promise” and you will only grasp hot air! He spoke simply as a politician with the power of the garb.
Now, in this age of technicalities, note the “technical” difference between “under-budgeting” and “under-funding”. The former condemns projects ab initio to abandonment while the latter condemns it to roll-over again and again without any possible date for completion in sight. Now, spot the difference between the “sins” of PDP/Jonathan and those of APC/Buhari in this regard: The former budgeted N18bn while the latter has budgeted about N300bn. So, on the surface, APC/Buhari has performed far better than PDP/Jonathan. Only God knows where all the money went under PDP/Jonathan that only a measly amount was budgeted for Works as claimed by Fashola. But that is where the celebration ends! According to Fashola, budgeting is something, getting what is budgeted is another! Vintage APC: Master of propaganda and subterfuge! It’s a month since his re-engagement by Buhari; yet, Fashola said he has received not a dime of the budgeted N300bn! So where has the funds been going? To RUGA?
Those in government should cultivate the habit of speaking up – and speaking the truth. Let the public know what is happening and where you stand rather than keeping silent in the face of tyranny or carrying the can for others. Our experience is that you lose on both ends: Those you think you are protecting end up sacrificing you while you also lose face with the people. Ask VP Yemi Osinbajo, his face-saving protestations notwithstanding. On Monday, the Buhari administration stylishly, even if in characteristically deceitful manner, admitted to the failure of policy and personnel when it disbanded its Economic Management Team headed by Osinbajo and instituted another called Economic Advisory Council (mere semantics!) headed by one Prof. Doyin Salami. The new EAC got rid of Osinbajo as both head and member. Who does not know that this is an indictment and that Osinbajo is the scapegoat for this regime’s many astounding economic failures? Osinbajo as VP is not allowed into security meetings; Ministers and other political appointees report to the president through the Chief of Staff; civil servants and parastatals report to the president through Secretary to Government of the Federation! To use the loo even, Osinbajo must first apply for and receive presidential permit! What is left of the Trader-Moni man in the Buhari administration? Didn’t we warn him ceaselessly before now?
FUOYE: Two deaths too many
What is beyond dispute now is that two students of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti (FUOYE) died during a peaceful protest that went awry penultimate week. Except for those who still have the milk of human kindness running in their veins in a Nigeria that had since lost all sensibilities and feelings but now has scant regard for human life, this is mere statistics – “only” two lives lost! Yes, “only” two! Since the advent of APC/Buhari, our attitude to living and dying has become cavalier.
But consider that one of the “only two” were your own son – let our men and women of power consider that “just one”, not the entire “only two” of the FUOYE dead were their own son or daughter! If you do not appreciate what belongs to others, someone is coming who will not appreciate what belongs to you. If you pay scant regard to the life of the other person, someone is coming who will pay scant regard to your own life or the life of someone you hold so dear. That is the Law of Karma. The least the Ekiti State Gov. Kayode Fayemi can do is to unearth the killers and ensure they are brought to justice if the blood of the dead, like that of biblical Abel, is not to cry out of the ground against him. As governor, Fayemi is the chief security officer of Ekiti and the buck stops on his table. It is his duty to get justice for those whose life, like Abel’s, Uriah’s and Nabot’s, was snuffed out in cold blood. Failure, he will account, like Dele Giwa minced no words in telling us, if not now then later; if not before man, then, before God. Fayemi must follow up on his instructions to the CP, Ekiti State to unearth the killer-cops. The death of the two FUOYE students, for now, has been woven around the legs of Fayemi’s wife, Erelu Bisi; unless Gov. Fayemi is able to shift the guilt elsewhere, that is where it will remain – and that is where justice shall be served.
Having first driven away the fox, let us now return to speak a word of truth to the FUOYE students: But for the fact that students will always be students, why put your life at risk over an occurrence as commonplace in today’s Nigeria as power outage? For those of us not students and who also suffer power out(r)age – and have to pay rapacious estimated bills to boot – where do we carry our own protests, peaceful or violent? But, then, like they say: “Agba wa bura pe ewe o se o ri!” As an undergrad at Ife, I, too, demonstrated on a countless number of occasions, storming Lagos and screaming “Obasanjo na goat o, na goat o, (Shehu Musa) Yar’Adua barawo ni, o omo eran” On one occasion we vandalised a posh car belonging to Oloye Olusola Saraki, the then Senate President, within the premises of the then Senate Building at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos. We were enraged that the car particulars pasted on the windscreen had expired many years. Thank God, we were not shot by errant security details of power-drunk politicians! It is likely that the Fayemis also demonstrated while on campus at Ife. What if they had been shot?