The Hon. Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), is one of the shining lights of President Buhari’s cabinet. A ‘super minister’, the former Lagos State governor has been given three major ministries, each of undeniable significance to Nigerian lives. To whom much is given, much is expected, as the saying goes. He has much to prove, and so he walks the talk, to show that he is a man with a plan. In so doing, he cannot be seen to be riding roughshod over the intricacies that attend those areas he superintends. He must act with a deep sense of responsibility and due regard for the law and the principles of natural justice.
This note of caution does not come a moment too soon. Fashola has been firing from all cylinders over the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, often sending mixed signals. Hardly anyone can contradict what he said in December 2015, that, “Good roads will help reflate and grow our economy, reduce travel time, cost of transportation of goods and services, and restore jobs lost to transport dependent services. They will improve safety of lives and property and our security index.”
The Minister followed up this speech on January 22, 2016, at the Nigerian Pension Industry Strategy Implementation Roadmap Retreat, in which he signaled the willingness to use Pension funds for the provision of infrastructure. The speech sparked an ideological debate among intellectuals including Kayode Komolafe, Chidi Amuta and Femi Falana; and caused a concerned Olusegun Adeniyi to ask: “Can we really take a risk with the Pension Fund to drive development, as suggested by Fashola, even with all its implications?”
The speech was illuminating in showing the moral and legal quagmire successive Nigerian governments have got into over the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Government has tied itself up in knots with the many controversial executive U-turns over the road, and Fashola as Works Minister, allowed his befuddlement to show in his speech.
Hear him: “The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is a story of what investors don’t like.” In his summary of how an otherwise historic Concession Agreement went awry between the FG and Dr. Wale Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited, tagged “Company A” in the Pension speech, Fashola conceded that it was no way to treat an investor. Noting, “Local investors are the most important in any economy,” he observed that the unceremonious cancellation of Bi-Courtney’s concession was “a not welcoming message” to foreign investors, if patriots like Babalakin could be treated with such disdain.
However, in expressing these concerns, Fashola did not seem to be entirely clear as to the trajectory – not to mention the causative factors – of the convoluted matters relating to the road. He suggested that Bi-Courtney’s first recourse should have been arbitration and not the courts.
In a letter of January 25, 2016, Babalakin drew Fashola’s attention to the erroneous detail in his keynote speech. For in a letter from exactly three years before, of 25th January 2013, Bi-Courtney had written to Fashola’s predecessor at the Ministry of Works, Arc. Mike Onolememen, asking Federal Government to set up a Dispute Resolution Board as provided for under the concession agreement. Government should work in continuity, and Fashola ought not to have been ignorant of the fact that the ministry under Onolememen blatantly ignored Bi-Courtney’s overture.
As stated in Babalakin’s letter to Fashola, “The court that set aside the so called Finance Agreement acted in the only manner available to it. Courts cannot continue to condone acts of government that are demonstrably irresponsible if we have to sustain our democracy and develop our economy.” The letter also debunked the suggestion of a nexus between Bi-Courtney’s court action and the stoppage of work by contractors put in the frame in a questionable manner by the former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. “How could an order obtained on 14thDecember, 2015, be responsible for work that had stopped about seven months earlier?” asked Babalakin.
Fashola would rather expend taxpayers’ money, in a depressed economy, on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway when he can revisit the aberration of a wrongfully cancelled arrangement concerning which the concessionaire cries for justice after losing $300m.
Is this the ‘Change’ we are selling? Meanwhile, Nigeria has lost its place as the erstwhile Third Fastest Growing Economy in Africa. world to do business.
One agrees with Babalakin when he writes that, “The investment climate of Nigeria has been bedevilled by the short-sighted actions of public officers, especially when dealing with the rights of investors. So many investors have been totally ruined by the utterances and actions of public officers which are detrimental to the development of investor confidence and consequently have an adverse effect on the growth of the Nigerian economy.”
Mr. Fashola needs to set aside political considerations and act purely in the interest of Nigeria; and sit down with the erstwhile concessionaire to forge a path through the debacle that is the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Dr. Famojure runs a landscaping business in Lagos State.