FOR THE RECORDS …answers 31 questions from 16 senators, ‘competently and adequately’, in about two hours
On 29 July 2019, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, appeared before the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for screening as one of the 43 nominees named by President Muhammadu Buhari for ministerial positions.
According to the President of the Senate, Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan, at some point, there were at least 40 senators who wanted to ask Fashola a question or two.President Buhari
Eventually, after spending a little over one hour, 40 minutes, Fashola answered 31 questions from 16 senators. And, as one of the senators from Lagos State, Solomon Adeola Olamilekan, told his colleagues, after the questions and answers, “I want to believe that the ministerial nominee has taken in all questions and he has provided us adequate answers; telling us his capacity and capability to perform.” Many Nigerians who watched the screening agree.
This is the transcript of the proceedings.
President of the Senate Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan: Distinguished colleagues, the screening of the ministerial nominees will continue, and this morning, we have on the podium the former
Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Honourable Minister, let me welcome you to the Senate Chamber. Principal Office holders of the Senate. On behalf of my colleagues, you are welcome to this screening exercise, and we already have copies of your CV. You can go ahead to highlight those things in the CV that you think are so significant for the Senate to take note of, and even those that you might have not included in the CV but will be of consequence and significance. Once again, you are welcome, and you can address the Senate. Thank you.
‘I feel humbled and grateful to the President’
Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN: Your Excellency, the President of the Senate. Your Excellency, the Deputy President of the Senate. Distinguished senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and most especially, the senators from the Centre of Excellence, the State of Lagos, my State.President of the Senate Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan:
Good morning. And let me start by saying that I feel humbled and grateful to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for considering me worthy of re- nomination amongst 43 people in a federation of several hundreds of millions of people.
For me, it is humbling as I have said, and it imposes a sense of immense responsibility that, should you confirm me, the purpose for which the Office will be meant will only be to serve the people of Nigeria. And in that sense, Sir, the only useful contribution I can make to the documents already before you, are to highlight some of the work that we undertook in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. And, I say, “we” because, at the inception of that ministry, we were two ministers, and in the course of service, we became three.
‘We left Power, Works & Housing Ministry better than we met it’
Let me say without being immodest that, from what we inherited when we took office, after your prior confirmation in 2015, we left the ministry much better than we met it. And, I believe that those conclusions are borne out by reports of the committees of this Senate on Power, Works and Housing, in their oversight functions in the course of our tenure.
I could highlight a few things that we did that I think are worthy of information, just to iterate them for this Senate and also for the people of Nigeria, and to benchmark what has been done as we set out on another journey of service to Nigerians.
In the Power Sector, for instance, we set out to achieve initially incremental power, with a mid-term goal of steady power, and ultimately, uninterrupted power.Fashola (in brown outfit) inspecting the plant at Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu- Alike
We focused essentially on completing what we inherited, and this led us, for example, to recovering 720 containers belonging to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, containing transmission equipment that had been left at the Nigerian ports for almost a decade. Those equipment ultimately found their way to over a hundred sub-stations across the country and we have completed some of them by the time I left office, and I remember some notable ones like in Sokoto, in Mayo-Belwa, in Ikorodu (Odogunyan’ in picture), in Ikot Ekpene, in Katampe, in Apo (in picture), to mention a few.
I also remember that whilst we were managing the grid, we changed Nigeria’s conversation from on-grid power alone to off-grid power, and for the first time as far as I can recollect, Nigerians are now talking about, and benefitting, from off- grid power. A few examples are markets like Ariaria…Sura; markets in Ibadan, markets in Ondo, and by the time I left the ministry, we had set out a clear roadmap for 350 markets as a full implementation initiative for this term.
I will also speak to universities, very briefly. We also undertook the power audit of 37 federal universities in Nigeria, with the plan to intervene and strategically deploy independent power to Nigeria’s federal universities as our contribution to education development which is a front-burner issue for the country. By the time I left, based on the limited resources we had, we had commenced nine, as a first phase, and all those nine are in various stages of implementation at the moment. I can say with some …authority that, from next month, the…I think it is Ndufu
Alike University, if I pronounced that (correctly), in Ebonyi State, will be the first to switch on. It’s a project that has 3,500 solar panels. It has installed 18 kilometres of street lighting in that university; and that will be the first to be commissioned, I think, sometime next month, and from then on, between the end of the year and March 2020, the first phase of the nine, will be fully operational for dedicated power in our schools.
I will quickly move, if you permit me, Sir, to Works, and to just say that the conversation before the last administration, were conversations of lack of projects in various states of the federation. I think our Closing Report was that we could say with some pride, that there was no state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria where we were not executing at least one federal road; noFashola
“Nigerians are now talking about, and benefitting, from off-grid power.”
Fashola (in brown outfit) inspecting the plant at Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu- Alike
state. Resources were scarce; there was a lot of demand; with the cooperation of Parliament, the National Assembly, we got things going, even when revenues were lean. That forced us to make choices; and in making choices, we decided to see how we could do the greatest good to the greatest possible number of Nigerians.
And, one of the things that we did was to categorise roads, I believe, into seven categories, starting first with roads that carried the heaviest traffic. These were roads like Ilorin-Jebba, Abuja- Kaduna, Lagos-Ibadan, Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, Sokoto- Tambuwal-Jega Road
(pictured is completed Section 1), Kano-Maiduguri Road and so on and so forth. We also had roads that decongested and provided access to ports. So, there were roads…. Enugu-Port Harcourt Road fell into that category; the Apapa-Oshodi- Oworonshoki fell into that category. We had roads to our fuel depots across the country. One example of that was the Suleja-Minna Road. We also had roads that evacuated goods from agricultural-prolific areas. Roads like Hadejia-Nguru; Kirikasamma to Nguru. Roads in Ebonyi and such other roads were strategically targeted to evacuate agro produce. We also, of course, targeted roads that were being funded by counterpart funding, and because this had been a problem, they were never budgeted for, they were not prioritised, and because of our strategy, I can say now that, we have successfully, with your cooperation, started roads like the road linking us to Cameroun from the Onitsha…Enugu-Onitsha, to link us to Cameroun through a bridge. The Akwanga-Keffi Road is one of those roads as well.
We also started the prioritisation of repair and maintenance of bridges nationwide, and the Tambuwara Bridge, I believe, in Kano, the Isaac Boro Bridge in Rivers, the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, the Tatabu Bridge, I believe, in Niger were some of the bridges that benefitted from our strategic outlook as to how to proceed with limited resources.
Perhaps the last one, was roads inside universities: our universities had been left for a long time without attending to the roads, and at the time I left, we were intervening in 14 universities; building their internal road networks.
Lastly, I will just say, in terms of housing, that, at the time we left office, we were constructing houses in 34 states of the federation. And, for those who might ask, “why not 36?” it was that we did not get land at the time, in quick enough time, from two states; but I believe work is going on to make those lands available now, and the 34 states, including the FCT, if I must emphasise. But, what were we building? We were trying to model an acceptable, an affordable type of house for Nigerians. We had learnt from the experiences of the 70s; we saw that some of the National Housing programmes had not been occupied. And, we then conducted a national survey using builders and architects from different parts of the country to go round Nigeria and tell us what Nigerians would find acceptable and affordable. The results show that while the northern part of the country preferred bungalows with courtyards at the back, and were suitable for that because of the large expanse of land that was available, the southern part was largely a demand for flats; but whether it was bungalows or whether it was blocks of flats, there was a consensus about taking one, two and three bedroom flats. By the time I left, we had finished quite a few and we were also working on infrastructure, the mechanical and electrical parts. We were also learning from the model we were designing, because we then saw that because build-out cost was excessive and likely to be unaffordable by Nigerians, and we were making corrections, in terms of some places, reducing concrete without compromising standards and quality.
Your Excellency, President of the Senate, I think this is an appropriate place perhaps to just stop and take questions as may arise and perhaps the opportunity to clarify some things might come during that process. I thank you very much for your patience.
President of the Senate: Thank you very much. Senator Biobarakuma Degi.
Senator Biobarakuma DegBodo-Bonny Bridge, in Rivers State, in progress
i-Eremienyo (Representing Bayelsa East Senatorial District): Profound pleasure, Mr President of the Senate, well-seated as the Chair. Most distinguished colleagues. Chair, thank you for the privilege of
“We are trying to model acceptable, affordable houses”
Houses in Ikot Ntuen, Akwa Ibom States, in progress allowing me to take the first shot. Mr Nominee, I used to be one of your silent, quiet admirers in your days as governor of Lagos State; when you took over from our leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and you continued with the urban renewal programmes of Lagos State. I want to congratulate you on your re-nomination; re- nomination as a ministerial nominee by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I wish you good luck. I am confident that you will do well.
Mr Nominee, I also think, and I won’t be surprised that if you are successfully confirmed by the Senate, you may likely be reappointed and redeployed to your former ministry. In the event that that happens, I want to raise two questions and maybe clarification from you Sir. You talked about the criteria used for the choice of projects for execution based on scarce resources. Mr Nominee, I know that that choice is also based on the critical economic importance of these roads. I just want to know if Eleme-Port Harcourt Road leading to Port Harcourt Refinery is not part of the roads that are considered very critical in your choice of roads to be executed in the country; because this road, Mr Nominee, as you know, leads to the refinery and you can imagine the number of trucks and vehicles that ply that road. It is perennially under deplorable condition; that road, as you know. And, even as I speak to you, if you pass through that road, it is an eyesore. Sometimes, the State Government also intervenes. Mr Nominee, I think it is important to know, you know, why that road is not part of your consideration.
The second one, still on roads; you are also aware that the road leading from Kolo; Yenegwe-Kolo-Nembe Road, passing through the first commercial oil well, oil field in this country; the Oloibiri axis leading to Nembe to Brass. Brass is an export terminal of crude oil. And from 1974 till date, that road is under construction. I just want to also know why your choice of projects to the …particularly the road projects, that that road is not considered. I know that you are a very strong man, you are committed and focused person. You performed very well, but this particular road has not been given attention. That’s on roads.
Secondly… (murmuring), no, no, it’s on roads (louder murmuring)…this is the second one….I should be protected now….
‘There are 28 senators who want to ask questions’
President of the Senate: Distinguished Senator Degi, you know we’ve set some rules for ourselves and one of them is a maximum of two questions per person, so that we allow others; and I can tell you, I have about 28 senators who want to ask questions. So, I will even advise that no preamble, no introduction, go straight to your question, so that we are able to take as many senators as possible.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu (Deputy Senator President in the 8th Assembly; representing Enugu West Senatorial District): Thank you, Mr President. Very distinguished colleagues. Mr Nominee, I will start by congratulating you on your re-nomination and also to thank you for your commitment to the development of not just Lagos where you were governor but also for our country as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I just have two questions. You will recall, Mr Nominee, that I had a conversation with you when you were appointed last, regarding the issue of private sector participation in the road sector development; and one of the challenges at the time, according to you, was the complex nature of the procurement process for that kind of arrangement, and you promised that you were going to find a way of simplifying it. But, four years down the line, we ended up still pursuing the issue of appropriation as the sole item in the road sector development. Is it something you think that you can achieve as quickly as possible? Because, as it is today, it’s almost likely going to be difficult for us to achieve our…maximum expectation in road sector by just yearly appropriation. So, do you think that there is something you can do to fast-track the process and get the private sector involved and be able…so that they can be able to recover their money through a very transparent process?
The second is in the Energy Sector. It appears to me that we are not making so much progress in that regard. And, would you like to consider a situation where
unbundling the energy sector, or segment it, in such a way that states or zones will be able to have independent generation, transmission and distribution? So that we would be able to have some level of efficiency. Because the present national grid we have (doesn’t) seem to be working. Because once we have a failure in one place, it affects every other place. So, Nigeria, as large as it is, would you like to consider a situation where we would be able to segment our energy sector for purposes of efficiency?
President of the Senate: Leader of the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader (Senator Yahaya Abubakar Abdullahi, representing Kebbi North Senatorial District): Thank you, Mr President. My distinguished colleagues. Congratulations for your second nomination. My question is that, recently it appears, or we learnt that the Federal Government has concluded some arrangement, some agreement with Siemens of Germany to participate in the Power Sector. Can you inform this Senate, what kind of agreement is this? At what point do we expect this intervention to take place? Secondly, do you expect this intervention will not affect the kind of agreement that the Federal Government entered with the private sector people in the power value chain?
President of the Senate: Senator Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia.
Senator Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia (Representing Jigawa North Senatorial District): Thank you very much, Senate President. My colleagues. The nominee. I have just one question and it is (with) regards to on-grid solar. As you are aware, over the last four years, there’ve been a lot of activities toward actualising on-grid solar investment. And, in particular, I think there were about…14 projects or so at various stages of financial close until, I think, sometime 2018. The ERGP selected four. I think two are in my state, Jigawa. There was Bauchi…and Katsina. And, in my own experience, I have been to your office several times; (it) was very, very frustrating. We had investors that had come in, acquired land, done all the regulatory processes. Some of them had signed connection agreement with TCN (Transmission Company of Nigeria). But the last mile, it came to PCOA (Put Option Call Agreement) with NBET (Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Plc) became very frustrating. The issue was pricing. Prices dropped from 17 to 11.5 to 7.5 per kilowatt/hr. We got to a point where these guys were saying, “tell us how much you want to pay.” But, unfortunately, this was not achieved till you left office. My question simply put is: are we going to have, on-grid solar, you think, in the next two, three years? Because the last information I got was that we are reluctant to bring in solar power because we had issues with distribution and transmission. My question is: what if we sort out these issues and the variables have changed? The land for solar might not be there. The investors might have moved on. Simply put, are we going to have on-grid solar, you think, in the next two or three years, since we all assume that you might end up superintending the power sector again. Thank you.
President of the Senate: I will still encourage our colleagues to just go straight to the question. Senator Teslim Folarin and then the nominee can respond.
Senator Teslim Folarin (Representing Oyo Central Senatorial District): My highly respected colleagues. Mr President. To the nominee, you talked about prioritising roads’ projects, but we find it very disappointing that such a strategic road like the Lagos-Ibadan express hasn’t been finished in four years. That’s No. 1. Then, No. 2, would you say you were overwhelmed supervising these three major ministries? Thank you.
President of the Senate: You can respond now.
‘We should consider a N10trillion Infrastructure Bond’
Babatunde Raji Fashola: Thank you, Sir…. Some of the questions have some generic problems; like roads. So, perhaps, let me just say to the very first question about the Eleme-Port Harcourt Road and perhaps, Lagos-Ibadan. The common problem between them was always funding. There was never enough resources and I made that clear in saying that we were then forced to make choices.
Everybody wants something and that is why we are all here in the Federal Government. Everybody wants development in his or her own State, and as the…and let us be mindful, distinguished senators, that, at least, in the last three, four years that I have been here, there is no year that we have not passed a deficit budget. And that simply meant that our resources were not enough to match and sufficiently fund our stated, intended expenditure; and, therefore, we have to borrow, and there is a large group of people who say that we are over-borrowing. So…and as I said with regards to that road (Eleme-Port Harcourt), we had to make choices. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to do it, we had to choose, and to the extent that, for example, in that area, there was another project, the Bodo-Bonny
Bridge which had been left for a while. We felt that the commitment to that place, at least would give us some opportunity to say, we are doing something also in this area;
“Our resources never enough, so we had to make strategic choices.”
Bodo-Bonny Bridge, in Rivers State, in progress because we were also mindful and sensitive to some equitable distribution of what asset…and the Kolo-Yenagoa Road suffers the same problem; apart from community issues at a time when I visited. There were some community issues that had delayed the project.
‘PPPs are complex, not attractive for all projects’
With regards to PPPs, let me just quickly say that as I have said and acknowledged by Distinguished Senator Ekweremadu, PPPs are complex, they take time to negotiate. Even here in the Federal Government, you need to go through the ICRC (Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission), you need to advertise, you need to….In a Government that has four years to show results, and in a country where there is very, very high expectation for results, we must then be more skillful in how we use them. That said, let me also say that PPPs are not attractive for all projects. I have learnt to distinguish between social projects, like roads, and commercial projects, like airports, hospitals, and those kind of facilities where there is a daily cash count, and those are easier for private investors to want to put their money into than roads and the risk of construction that it requires. And so, you will see that one of the things, and there are so many modes. One mode, of course, has been to take funding through special instruments like the Sukuk. That was a sort of PPP. To use policies like the Nigerian Tax Credit Initiative Policy which we are now using to build the Apapa- Oworonshoki Expressway; which Lafarge has also used to build the road to their factory in Calabar and a couple of others are showing interest; and I think that at the time I left, there were about 28 roads on the shortlist for the committee set up to review and hopefully approve for implementation. I have, in response to your question, “what do I suggest?” I think there is some opportunity, and I made this presentation during the last 2019 Budget Presentation that one of the ways I think
Drainage work on Liverpool Road, Apapa, as part of reconstruction of the Apapa-Oworonshoki Expressway by Dangote Construction under the Executive Order 7 of 2019 on the Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on 25 January 2019. is to expand instruments like the Sukuk. Maybe it won’t be a Sukuk this time, but I think Nigeria can seek to leverage from the large pool of funds with ordinary people who are looking for secure investments and some of them are not even in the banking sector keeping their cash. And, I proposed then that we should consider something like a N10trillion Infrastructure Bond backed by parliamentary support and secured by the Federal Government with a reasonable coupon issued in tranches each year we need to fund infrastructure, and broken up into even very small denominations that people can invest as much as only N1,000. Those who want to invest a billion can do so, and so on. And, in my view… if we don’t try this, we won’t know whether it has worked. But I am convinced that we can do something along this line, based on the interests that I saw in the Sukuk. In a N100billion Sukuk, for example, there were 186 or 286 investors, and the instrument was over- subscribed. Which meant that there was an appetite for it. So, I will make that suggestion, Sir….The other way, of course, which the president has also used is the Infrastructure Development Fund by the National Sovereign Investment Authority, and this is what is helping to fund the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway now, the Second Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kano Highway. The East-West Road is listed there, and it is also to fund our counterpart funding, I think, for the 2019 Budget for the Mambilla Hydro Project, but we are still waiting for the Chinese to approve the main loan.
‘We must support NERC to exercise its powers to the fullest’
….In terms of Energy, I think the sector itself has already been…unbundled. And, I say this, because, and I thank you for the question, because it provides an opportunity, perhaps, to reach out to more Nigerians to understand what has
Presentation of symbolic cheque for the 2019 N100b Sukuk Sovereign Bond to Fashola (in suit) by the Former Minister of Finance, Zainab Shamshuna Ahmed (second right); Director-General Debt Management Organisation, Patience Oliha, and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Dr Mahmoud Isa-Dutse. happened in that sector. When this National Assembly passed the 2005 Electric Power Sector Reform Act, it was a clear statement that the Nigerian people, through their elected representatives, were saying to Government: Get out of power, let the private sector do it. That process led to; and before that process, the Ministry of Power then used to have over 50,000 staff as a ministry. And those were the men and women who manned all the power stations, they manned the transmission system, they manned…. The distribution companies that we now had were manned by officials of the Ministry seconded to them and posted accordingly. By the time this law was implemented and privatisation took effect, the staff strength of the Ministry of Power that I inherited was about 790. And, in the last Budget defence that I presented to Senate, we were accounting for 699 staff.
So, the effect of that law was that the ministry had ceased to be an operator, and by extension, Government. We didn’t have trucks, we didn’t have meters, we didn’t have ladders, we didn’t keep transformers anymore. That was now the business of private sector.
By that law, the ministry was restricted to policy and directives. And the regulator was NERC (Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission). So, they issued licences, they could sanction the licensees, for non-performance. Not the Ministry. Not any of the ministers. That was clear by your law: our role was to issue policy. (On 9 July 2018, Mr Fashola held a press briefing detailing some of the policy directions. Please visit: https://bit.ly/2ZBRieN)
So, some of the things I have spoken to you about today were the results of some of the policies we made, recommendations we made, not only to the regulator, but also to our employer, the Government. And, let me also say, Sir, that the Constitution, as amended, I believe in Article 13, 14 and 15 of the Second Schedule, which is the Concurrent List, clearly makes provision for States to participate in Power, contrary to the widely held belief that States cannot. And, if I can paraphrase the provisions, it is something to the effect that states and state governments can generate their own power, transmit their own power, and distribute their own power, where, in places not covered by the national grid. And, that is a lot of space for States to play. And they can also form their own States’ Power Authorities. The Constitution makes that very clear. But, it is a space that I think some States have not occupied significantly enough. So, for clarity, Sir, the
The effect of the Power Sector Reform Act was that Ministry of Power had ceased to be an operator.
We didn’t have trucks, we didn’t have meters, we didn’t have ladders, we didn’t keep transformers anymore. By that law, the ministry was restricted to policy. and directives. regulator, NERC, just like if we want to know what is wrong with SIM cards, call- drops, and all of that, we don’t go to the Ministry of Communications, we go to NCC (National Communications Commission). If we want to know what is happening with banks, we don’t go to the Ministry of Finance, we go to the Central Bank, that is the regulator. And it is the regulator that we must all support now, to exercise the fullest powers that you have given the regulator, and there is a lot of powers there to act on behalf of all of us, and as I always say, I am a consumer myself.
And, that takes me to the question of solar projects, that I don’t like solar projects. I have one in my house, I have on my roof; and so, it is not true that I am reluctant, I don’t like…. The truth about those 14 projects, Sir, is that they were initiated by State governments before we came, and they required Federal Government to guarantee the purchase of the power. So, it was a State government that says I want power but Federal Government, guarantee that you will pay for it. That was the business model. There were so many problems that we resolved. But, I think that it is instructive to make the point, as you pointed out, Sir, that the PCOA which is the security document, is not a document issued by the Ministry of Power. It is a financing instrument issued by the Ministry of Finance and they were asking for a foreign instrument; which meant that our Ministry of Finance had to go to the World Bank to say, we want… this instrument for these projects…. For want of a better word, I describe it as like asking for insurance policy. So, the World Bank, who issues the instrument now said, “your tariff agreed with this people is too high. We are doing tariffs for solar in Zambia, I think, at six cents per kilowatt/hour. Yours is 11 cents. If they want our insurance, let them reduce the price.” So, it is not correct to say that we were the ones holding back. It was the price of the instrument that they wanted that they could not accommodate. We offered them a local security in Naira, because, at the time when this issue took place, it was during the recession, and one of the points I made was that we can’t give you a guarantee in dollars because we are short of dollars but at the time and till tomorrow, I don’t think that Nigeria will ever run out of Naira.
I think just to emphasise that there is still hope that those projects will be done but perhaps the business model may have to be looked at again. Because as I have said, if you have authorised Government to get out of power, why should Government be the one buying the power? And that is a business model that I think we need to look at again.
Just to say, again, for Lagos-Ibadan and to PPPs, all of us are living witnesses to the fact that when the PPP was signed for that project in 2006 or 2007, nothing really happened on that road until 2012, when the previous administration cancelled it. So, that is the kind of delays you can have. So, there was five years of no activity, really; of visible activity. When it was cancelled, then it became a court case. And the same is true of the Second Niger Bridge. By the time I took office, the people who were supposed to be the concessionaires said they couldn’t continue; that the economic variables had changed. The agreement they were looking at was N165 to a dollar and at three hundred and something, it was no longer economically viable. They were asking then the Federal Government to say, look, the traffic count here cannot meet our financing expectations, so give us a guarantee in dollars, if the traffic count falls short, and I refused to recommend that, and I recommended that the Federal Government should take over its
For more pictures on the progress of work on the Second Niger Bridge, please visit https://www.second-river-niger- bridge.com/ projects and continue, and I think, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I am happy that my recommendations were accepted.
The piling works on the bridge have now been completed and as we get into dry season now, some more progress should be made. Thank you Sir.
President of the Senate: Senator… the Deputy Minority Leader.
Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (Deputy Minority Leader; representing Taraba South Senatorial District): Thank you, Mr Chairman, I have two questions for the nominee. One, Mr Nominee, our learned SAN Raji Fashola, whether you have any reason for the neglect of the Ibi Bridge which is a long-standing project. Year- in, year-out, we see allocation, and yet nothing done, and it is a bridge that links, I think, Plateau, Nassarawa, a large part of the Middle Belt to the Trunk A Road; that links Maiduguri to the South East. What is the reason for this neglect? And,
Number Two, you…I listened carefully to your submission, before questions. You said all 36 states of the federation, none has no project from your ministry. I am from Taraba State. And, I know the only project from Federal Ministry of Works; road project is the one I brought as a constituency project. But, even then, money allocated for the road has been diverted. Is there one road that you are doing in Taraba that is not known to me? Thank you.
President of the Senate: Senator Comrade Patrick Abba Moro.
Senator Comrade Patrick Abba Moro (representing Benue South Senatorial District): Thank you Mr Chairman for the privilege to ask these few questions. Mr Nominee, you were minister in the Ministry of Works, Power, Housing, and some concerns have been voiced in recent times concerning infrastructural deficits across Nigeria. As the former minister, immediate past minister, in charge of these facilities, are you happy and satisfied; in one, the permanent state of ongoing projects like the Abuja-Lokoja Road, the Loko-Oweto Bridge and Road, and the Second Niger Bridge, to mention but a few? Secondly, can you, in all honesty, tell Nigerians now, what you are going to do different, if per chance, you are confirmed and posted to the same ministry; to stabilise light, to enable Nigeria celebrate at least one, two, three, four, five months of uninterrupted electricity, just like other countries have recently celebrated 50 years of uninterrupted electricity. Thank you, Mr Chairman.
President of the Senate: Senator ID Gyang:
Senator Istifanus Dung Gyang (representing Plateau North Senatorial District): Thank you Mr President, seating as Chair, Committee of the Whole. Mr Minister-nominee, I want to say that, I congratulate you, and to say that one thing that is condition-precedent for the long-awaited developmental and economic breakthrough of our nation at the national and sub-national level(s) has to do with infrastructure, and in particular, roads and power. And, the nation entrusted you with that responsibility for the past four years, and the president has again seen the need to reappoint you. Should you be reassigned to that same ministry, your attention will be brought to the critical artery of the road linking Akwanga, Jos and Bauchi to the north-east. That is a critical national artery, and also the one linking Jos and Zaria is very, very important. Secondly, in the housing aspect, would you subscribe to this very strong opinion that the issue of the displacement of people that have been affected by violence and banditry that has to do with their resettlement, should be incorporated into the housing policy in a way that provision will be made for the rebuilding of those communities as part of the process of healing the processes of the communities that have been affected and traumatised by this violence. Thank you.
President of the Senate: Senator Yusuf Yusuf.
Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf (representing Taraba Central Senatorial District): Thank you, Mr Chairman. Distinguished colleagues. I want to congratulate the nominee…for coming for the second time. But, my question, Sir, I am from Mambilla, Taraba State; as senator representing Taraba Central. I have two questions, Sir. One question is, you said the international challenge for delaying the progress of Mambilla is actually the slow processing of the Chinese loan. What is the local challenge? What is the local challenge that is delaying the Mambilla electricity project? I know it was awarded in November, no, in August 2017, contract signed in November 2017, and today, it is about two years down the line, and my people are agitated. What is happening to the progress of this project? That’s Question Number One. Number Two, Sir. Taraba Central is the only senatorial district in Nigeria which is not connected to the national grid. What is it that is delaying the hooking of Taraba Central to the national grid? Thank you very much.
President of the Senate: Senator Rochas Okorocha…. Distinguished colleagues, I have 40 names, so if you can be generous enough to ask only question per person, so that it can go round.
Senator Rochas Okorocha (Representing Imo West Senatorial District): Mr Senate President, seating as the Chair. I think I should rather be standing up, so that he can see me better. Mr Raji Fashola Tunde (some giggles) my good friend, my colleague, you are a good man, (inaudible), no doubt about it. (Murmuring. Allow him now. Go ahead, go ahead) You have all eulogised your colleagues as senators. Let me eulogise my colleague as a governor; one-time governor. (Murmuring. My Governor, My Governor. You are on the right path). Mr Nominee, I know that you are someone that thinks outside the box. But from all I have heard so far, excellent presentation, like so many other great people have spoken. My question here is that, considering your experience for the past four years as an honourable minister of this critical sector of our economy – Infrastructure, Power, Housing, Works, which if summed together, these are the key infrastructures that determine a nation’s development. In the first place, I would have expected that the three ministries (are) too large to have been handled by just one person. And look at my friend now having grey hair at a very young age ( laughter from the floor). So, my question would be, my friend, there is one salient point here which I want you to address: issue of funding. Because this would amount to an academic exercise, if there is no money for you to perform. My colleagues who have spoken before me have mentioned the number of roads. I don’t want to talk about Imo that had only five kilometres of road from Federal Government, the Airport Road. And about four kilometres have been done or something. The question is how do you want to address this issue of funding? Would you, and let me give a leeway to it; would you, because I think in Nigeria, we are cutting our cloth according to material available…our size, not according to material available, and if we keep cutting our cloth according to our size, the material cannot cover it. The entire budget of this National Assembly is not up to the budget of the Fire Department of New York. The question is…is the funding…how…what would be the new thing you tell Nigerians as to issue of funding? And, if funding, how much do you really require to tackle the issue of power, power in Nigeria. How much is required? And issue of DISCOS, would you say DISCOS is a success story or was it a political roundabout? Thank you.
President of the Senate: Senator Sadiq Sulaiman Umar.
Senator Sadiq Sulaiman Umar (Representing Kano North Senatorial District): Mr President, seating as Chair of the Committee of the Whole. My distinguished colleagues. I am Sadiq Sulaiman Umar, representing the good people of Kwara North. Mr Nominee, congratulations for your nomination. I have a very simple question, and this has to do with regulation, regulation, regulation of goods and services. Mr Nominee, the regulation in any country determines how anybody, the citizens, and in fact, other countries take a country serious. In Nigeria, what is your opinion, as regards what is responsible for sub-optimal performance for our regulatory agencies and the regulatory professional bodies, and again what will you say we need to do to push them in the right path, so that, you know, we can put behind us, all this building collapse, poor, sub-standard, adulterated drugs, name it, all these problems? What would you say, what do we need to do? Because, the activities of regulators (are) directly proportional to how citizens take a government serious, how to be committed to the country, and how indeed, other countries will take (you) serious. Thank you.
