Babatunde Fashola’s Shortchanging Change : A Rejoinder

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I was torn between two minds on whether to bother responding to Salihu Tanko Yakasai's article titled: “Babatunde Fashola's Shortcoming Change” which appeared in various online media last week.

On the one hand, the article was so misleading that I felt compelled to point out some omitted facts and yet on the other hand I weighed up the merit of responding to such a poorly researched and ill-considered piece.

The first failure of Mr. Yakasai's article was of a mathematical nature and a grossly lazy one at that. His figures simply do not add up.

According to his article, itself crudely culled from another publication, the total amount earmarked by the Ministry of Works across the six geopolitical zones is N182.6 Billion. Even if we were to be charitable and round this up to N183 Billion, it still falls considerably short of the actual amount earmarked by the Ministry of Works for capital projects which is N268 Billion.

That is a whopping shortfall of N85 Billion between the real figure and Mr. Yakasai's imagined allocations. How does the writer explain this? He does not even make an attempt to account for it. Even a cursory attempt at research would have yielded the correct figure. Mr. Yakasai's mathematics is either less than adequate or he deliberately sought to mislead his readers.

If he had shown even a remote interest in the budget proceedings in Parliament, he would not have regurgitated the utterly misleading N2.9 Billion allocation to the South-East, something which he says “further alienates these aggrieved Nigerians who have been fiercely protesting their perceived marginalisation.”

I wonder if Mr. Yakasai considers the 2nd Niger Bridge, a capital project which has been given economic priority, as falling within the South-East political zone. Or perhaps we should add Geography to Mathematics on the list of subjects the writer is struggling to grapple with?

While we are on the subject of ownership, we need to evolve beyond this archaic mentality of who “owns” a road. A road is a shared national asset. The fact that any national asset is situated in a particular part of the country does not mean it is owned by the people who live in that geopolitical zone.

The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which the writer reckons is “owned” by the South-West is an arterial gateway to the rest of the country. Food produce, petroleum products, imported and exported goods and human traffic are all regularly conveyed on this road to various parts of the country. It is by any measure the nation's busiest road.

Can the farmer in Kano lay any more claim to this road than a trader in Lagos, when both equally rely on it for commerce and trade?

Can Mr. Yakasai convince the depot owner in Port Harcourt that servicing this road is not in his economic interest?

It is precisely this parochial view of ownership, where projects were determined on an ethnic and not economic basis, that has ensured that major projects such as Lagos-Ibadan and the 2nd Niger Bridge remain uncompleted.

When resources are scarce, which they evidently are, there needs to be a stringent plan on how best to allocate them. From what I see, the Government seems to have prioritised the country's needs on an economic basis. Yet Mr. Yakasai's article fails to acknowledge that such a plan exists and that indeed this is the first year of the plan. But omitting the subsequent years of the Government's 3-year plan is like judging a pupil after one school term and disregarding the efforts of the remaining two.

Mr. Yakasai concludes by saying that “let there be fair play in the ways our APC-led government leads this great nation.” It is surely not too long ago to remember that the PDP also used the concept of 'fair-play' as the only basis for making economic decisions.

Fair-play resulted in only a fire-fighting approach that promoted short-termism and sacrificed strategic direction. Even if one was to posit that there are fires raging simultaneously around the country, fire-fighting is not devoid of method and strategy. The firefighter who concentrates his efforts on one building and moves on to the next stands a better chance than the one who attempts to douse all the flames at once.

It is ironic that Mr. Yakasai proposes that “we must ally to defeat nepotism, regionalism and all forms of economic and political drawbacks that have held us backwards for too long.” And yet when a new model of stimulating economic growth is proposed he immediately defaults to the same insularity and narrow-mindedness that has yielded no significant advancement in 16 years. The “something for everybody” tactic has been a certified failure,

I note that Mr. Yakasai quotes from Paulo Coehlo's book, The Devil and Miss Prym. He at least shows some discerning taste but I think he would be better served by paying attention to a more poignant passage from the book: “People want to change everything and, at the same time, want it all to remain the same.”

Written by Imran Ahmed is a Policy Analyst.

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