BY PETER AGBA KALU
Nze Akachukwu Sullivan Nwankpo is the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Technical Matters and also Member/Secretary, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P) Committee. He is the immediate past Senior Special Assistant (Special Projects) to the President (2010 – 2011). He was the Secretary, Presidential Action Committee on Power that developed the Presidential Action Plan on Power. He subsequently became the Secretary of the Presidential Task Force on Power that developed the Roadmap on Power Sector Reform (2010 – 2011).
As an aide to the Vice President (2007 – 2010), he was a Senior Special Assistant (Special Duties) responsible for the Niger Delta issues where he led the effort to develop the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme. Subsequently, he became the Desk Officer on Nigeria Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) where he supported the Vice President in his efforts to resuscitate the NIPP projects after a two-year interruption.
He talked with Saturday Sun.
Mr. President promised that he was going to reinvest the subsidy funds in the provision of multiple amenities, to alleviate the peoples’ sufferings, so far what has the SUREP project achieved towards this end?
Well, the first and most important thing is that we have established a programme. We have set up a programme. The committee members are in place, the workforce is in place. The next one is that we are taking over all the infrastructure programme that the president wants us to pursue.
The first one is in the area of road. There are six federal roads that have been going on for years, and the president wants them completed. We have the Sagamu-Benin road, the Onitsha – Enugu, the Enugu – Port Harcourt road; we have the East-West road, we have the Kano-Maidugiri Road and we have the Lokoja-Abuja Road. We also have the bridges.
These are ongoing projects, we have done the testing. We have found out why the roads are being delayed; we have found out that contractors are being owed for work done. So, we have reviewed the works that have been done and we have paid these contractors their outstanding fees, and we have asked them to be mobilized to site. We have also set up a process of making sure the contractors put in maximum capacity. Once we have verified those jobs and ascertained they have been done, we pay their invoices within three weeks of confirmation. And that is the process we have put in place with regards to roads.
With regards to railways, another infrastructure area, we have gone into the Railway Corporation to find out why the trains have been grounded. We have put in a process to make sure that the trains are back, we have made progress working with the Nigerian Railway Corporation in the Western Axis. The lines have been laid back. We are taking care of the collapses occasioned by the recent flooding and all that. Once we finish with that, you will see that trains will take off from Kano and head on to Lagos. That process is on track. Then we have the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri Line, which is the Eastern line. We are also working on the link between the Eastern and the Western line that connects Lagos to Port Harcourt, Enugu etc, so that we have complete route. We are working on all that and pushing the contractors for more progress, hoping that the trains will start moving again. And that has been our strategy towards the railway, in making sure that cargo returns to the railway, because most cargoes in Nigeria these days are transported by road, and that’s what damages our roads. We are returning cargo to the rail, and when cargo returns to the rail, it will generate faster revenue that will be used to modernize our rail line. That’s a big strategy we have adopted. We are pursuing that tenaciously.
Then on road maintenance, we are working with FERMA (Federal Road Maintenance Agency) to bring back the public work programme, but the only thing is that we are going to automate it. When it is automated, we have automatic road patchers. Right now, we have a programme of bringing in 80 of those machines, and this is being done in an effort to wipe out potholes on our roads. It is a zero–pothole programme, which we are pursing with FERMA and the equipment are coming in. We are waiting for the rains to recede.
Along that same line, we have gone into vocational education as part of the things we are doing. But the vocational education lies in the value-chain we are working on like roads, so we are building vocational education around roads we are working on. So, as we are building up road maintenance, we are building up the people to sustain it. We are really equipping and restoring the six zonal workshops of the Federal Ministry of Works. Those ideas that have been abandoned before, we are retrieving them now and bringing them back as people, about 5,500 are to be trained for the purpose of giving proper road maintenance, and all that. And people were wondering who will support the rail lines when they come back. So, we are working on that too, to get such activities in such a way that they would come to a point where we can self-sustain the system when they are back.
On maternal and health care, we are also looking at mother and child mortality to see where we can come in or intervenes. And right now, we have taken over 500 facilities – Primary Health Care Centres across the country to refurbish and maintain. We are preparing midwives in all those centres across the federation. The strategy is to have four health centres attached to a general hospital as a referral centre so that a general hospital will have a very big referral zone and then attach four health centres to it. Now a referral centre is where you can handle complications. So, it is projected that about 15 per cent of pregnant women have complications and those complications can cause death of the mother or child. If you don’t have effective referral centres, you can’t deal with these problems. We are taking over about one hundred and twenty – something health centres to grow to five hundred. And we will replicate them like that until we get about one thousand, five hundred health centres across the country. Midwives are being trained and redeployed across the country. The ones that are already trained and competent and redeployed are properly paid by the agency.
One of the challenges we are facing is how to get enough resource personnel- midwives and then an ambulance system to get people from point to point. We are also working on that. I have told you about the training. The training is divided into three phases. The first phase is a short-term employment in which we call it public works employment, in which some people come in for a short-term job. We now educate them for a more lasting employment. That one was inaugurated two days ago, where we also inaugurated the State Implementation Committees for youths, women empowerment and community development sponsored by the Ministry of Finance. We are targeting about 320,000 youths. We also have graduate internship of about 50,000 who will be engaged by the private sector and we pay the graduates for a period of one year. At the end of the day, if the company finds them useful, they should employ them. If the company employs them, they get a tax rebate as an incentive to motivate the company.
That programme is on to drive up employment. The second layer of this employment is the growth area. We are opening up growth areas of our economy. For instance, take the use of coal. For domestic use, there is a technology that uses limestone with crushed coal in a special stove, which gives you a cleaner energy.
The subsidy fund this year is about N180b, is it going to be enough to undertake all these projects?
No, no. We have investors who want to come in. We are going to partner with them. We will provide the fund to kick-start the initiative. But the investors are going to take over; there are areas that are attractive, there are areas these investors can work in. We are not going to give them any money. It’s like recycling. If you put in money, people take over. You recover the money and go into another investment. It’s money you are recycling. You don’t need to spend all that money in all the projects. You just have to use it to kick-start.
Do states submit the SURE-P projects plans before funds are disbursed to them?
Well, we don’t manage states’ funds. States are independent. In the issue of finance, states are independent. If someone is the minister of finance, he works out their money and sends to them, so, we don’t get involved in that. What we use is the money allocated to us by the Federal Government.
We have this issue of the federal allocation and some of the states not managing it well. And you know what President Jonathan went through to push this extra funding we are talking about, and some of these states actually kicked against it, even though they are gaining from it now. So, should we just throw the money to them for them to mismanage?
Well, it’s for you journalists to go and find out what they are doing to raise the public tempo on it. Just as you are querying us now, you can go and query them, to find out what they are using the money for. Journalists should follow through with that and find out what they are doing with the money.
I guess some of them are planning. I guess some of them are working on it. I don’t know if anybody will be willing to waste that money, after seeing those riots. I guess the state governors are working on something.
One of the vital issues Nigerians would like to know is if this subsidy reinvestment and empowerment programme fund is being reinvested into infrastructure, one hundred per cent or is there any part of it going into recurrent spending?
No, no. There is nothing recurrent. Our budget is different. We are augmenting infrastructure. The issue of employment, regulating and all those things are under the federal budget. N1billion was actually allocated to running the programme, while N89b is infrastructures like roads etc…
President Jonathan, in his wisdom, appointed Christopher Kolade, Peter Esele, Sam Ohuabunwa, Audu, Maikori, among other respected Nigerians, into the SURE-P implementation programme. How has it been, working with these highly respected individuals?
Yeah, they are a pool of wise men. They have proved themselves in a very good way. The chairman has divided the committee into sub-committees to take care of specific areas. What is most important is that SURE-P is not going to function like PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund). What we do is to work with ministries, units and departments, in such a way that we have what we call the budget implementation unit (BIU). The BIU is the unit that gives the contracts. We supervise them. We can hire and fire any member. But they are sitting there in the ministries; they are members of the ministries, and they follow the protocol of the ministries. And the idea is to improve the ministry. The president is convinced that until we improve our public sector, we cannot win. We cannot contract out government and if you cannot contract out government, why don’t you allow that government work? So, we brought these highly skilled and respected individuals for them to come with the performance they have achieved in the other sectors through to SURE-P to improve performance in the ministries. They have been working with contractors and other stakeholders in order to push up performance in the ministries. It’s a great thing to have brought these wise men from different parts of the country— twenty- something of them. And they are all there with their great experiences. You have Chike, who is taking care of the physically challenged. But he is a very bright guy. You have Kasim, who is the head of trailer/truck owners union. And you have many of them. And they are men of proven integrity. And you have Major-General Kotangora, who is a great builder. He is there with his fantastic experience. So, we have quite an array of great people who are there, with great experience, age, wisdom, caution. And they bring all that together. It has been an incredible experience to work with these people the president has selected.
When the first 1100 SURE-P buses arrived, Mr. President thundered, “With a robust mass transit culture, the cost of transportation will be reduced.” He went ahead to pledge the investment of the three-tiers of government in the transport scheme, with the support of transport unions and commercial banks. What is the update of that promise so far?
OK. What is there is that the president did not provide the buses, but provided the money to buy the buses and provided an investment entity to manage the buses. He provided money and that entity is in total control. So, they provide due diligence in the procurement and management of the buses. So, whatever is the outcome of the bus process, it is a recycling fund that the president provides the funding. It’s important that you understand that.
So, what is going on with the buses?
There are some of the buses that are not up to standard and they are not performing well. Then in our SURE-P scheme, we asked them to improve the quality of what they are bringing in. It’s ongoing. But as the president said, mass transit is not the business of the Federal Government but the business of the state government. So, at the federal level, the government has put together a committee that takes care of standard, regulation and provided the funding, so that the state governments can then create the mass transit processes, within their states, while the Federal Government supports with funding. So, now the funding is being provided. The private operators are getting it, the regulations are being developed. The kind of steadfastness that will deliver the needed commitment will take some time to come. So, if all the processes that will get that commitment to a certain point are put in place, then you pick a committee to attend to that. There are some experts who are working with the minister of transport, minister of trade and investment and the various state governors.
One of the SURE-P visions also was to obtain 50 per cent of its buses locally, by engaging local manufacturers, like Innoson Vehicles, ANAMCO, etc as major contributors to the scheme- a vision I must commend. But Nigerians wish to know the extent this vision has been accomplished.
I think some of the initial buses brought in by these operators were got from Innoson and some other companies you have just mentioned. Now what is important is that the operators and the manufacturers must work together. So, the initial challenges of some of the buses show that because of the rush to get these buses, we didn’t follow all the processes required to show that the buses meet the specifications of the operators. That first one is a lesson and they have gone in now to make sure those corrections are made. By the time the second lap comes in, it will show that the operators are in harmony with the local manufacturers, and government funds will be adequately deployed. So, it is a genuine thing. The first one was done in a hurry, because Nigerians were pressuring the president to put in place some palliatives. He had to do what he did in a hurry. That has been done.
The mistakes are to be corrected now. SUR-EP has paid already about N8. something billion already, for them to hold and sit with the operators and plan out the operations. Now, the details of how that can work out will involve setting up the mass transit lanes. So, all the states have to create that. Then they would have to mark out where the mass transit buses will go. Then when buses come from outside the state, where will they discharge passengers? What will make train lines go through so that when you are stopping that bus, they will have a relationship with where the train will stop and then passengers will come and board. All that planning takes some time. We should have a national grid, where one can say- a train will take off from Kano and stop somewhere in Enugu. And as you come out of the train, you enter a mass transit bus, so, all that planning, all those connections, in order to achieve the standard we want to achieve, take a lot of work.
Do you know that if you have achieved even half of these things you have mentioned so far, even if you increase the price of fuel to N200, Nigerians will gladly buy it?
Yeah, the president knows that Nigerians are great people who respond to good governance. The president knows that. He knows Nigerians, he understands that they are quite unhappy because of the bad experiences they have gone through some years back. So, he understands them. He is focused in making sure that he delivers to the Nigerian population in a more effective way. So, I agree with you. But I can assure you that president Jonathan will achieve, because that’s the only thing that drives him. That’s the only thing that keeps him awake. He is achieving that across the board. Can you ever imagine what is happening in NNPC? To probe all that and bring all these issues that have been going on for years and nobody ever asked any question. All the rots coming out from NNPC were not done within the past one year. Some of these rots have been there for more than 20 years.
Are there measures put in place so that there will not be duplication of projects among the federal, state and other governmental agencies like NDDC etc, with the SURE-P?
I can assure you that with SURE-P, there is no duplication. What you have is augmentation. We support, and we do it thoroughly. And there is this big talk about SURE-P not spending its money. And someone asked why SURE-P should not spend money. SURE-P is not set up to spend money. SURE-P is set up to deliver service, so we use the money to pay for services that we want. If you haven’t built a road, you cannot pay for it. So, we have money, we have contractors, and we are not owing them. Any contractor that is doing SURE-P project is not being owed. When the contractor has done the work and we look at it and it is done, we pay. We are not a spending agency. We are a delivery agency.
The actual project funding for the ministry of works is supposed to be ploughed towards the Enugu-Onitsha, Lokoja-Abuja roads, etc for instance. Where are these funds being channelled now that SURE-P is taking care of these roads?
Yeah. There is something I want you to do. Go and pick a project, and see how much is actually in that project. How much is required to complete the road, for instance. The gap between what is required and what is budgeted, is what SURE-P is trying to close. For instance, the Lokoja-Abuja road is supposed to have been finished five years ago. But why has it not been completed? Because the budgeting has been very erratic. For something that requires N15 billion to do, they gave you N2 billion. There is nothing the contractor can do other than doing the N2 billion job. The man is working up and down to be paid. But in our case, we go ahead and say, oh, you have done a N2 billion job, we go ahead and pay you and appeal to you to come out and continue with the job. So, we look through that segment and say: ministry of works, take your money and pay for this segment of the road while SURE-P money will do from that point to that point. So, we segmented it on the ground, even though, we are working on the same road. With this method, the contractor will say, with the amount budgeted by the ministry of works, “I’m going to do 50klm; with the SURE-P money, I’m going to do 150klm. So, that’s the approach we are using.
Among the promises the SURE-P made is the 2nd Niger Bridge. Permit me to address you by name: Nze Akachukwu Sullivan Nwankpo are you standing on your honour and the honour of your father’s name to promise that you people are going to deliver the 2nd Niger Bridge…?
(cuts in) The 2nd Niger Bridge is already on course. The first thing in delivering the 2nd Niger Bridge is to have a transaction adviser. We need a consultant that looks at the entire process of delivering the bridge. We are going to use the public partnership approach, which is what is needed to design that bridge. Now a transaction adviser has been appointed. The ministry has done that. Now we still have N5 billion in SURE-P. When the process is fully commenced, the companies that are involved in building the bridge will be selected. Then the Federal Government is supposed to pay a counterpart fund, because there are other investors who are coming to do the bridge. There is a portion of the money the Federal Government is supposed to pay. That N5 billion is part of it, so we are keeping it with the CBN. The transaction advisor has been appointed. He will go through and select all the companies who are bidding, to build the bridge. Once that is concluded, we pay the N5 billion and then the investors will bring in their own money to start work. That one, I can assure you is on course. The advisor we have been waiting for, has come.
Is there going to be bye-pass cutting off Onitsha?
I don’t know about that. I’m just watching, the 2nd Niger Bridge the details of which area it will pass is with the ministry of works.
The SURE-P buses are supposed to be palliative measures, but some people are complaining that they are being forced to pay more than they would pay for private public transport, because the buses were given to accredited transporters at a very exorbitant price, with a short repayment plan?
I think I can tell you that the information is false. We are not aware of that. I’m aware that the buses are given out at zero interest.
Yes, zero interest. So, I don’t know where the exorbitant issue is coming from. Now, there is a bank managing the fund. There is the infrastructure bank or what, which manages the fund at zero interest. I still don’t understand these entities that are doing mass transit. I don’t think that any businessman will go and collect a bus at a price after hearing that the president announced a zero interest here, and will still go and do exorbitant price. Any businessman that does that should examine himself. If they do that, that’s something wrong. I would like you to point that out, send it to us and we are going to act upon that. That’s why we are here.
Are you sure, there are no middlemen that can make the price exorbitant?
No, I can’t be checkmating the information I have. The issue is that the base line of this information is faulty. The problem is that Nigerians have suffered so much bad faith from people who made them to be in this nightmare. What we are hoping to promote in SURE-P is the people’s evaluation of what we are doing. I will rather you go and interview the people on the streets. Either you go and search in a bus, and your camera man will take photographs of the bus, the driver the conductor and everything, get the name of the driver and the conductor and their route. You report that along this route, a certain bus with so, so number, driven by so, so driver and conducted by so so person charged so so amount which is exorbitant to passengers. That’s concrete. That’s the kind of thing we want.
You have given me a challenge?
Yes, take the challenge
What structures are in place to ensure adequate oversight function, accountability and effective implementation of decision in SURE-P projects?
The first and most important thing is that our money is still there. There is no moving with it. The second one is that we do not accept a project until a plenary committee of 20 people will agree that that project is worth it. And so all the questions are put together and then we can get that project supported by technical experts. Not just the moral experience. So, we have a technical team highly supported by well experienced experts. You know that Nigeria has a collaboration with the British government and USAID, who have given us technical experts, who are working with us. And so those guys go out and take technical evaluation of the projects and come back. They will sit back with the contractor and do quality evaluation. And so our quality of work is high. When the project is approved, the contractor will go and execute it. When he finishes, our team, people like Ohuabunwa and all those prominent committee members will go out and look at it with the technical experts. So, we have monitoring, evaluation, revalidation and all that before we make payment.