Although some over enthusiastic aides and party faithful have sought to attire Buhari in messianic regalia, they are borrowed robes he needs to reject especially in his honeymoon period.
Babatunde Fashola is the new minister of Works, Housing and Power. This new portfolio signals what seems like a new merger of executive responsibilities within three distinct ministries. A number of commentators have hailed this development even though it still isn’t clear how this merger will be operationalised.
Nigeria faces huge infrastructural challenges, especially in the area of public works, housing and power. As such, these three sectors constitute strong foundational pillars on which the Nigerian economy rests. The gargantuan challenges facing each of these sectors are overwhelmingly structural, economic and systemic, requiring a diversity of approaches and professional expertise to tackle them. It is hardly convincing that the multilayered methodologies, technical competencies and strategic leadership needed to overturn the rot in the three sectors can be entrusted to just one man!
Nigeria’s housing deficit is estimated to be over 17 million units, requiring an estimated N56–60 million (US$341,000–US$365,000) to surmount the gaps in shelter provisioning. This deficit continues to expand at the rate of 780,000 units per year, no thanks to the manifold forces militating against affordable housing financing and construction. The World Bank estimates that 720,000 housing units are required to be built annually for the next 20 years in order for Nigeria to be able to close the housing gap in the country. The explosion of slum communities in urban centres is also a direct consequence of severe housing shortage. All these point to an urgent need to explore and consider new technologies and home-grown solutions that not only expand citizens’ access to affordable housing, but also create wealth for all.
Poor access to energy supply contributes to the record-high levels of poverty and underdevelopment in Nigeria. Though ranked as Africa’s largest oil producer and holder of the No Comment ninth largest natural gas reserves in the world estimated at about 180 trillion cubic feet, Nigeria’s meager 4,000mw daily power generating capacity is unable to meet the energy demands of its 170 million citizens. Huge expenditures committed to building power plants and critical energy infrastructure have not eradicated darkness, leaving 52 percent of the population either facing acute shortages, or without access to electricity at all. At 48 percent, Nigeria is far behind South Africa’s 82.7 percent electricity access rate, Senegal’s 56.5 percent and Morocco’s 98.9 percent. Women continue to bear a significant share of the burden of energy poverty; a situation compounded by social, economic and cultural inequalities in Nigeria.
The public works sector is in total disarray. Travelling by road to any part of the country, especially in the South- East and the South-South remains a nightmare. Recently, Nigeria’s vicepresident, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had to lend his voice to the depressing condition of the roads in the South- Eastern part of the country. Cosmopolitan states like Lagos fare no better. Once you leave the city centres, a drive through the innercities is comparable to scenes in a horror movie. The public works situation is indeed dire, and in need of urgent intervention at various levels.
First off, this article is not an attempt to question Fashola’s competence to manage large portfolios. Instead, in light of the enormity of challenges that these sectors currently face and the immensity of solutions required to tackle them, I think it is useful to consider whether the sudden amalgamation of three critical public sectors is necessary or even an effective revitalisation strategy. We need to consider whether the abundance of complexities in each sector merit a merger of responsibilities or a distinct focus on solution-finding? What are the advantages of fusing clearly separate executive functions and what kind of strategic policy direction is expected from such an arrangement? What lessons are we drawing from previous superexecutive assignments, most of which only succeeded in creating powerful personalities, but weaker public institutions?
The housing crisis, in terms of homelessness and shelter unaffordability for the urban poor and lowincome earners, peaked during Fashola’s eight-year tenure as governor of Lagos State. The costs of the numerous housing estates ranging from one bedroom apartments to 3-1 bedroom flats that he built were far beyond the reach of the middle class, let alone the urban poor.
Consistent with Fashola’s declaration that the provision of affordable housing was one of the cardinal programmes of his administration, he adopted a range of approaches to increase housing delivery such as the establishment of new towns, direct housing construction, public private partnerships, urban renewal and regeneration programs, site and service schemes and so forth. Despite these aggressive measures undertaken, the combined housing stock delivered within his eight-year tenure was less “than 5, 000 units per annum in a state requiring 500, 000 units per annum to bridge the deficit of estimated 5 million over the next 10 years.”
I think it would be wrong to blame Fashola alone for this monumental failing to meet the state’s housing obligations to Lagosians. However, the huge gaps that remain compellingly underpin the significance of according priority and dedicated attention to the housing sector at both the state and federal levels. It also underlines why merging the housing sector with other sectors that face even more daunting challenges is a step in the wrong direction.
It was Goodluck Jonathan that first introduced the concept of a “superminister” when he made Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the coordinating minister of the economy (CME). Dr. Iweala introduced very innovative measures in the finance ministry and across all sectors, but her solid efforts and best intentions were glaringly not enough. Just like Fashola, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s competence was not in doubt, and had never been. Rather, the not-enoughness stems from the over-concentration of executive power and multiple leadership functions in one person in a way that undermined the best of human contributions to national development. Because it is unnatural to have a firm grip on many things at the same time, the CME role only succeeded in amplifying her weaknesses and magnifying the governance gaps that she did not have a grip on, while downplaying her strengths and revolutionary economic interventions. That, in my view, is the same landmine Fashola is likely to face.
It is human to crave for too much power; but it takes a lot of courage, and even greater humanity to decline too much power. That is the sort of power that oozes from the creation “super-ministers”. Those who crave for such powerful positions ought to know that the pains are often too gross to manage, especially in a country like Nigeria where leaders are often misunderstood, deliberately or unconsciously. I hope Fashola will heed wise counsel and do the right thing. Truth is: having three ministries under his watch is certainly not the right thing to do.
– VICTORIA OHAERI