Borrowing to fix infrastructure is good for the economy, Minister Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), has said.
Speaking in Abuja at NANForum, the flagship interview programme of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), he said the country would not make meaningful progress without taking loans to boost infrastructure.
“It is in our interest that government does some borrowing and spends it on investment because that sector contributes to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and contributes to employment.
“I do not support irresponsible borrowing so let us be clear; there has to be some sense to this.
“So long as you are borrowing to invest and you are investing in assets then we can have this debate from morning till night and I don’t think I will come out unsuccessful.
“I agree everybody must keep their eyes open about how money is being borrowed, what it is being used for and whether the debt is sustainable.
“We just delivered a rail programme through the Ministry of Transportation; that is a 100-year asset that you have got now.
“So some economists say wait until you gather the money, that’s bad economics,” the minister said.
According to Fashola, many developed countries created super economies through borrowing.
He said the recent loans obtained by the Federal Government would not mortgage the future of Nigerians.
Fashola said: “We came from a background of colonialism where we were told that if you go borrowing you go sorrowing, so, my parents and their generation told us never to borrow.
“But while we were not borrowing, those who led the rules started borrowing.
“The largest debtors in the world today are from the West. But with borrowing, they have created super economies, built massive train terminals, massive airports, schools and hospitals.
“And you know what is happening, we go to use them and they charge us, so who is paying?
“I have heard people say they are mortgaging the future of people. As we are holding this meeting, one new baby has arrived. If you don’t prepare for him, you make that future bleak.
“As at the time we were building Lekki Bridge in Lagos, it was N29 billion. The child that was born then in 2010 is going to be 11 this year.
“If his mother carrying his pregnancy had crossed that bridge at any time, he used that bridge before he was born and we had secured that asset for him before he arrived.
“If we wait until he is about 30 to build that bridge, we can’t buy it at N29 billion anymore.
“So, if he contributes to paying it so be it because he started using it before he even arrived.”
The minister said the Federal Government’s expenditure on road infrastructure rose from N18 billion in 2015 to about N400 billion this year.
According to him, increased investments in infrastructure by the government had brought profitability to all actors in the economic value chain.
The minister said more wealth and job opportunities had been created with 850 contracts awarded and 13, 000 kilometres of roads and bridges under construction and repairs across Nigeria’s federal highways.
“President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to improving infrastructure sits squarely at the centre of the progressive ideal to improve the human condition,” he said.
Fashola said the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and other key road projects, including the Second Niger Bridge will be delivered before the end of the Buhari administration in 2023.
“We have about 44 roads under Sukuk. There are many of them across the A1-A9 so we talk about the second Niger bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the Abuja-Kano road, those are some of the roads we intend to finish.
“We’ve finished some sections of the Tambuwal-Jega Road, Kano-Maiduguri about 350km have been completed. We’ve finished the section of Enugu-Portharcourt Road.
“Some sections of Benin to Lokoja highway have also been completed. All those sections that you drive on are the sections that have been completed because we build in sections so probably 10 km you divert to the other way.”
Fashola further listed some roads that have been completed because of the issuance of the certificate of completion.
”Enugu-Portharcourt road, we have completed about 124km, Kano-Maiduguri we have completed 398km, Lagos-Ibadan expressway, we have completed 79km out of 127km.
“On Sokoto-Tambuwal-Jega-Yauri-Kotangora 424km, on Gombe-Nina-Yola-Taraba 78 km, on second Niger bridge, we have done 2000m out of 3200m and we will finish that by next year.
“The Bodo-Bonny bridge we have done 778m of bridge work out of 3000m and we’ve done 4.6km of road work out of 34km.”
Fashola reaffirmed that the construction of the Second Niger Bridge would be completed next year.
According to him, the bridge, which will serve as a major link between Southeast and Southwest, will be delivered between the second and third quarters of 2022.
Construction of the bridge began on September 1, 2018, with construction cost put at N336 billion when the contract deal was signed.
The minister, however, made no mention if the construction cost of the facility had changed since the commencement of work.
He said that the project would facilitate the influx of investments to the Southeast when completed.
Fashola said the construction work had gone beyond the water level, explaining that most bridge works were done underwater.
“So, what you see currently is the final work. The sub-structure which entailed building cement structures underwater often costs a lot of money.
“We should finish the bridge next year between the second quarter and third quarter,” he said, adding that construction time was lost because of COVID-19.
He said additional work was continuing underneath the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos was critical in preserving the infrastructure.
The bridge was reopened on February 28 after undergoing rehabilitation in 2019.
Fashola emphasised that work would continue on the substructure despite reopening the bridge to traffic.
“We have finished the superstructure work that is the pavement that you drive on, we have changed the bearings and the expansion joints and we are now working on the substructure.
“Work is still going on under the bridge even though people are now driving and thinking we have finished.
“We have finished the top, people can move; we don’t need to close the bridge.
Some of the concrete has been damaged; some of the reinforcement, the steel is showing some of the places where water splashes there is erosion so we are working there now.
“We are going to be there for many months to ensure we preserve the life of that infrastructure because we can’t afford to build a new one,’’ Fashola said.