President of the Senate: Deputy Chief Whip.
Dr Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Representing Niger North Senatorial District): Thank you, Mr President, seating as chair. I am Dr Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi. I represent the good people of Niger North Senatorial District. I am from Niger State. Permit me to align myself with other speakers in congratulating you for this second nomination. My question is: there is a submission that the present procurement system in Nigeria is serving as a clog (in) the wheel of progress in executing government projects or contracts. And, it is also said that it does not favour our indigenous companies in the construction industry, and, in particular, Small and Medium Entreprises are not getting a good bargain because of the very many qualifications. What will be your take with respect to this?
Secondly, I am from Niger State, and Niger State has over 2,165 kilometres of federal roads; which means if you are coming from the north to the south or vice versa, you are bound to encounter a road in Niger State, and because of the heavy traffic, currently, I don’t think Niger State has any one hundred-kilometre stretch of road that is very motorable. I know you’ve made so much effort, but if you are, perchance, taken back to this ministry, what would you be doing differently, that the very good people of Niger, will feel very happy that that story of the blind man who says we are in Niger simply because he has heard the gallop of the road, he would say, yes, we are now in Niger State, because of the peculiar nature of Niger roads. What would you be saying differently so that our people will have that hope that the Birnin-Gwari Road to Tegina and to Makira and the like will come back to life; because this road has been completely abandoned now. That is why the Mokwa-Bida Road coming through to Suleja is now the main road that people take. That itself is also suffering from a lot of pressure. So, what will you be doing differently, so that we don’t end up losing all the roads that will take us to our various constituencies? Thank you.
President of the Senate: Senator Francis Alimikhena, then Senator Danjuma Goje.
Senator Francis Alimikhena (representing Edo North Senatorial District): Mr Nominee, I have two questions for you. For the past four years now as a Minister of Works, what have you been doing about this Obajana-Okene Road, Okene-Auchi, Auchi-Ekpoma, and this road, money has been budgeted year-in, year-out, every year. And, if you come back again, as a minister of … what are you going to do about this road? Right now, the road is not passable, especially Okene to Auchi. They budget money on this road, year-in, year-out. Then you talked about this….Second question, on housing: money was budgeted for housing, as well; then, for the past four years, your ministry never commissioned any project, any housing project. I didn’t see anyone. If you have done anyone in any state, you have not done anyone in Edo. What are you going to do? What happened to this fund that was released to you, for housing? The third one is just an advice (shouts of aha, No, no, no, two, two….)
President of the Senate: Senator Danjuma Goje.
Senator Danjuma Goje (Representing Gombe Central): Thank you, Mr President, Chair. I am Mohammed Danjuma Goje, representing Gombe Central. Your Excellency, Mr Nominee. Right now, as you know, there are hundreds of roads uncompleted across the country; some have been there, they have been ongoing, sometimes abandoned for two, three years, then work resumes, then work is abandoned. There are so many roads that have been awarded by the Ministry of Works, but you hardly, throughout the year, you hardly hear or see either Mr President or the Minister of Works commissioning a fully completed road. Most roads are ongoing; every year, ongoing, every year, ongoing, ongoing. You know, in private, I discuss with you, about this issue, about three or four occasions. I say, is there no way, Mr Nominee, if you go back, you can categorise these roads, and in categorising them, make sure each part of this country benefits. It’s very, very important. (They) should not be categorised in favour of one section of the country or another, but in a way that, every year, you complete some roads, two, three, four which Mr President will go, or you will go, or somebody will go and commission so that they will be put to use. It doesn’t make sense, unless you have better reasons to tell us now, whereby we keep awarding new roads, new roads, new upon new, and they are all ongoing always, perpetually ongoing. Is there no way you can structure this, so that, we can, at least, some roads will be fully commissioned and completed? That is Question Number One. My second question is to do with power. Mr Nominee, you know that the power reform effected by the Federal Government, with a view to giving stable electricity to Nigeria; somehow, somehow, every day, we hear of complaint from the GENCOs, no payment, that they are being owed billions and billions of Naira. We hear of DISCOs complaining that they don’t have money and we hear of stories where DISCOs don’t invest in transformers, to the extent that now these days communities buy their own transformers or we in the National Assembly, through our Constituency Projects, also buy transformers to our various communities, which should not be the case; should have been the responsibility of the DISCOs. Now, in your opinion, do you think this present reform won’t have been effected, whereby generation and distribution have been privatised; only transmission is retained by Government? Do you think going by this arrangement, we can ever achieve, without prejudice to the Siemens arrangement with the Federal Government, we can ever achieve stable power supply in this country? Thank you very much.
President of the Senate: You can respond now.
‘We can agree to pause new projects, to complete ongoing ones’
NERC HAS TO EXERCISE ITS POWERS
‘THE POWERS OF THE REGULATOR FOR MAKING THE REFORM WORK MUST BE TARGETED TOWARDS ENSURING THAT MINIMUM SERVICE LEVELS, LICENSING CONDITIONS ARE MET.’
Babatunde Raji Fashola:
Thank you, Your Excellency. If you permit me, I will take the questions in reverse order. There are some that bear similarities; and maybe, for want of time, let me just say that, in some other, so, starting with Senator Danjuma Goje’s questions, in some other jurisdictions, Government has decided to hold the retail end, which is
DISCOs; so, in some places, they have decided to hold the generation. We chose to hold the transmission. And, so, there is nothing wrong in what model you choose. I have alluded here, earlier, Sir, to the powers of the regulator. Let me speak to two powers that the regulator has. In, I think Sections 73, 74 and 75 of
Section 73: Amendment of Licences.
