Contractors who executed federal government’s road projects over the past three years were not paid for their job, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works, and Housing, has said.
Speaking at the inaugural “Buharimeter” town hall meeting in Abuja, Thursday, Mr. Fashola said the contractors had, nonetheless, continued to work with the present administration based on their credibility.
“As far as my ministry is concerned, I think the best way to understand where we are is where we came from,” Mr. Fashola said at the meeting organized by the Centre for Democracy and Development.
“If you look at the budget of the country from 2007, a country that was making a minimum of $100 per barrel for almost a decade, we shouldn’t be here. But the reality is that in 2007 we spent only N41 billion on roads in Nigeria. The highest we spent between 2007 and 2015 was in 2009 when we spent N195 billion on roads.
“After that the figures started declining, and the last three years are significant, today I mentioned where we are, we spent N65 billion on roads, I think Lagos state government alone spent as much if not more on roads.
“In 2014, we spent N45 billion on roads, for the whole country. And we spent N18 billion on roads in 2015.
“Now the fallout of meetings with our contractors, generally, is that they have not been paid for three years. But budgets have been made for the last three years.”
Mr. Fashola said despite non-payment of the contractors, work would soon begin on the Jebba-Ilorin road as well as the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
“The Jebba-Ilorin road is a very significant road,” he said.
“If you haven’t passed through it, perhaps you will not understand how significant it is for the prosperity of Nigeria, because that is where farmers mainly move their trucks and their goods, their vegetables, their cattle through. And that is where fuel comes through from the tank farms in Lagos to many parts of the north of Nigeria.
“That road used to take four days simply because a section of barely about 100 kilometres was unmotorable. The trucks used to turn.
“Now on the basis of just our credibility, that I stuck my neck out and I told the contractor ‘please go back to this site. Go and work.’ We have stabilized that road. We haven’t finished repairing it but we have stabilized it, that section is now motorable and provision is now made for some parts of it in this year’s budget.
“Now compare this with a government that was in power, budgeted for that road, and did not even release the money.
“This is what has happened in our meetings with our contractors, just on the basis of our credibility, our collective integrity, saying to them ‘go back to site.’
“Our contractors will go back to site on Monday next week, they told me, for the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. They haven’t been paid. But that is what ‘change’ is, that this government is credible and believable. If we say we will pay, we will pay,” Mr. Fashola said.
Four other ministers, including Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture), Udo Udoma (Budget and National Planning), Amina Mohammed (Environment), and Audu Ogbeh (Agriculture and Rural Development), also participated in the town hall meeting.
Mr. Ogbeh said some states had donated land for cattle grazing, adding that the herdsmen crisis would soon end. The minister also said the government was working on improving farmers’ access to credits.
“We have no access for credit for farmers,” Mr. Ogbeh said.
“We are about to restructure the Bank of Agriculture and we want farmers to be the biggest shareholders so we can actually lend to farmers. Our target is five percent on Agriculture.
“No other country that wants to develop agriculture is lending money to farmers at 18 – 25 percent. That figure may be wonderful for growing cocaine, but certainly not for rice and beans and sugar.”
He urged the youth to engage in agriculture as a way of reducing the rising unemployment.
“Young people, please, we shall be holding an evening with the minister shortly, think of doing something in Agriculture,” he said. “Even if you are based in the city, go home and start a plantation. I started one many years ago and now I’m a cashew farmer with 14,000 trees in the village. So come around let’s talk about this. You have to feed yourselves.”