Wednesday, 30 December 2015

BABATUNDE FASHOLA, A FAILURE IN HOUSING MINISTRY

Barrister Babatunde Fashola, SAN
If many people were surprised at the merger of Power, Works and Housing into a consolidated super ministry, very few if at all would dispute the choice of Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) as the right man to head the new ministry.

Barrister Fashola has a high pedigree and his legacy of excellent performance as governor of the ‘‘State of excellence’’ for good eight years stands him tall among his peers while the good works are there for all to see. For example, our visit to Ikorodu recently was revealing in terms of infrastructural transformation.

However, our fears are that Fashola would not be able to give housing the required attention it deserves in order to solve the myriad of issues that hinder the nation’s housing delivery. There is probably no other ministry that has more ex and current sectoral siblings as Housing. At various times; housing has been hooked with various other sectors.

At a time, it was with Environment to have a ministry of Housing & Environment. Some other time, it was Housing, Urban Development & Environment. For long, Housing was famously merged with Works & Urban Development in various dispensations.

At some other time it was Land &Housing. One can go on and on. Now, it appears Housing’s siblings are Power and Works. The strange one in the new equation is probably Power because it would be the first time Housing would be hooked up with Power in the same ministry.

Fundamentally, all the sectors in the new super ministry are the critical sectors the performance of which would determine how far the country would go in its developmental strides and what progress it can make in the comity of developing nations.

The sectors are all so important that they require equal attention and commitments if the nation must move forward in these areas. In fact, many would adduce the country’s general failure in the development index to the dismal failure in these sectors.

Every ministry is important but even George Orwell would let you know that all animals are equal but some are more equal than others. In this context, the emergent ministry of Power, Works and Housing can be likened to the elixir needed to grease the nation’s wheels to move forward.

Take a quick look: a nation with a failed power sector is a nation groping in darkness where dreams are cut short; can anyone imagine a country without good roads and infrastructure for the movement of goods and persons and to stimulate economic activities in all frontiers?

It is to imagine the worst of a truly failed country with failed economy, failed everything cast in the mould of a banana republic. And a failed housing sector is to imagine a modern man drawnback to the early era where man lived on the tree top. Thus, the new ministry holds the key to Nigeria’s future.

Barrister Fashola has credible credentials to assume the headship of these key sectors as President Muhammadu Buhari had found it expedient to merge them into one ministry. As a young man, he has great drive, dynamism, rare intellects, energy and everything it takes to record immense success in the new ministry.

It is a measure of the trust and confidence the president has in him to appoint him minister over all these key, troublesome sectors. The issues and challenges injust one of the sectors is intimidating enough to make a minister grow grey hairs overnight.

Barrister Fashola is in for a very tough time but he is equal to the task and certainly needs no pity, but we have this fear for housing that just won’t go away. Our fears are that he would be so dissipated deploying his time, energies and resources to Power and Works that little would be left for Housing.

This is also founded on Barrister Fashola’s record of not too impressive performance in housing as governor of Lagos State. Whilst he recorded spectacular performance in several other sectors of Lagos especially in infrastructural development, the same could not be said of housing in the nation’s state of excellence.

His housing efforts were few and all of them were built and tailored to meet elitist demand and not for the ‘‘common man’’ that ace Television star, Frank Olize went searching for some years back. Perhaps, one would not blame the ex-governor now minister because he was acting the typical script of his own dispensation and times. In fact, not since the 80s has the country witnessed the conscious and deliberate development of mass housing for the poor.

Even though widely criticised, ex-president Alhaji Shehu Shagari and former Lagos governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, did very well in this regard. Other governments’ efforts at state and federal levels channeled in this direction are just as profit driven as the private operator and have not benefited the mass majority.

With national housing deficit estimated at 17 million units by the World Bank and the Bureau of Statistics and increasing on daily basis, many would wish for the declaration of a state emergency in the housing sector. This is not likely to happen because Barrister Fashola does not have the same passion for housing as he does for infrastructure. One would give in to the other. Unfortunately, housing is likely to get the short end of the stick.

Not even the recent pronouncement of the minister that thousands of flats would be built all over the country would douse our pessimism on housing expectations in the Barrister Fashola era. It would make sense to tell Barrister Fashola not to build any houses at all because even if he does, they will be hijacked by politicians as it happened severally before, the poor would never benefit.

Ironically, this is a dispensation when we need mass housing programmers at both federal and state levels to settle millions of people who have been displaced by crises and natural disasters, not just in the Boko Haram over-run North–East but also in Plateau as in Rivers and indeed every other part of the country

Being a shrewd lawyer (which shows that the professional background does not matter but the drive) superintending a construction-driven ministry, the most we can expect from Barrister Fashola in the housing sector in the coming days is an over haul of the land administration system, land tenure system to remove the impediments that stand in the way of acquiring land for development purpose.

Also, assessing him by his legacies in Lagos, we are likely going to have upward review of land taxes accruing to the government. But for what we already know him for, he is expected to provide the infrastructure and access roads to new estates.

It is left to the private sector to come up with initiatives for housing development efforts but the products of such campaign will not come cheap to the end user and the monstrous problems of housing would have been left largely unsolved. (Vanguard)