You heard it here first! Since President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled his ministerial portfolios last week, an idea has been gaining currency in private discussions among Nigerians home and abroad: Babatunde Raji Fashola will succeed Buhari as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria if (and this is a huge “if”) he performs as Minister of Power, Works and Housing just half as successfully as he performed as Governor of Lagos State. And by putting it out there now, I hope – in fact, I know I have not jinxed his prospects. And his prospects are quite bright.
I don’t know of anybody living in Nnewi, Enugu, Calabar, Ogbomosho, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ilorin, Kabba, Jos, Zaria, Maiduguri, Zungeru, Kontagora, Birnin-Kebbi – you name it, who will not like to flip the switch and have a reasonable supply of electricity. Nigerians of all political persuasions, ethnicities, regions and religions are tired of expensive, epileptic power supply and horrible, inadequate roads. Clueless as Goodluck Jonathan was as an administrator, if he had been able to give Nigerians a predictable 60% supply of electricity, he might have been reelected by a landslide. Thank God Buhari understands that when homes can’t rely on electricity supply, it means they can’t buy bulk meat, bulk fish, bulk chicken etc. for fear of having them go bad; it means they can’t sleep in air-conditioned homes or even use the fan, thus exposing themselves to mosquitoes and malaria; it means they can’t hear the footsteps of armed robbers and other intruders over the din of the power generators at night. It means they are back to living in the 12th century. Thank God Fashola understands the un-tenability of this situation. So, if he can breathe some sanity into electricity generation, storage and distribution, such that people can plan their lives around electricity, he, not Buhari, will take the credit. Of course, if he fails, the blame goes to him and his electoral value goes to trash.
The Power sector (like the oil sector) is one satiated with powerful, entrenched, even Mephistophelean interests who have enjoyed open license to fleece Nigerians ad infinitum up till now. The Minister that comes to take away their carte blanche has to be specially anointed by God. I do not see those Distribution Companies (DISCOs) letting go of being able to charge consumers an unreasonable and unjustifiable mandatory flat rate, even when they do not supply any electricity. I do not see their staff letting go easily of the ability to sabotage transformers and other electricity equipment just so they could be called upon and bribed to fix their own mess. I do not see the thriving generator-importing cabal suddenly throwing in the towel and allowing their sources of income destroyed by Fashola. It will take a mean sonofabitch (pardon my “French”), no-nonsense kind of Minister to convince them that the Nigeria Project must be supported by all.
However he does it, Fashola can claim success in this area if most Nigerians can go to bed with electricity, and businesses that need electricity to run (which is virtually every business) have electricity to stay in business most of the time. No one is asking right now for the kind of electricity supply you find in Germany, South Korea, the United Kingdom, or the United States. We will get there one day. But we should remove all corruption in that sector and get PATRIOTIC experts into critical leadership positions there.
While he is performing miracles with the Power sector, Fashola, somehow, has to tackle the monster of road neglect in Nigeria – which is basically what Nigerians see the Works part of his portfolio to represent. Unlike Lagos State where he had eight years to perform wonders, Fashola has about three years in an austere Federal fiscal atmosphere to continue proving to Nigerians he is indeed superhuman. No decent government will allow the major roads leading into the country from neighboring countries to degenerate like the Seme – Mile2 road has become. A trip that should take no more than 30 minutes is now routinely four hours long because the road is so deplorable. Only an act of God will save you from getting stuck in some sections of the road if you are driving a car through it. When it rains, vehicles ford through, coming out at the other end of the “lakes” to heave a huge sigh of relief for not getting stuck. The first thing a visitor from Benin Republic (and Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and all those countries west of Nigeria coming to Nigeria by road) sees is a man-hole-filled stretch of road that will definitely send your vehicle to the mechanic shop after the trip. What really makes it worse is that the road in Benin Republic on which you travelled to get to Seme compares favorably with any four-lane road in the world. So, why have we neglected the Seme – Mile2 road for this long?
Fashola will also have to tackle the Apapa – Oshodi Expressway. It still befuddles me how this stretch of road, 10-lanes for the most part (three primary lanes in each direction and two service lanes in each direction) can become so horrible to the point that traffic is snarled for hours, even on Sunday! How did we allow water to pool in the middle of this all-important thoroughfare is mind-boggling. Every vehicle moving imports to the rest of Nigeria from the ports in Lagos will, most likely, ply this road. This was what informed the vision for making it so wide in the first place. But there are now too many encroachments on this road from all sides that, coupled with lack of maintenance, it has become hell on earth. The genius in Fashola has to find a solution to this. I should not have to spend four and a half hours driving from Seme to Berger (going through the Seme – Mile2 and Apapa – Oshodi routes, which are the most direct routes) when it takes less than four hours to drive from Ghana to Seme.
