Policy Briefs

Whither Nigeria’s Infrastructural Development?

By Oseloka H. Obaze ~~~~

My evaluation of infrastructural development in Nigeria as a social scientist, inevitably is from a philosophical perspective, using John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, wherein he defined political power. Variables or parameters from that definition include four key phrases namely, right of making laws; regulating and preserving of property; employing the force of the community; and public good.  To these, one may add two other variables critical to good governance; vision and commitment.

As experts tell us, “Infrastructure is basic essential services that should be put in place to enable development to occur”; and “Economic development of Nigeria can be facilitated and accelerated by the presence of infrastructure.” As experts also contend, “Infrastructure contribute to raising the quality of life by creating amenities, providing consumption goods (transport, energy and communication services and contributing to macroeconomic stability.” Apropos Nigeria, we are informed that “Under investment in infrastructural development could be a bane to her vision of becoming a top 20 economy by the year 2020.” The reality is that infrastructure or lack thereof, will continue to impact on Nigeria economically and socially. For now, remain aware that Nigeria has experienced arrested development due to infrastructural deficits.

Aside from Nigeria’s poor maintenance culture, the challenge confronting our infrastructure is threefold: open sewers, a stinking environment resulting from open defecation due to a dearth of public conveniences and negligence of the rights of the handicapped. Nigeria stinks, even as we are informed that “Eliminating open defecation is the main aim of improving access to sanitation worldwide and is a proposed indicator for sustainable development goals. Presently, with 39 million, Nigeria ranks fourth behind India (190 million); Indonesia (54 million), and Pakistan (41 million) in the highest number of people defecating in the open.  It’s hardly incidental that our sewer system today serve primarily as waste disposal receptacles; and.  We build gutters to nowhere, thus allowing the existence of drainage causeways that pose danger to human security.

Whereas expert opinion informs that “Public buildings should be accessible and barrier free to able and disabled people, as a nation we rank very low in providing access to public and private buildings, despite handicapped persons comprising 18% of our national population.   Studies conducted over the past decade, confirm that out of 164 public building only 40 had access ramps, and at the entrances, “only 45 buildings (18%) had ramps and steps for access to able and disabled people.  The remaining 82% are with only steps to cater for able and disabled people.” The contention is that severe “challenges include the horrors of architectural buildings, which have discouraged many challenged persons from having education.”

The flood of 2012 wreaked havoc on businesses in the Onitsha Industrial Layout. Anambra State incurred damages estimated at N26 billion, “with the industrialists being the worst hit.” Anambra State Government under Gov. Peter Obi supported the industrialists with remedial embankment and cleanup costs of N100 million. Since then, no discernible flood embankment infrastructure has been installed to stop a reoccurrence of flooding damages. Remarkably, flood embankment at the Onitsha Main Market built by the colonial masters in the 1950s, sufficiently prevented the 2012 rising flood from surging into the market.

Regardless of what we do as a nation; or coveting the inspiration and visions that transformed Singapore and Dubai, if we lack leaders with vision and commitment, we remain at risk of underperforming and underdevelopment. Thus, we can’t speak of infrastructural development without grasping the sectoral priorities and niches, affordability and areas of comparative advantage. We must define our focus sectors, where we can exact “high impact value”.

We must seek requisite synergy and complementarity between the government and the organized private sector, and indeed, with private entrepreneurs aimed at collaborating purposefully, while sharing the responsibility for building our national infrastructure.

It is a fallacy to expect government alone to build the national infrastructure.  Government’s role remains that of regulator and partner in operating the Nigerian economy, and creating the enabling environment. But consortiums and private investors also do have a vital role to play; which is to say that there exist crosscutting niche sectors where government, consortiums and individuals can collaborate in Public Private Partnership.

Of about fifteen core infrastructural areas, only one — the creating of free trade zones and industrial parks — could be said to be the exclusive preserve of government, since it entails legislation. The outer core infrastructure sectors —  communication, rail, gas pipelines, sewage and waste management, gas storage and processing, mining and basic material, ports, waters resources and oil refining – are multidisciplinary areas where governments, consortiums and private entrepreneurs can partner.  In our deregulated power and communication sectors, our power generating companies (GENCOS) and the distribution companies (DISCOS) are still struggling; and we are yet to fully catalyze the “use of ICTs for different aspects of national development”.

Today, the best railway system in the world, the Japan Railway Group (JR Group) is not run by government. The majority of the companies that form the JR Group are privatized.  Why is this relevant? We cannot develop our infrastructure fully, if we continue running them as social welfare entities.  We cannot advance our national infrastructure, if the motive behind the privatization is to enrich individuals, who masquerade as investors, but lack the capacity and will to grow and sustain the infrastructure. On record “only 10 out of the 400 companies privatized so far were assessed to be on relative sound footing.” Moreover, unending bottlenecks stymie infrastructure, which is a key driver in economic growth.  We have not only encountered these bottlenecks in Nigeria, but we certainly contend daily with exchange rate volatility and energy cost and irregularity of electricity supply. So whither Nigeria’s infrastructural development?

Certain commitments are called for; we must commit to making and enforcing pertinent laws.  Nothing can be achieved, if the right laws are not in place and if laws in place are not respected and rigidly enforced. Government as well as but professional bodies like Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) have a role to play in upholding extant laws.  We must properly regulate and preserve property.  Why build new infrastructure, when we can’t maintain, regulate and preserve existing ones? Barring an earthquake, a newly constructed road collapsing within the first five years of its completion, underlines structural failure and inherent defects.

We must employ the force of the community to support the building of infrastructure for common good. This year alone in the 2016 budget, we devoted N1.8 trillion (30% of the total budget) to capital expenditure.  For 2017, we envisage N1.7 trillion going to capital development and infrastructure.  These are huge sums, yet critical infrastructure such as the Second Niger Bridge remains on the drawing board.   As I’ve said elsewhere, “the non completion of the bridge many years after its conception had become for many, a fitting metaphor for the federal government’s dysfunctionality in implementing strategic national projects.”

We must build for public good. A well-built, road, bridge, building or park, is of benefit to all users.  Its aesthetic functions and beauty will generally be appreciated. Yet we confront a situation where our existing national infrastructure remains in utter disrepair due to poor maintenance culture and a broken maintenance system.  Some 56 years after independence our railway system which commenced in 1896, is still operated on the standard gauge, with major cities like Ibadan, Benin-City, Onitsha, Ilorin, Owerri and Calabar still unconnected to the railways network and with no rail links with our neighbours.  Only three light rail systems – the Abuja Light Rail, the Rivers State Monorail and the Lagos Rail Mass transit – are under construction nationally, thus leaving a big city like Onitsha without any form of rail transport infrastructure, despite its heavy commercial value.

The proposed setting up of the Infrastructural Development Fund valued at US25 billion, “contained in the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), is salutary. Still state governments must devise strategic methods for funding infrastructural development, beyond the funding they get from Federal Allocations. We must have clear vision of needs and projects; we must seek and trust expert opinion. We must think of demographics when conceptualizing our infrastructure.  We must project in our planning to cater for growth and expansion. We must have adequate funding for building and maintenance. We must employ result-based budgeting. Our present envelope-style budgeting format creates obvious dissonance and loopholes as a result; Nigeria is today the graveyard for abandoned and uncompleted infrastructure. It’s best to commence one project, complete it satisfactorily before starting another.

It’s good for our leaders to experience and enjoy intimidating infrastructures in Dubai. However, dreams of replicating such infrastructure here won’t materialize without the foresight and commitment. Professional bodies like Nigerian Institute of Architects must continue to add value to our development strides, the prevailing challenges notwithstanding.


Obaze is MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult Ltd. This piece is adapted from his recent address to the Nigerian institute of Architects Conference, in Awka.


Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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