To the National Executive Council of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers Branch of NUPENG, I say thank you for inviting me to deliver this keynote address at your 4th Quadrennial Delegates Conference.
I also wish to thank you for attending in large numbers, the one-day stakeholders meeting my Ministry convened in Abuja recently, to discuss our policies about how to make your work easier and your businesses more efficient, through the management of the Federal Highway Right of Way and the enforcement of axle load regulations.
As I said to you at the conference, while those who cheat by overloading axles may make quick gains, in the long run, it is everybody that loses when the roads fail.
This is the background of our previous relationship and interactions from which I intend to discuss the subject of the keynote address, which is: ‘Road Infrastructure in Nigeria: Impact on Petroleum Product Distribution’.
I think the proper place to start is the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan launched by President Muhammadu Buhari, in which he identified Energy Sufficiency and Infrastructure Development as critical action points.
These action points are not accidental; on the contrary, they reveal a clear thinking and understanding of what must be done to rebuild our economy and underline the interconnectivity between availability of quality infrastructure and the delivery of energy from petroleum products to drive our economy.
But it is one thing to have a plan, and yet another thing to commit to a faithful implementation of that plan.
If you think this is not important, let me remind you that in 2015, only N18 Billion was budgeted for all Nigerian roads in the Ministry of Works. Only N9 Billion was funded at the time, when Nigeria’s oil was selling at close to $100 per barrel.
This was at the time of the Transformation Agenda, when commitment fell significantly behind stated objectives.
What has changed under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) is that the Buhari Government has committed close to N300 Billion to roads, and funded about N260 Billion at a time when oil prices are manifestly below the 2015 figures.
So, if people ask you what change means, please tell them it means doing more with less.
What are the results of this change?
The results mean reduced journey times on the sections of roads where work has now resumed.
Those of you who ply Ilorin-Jebba will now admit that from spending 7 (seven) days on that road, you now spend less time while works are rapidly progressing, not only on the road but also in the Emergency Repairs on the Tatabu Bridge, which suddenly collapsed as a result of massive rainfall, flooding, and lack of maintenance.
Those of you who ply the Suleja-Minna Highway where there are strategic NNPC Depots at Minna and the PPMC Depot at Diko, will now acknowledge that the contractor is back to work.
I must, of course, acknowledge the support we have received from the Niger State Government, and the impact of the Sukuk, an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Finance, wholesomely supported by Mr. President.
Those of you who take products from the NNPC Depot at Gusau will acknowledge that our contractor is now back to work after years of absence due to lack of payment for work done on the Zaria-Gusau-Sokoto Road.
Those of you who use the NNPC Depot in Ibadan will also now acknowledge that our contractor is back to work on the Ibadan-Abeokuta Highway.
And work has been completed on the Enugu-Abakaliki and Kaduna-Jos Roads to provide access to the NNPC depots at Enugu and Yola.
So, if they ask you what change means to tanker drivers, please tell them that it means the revival of construction works and the return of contractors to access roads to petroleum depots, from which you do business and support your families.
Tell them that your journey times on these roads is gradually improving and the presence of contractors at the work site gives you hope that it will get better.
Ladies and gentlemen, I know that they will ask more of you as they seek to enlist your support.
When they do, please tell them that you are right thinking and well meaning Nigerians who also see a commitment to support pubic transport with Rail.
Tell them that you see change in the work that the Ministry of Transportation is undertaking on the Lagos-Ibadan-Kano Rail.
Tell them that after many years of broken promises, the Buhari Government has acted by starting the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan section of the project which will link to the Apapa Port.
Tell them that change means the employment of about 7,000 Nigerians now working on that section of the project, and that you now believe that those who started it are better positioned to complete it.
Tell them that you see change because there is a clear difference between unfulfilled promises of yesterday and a commitment that is backed by visible action today.
Tell them that while you did not believe what you heard in the past, you cannot disbelieve what you can now see.
If there is anyone of you who still doubts the importance of Road Infrastructure to Energy Security and its impact on Petroleum Products Distribution, I believe the list of some of these critical Roads where work is going on, and recent announcements of additional works on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway must erase the doubt.
Although this is a summary from a very long list of critical roads that support Petroleum distribution, I cannot fail to mention the recent award of the Ikorodu-Shagamu Road that services Mosimi Depot, where work will soon commence.
Similarly, our Ministry is working to finalise the procurement and award of the Apapa, Tin Can, Mile 2, Oshodi to Oworonshoki Highway.
But the impact of Road infrastructure to your business does not start and end with access to good roads and improved journey times.
The commitment to infrastructure development and renewal by President Buhari also means more demand and supply of petroleum products which means more trips for tanker drivers and more income.
I just returned from road project inspection in Kebbi and Jigawa States last night where our contractors informed me that Bitumen producers and suppliers are now struggling to cope with demand.
These are clear signs of a business boom and employment not only for transporters of the products like your members, but also for the manufacturers.
I must now conclude by stating that the Buhari Government understands your contribution to the National Economy and is acting to improve the ease with which you do business.
While the results are beginning to manifest, the type of harvest you will reap depends on the choices you will make in the near future.
Think well, and choose wisely.
Thank you for inviting me and for listening.
I wish you fruitful deliberation at this 4th Quadrennial Delegates Conference and a very successful election.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN
Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing