SPEECH BY THE HON. MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, AT THE TOWN HALL MEETING TO ADDRESS THE VANDALISM OF POWER AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS INFRASTRUCTURE IN MAIDUGURI ON THURSDAY, SEPT. 23RD 2021
I want to most sincerely thank His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Borno State, Prof. Babagana Zulum, and his entire cabinet for hosting this Town Hall Meeting. This is the second time we are holding a Town Hall meeting in Maiduguri since we launched the Town Hall Meeting programme in Lagos on April 25th 2016. Just like during the first town hall meeting we held here on February 5th 2018 on security, the hospital and warm welcome accorded to us have been top notch. We thank you, Your Excellency.
2. May I also thank my own Chairman, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, Distinguished Senator Danladi Sankara, for taking time off his busy schedule to be with us here, as he has always done anytime we call on him. I also thank my colleagues Honourable Ministers, who are either here, joining us virtually or have sent a representative. And I thank all participants at this town hall meeting.
3. Your excellency, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this is the third and final edition of the three-series town hall meeting which we have dedicated to addressing the wanton destruction of public infrastructure. We kick-started the series on June 7th 2021 in Abuja, when we held the town hall meeting on the destruction of railway tracks, roads and bridges. The second in the series was also held in Abuja on July 5th 2021 on the protection of oil and gas infrastructure.
4. I must confess that, based on the two town hall meetings I listed above, the situation regarding the wanton destruction of public infrastructure is worse than we had imagined. For example, we were told that it would cost the Federal Government 3.8 billion Naira to repair just four bridges that were damaged by vandals and petrol-laden tankers. That’s a huge amount that could have been used to build new infrastructure.
5. It is common knowledge that massive infrastructure deficit is among the challenges we face in Nigeria. This is why the Muhammadu Buhari Administration has deliberately adopted an inclusive infrastructure provisioning framework that spreads to all sections of the country. Despite a drastic drop in revenues and competing priorities, especially that of battling insecurity, the federal government has invested heavily in providing new infrastructure, as well as reconstructing and rehabilitating existing ones.
6. In recent times however, such laudable efforts of the government are being thwarted by some unpatriotic citizens through wanton destruction of critical infrastructure, thereby depriving the greater citizenry – for whose benefits these projects and services are provided – from enjoying them. Railway tracks are being subjected to wanton vandalism, bridge railings are being removed, manhole covers are being pilfered, and so are critical aviation, power and telecommunications infrastructure. The consequences of such unpatriotic action and behaviour, aside endangering the lives of fellow innocent citizens, include the toll it takes on the government’s limited revenue to replace, rehabilitate or totally reconstruct such destroyed infrastructure.
7. We set out to achieve four objectives with the town hall meetings on protecting public infrastructure. They are to:
a. Create in the public mind that government property are indeed citizens’ property and so must be protected for the benefit of all.
b. Sensitize communities especially those where infrastructure are located to be conscious of the import of such and protect them
c. Expose, arrest and prosecute all those who engage in buying pilfered infrastructure items along with those who bring to them to sell and subject them to the full wrath of the law
d. Sensitize the larger citizenry to support the widespread campaign on the protection and ownership of public infrastructure/assets.
8. I believe we have gone a long way in achieving our objectives, particularly in sensitizing both local communities and the larger citizenry to support the campaign on protecting and taking ownership of public infrastructure.
9. Your excellency, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I want to use this opportunity to appeal to all Nigerians to please join the campaign on the ownership and protection of public infrastructure.
This is particularly important because this Administration has placed a great premium on the building infrastructure, which is an engine of economic growth.
10. Naysayers have recently ramped up their criticism of the Buhari Administration for borrowing. These critics are insincere. We are not borrowing for recurrent expenditure or to pay salaries. We are borrowing to build world class infrastructure that will benefit generations of Nigerians. And we have a lot to show for the loans we have taken. Today, the standard-gauge rail lines between Lagos and Ibadan as well as Abuja and Kaduna are running well. Today, we have new airport terminals in Abuja, Kano, Lagos and Port Harcourt. Today, the Itakpe-Warri rail line that was abandoned for decades is running.
Today, we have well over 13,000km of federal roads under repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction. There is a road project in every state, Today, we have started the countdown to when the 2nd Niger Bridge, which successive administrations have built only on paper, will be completed. The list of projects we are handling with the loans we obtained is long.
11. It is an irony that those who are criticizing us today performed abysmally in terms of modernizing our infrastructure, even when they served at a time when our earnings were multiples of what we get today. Had they embarked on the kind of infrastructure development we are currently engaged in, perhaps there would have been no reason for us to borrow as much as we are doing now. For example, in their time, they claimed to have spent billions of Naira in building infrastructure but, as one can see, their infrastructure projects were only on paper. Today, we are still saddled with looking for resources to build the same infrastructure for which they claimed to have allocated huge resources. We will not be deterred by the antics of those who believe they can play politics with everything.
12. On this note, I want to once again welcome all of us to this Town Hall Meeting on protecting power and telecommunications infrastructure. We could not have chosen a better venue than
Maiduguri, which has been cut off from public power supply since January 2021 due to the destruction of power infrastructure by terrorists. The terrorists who are destroying power and
telecommunication facilities in Borno have chosen to weaponize these attacks in order to inflict the maximum hardship on the people and also slow down the advances of our gallant troops in decimating them. They will fail in both instances.
13. I thank you all for your kind attention.