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WHY NIGERIA’S PUBLIC PROJECTS DRAG ON AND ON

FasholaThere were indications late last week that President Muhammadu Buhari would rectify one of the biggest errors of his first term by breaking up the behemoth Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. That gamble unwisely gave one man too much responsibility and power.

 

Hopefully, that beneficiary, former Lagos State governor Babatunde Fashola, will be far more successful in one than he could ever have been as he juggled those three portfolios.

 
In between both cabinets, Mr. Fashola identified funding as the principal culprit in the completion of Nigeria’s strategic road projects.

 

Speaking at the Senate’s “bow and go” rituals, he blamed “limited budget allocations” for the execution of Nigeria’s infrastructure projects dragging on perennially.

 

FASHOLA IS WRONG.

 

Certainly, funding is always a challenge for governments worldwide. It is a test of the size of their ambitiousness, but even more of the quality of their sense of responsibility and commitment.

 
Funding is why governments become creative and why they borrow, and yet sometimes still find themselves staring at considerable budgeting gaps.

 

Nigeria is no different. What is different is that even where there are no funding problems, Nigerian projects drag on from year to year and from budget to budget, as well as within the same government and between governments. Projects are completed when the excuses outrun the years, and embarrassment sets in.

 

In other words, in Nigeria, projects don’t simply drag on in practice, but in principle. And the reason is less funding than commitment.

Nigeria will continue to have this problem until someone comes along who possesses the political will to translate resources into advancement: someone who profoundly and publicly objects to individuals amassing weal that the expense of the state, which then lamely claims there are no funds.

 

Fashola’s All Progressives Congress once asserted that it would be that person, that hurricane. “Corruption is crippling Nigeria,” the party thundered in 2014 in its “Roadmap to a New Nigeria.”

 

“Bribes and shady deals come at the expense of real productivity by businesses and government, and prevent us from investing properly into education, roads and health care – the services people need to live better lives.”

 

It promised, among many others, “A nation where the curse of corruption is no longer tolerated in our political, social and civic affairs…(to) create 20,000 jobs per state immediately for those with a minimum qualification of secondary school leaving certificate and who participate in technology and vocational training…”

 

APC swore to “…show zero tolerance for official and/or private sector corruption; place the burden of proving innocence in corruption cases on persons with inexplicable wealth; pursue legislation expanding forfeiture and seizure of assets laws and procedure with respect to inexplicable wealth, regardless of whether there is a conviction for criminal conduct or not… stop corruption in our elections, in part by making the (INEC) truly independent and free from political interference.”

 

The party said it would:“Provide free quality comprehensive health care based on a national health insurance scheme…stop all travel abroad at government expense for the purpose of medical treatment…provide free tertiary education to students pursuing Science and Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).”

 

And blaming corruption and mismanagement, it affirmed that a Nigerian economy required “a modern-day infrastructure that includes affordable and reliable power, quality roads and improved transportation.”

 

But APC has been all thunder and lightning. In five years, it has achieved no more than to remind the world that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And now, to compare the dynamism of the 2014 “Roadmap” with the lameness and tameness of the party’s 2019 “Next Level” Road Map is to see why APC governance, including its pursuit of infrastructure, is a mirage.

 

Mercifully, the party admits that even under its control, “corruption (remains) an existential threat to Nigeria.”

 

What that really means, but which the ruling party will not admit, is that nothing has changed in real terms, particularly in terms of public officials bleeding the public. It has no courage, no character, no good will and no political will.

 

And so, the reason why public projects drag on forever is that they are far more contracts than they are projects, which means there is no shortage of vultures seeking to mint them for private gain.

 

Nigerian infrastructure projects drag on interminably because federal officials lack commitment. Elsewhere, a budget means that based on projected revenue, funds will be provided for the specified projects, and they are so provided.

 

In Nigeria, a budgeted expenditure means that funds have been approved for that project…subject to the agreement of layers of interests. That is why, in addition to an approved budget, Nigerian governance and culture have such extra turnstiles, tollgates and checkpoints as “approval,” and “release.”

 

That is: a budget provision does not mean the project has been approved, nor does being approved mean that funds are available, even where a foreign loan has been obtained, or repatriated Abacha funds set aside. Each is at once a process and a minefield…and a buffet, just as it was under the PDP.

 

In most of the world, a contractor does not receive a contract without a deadline. That deadline appears not only in the official documents, but in large public billboards at the site announcing the essential details.

 

In Nigerian practice, on the contrary, project deadlines are an inconvenience, so they are deliberately obscured and ignored. That cleverly sets the stage for a 12-month contract to drag on for years on the back of a conveyor-belt of contractors, a muddle of ministers, rounds of revisions and dizzying circles of parallel contracting.

 

Take a federal road—any federal road—and examine its history through the years. Look at the history of our rail projects: it took over a decade to build what would then become the Phase One of the Abuja rail, and then remember the Lagos-Calabar coastal rail. When that was signed in 2014, it was due for delivery in 2018, but where is it now? Consider the torturous history of the Second Niger Bridge.

 

And consider that no Nigerian government commits to project management. If a project happens to be completed, any funds for managing it becomes “kill and divide.” Presidents have no difficulty commissioning half-finished projects. Governors may budget for a project, but then conveniently forget it. And because it is beneath a Minister to use the same toilet as the clerk, those facilities are then due for a new contract award!

 

The truth is that for Nigeria, it is not as much about availability of funds as it is about what we do with our funds. What other country would spend $1.7 billion constructing the Abuja Outer Southern and Northern (Airport-Kubwa) Expressway for instance, and accept that murderous open drainage in the middle of it?

 

And in what other country would successive leaders and ministers, screaming “Next Level,” ignore such an abomination every day?

 

Why does the federal cabinet meet to award contracts weekly, but never meet to review completed projects?

 

Lack of commitment: that is why “ongoing” best describes a Nigerian government project. Always ongoing because those who swear to serve, do not.

 

 

By Sonala Olumhense

 
Published By Dominic C. Odoh

 
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