My Mercedes is bigger than yours by Femi Adesina
I am borrowing the title of a 1975 book by Nkem Nwankwo to express my thoughts today. Published by Heinemann African Writers Series, it is the story of postcolonial Nigerian society, and the social climbing that attended it. As a young schoolboy, one grew up on the staple of such writings.
In Nigeria, when one new administration comes, it abandons most, if not all the projects its predecessors had been doing. The billions of naira or dollars, legitimate and padded, that had been spent on such projects do not matter. It is a question of aggrandizement, of competition, of not wanting to walk in anyone’s shadows. My Mercedes is Bigger than Yours, they struggle to tell one another. Therefore, abandoned and uncompleted projects dot the entire national landscape.
But not Muhammadu Buhari. This is one President that came to his assignment with clear objectives. It is our country, and the projects are for the land, and for the people. Therefore, all worthy projects were continued with gusto. Some are already completed and serving Nigerians, and many others in different stages of completion.
Water projects. Power. Roads. Schools. Hospitals, and many others, in different stages of abandonment, line the length and breadth of the country, simply because the governments that conceived and started them were not able to complete. When the successors came, they wanted to ‘do their own thing,’ as if it’s a personal estate. And the country hemorrhages, suffers, and is almost asphyxiated.
But one mark the President Buhari administration is making is its ability and determination to continue and complete inherited projects, some dating back several decades. It is not about pride, not ego, not what I want, but about what is good for the country.
The Bonny-Bodo road in Rivers State was conceived and inaugurated 47 years ago. Governments came and went, and the road, envisaged to link Bonny Island with the rest of the state, never saw the light of day. It remained just a dream. And at times, dreams die first, before the dreamer. For now, the only way to access Bonny, where our cash cow, the Nigeria Natural Liquefied Gas company is located, is by water and air, with all the attendant dangers and perils.
To build a road into Bonny would cost billions upon billions of naira. If any government got serious about such project, wouldn’t it affect the volume of cash the officials would salt away from the kitty? Till Buhari came. And he is doing what Napoleon couldn’t do. The Bonny-Bodo road, with many bridges, was awarded for N120 billion , and in collaboration with NLNG, the work began in 2017. It promises to be one of the legacy projects of the administration.
We can never say too much about the Second Niger Bridge. The existing one was built in 1965, and had become totally inadequate to serve as the artery between the southern and other parts of the country. When it is festive season like Christmas, come and see how people suffer on the bridge, spending hours on end, sometimes days.
The bridge became an object of fake political promises, particularly in the 16 years of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It was like a pie in the sky, which they kept building with their mouths. Whenever elections approached, they would go to the site with hoes, cutlasses and wheelbarrows, pretending to dig the ground, all to win votes. Whenever the polls were completed, and they had swindled the people of their votes, they disappeared. Till the next election.
And they claimed to have spent billions upon billions of naira on the project. Yet, it remained at the blueprint level. Olusegun Obasanjo launched it with much fanfare. That was where it ended. Umaru Yar’Adua did not seem to touch it, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Goodluck Jonathan said his middle name was Ebele, making him an indigene of the South East, where the bridge was situated. He said what would he say he did for his people, if he couldn’t build the bridge. He spent six years in office, and all he left were the ubiquitous hoes, cutlasses and wheelbarrows.
Enter Muhammadu Buhari. Without fanfare, without flourish, he set to work. The Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) was set up in 2018 to fast-track completion of critical infrastructural projects. And at the last count, the Second Niger Bridge was 48% completed, with the sights firmly set on the first quarter of 2022 as completion time. The things we couldn’t accomplish when we were swimming in petro-dollars, we are now daring and making steady progress on, at a season of scarcity. That is what you get when the Captain of a ship has only come to serve, not to feather his own nest.
The Mambila Hydro Power project was conceived in 1972. How many governments, both military and civilian have we had since then? How many billions upon billions of dollars have we earned from oil since then? But Mambila remained a dream, pipe dream. Till a man came from Daura, and seriousness is now being shown. Finally, Mambila Power project is appearing doable.
The country’s biggest power plant will produce approximately 3,050 MW of electricity, and estimated to cost $5.8 billion. Chinese Export-Import Bank will provide 85 percent of the funding, while Nigeria brings the remaining 15 %. Completion time is 2030, long after Buhari would have left power. Yet, the man is planning and working for the future of Nigerians. The project would generate at least 50,000 jobs.
The Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited was started in 1979, and envisaged to launch Nigeria into the steel development realm in a few years. But 41 years later, it remains mere dream, with billions of dollars gone down the drain. The steel mill became a cesspool of corruption for many decades. Each government came, made false promises, pumped dollars and more dollars into the sinking hole, officials pocketed the rest, yet the steel mill, built on 24,000 hectares of land remains uncompleted. The Buhari administration took up the gauntlet. Last year, the President held talks with the original builders of the mill in Russia, and the project is set to roar to life before 2023. And Buhari’s name would remain indelible in the annals of the country, without the man setting out to achieve anything personal.
Some Federal Secretariat projects were awarded in 2012. They included those of Anambra, Bayelsa, Nasarawa, Osun, and Zamfara states. The projects had long been abandoned, due to lack of proper funding. Last week, a memo was brought to the Federal Executive Council meeting by Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Raji Fashola, seeking a review and variation of the contract sums, and it was approved. That is Buhari for you. Even development round the country is what he seeks. That is why inherited projects continue, and are being completed.
Rail projects. Nigeria had a master plan since days of military rule, which Obasanjo kept faith with, and Yar’Adua and Jonathan continued. But not much in terms of practical achievements. In consonance with his commitment to continuity, Buhari first completed the Abuja-Kaduna rail project, which has been running since 2016. The Itakpe-Warri project, started by Ibrahim Babangida in 1987, was not completed till 34 years later. By Buhari. You now have Lagos-Ibadan rail about being inaugurated, while Ibadan-Kano takes off soon. What manner of man is this Buhari, completing inherited projects, and starting new ones, despite lower earnings than we ever had?
Road projects. Lagos-Ibadan Expressway could not be completed in 16 years of PDP. Not to talk of Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Lagos-Ore-Benin, and many others. Today, you have at least a Federal road project going on in every state of the country, and all are to be completed in the life of this administration.
AKK gas pipeline. Humongous. The cost is $2.8 billion. It had been on the drawing board for many years, long before Buhari. A couple of weeks back, the President flagged off the project, estimated to be completed in two years. What manner of man is this Buhari, I ask again. You don’t dare huge projects like these, if your intention is to steal. You simply dip your hands in the cookie jar, and pop it into your mouth.
The Loko-Oweto Bridge. How can one ever forget? Began since 2011, it will link Benue and Nasarawa States, and open up the North Central to other parts of the country. The economic gains are limitless. The bridge is now 95% completed. By Buhari.
Zik, oh Great Zik. An illustrious son of Africa. First Nigerian President and Owelle of Onitsha. A mausoleum was started in 1996 as a monument in his memory. It is to tell everyone: the Great Nnamdi Azikiwe was buried here! Governments came, governments went, but the mausoleum was uncompleted, even abandoned. Till the advent of the man from Daura. He not only funded and completed the project, he personally inaugurated it in early 2019.
What shall we say of the East-West road, airport projects, and many others, all inherited and set to be completed. President Buhari came with Executive Order 7 (the Companies Income Tax Road Infrastructural Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme). It is to attract private financing for road construction across Nigeria. Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki Expressway is being rebuilt in Lagos with concrete under this scheme, 40 years after the road was initially built.
Despite all these, you hear the funny question from some people, who never see or hear good. What has Buhari done? What has he achieved in the past five years? Such questions bring this passage of Scripture to my mind, the very words of Jesus Himself: “Though seeing they do not see, though hearing they do not hear or understand.”(Matthew 13:13). If a man chooses to be willfully blind, he will never see. If he decides to be willfully deaf, he will never hear, even if you noise ii into his ears.
Some other funny people say: what has Buhari started? He has only been completing projects started by other people. My Mercedes is bigger than yours people. Head you lose, tail you lose. You never can satisfy them. You abandon projects of your predecessors, they grumble. You complete them, they murmur.
For the sake of argument, which I don’t think is really necessary, let’s give them just a sample of projects started and completed by Buhari.
The 17-story Local Content House was inaugurated in Yenagoa a fortnight ago. It is the tallest Federal Government structure in both the South-South and South East regions put together. It was started in late 2015, now completed. An ultra-modern cancer centre was built and commissioned at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. Diagnostic centers, costing billions of dollars, built and commissioned in Kano and Umuahia.
Captive electricity projects in Lagos, Kano and Ariana markets. Abuja-Kaduna-Kano road project under reconstruction. Rail Wagon Assembly Plant In Kajola, Ogun State. Many other projects that space would not permit one to number here. But the chronicle would come. The compendium of works done by a highly focused administration would come, despite all the distractions caused by insecurity and endless wailing. Today is not yet the day.
How big is your Mercedes? It does not matter to Buhari. Your Mercedes could be bigger than his own. He does not bother. Service to Nigeria is all that counts.
Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity
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