But perhaps the stretch of road that will win the most accolades for Fashola is the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway. Phew! I don’t know any Nigerian who does not hold his heart in his mouth when traveling on that road. I can confidently say (and Fashola can bear me out since he grew up in the same generation) that Nigerians enjoyed that road for only a couple of years after Obasanjo cut the tape in 1978. The first thing to go was the metal railing lining the median. Rumors had it that some Nigerians removed them at night to forge spoons and other utensils. Then the lane markings disappeared too. Then more villages sprung up along the road and bicycle and motorcycle passages were punched into the median. Then deep gouges and bulges that forced the steering wheel from you appeared on the road. Then Ogere came along, with tractor trailers parking smack in the middle of the “Expressway.” Then it became the norm for commuters to drive on the left side of the road, facing on-coming traffic. Then the mega-churches came. Then the Toll Gates disappeared. The trip that usually took 45 – 50 minutes in 1978, 1979, 1980 and even up till 1986, now takes…Well, you can’t even tell anymore. Lord help you if you are traveling on the day any of those churches is having its thing. Lord help you if you are traveling at night and/or in the rain. Nigerians coming home and those flying out of the country through Lagos have to factor in church services on the road before booking their tickets. And this is the ONLY reasonable road that you should take if you are going from Lagos to the East, the North and the Central parts of Nigeria.
Virtually every government, since the civilian administration of Obasanjo up till that of Jonathan, tried to do something about that road. Give some credit to Jonathan, his government got quite a lot done on the road before losing steam. Fashola should finish the road, complete with road signs for speed, danger and obstructions; lane markings, lane restrictions (for large, slower vehicles), and he should bring back the toll gates.
Yes, toll gates. I pay tolls to use good roads in the US. I pay toll three times just to drive through Togo in one hour. And I will rather drive on that road than the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway. For this road and all other major roads of considerable distances, Fashola should introduce electronic toll collection whereby commuters pre- purchase Federal Toll tokens installed in their vehicles. This saves them time at the Toll Gates as they can just drive through without exchanging money with the collectors. It also ensures the money collected at the Toll Gates is not diverted into the collectors’ pockets. That was part of what killed toll collection at the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway when it was first introduced. Virtually every collector owned mansions they built from issuing their own personal receipts. If we have a system where the toll collectors are not diverting the money to their pockets and their bosses are not embezzling it either, our roads will pay for themselves and we’ll have money for regular maintenance. I will gladly pay to get from Lagos to Ibadan in one hour. And I am sure my friend, Chukwunonso, going to the East, will gladly pay to get through that leg of the road faster.
Speaking of the East, I have not been there since 1986, but I hear and see pictures of terrible roads that Nigerians have to endure each time they travel home from other parts of the country. No wonder we are now going through another Biafra cry. The people from the East and the South-South probably feel they are effectively cut off from the rest of Nigeria if they can’t get home from Lagos without developing hypertension and without having to replace their vehicles after just one visit to the village. Please, Fashola, let not the 2nd Niger bridge remain a mirage for us. First, let’s make the current major roads leading to the East decently motorable and then let’s tell Nigerians where exactly we stand on the 2nd Niger Bridge.
Another road that should catch Fashola’s attention is the Oyo Ogbomosho Expressway. How on earth did we construct an expressway from Ibadan to Oyo, skip Oyo to Ogbomosho and then construct one from Ogbomosho to Ilorin? I have heard the excuses…a different company was awarded the Oyo – Ogbomosho section but it was not funded…or something to that effect. The result is that you are forced to use the very old, narrow, full-of-bends and neglected, trailer-infested Oyo – Ogbomosho road if you are going to the Northwest from Ibadan. It is like trying to commit suicide.
Fashola should build enough Rest Stops on these roads – some for cars, and definitely bigger ones for trailers and oversized vehicles. He should then enforce “No Stopping” and “No parking” on the shoulders of the expressways by having large towing vehicles accompanied by armed road Marshalls on 24-hour patrols. All these will cost money, but they are investments worth making if we are going to grow our country.
To accomplish ANY of the tasks above, Nigeria needs the strength and commitment of an incorruptible and indefatigable person. To accomplish ALL of it, you need a miracle performer. And you need the backing of a focused and incorruptible President. The test of a great commander includes the ability to identify able subordinates to lead each of the subordinate units in a military formation. Buhari has put Fashola exactly where he thinks Fashola can excel. I do not know any Nigerian who does not believe in Fashola’s ability to deliver. This archetype of administrative excellence and innovative can-do spirit deserves positions of even bigger responsibilities and the support of all of us. But Fashola too now needs to do what Buhari has done: look for able subordinates who will provide him a steady flow of unadulterated truths in order for him so see through the deceptive façade put up by those who want to maintain the status quo. He can’t do it alone and he has to look beyond Lagos State…beyond the Southwest and even beyond the APC…for talented and PATRIOTIC Nigerians who will carry his vision and that of Buhari to fruition.
If he can claim a tad more than marginal successes in the Power and Works sectors, he will have turned himself into the indispensable suprasegmental continuum of the Buhari revolution. He will be the de factor President or (President-in-Waiting) during Buhari’s second term. It is obvious to all that Buhari reposes in Fashola a lot of confidence and believes that Nigeria will be safe in his hands. Professor Wole Soyinka does too. And so does former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Many ordinary Nigerians from all regions of the country believe Fashola has the potential for taking Nigeria to new heights. Certainly, he is head and shoulders above Jonathan. In fact, many believe that had religion not been a factor, Fashola would have been Buhari’s only choice as Vice President. And by the way, going by what I have seen so far, if, Lord-willing, Buhari continues to enjoy good health, Nigerians will support him for another term. Buhari does not need the energy of a 50-year-old man to be a great President. He just needs to maintain his integrity and ability to recruit performers. And his name will be permanently etched in gold in the hearts of Nigerians. At the end of his second term, the people that will be ashamed are those who conspired to overthrow him and truncate his vision for Nigeria in 1985.