1. Subject to this section, the Commission may, at any time, amend a licence or any term or condition of licence.
For the other sections and more on EPSR Act, please visit: https://bit.ly/2Ki9rsR
the Electric Power Sector Reform Act, on the complaint of a consumer, or another licensee, and DISCOs, GENCOs and TCN…that any licensee is not carrying out its function properly, one of the powers that was vested by that law in the regulator, NERC, is to undertake an investigation, and do one of several things, including amending the licence of that licensee; or, even, cancelling the licence. As we have seen in cases like the Central Bank. And, as we have seen in some cases like, with the NCC. As we have seen with the (National) Broadcasting Commission. So, the powers of the regulator for making the Reform work must be targeted towards ensuring that minimum service levels, licensing conditions are met. And, until we fully exhaust those powers, it would be premature to say that the Reform is not working. But, often times when we privatise things, who goes back to check the service level compliance. Who pulls a lever of caution or compulsion, as the case may be, for us? And, I think, that is something all of us should, spend some time to look at. The South Africa model with which we have sometimes spoken, sadly, in derogatory nature about our nation, is not perfect. It is indebted massively; it continues to benefit from government funding. Now, with the DISCOs, for example, Government is a holder of 40% of the shares of DISCOs; and it holds 40% on behalf of the Federal Government, the states, the local governments and the labour unions. So, as a shareholder, it must also invest, and I think that is my understanding of the Siemens intervention which was spoken about by one of your distinguished colleagues, and I want to take them together. Just to say that, at this time, whatever investment is coming through Siemens would have to be worked into the existing arrangement, but I was not around when that agreement was concluded, so I can’t speak here to the finer details of what it contains because I have not yet read it. About commissioning roads, I am happy Distinguished Senator Danjuma Goje brought this up in the open. These are discussions we have had privately because I approached him as chairman of Appropriations Committee, and that if the decision were mine, and I have made this recommendation in the Federal Executive Council. That if the decision were mine to make, as I once did when I was in Lagos, that there would be a year or two years when there would be no new projects. And, if we can come to that (agreement), as a nation, and this is the challenge of liberal democracy, really, how to build consensus. Amongst all of the eminent men and women who are representing various parts of the country, with a mandate to bring home development, but if we can have consensus about this, and say, this year, let us have no new projects, let us prioritise, we can’t have everything we want at the same time. So, if, for example, all of the distinguished senators from the south east, three from each state, will make the Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, with the senators from Enugu, 18 of them as their Priority Project; Kano-Maiduguri Road crosses about seven states, we will have 21 or so senators saying, this is our commitment to all our people, while we are here. And, if we look at the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, serving three states, nine senators there. The Ajebandele-Ore-Benin serves Ogun, Ondo, Edo States, and so on and so forth. We can begin to have consensus about our priorities. We cannot do all of what we want at once. The life of a nation cannot be dealt with in more than…in four years. It requires more than…it’s a going concern. So, those would be my broad recommendations that I am willing to take up at a more auspicious and time-permitting forum. But I think they may provide a way forward.
President Muhammadu Buhari watches as the CEO of Siemens AG, Berlin and Munich President, Joe Kaeser (second right) and Mr Alex Okoh, Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises, supported by their officials, shake hands after the signing of the landmark agreement at State House, Abuja…on 22 July 2019.
And, I think, in a sense, I have answered what Senator Francis Alimikhena alluded to; except to provide some clarifications. Some sections of that Benin-Okene- Auchi Road have actually been finished: the section from Benin to Azura (picture right) has been finished. The problematic section is the one that you mentioned, and the
problem there is that there is currently no drain to take out water. It is a low-water table area. So, if we build, as is currently is, the road will fail again. And, so, I have challenged our engineers, and they were working on a drainage solution with the contractors until I left office. So, if we don’t drain that place, it just will not happen. And, what we have done differently is what we have done during the rainy season and Christmas when there is heavy traffic, and flooding, is to, at least, make it motorable, to ease the plight of commuters, and I think that you will acknowledge that this has happened repeatedly. We want to find a final solution.
Let me say, again, that I…well, Niger State… Distinguished Senator Sabi Abdullahi will agree that we have moved the needle a little bit. Again, problem, of course, is how much money will we get? Because it is one thing to make the budget, and I think it is common knowledge here that, no ministry has received all of the resources for its budget. So, yes, we gladly announce Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has N500b budget, but we seldom get more than 250, 280, at peak.
‘Onerous conditions keep small people out of Procurement’
So, Nigeria is not yet the rich nation that I know that it will be. It isn’t yet. So, there is a gap between our anticipated spending and what we really earn.
In terms of Procurement, yes, I agree, and we have discussed this severally. There are many issues with the Procurement system. It seeks, I think, to achieve value for money; whether it has done that efficiently is debatable. But it also excludes some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Small and medium and very basic people, people who want to pay children’s school fees, who want to pay medical bills, people who want to pay their house rent. They want to benefit from the Procurement; people that you represent, people that we represent. And, they can’t benefit, because the conditions for benefitting are too onerous. So, they have to bring all sorts of documents which they never have, so the cost of getting those documents becomes something that makes them unable to benefit. So, we started a National Infrastructure Maintenance Programme. This is a process by which we seek to engage a lot of artisans, plumbers, welders, carpenters, bricklayers, R & A refrigeration, Heating, Ventilation and Cooling practitioners, but I am afraid that as the Procurement law (currently) stands, it is only the big people who will make more money. Or, who will get the contracts and then engage these people. So, I have made the recommendation to many of the distinguished senators and I hope that we would see a rescoping of that law. The expectation that has been expressed here also for projects to be completed on time, are not compatible; our expectation on speed is not compatible with what we’ve enacted in our law where we have to first do a Procurement Plan. When we finish that, it gets approved, and then advertise it for six weeks, then there are thousands of bids; then we get human rights, civil society to come and witness everything. Then, after that, then there are petitions and so on and so forth. It is not compatible with the speed at which we want to move. So, our law is holding us back. And, the law is made for us, we are not made for the law. And, I hope that distinguished senators will rise up to this challenge and look at this as a matter of expedition.
(Murmuring…“Time Up, Time Up Mr President”)
Let me speak on Regulation. It was raised by distinguished senator…it is a very important point. You would have heard me at some public fora, speaking about the need to recruit some of the very best of our human capital into our Public Service. And, I am developing a paper that I hope to share, but the answer, simply is, we need more professionalism within the regulatory body. Professionals must be able to hold themselves to the highest possible standards across board, and I think that if Nigeria’s professional elite take up this responsibility, Nigeria will be a much better place.
