As Nigerians look forward to sterling performance from the newly inaugurated members of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu cabinet, private sector operators have advised the ministers to learn from their predecessors in order to avoid the pitfalls that hampered their delivery.
At a recent meeting attended by a retinue of the informed operators in various sectors of the Nigerian economy, they listed some reasons why some governors who performed very well in their states fail when they get to Abuja as ministers.
Expanding the discourse, a former Attorney-General of a state, who also understands the workings of ministries and government set-up generally, in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay on Wednesday, said that the new ministers, particularly former governors among them, must be humble enough to seek help from experienced advisers and always consult the Ministry of Finance on how to raise money to execute their projects.
Speaking specifically on why Babatunde Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi former two-term governors of Lagos and Rivers State respectively, did not score A in their performance rating despite their experiences, the former commissioner for Justice said it was their inability to approach the Capital Market to grow their budgets, failure to embrace concession and the penchant to rush for loans to execute budgets.
“I think the two most outstanding ministers that Buhari had are not because they were governors per se, but because they occupied central/important roles. Fashola was in first term minister of Power, Works and Housing- three very important posts. Amaechi was minister of Transportation.
“In my view, the situation in those three sectors- power, works and transport- offered huge opportunities for turning things around in the country,” he said.
He explained that the inability of the ministers to review and revive moribund policies in their ministries hampered their performances.
“Let’s take power, for example; the National Electricity Power Policy, the impetus for it did not come from the Ministry of Power. It came from the BPE (Bureau of Public Enterprises). The Electricity Power Sector Reform Act, the impetus for it did not come from the ministry; it came from the BPE. There has been no change in policy officially. The policy is still the same since 2001; this is 2023, we still do not have any review of the policy.
“So, in power ministry in Fashola’s four years, he did not touch the policy. He was largely interested in making policy statements, but not reviewing or re-enacting the policy of the government. That created a lot of problem. That means there was no guidance as to execution.
“On a day-to-day basis, the minister and the ministry before the privatization, they could tell everybody in the sector what to do. You had the minister of power give instructions and it was the minister of power that really ran the sector. Even when it has been supposedly restructured and the Act was passed, there was no change,” the public sector player with a robust knowledge about the workings in the BPE, said.
Speaking on Fashola’s missteps in the Ministry of Works for eight years, our source who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “You have lots of roads that needed to be reworked. Look at the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) that was set up to enable concession to be done, but in Fashola’s eight years as works minister, there was never one road done on concession, why?
“Because from his experience in Lagos and the concession in Lekki, he felt that concessions were bad. He did not realise it was because he had done concession wrongly when he was governor of Lagos. There was no procurement; no proper design on both the commercial and the engineering sides.
“He took that bad experience with him to Abuja and reacted badly to the idea of raising funding for his roads and getting the roads done through concessioning. The one that was a bit well done was the 2nd Niger Bridge, but that was entirely funded by Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). It wasn’t funded by the Federal Government. It was 100 percent funded by NSIA. Same thing with the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Road that is now being done.
“You would have thought that he would have come with the experience of raising funds as a former governor of Lagos State that had done lots of public-financing issues with bonds; you would have thought that he would bring that to play as a minister of Works, and use that experience to expand the avenues for raising funds to do infrastructure across the country, but it never happened.
“So, lots of projects were there to be done, but very few were funded in a consistent way to be able to say, over an eight-year period, they become complete projects.”
Giving his assessment of Amaechi’s eight years as transport minister, the lawyer said: “Amaechi didn’t do anything on the transportation side. I am not very sure what is it that he did. Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has been funding itself for quite a long time. The Nigerian Railway Corporation) which was directly within his purview got into a worse condition.
“The only opportunity he had to turn NRC around was the concession with GE Consortium, but it was essentially sabotaged. He said he did loan with the Chinese and raised a lot of money, but what have we got from the loans that were raised over eight-year period under Amaechi? Just 194KM of standard gauge rail between Lagos and Ibadan. What is that worth? Very, very little. Certainly, not worth the billions of dollars they said they got from the Chinese.”
He told BusinessDay that, for him, the two former governors did not acquit themselves creditably on their eight-year ministerial jobs.
“They came to Abuja without the understanding as you would have expected the governor to understand the ways and means of multiplying their budgets by financing or using the budgetary allocation as capital, as equity contribution that they could leverage to raise money from the Capital Market for projects.
“To do that, you have to do things the right way. Follow through a procurement process; use quality and cost to determine who your best bidders could be, even the loans you can take. Instead of going this way, you go willy-nilly to the Chinese for loans because you have made friends with them and they give you the loans, and you don’t have control over how they spend their money in your country. So, there is a whole gap between the hype of being a governor and the reality of being a minister in Abuja.”
Reacting to the report that the Minister of Works, David Umahi, announced last Thursday that the Federal Government had made ready N431bn for contractors, the private sector operator, said: “This is the same mistake Fashola made, coincidentally around the beginning of his tenure also. If there is N431bn in tax credits sitting down somewhere, isn’t it obvious that with the support of the Federal Ministry of Finance, CBN and the DMO this money can be leveraged to raise at least another N600bn to work on other new and existing roads and bridge projects across the country? Before they pay the entire thing to contractors, the Minister should have a discussion with his colleague in Works and the Governor of the CBN.”