Yoruba: Time to speak truth to power – Part 4
As I was saying while rounding off last week’s edition, ‘the power of the budgeting and implementation; the power of monetary and fiscal policies arm-chair analysts always joke about are not only with the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry. The power of the National Assembly to deliver development and service to the people is enormous in a democracy that works…’
As I had noted in the Hall-of-Shame narrative, the legislators know about their enormous powers in the constitution. Forget about the ignorant boasters, the President and the National Economic Council (NEC) power brokers cannot spend a dime from even the earmarked $1 billion to fight insurgency anywhere until the National Assembly approved it! That is what the organic law of the federation provides. And that is what should happen in a functional democracy.
So, in a democracy that works, good legislators are very influential. They work for their constituencies – the focal point of their mandate. That is their major political duty to the people they represent. They are passionate about constituency projects they always lobby the executive arm to include in the budget details. As once noted here, they most times use the political party platforms including the party caucuses in the legislature to settle inclusion of most of these (constituency) projects.
In the same vein, they sit down with the ministers concerned to work out details of proposals and discipline of execution. They always work hard to ensure that contractors perform on time. They always perform this quiet operation too by lobbying the finance minister and their own appropriation committees’ presiding officers. This is part of the most critical assignment of legislators: representation. That is the most significant responsibility of a legislator: representation.
Law making and oversight functions they always tell us about their job are only prominent but those functions are not as significant as representation in a working democracy.
As Professor Ben Nwabueze, an expert on this discipline once noted, the Legislature is the distinctive mark of a country’s sovereignty, the index of its status as a state and the source of much of the power exercised by the executive in the administration of government.
And so, whether parliamentary or presidential, the organ of government that captures the mind most as epitomisingdemocracy is the legislature. For that is the place where the public sees democracy in action, in the form of debates, and consideration of motions, resolutions and bills. The closest politician to the voter is the representative of his constituency in the legislature.
Hall of Shame for Western Nigeria’s Legislators!
The story began in the last administration when on July 9, 2013 it was reported that the federal government had awarded a whopping N167 billion worth of Lagos- Ibadan Expressway contracts.
The then Works Minister, Mike Onolememen who announced the details said the federal government had awarded the N167 billion contracts to Messrs Julius Berger Nigeria Plc. and Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) Limited.
According to the minister, the two construction firms, that emerged the preferred bidders for Section 1 (Lagos- Shagamu Interchange) and Section 11 (Shagamu Interchange – Ibadan) were to deliver the roads in 48 months.
The minister gave some background: “The government had earlier entered into concession agreement with Messrs Bi-Courtney in 2009 to develop the section between Ojota old plaza in Lagos and old toll plaza in Ibadan, a distance of approximately 105 kilometres under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement for enhanced quality of service to all users of the highway in tandem with international standards”.
He had added, “four years later, no real progress was recorded while the road users wallowed in hardship and constantly at risk of accident on the road.
The critical project is also a major artery that connects Lagos, major Nigerian sea ports, to other states of the federation and forms not only a part of the Trans-Saharan Highway that links Lagos on the Atlantic Ocean to Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea but also part of the Trans-African Highway, linking the Atlantic City of Lagos to the Indian Ocean city of Mombassa in East Africa through Cameroon and Central Africa.
Onolememen, an architect, had then said that the federal government had made tremendous progress in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Benin-Ore-Shagamu Expressway, which on full completion, would further reinforce the socio-economic benefits to be harnessed from the Lagos-Ibadan road reconstruction.
Sadly, this was not true as the only progress made was from Ore to Benin where the minister hails from. But from Shagamu to Ore, the most critical part was not touched before the last administration left office in May 2015.
The issue of Bi-Courtney and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway peculiar mess was briefly touched in this first part of this article when it was revealed that the first trouble with the PPP project awarded to Dr. Wale Babalakin’s firm was fierce opposition to the project by governments of Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states then in opposition, which challenged the then federal government. The court process on compensation and other complications began the roadblocks to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway under President Goodluck Jonathan.
Curiously, a budget cut for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway story reared its head too last year when the Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, one of the Western Nigeria’s representatives in the current cabinet revealed on June 28, 2017 that cruel fate that had dogged the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, undoubtedly the most economically valuable highway in the country, had taken a turn for the worse because the Assembly had inflicted a drastic cut on the budgetary allocation for the completion of its rehabilitation.
According to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the allocation of N31 billion in 2018 budget for the road by the ministry was reduced to just N10 billion by the lawmakers to make room for projects such as boreholes and health centres in their communities. It is even worse that that happened when the contractors were already being owed N15 billion and were threatening to pull out of site.
This was how an editorial in one of the pro-Western Nigeria newspapers put the shameful act in June 2017: ‘It is inconceivable that the lawmakers could turn a very important national responsibility as revenue appropriation for landmark development projects into an opportunity to serve their personal interest…’
Specifically, the strategic Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and all the related routes to Port Harcourt have again become election-time projects. And we are on the march again for 2019. In December, 2017, it was reported that federal government was considering the possibility of increasing the scope of work to N300 billion. The story broke last December 21 after a marathon meeting of the federal executive council at which N377 billion worth of contracts for other road projects were also approved. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway component of the meeting was not discussed by any of the ministers that spoke to State House reporters. The SSA Media to the President, Malam Garba Shehu only announced the N300 billion deal in a statement as an addendum after the FEC briefing, which excluded the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway abandoned projects. This is critical. It meant then that the Works, Power and Housing Minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, had been successfully arm-twisted by the federal legislators to keep quiet about the critical road projects Minister Onolememen promised would be completed in 48 months since 2013.
That is why we need to ask specifically what all the representatives from Western Nigeria have been doing in the last 19 years about the most important economic routes Dr. Kolade identified for execution since 2009.
We, the people should ask them in this Yuletide period if they come home. Democracy is about the people. And most of the people need good roads more than the airports the power elite and our representatives use to fly over all the bad routes from Apapa to Port Harcourt.
The salient point in all this rigmarole on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway debacle is that the federal government alone should not be blamed. All told, all the elected and appointed representatives from the Western Nigeria (Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states) since 1999 should be inducted in a Hall of Shame On May 29, 2019 (when this democracy will clock 20) for failing their people on the Apapa Port roads; Lagos-Ibadan Expressway andShagamu-Ore road networks.
In the same vein, all the governors of the six states in Western Nigeria should be included in the Hall of Shame for failing to construct link roads to their six states. It is shameful as was noted in the first article that after about 20 years into this democracy, there is no good road that links Lagos to Ota/Abeokuta; none that beautifully connects Abeokuta to Ibadan, no solid link road from even Ibadan to Osogbo. Nor is there any good road linking Ado-Ekiti to Akure. They will tell you, they are all federal roads!What have Western Nigerian Governors, Ministers, Senators and House of Representatives members donein the last 19 years to influence budgets for the link roads? What have the Western States’ Governors done to ensure good link roads in their domain since 1999? Is it enough to blame the federal government? Where are the brand ambassadors of federalism among the six governors in Western Nigeria, where the demand has been the loudest?
Ministerial Representation from The West
Let’s look at the choice of Ministers from Western Nigeria from 2015. How was former Finance Minister, KemiA deosun nominated? Who nominated Professor Claudius Omoyele Daramola from the University of Ilorin to represent Ondo State in the Federal Cabinet? Who nominated Babatunde Fashola to represent Lagos State? How did Dr. Kayode Fayemi get into Buhari’s Executive Council of the Federation? Answers to these harmless questions may be blowing in the wind but the point is that the toxic politics and intrigues that shaped nomination of some of these representatives from Western Nigeria in 2015 could not have led to coordination of development agenda in the region. For instance, it has been confirmed that an old politician from Osun state and former leader of the ruling Party, APC nominated Professor Daramola (Ondo) to President Buhari and he was accepted without question. Has the Minister of State of Niger Delta Ministry, (Prof. Daramola) represented well? Why can’t there be coordinated approach to politics of development from Western Nigeria? Is the acclaimed political leader of Western Nigeria coordinating his disciples well to pay attention to development agenda of Western Nigeria? In May 2019, what will Western Nigeria showcase as dividends of democracy since 1999? Let no one recuse himself from this debacle in the region. Let every leader examine himself on where the rains have been beating Western Nigeria since 1999, for instance.