Distinguished Senator Okorocha… I think I have addressed the issue of funding whilst you stepped out, but the point to make again is to repeat what I said: that the budgets do not get full cash funding. Our budgets are deficit budgets as you probably also would have experienced whilst in Imo, and, therefore, we need to find more money. My recommendation was to suggest: raise an Infrastructure Bond where all Nigerians can contribute their small, small tokens and let’s see how far that takes us. We also are utilising PPPs but, again, something like a Tax Credit Initiative; people have not understood it sufficiently. And, maybe I should say a word about it here. It is an advance credit of the company’s income tax to Government; an advance credit of its income tax, and therefore, for a company to benefit…so if you want to build a N10billion road with your income tax paid in
advance, it means first that you must make profit of an amount that’s equivalent or have a record of up to N10billion. How many of our companies even turn over N10billion, before we begin to tax them? So, that is the problem with that, but It has shown some appetite by some of the big players, and the room for more scope clearly exists.
The question about what is holding Mambilla; that is a very important question. Mambilla has been in the front burner. I think that this Administration can take credit for having been the one that finally issued a binding contract. There was never a binding contract on Mambilla. All
of the contracts, one thing was wrong; it didn’t pass through FEC… there were court cases. This was the first time, EPC (Engineering Procurement Contract) was issued. Now, having issued that contract, as I have said, there’s funding issue by the Chinese Government. But, there are also issues about demarcating the precise area to coordinate and we have employed surveyors to do that. FEC approved that memo working with the Taraba State Government to start that. We were awaiting their report when I left. That will then lead us to, after defining the territory; for example, we wanted to build in this Senate, it may well be that the footprint of the project may not get to your seat, so we have to enumerate all of the senators whose seats would be affected and who would be paid compensation and draw a boundary. And from there, of course, some advance work is going on backstage that people will not see. But some progress has been made.
There was a question about Taraba Central I think from you. I am not sure which part is Taraba Central now; is it close to (responds to a senator – “I will come to it Sir”) is it close to Wukari-Takumi area? (Answer probably from the Senator who asked the question). Bali. I am not quite sure now. I was going to bring your attention to the
Signing of the EPC contract on Mambilla Hydropower Project between the Joint Venture of the Joint Venture of CGGC-Sinohydro-CGCOC, led by CGCOC, a subsidiary of CCEC, and Nigeria…on 10 November 2017. Fashola Imiddle) and former Minister of State in the ministry, Alhaji Mustapha Shehuri (right) holding the contract folder, their Chinese partners.
Kashimbila project which we had neared the completion of the transmission right now and I think once that is commissioned, it is possible to extend the width to some parts of Taraba Central.
The Ibi Bridge, I think, and I have to be careful here; I think it has cleared procurement now, I am not sure, and I don’t want to say, I can’t recollect very clearly right now but I think, I think, we awarded it in the Federal Executive Council.
…Well the policy about displacing people and housing, I think it is a very important and compassionate point, but I will support a policy along those lines, but let us remember that the Federal Government is not the one in control of land and you can’t build houses without land. It is the state governments and state governors who control land. The models we have started with have actually proceeded on the basis of asking states to give us land as pilot projects.
…I think there was a question about… I think from Senator Gyang; something about Akwanga-Jos-Bauchi, I think that road, Phase 1 of it has been awarded. Phase 2 is under Procurement and the financing approval, we still have to come back to Parliament because it is funded by a Chinese loan, and I hope that when it does come, Distinguished Senator Gyang will give support to whoever the minister assigned to that ministry is, to get the funding for it. But let me again say that, between policy implementation and results, there is quite some distance that needs to be covered, and all of us as leaders of government must continue to carry this message to our people. But I think that Nigeria is making some progress. There’s infrastructure deficit across the world and none of the Europeans countries now; the UK, the US, all of them are fighting about making big budgets to rebuild or renew their infrastructure. So, we are not alone, but we have our work cut out for us and I believe that it can be done.
I think I will leave it there, Sir. Thank you very much Sir. (Shouts of ‘bow and go’ from the floor)
President of the Senate: Distinguished colleagues I am not surprised we still have 38 senators who would like to ask questions. As a former minister of Power, Works and Housing, I am not surprised, but time will not permit us. So, I will call on the …let me be gender-sensitive…only two…Senator Uche Lillian and Senator Elisha Ishaku Abbo.
(“Elisha is a man”, shouts a female Senator. Amidst loud and prolonged laughter, she continues to shout, “Elisha is a man, he is a man, he is not a woman.”)
(Now standing and still laughing, the female senator proceeds to ask her question) Mr President. Distinguished colleagues. My name is Senator Uche Lilian Ekwunife (Iyom). Mr President, I am from Anambra State, representing Anambra Central. I have two questions, but one has been taken care of. So, let me go to the one that concerns me directly; my constituents too. Congratulations Honourable Minister, my question is this: the construction of Enugu-Awka-Onitsha Road has prolonged for too long; it’s been there for too long. It has lingered for so much. I would like to know: what is holding that road from being completed? Every year, a contractor will appear and disappear. If you go to the axis of Amawbia; between Amawbia and Umouku. This is a journey that will take you just three minutes, but it would take you one hour. From Enugu to Onitsha will ordinarily take you 45 minutes, but now three hours you are still on the same road. I went to represent Mr President last Saturday at a function, a journey that would have taken me 40 minutes, I was (not clear) for four and half hours. I wanted to call Mr President to send me a helicopter to lift me up, but, unfortunately, network was bad too. So, I would like to know, Honourable Minister, what are you going to do, to, first of all, put palliatives on the road, to ensure that road users will not continue to suffer, while the main job of completing the road would come. I will also like you to tell us the actual story on that road because that road has been there for years. Yes, thank you very much.
President of the Senate: Well, let me clarify the air, please. I should clear the air. When I said that I want to be gender-sensitive, I meant to call a female senator and a male senator. (Loud laughter). So, Senator Abbo.
Senator Ishaku Elisha Abbo (Representing Adamawa North): Thank you so much, Mr Senate President, seating as the Chair. My name is Senator Ishaku Abbo, representing people of