Infrastructure Development, according to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, is the most legitimate way to distribute wealth in any economy.
He mentioned this while delivering a keynote address at the 27th Meeting of the National Council on Works and Housing in Bauchi State on Thursday, 23rd, 2021.
Fashola addressed the theme chosen for this year’s council: “Infrastructure Delivery, The Maintenance Economy and National Prosperity”.
His intention at the event was not to focus only on the importance of the investment in infrastructure, but more importantly, on the maintenance of infrastructure, the economy around maintenance, and sustainable and long-lasting jobs created through this process.
He said it’s not surprising to see discussions around roads, bridges, rails, schools, hospitals, water supply, and power supply, that people can also find that in the inauguration speech of every President, Prime Minister, Governor and other elected public officers, time is dedicated to addressing the provision of infrastructure.
The Minister recalled the host, Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, will remember that he made similar commitments in his inauguration speech on May 29, 2019, “…at the core of this mandate is the crucial drive to give Bauchi State citizens a better prospect and greater opportunity for a prosperous life. Reducing poverty and empowering our citizens in the areas of Agriculture, Education, urban and rural infrastructure among others.” He said.
The reason for this is not far-fetched, he said, adding that more prosperous nations have more infrastructure than us. To bridge this gap, we have to invest; because no country or community can grow more extensive than the stock of infrastructure.
Infrastructure also helps to make people efficient; it creates competition and leads to productivity. Currently, the Federal Government is executing 895 contracts in 795 projects spanning over 13,000 km of roads and bridges nationwide.
Across all of these, engineers, geologists, surveyors, lawyers, bankers, suppliers, artisans and labourers are involved in an ecosystem of enterprise from which they earn a daily, weekly or other periodic income.
But that is only part of the story, the employment. The other factors include improved asset value because everywhere a new road or bridge is built, the land value appreciates by up to 30% creating enormous capital gain.
Fashola Harps on Benefits of Infrastructure Development
On the completed sections of the roads, journeys that took days now take only a few hours, trips that took hours are now reduced to minutes; if it is true that time is money, clearly reduced journey times currently being delivered across Nigerian roads is money.
He said this drive is achieved either through savings on journeys and fuel cost or utilization of time saved for other productive activities, not to mention the health benefits of shorter travel time and reduced stress.
“So when President Buhari committed on June 12, 2019, to taking 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years, his vision was not a Federal Government vision but a national one, which has started with the work being undertaken in all states and FCT and to which the Federal Government is contributing through infrastructure.” He said.
In pursuing this National vision, he urged all to embrace the more holistic view and definition of poverty as the number of jobs or amount of cash and well-being, efficiency, and the lack of access.
For example, if a one-hour journey takes six hours even in the best car, or land value is stagnant because it lacks an access road, the reversal of these situations by improved journey time or provision of access roads are steps towards prosperity, he asked.
Similarly, all those employed in building the roads, surveyors, contractors, engineers, bankers, artisans, suppliers and lawyers, have certainly been impacted on the income side.
Regrettably, we cannot build forever, and so when the infrastructure project is completed, most of those employed in the building must leave the site to look for new opportunities.
Minister Reemphasises Need for Infrastructure Maintenance
The Works and Housing Minister, Fashola, noted that maintenance is the heart of the matter and the message the theme of this council seeks to focus attention on.
“What should we do in addition to building infrastructure to keep the jobs on? The answer, Fashola said, is that Nigerians must maintain the infrastructure we built.” He said.
This is important for many reasons, and the first is that we preserve the life of the infrastructure and get the best value for the money we spent on it.
The second reason is that a maintenance economy is a critical contributor and driver of GDP in many economies worldwide.
You will notice that I have spoken about a “maintenance economy”, not a “maintenance culture.” This is because maintenance is not a cultural thing. It is an existential matter of survival, bread and butter and income.
Available data shows that in the “built industry”, only about 30% of the workforce is employable by design and construction, which lasts until the project is completed. In comparison, the remaining 70% are employed in “operation” and “maintenance” of the infrastructure.
These are why the development of a maintenance economy must commend itself to all of us here and why we must all return home to think about it and do something about it.
The question is, what needs to be done? My answer is that we must develop policies to stimulate the economy of maintenance.
All that we need to do is take a look at the state of existing infrastructure, and we are likely to see bridges with damaged expansion joints and bearings, buildings with broken windows and leaking pipes, doors that do not lock properly, toilets that do not work well and so much more.
“If we reflect on what we see, we will realize that these are jobs for plumbers, carpenters, painters, foundry workers and many more skilled and unskilled people in our country. Our responsibility is to connect these people to the opportunities that infrastructure in disrepair represents for sustainable employment.” He said.