Six ministers stormed Lagos on Monday for a town hall meeting with residents of the state, and used the opportunity to explain the policies of the Buhari government, while seeking the understanding of Nigerians that the change they expect could not possibly happen in one year. Ministers at the town hall meeting, which was organized to brief the public on the activities of the government in the last 11 months were Goeffrey Onyeama (Foreign Affairs); Babatunde Fashola (Works, Power and Housing); Rotimi Amaechi (Transport); Ibe Kachikwu (State for Petroleum), Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture); and Okechukwu Enelamah (Trade and Investment).
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Goeffrey Onyeama, said the overseas trips embarked upon by President Mohammed Buhari were carefully selected in line with certain priorities and development objectives of the country. At the same town hall meeting, Fashola said the Federal Government will require about N2trillion to complete no new fewer than 226 ongoing road projects across the country, just as Amaechi warned Nigerians that they should expect ‘pains’ and ‘demolition’ as the Federal government seeks to bring development the transport sector. Onyeama said the President was not embarking on the trips just for the fun of it, stressing that some of them were already yielding results for the progress of the country. “When the President assumed office, the problem at that time was how to get the confidence of neighbouring countries to support the war on terror. “So, what the President did was to travel to Chad, Cameroun and other neighbouring countries to seek a joint coalition, and now we can all see the results the country is recording against Boko Haram,“he said.
The minister also said some of the President`s trips to certain Western countries were at the invitation of these nations because they were moved by Buhari`s impressive credentials and goodwill. The minister listed the United States, the United Kingdom and France as some of the countries whose leaders invited Buhari, based on his goodwill. Onyeama also said the President’s recent trip to China was to attract the much-needed investments in agriculture, solid minerals, as well as other important sectors of the economy.
He said in the face of falling oil prices, the country needed to diversify the economy and seek partnerships to strengthen it. Onyeama said the trip was successful as it yielded investment commitments from the Chinese government and investors. He said the visit should not be viewed to mean that the country had looked East for friends, saying in an era of globalization, Nigeria could look for partners in any part of the world.
“We are in an era of globalization and that means that we can go to any part of the world to seek opportunities. “The visit to China does not mean we have gone East, it only means we can seek partnership in any part of the world,“ he said. He said the Federal Government was committed to make Nigeria a strong voice in Africa and the rest of the world, and that the foreign policy of the present administration was to make the county a major player in the comity of nations. Speaking at the town hall meeting, Amaechi reminded the people that the reason they went for change was that “things were becoming extremely difficult and the only solution was to change the government and bring in a new set of government officials to ensure that you and I can eat”.
He promised the audience that although the change desired by Nigerians could not possibly happen in just one year, they would soon start to see an improvement in the transportation sector, as a lot of work going on in the background. He blamed past administrations for failing to construct rail lines, saying: “The only place they tried a bit was with the one from Kaduna to Abuja, which is yet to be completed and we are working extremely hard to ensure that between June and July, we will commercialise that rail line and it will start services.
“That will reduce the challenges of production to convey goods and services between Kaduna and Abuja.” On the Lagos-Kano rail line, he said: “Imagine that work starts on that rail line now, how many jobs will we create? “And I can assure you that by God’s grace, before the end of the year, we will commence work on the LagosKano rail line.” Amaechi spoke on working with the private sector to complete the Itakpe-Warri rail line, which has been under construction for 32 years.
“There’s a rail line most Nigerians can’t remember easily, the Itakpe-Warri rail line. For 32 years now, Nigeria has been struggling to construct it. The ministry has decided to concession it out now,” A said. “We have distanced the federal government from the projects and are negotiating with a Chinese company that intends to take that rail line with the Ajaokuta steel plant. They will carry it on from Itakpe down to Abuja and down to Warri seaport.” All these developments, he cautioned, would be accompanied by their pains for the people. “Know that this is development, because when we come, don’t forget there will be pains,” he said. “There will be demolition Continued from page 6 of houses.
If we don’t demolish, then there will be no rail lines. “You don’t expect that I will come from Ibadan to Tin Can and I will not touch some houses. I am just saying this, so that when we begin to approach you to negotiate for you to shift the house a bit, just allow the rail line pass through.” On aviation, he mentioned a few airports where new terminals were under construction. “As you hit us, we hit the contractors,” he added. “Aviation is not only about creating terminals, aviation is the ability to leave Lagos and get to Abuja safely.
Before, communication was not easy. But now, you can ask the pilots, they communicate easily and freely; this means we have things under control.” On maritime, he said: “Maritime is very challenging; too many interest groups are found in the maritime sector. “The president has kindly agreed for me to do what is called a performance audit. We want to understand what is going on in the maritime sector: why are we not making the kind of money we can make in maritime sector? “Why is maritime sector not funding the economy like other parts of the world?
All this we will be able to answer when the performance audit is completed.” Speaking at the town hall meeting, Fashola said though N2 trillion is needed to complete the ongoing 226 roads, the total amount allocated to all the sectors under his ministry in the 2016 budget was less than N500billion, stressing that the government did not have enough resources to complete all the projects at present. Fashola added that the focus of the government for now would be to complete some of the projects and not to undertake new ones.
“The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing proposed N423billion at the Federal Executive Council and the information reaching us is that we are not going to get all that . “Ongoing road projects alone awarded by the government before we came– about 266 roads awarded in the various states– the liability to complete them is about N2trillion. “So, when you look at N400billion,you know that that that is not enough, but when you compare what this administration is going to do with the N400billion, with what the last administration did, you will know it is much progress.
“What the last administration did was to budget N18billion for all the roads in the country, knowing the liability was in excess of N2trilion. “For the three sectors, that is Works, Housing and Power, the total budget by the last administration was N24.5billion. So, this administration decided to move away from that and that is why we have a figure that may not be enough, but substantial for the sectors,“ he said. In the power sector, the minister said though there were many challenges facing the sector ,the government would do everything possible to fulfill its promise to revamp it.
He said the 5,000megawatts the country was generating was inadequate and explained that the government was completing some ongoing power projects and and taking other steps to boost generation. On electricity metering, Fashola said his ministry was engaging the distribution companies to ensure that they distribute metres to households. He said it was through metering that consumers could be appropriately charged and that power companies themselves could block revenue leakages The minister said government was designing a housing model for the country that would not only take care the problem of affordability but also take into consideration cultural suitability in every part of the nation.