REMARKS BY H.E, BABATUNDE RAJI FASHOLA, SAN AT THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS PUBLIC LECTURE ON THE THEME, ‘TRANSFORMING NIGERIA’S URBAN AGENDA’ AT THE LSE’S HONG KONG THEATRE, LONDON
I would like to thank the London School of Economics and Political Science for hosting me once again, and in particular my friend Professor Ricky Burdett, not only for inviting me, but also for the flexibility he demonstrated with his scheduling of this event to accommodate me.
That said, I would also like to place on record my personal commendation to Prof. Burdett for his untiring devotion to the issue of urbanisation, and his commitment towards helping to proffer solutions and promote fresh thinking around the issue.
I have refused to address urbanisation as either a challenge or a problem. This is deliberate because I see it as the new reality of the human civilization.
It is expressed in numbers, often in the hundreds of millions, and I choose to approach it simply as the issue of our existence; and by this, I seek to stress the point that we must see human beings more, and numbers less.
Therefore if this is about us, what does it portend, and what should we do?
First, it is about a growing global population all seeking a better life and in need of access to resources.
The issue then manifests itself as a matter of concern to Government and non-Governmental actors, around how to ensure fair and equitable access to food, shelter, energy, transport and employment, to mention a few.
The issue of urbanisation also reveals an almost uni-directional migration of us, from rural, semi-urban (and certainly less developed areas of our various communities), to more urban, semi-urban, and comparatively better developed areas.
Overcrowding, homelessness, lack of sanitation, traffic jams, unemployment, social disruption, and crime are the problems that follow the issue of urbanisation.
This takes me to what we must do.
On a global scale, we must come to one consensus that the size of our human family on the planet is growing at a rate that threatens all of us.
If any proof is needed about the global footprint of this threat, recent reports of catastrophic consequences of attempted migrations and very chilling reports of refugee status and 21st Century enslavement of immigrants provide the proof.
Those people were migrating to urban centres. Largely they are in pursuit of a better quality of life.
Therefore, each family, each local community, state, and nation must act locally to manage the rate of population growth.
Indeed, most of the things that need to be addressed as matters of global agreement, such as more food, more water, better mobility, shelter, and access to healthcare and clean energy impose compelling local solutions and actions at family, local, state and national levels.
Of course, what each can do is now a function of ability, quality of resource, both human and material, and the complexity of the problem.
This takes me to the subject of my speech ‘Transforming Nigeria’s Urban Agenda’ and then perhaps the question that readily comes to mind is: What is Nigeria doing?
In terms of defining the Global Urban Agenda, we have recently been more active and involved than in the last four decades when the previous global urban agenda were formulated and adopted, first in Canada in 1976 and later in Turkey in 1996.
In February 2016, Nigeria hosted the HABITAT III UN Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, which led to the formulation of a common African position which was in Surabaya, Indonesia in July of the same year, and ultimately the accommodation of critical parts of that agenda in Quito, Ecuador in 2017.
The commitments captured in the World Urban Forum agenda at Ecuador, under the Aegis of the UN Habitat, with Governmental and Non-Governmental collaboration, speak of course only to global actions.
As I have said, results will be defined by local action at family, local, state and national levels.
But I say very emphatically that our active participation and Continental leadership role are positive signs that move the needle of commitment and consciousness further up from what they were four decades ago.
One of the critical solutions we identified as a response to making the experience of urbanisation more pleasant was to improve the quality of life, inclusion, and opportunities in the rural areas.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to local Agriculture development capacity has certainly provided the anchor to ground this objective and bring it to reality.
Today, Nigeria is producing more food than in the past, especially food crops like rice and wheat, and in under 36 months, we have a record of 6.3 Milion new rice farmers, mostly living and working in rural areas.
Many rural dwellers who used to lease out their land to others to farm have taken to farming it themselves.
Government, through other Ministries and Departments, such as Education, Water Resources, Power, Works and Housing, is now intervening with:
A. Provision of water supply schemes and facilities for irrigation and other uses.
B. School feeding and other incentives to get children to school.
C. Identification and reconstruction of roads that lead to, and connect prolific agricultural strongholds in the country, to support the economic aspiration of farmers.
D. Completion of about 2,000 long neglected rural electrification schemes.
E. Formulation of policy and regulation to accelerate deployment of electricity mini grids to stimulate rural access to electricity.
Some emerging results show:
A. 90% reduction in rice importation.
B. 2 million previously out-of-school children now back in school.
Similarly, the Nigerian Government’s commitment to infrastructure is impacting the rural areas through work creation, economic inclusion, and participation in the construction value chain.
In the first instance, most of the materials employed in construction, such as laterite, sand, gravel, limestone, are mined in rural communities, and this is creating economic activities in these areas.
Most of the National Road Network Reconstruction now being undertaken in all the 36 States pass through or connect one urban or rural community.
During construction, employment opportunities comes close to these communities, instead of them travelling to look for work, and on completion, they facilitate mobility.
Similarly, the National Housing Project, which is being executed first in a pilot phase to test for acceptability and affordability, as a proof of concept in 33 States, not only responds to the shelter component of urbanisation on a local level, it responds to the economic inclusion component as well.
At each of these construction sites, there are not less than 1,000 people engaged as skilled and unskilled labour, complemented by vendors and suppliers.
While these actions that I have spoken of address the first strategy of managing the reality of urbanisation by improving the quality of life in the rural areas, there are also interventions that seek to expand the quality of service and opportunities in the urban centres, which are in various stages of implementation.
A grand and audacious commitment to connect Nigeria’s major cities by rail is already under implementation with the commencement of work on the Lagos-Ibadan-Kano rail project.
As I mentioned earlier, Road Construction and Rehabilitation work is going on in all 36 states.
In terms of access to energy, the country had developed its first public energy mix statement that seeks to achieve 30% of renewable energy by 2030.
Major hydro-electricity projects are either being aggressively pursued towards completion or imminent commencement, like the 700MW Zungeru, 40MW Kashimbilla, 30MW Gurara, 29 MW Dadin Kowa, all approaching completion, and the 3050 MW Mambilla, whose financing is now under consideration.
Government policy and action is stimulating consensus and action towards other sources of cleaner energy like solar.
Electric energy production capacity has increased from 5,000 MW to 7,000 MW and Distribution has increased from under 3,000 Mw to 5,000 Mw and work continues to expand these capacities and results are imminent.
A revised National Building Code in 2017 also addresses efficient building methods to conserve water, energy, and provide access to services for the most vulnerable members of our urban family.
For those who seek housing finance that is not in excess of N5 million ($13,700), Government policy has been put in place to ease access by removing the requirement for a 10% contribution and instead capitalising this into the periodic re-payment at 6% per annum, through the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is perhaps as much as the time limited for me allows me to share about our commitment towards the urban agenda.
Therefore, I will conclude by answering the question posed about what Nigeria is doing with regard to the urban agenda, by saying that:
A. There is a new consciousness and increased participation in the formulation of the global urban agenda policies by Nigeria.
B. On the continental stage, Nigeria has stood up to be counted and to take leadership by providing the platform to hold policy discussions in Abuja.
C. On the global stage, Nigeria has made her voice audible in Surabaya and in Quito.
D. On the local, state and national stages, Nigeria has followed commitment with policy and action, and remains committed to doing so.
Therefore, I feel confident to predict a better future and to visualize better quality of Urbanization realities for the Nigerian people when the fruits of these new consciousness, commitments and action come to the season.
I can only imagine how bountiful that harvest will be in terms of the improvements in quality of life.
Thank you for listening.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN
Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing