Topic – W/C 06/03/17


Towards Infrastructure Development in Nigeria – Part 2


Tunde Sodade, PhD

Part 2: How do we determine where we want to go?

In Part 1 of this write up, the point was made that in spite of several iterations of governments, plans and jingles, we really have very little to show as regards infrastructure development or management in Nigeria. We have not moved with the times, we have refused to take advantage of opportunities, to leverage on advantages that are unique to our country such as a largely youthful and intelligent population, strategically located solid minerals natural resources, arable farmlands and occasional windfalls in oil revenue. We have rejected the development of our human capital towards meeting our strategic objectives through doing what needs to be done in favour of giving the benefit of experience and employment to foreigners. Our bone headed determination to always sacrifice ability on the alter of perceived loyalty; in areas of national interest seems to have taken its toll, resulting in today’s apparent daunting prospect of escaping from our thick and tangled web of mediocrity. We have been spinning wheels on one spot for so long that we don’t even remember where we would like to go. So, this instalment will take a look at the question of how to determine where we want to go.

All countries have unique, inimitable and exceptional strengths (and weaknesses) around which their infrastructure ought to be built. Reflecting these to enhance the country’s competitive edge and to mitigate vulnerabilities should be the key focus of infrastructure planning. For example where nature’s gifts (human and natural resources) are abundant, development should be targeted at infrastructure that will support secondary, value-adding industries such that the naturally occurring resources will provide even more employment for CITIZENS of the country and labour costs within the production conversion cycle will be optimised. This means that beyond the basics of transportation, energy and water; infrastructure must be customised to address the peculiarities of population, demography, geography, culture, time and space.

A few years ago, at a meeting with a then serving federal minister, the phrase “like they do in (China, India, England, Malaysia, USA, etc.) … “ was used so often by this man that understanding what the national vision was at the time was impossible. This observation served to teach me that the ability to strategically visualize the future within a realistic context of the current state is probably one of the most important attributes that any political leader or cabinet minister must have. It caused me to reflect more on why our seeming copycat model for developing infrastructure can never work. Whilst not advocating the reinvention of the wheel, we cannot seriously want to do things like they do in different countries (all at the same time) because we are not in the same circumstances of socio-economic or cultural development. This minister missed it big time and although he seemed to come across as knowledgeable and videogenic, his 8 year tenure appears to have ended without much to show.

The vision of our leaders should be clear and well articulated and steered by deeper factors that are particular to us (like the demographic characteristics, trends, cultural tendencies, law enforcement capabilities, etc.). It should be coordinated across government departments such that what Department A does aligns with and supports what Department B does. Infrastructure solutions that do not consider who we are or where we are on the evolutionary scale of socio-economic development as well as where we would like to go realistically will almost certainly fail.

The state of our law enforcement and justice dispensation infrastructure are important too because any leader that does not take these into serious consideration will never achieve his /her goals. Some infrastructure requires the passing of laws (example, toll laws) that the majority must observe to be viable. It is a well-known phenomenon in Nigeria that 70% of power and energy tolls are paid for by 40% of the consumers! How will the energy infrastructure work? Some require that laws prohibiting the continuation of certain practices be enforced. For example, public disposal of waste – if citizens are not aware of or respectful of some of these laws, the waste disposal and management infrastructure will never develop.

Here are examples of how countries leverage their unique characteristics and
circumstances in infrastructure development:

According to Miller (2007), China’s infrastructure development is geared towards regional planning and the efficient transportation of its huge population and goods within the country. This perceptibly, addresses China’s challenge of how best to facilitate the efficient movement of its massive productive workforce to maximize employment and to support their quest for higher efficiencies in energy and resource utilisation. They also have a mission to become the world’s largest and most cost effective manufacturers by the turn of the decade.

Japan’s recent push has been to keep a steady and consistent hand on the wheels that will maintain and heighten their technological leadership globally. They are taking advantage of their pole position in technological infrastructure and their highly educated population to pay more attention on research and development at the extreme edge of inventiveness.

A good example of how Americans have successfully exploited their unique ability for entrepreneurial risk taking and audacious, “think outside the box” tendencies to create a unique connection between their infrastructure development and commerce is through the development of the Silicon Valley concept and cyber technology. Americans have also positioned themselves to benefit most from whatever results from its space exploration programmes for which they have built and are still building unrivalled infrastructure to support.

Because they are a uniquely large country with high labour costs, Americans paid a relatively higher price than other countries for the efficient physical transportation of documents, however their development and application of cyber infrastructure has led to significant reductions in costs associated with such intra-continental logistics including costs associated with delivery lead times. These may on the long run compensate for the challenges in maintaining and protecting their physical transportation and communication infrastructure.

Being a much smaller country, the British have different infrastructure challenges, which are bound to be different from America’s. Their relatively smaller size, political and social circumstances require and allow them to build efficient and cost effective public service transportation systems that the Americans do not require or have. They are regarded as the financial services capital of the world and have over the years developed infrastructure that keeps them highly competitive in this space.

What is noteworthy about these examples is that:

I. The local content of their effort is much more significant than ours.
II. Initiatives are usually pursued in concert with many arms of the government and private institutions.
III. The people and their way of life are major considerations.
IV. Infrastructure development is only worthwhile when the majority of the people can derive some measure of utility value from it.

Clearly, increasing the stock of indigenous participation by considering indigenous ways of life and encouraging local input appears to have benefits in infrastructure development.

The United Kingdom is planning to build the (approximately 120-mile) HS2 high-speed rail and decided that about 2000 indigenous Engineers must be recruited and trained in the UK for this purpose. This is against the backdrop of strong suggestions that because China has had experience building more than 6,000 miles of the same type of system, Chinese Engineers should be considered for the project. Does this resonate with us?! Infrastructure development is a major tool for human capital development and dealing with unemployment.

South Korea focussed on the development of basic infrastructure at the end of the Korean War and has developed in incremental steps of innovation (and replication) since then to move from one of Asia’s poorest countries to the top 20 in the league of national wealth. They took stock of who they are, where they were after the war and used what they had to move on. This is the sensible thing to do. Often, when people attempt a quantum leap (like launching satellites into space when the question of basic infrastructure has not been answered, disaster or collosal waste of money results.

The point here is that infrastructure development in Nigeria ought to be pursued with our God given peculiarities in mind. Trying to be like as many other countries as possible at the same time will lead to chaos, missed opportunities for human capital development and massive capital leakages.

All countries must start from the same basic (subsistence) position of developing their own law enforcement, transportation, communication and energy infrastructure to their own cultural, social and technological needs and standards. It is upon these that all others initiatives required for pursuing unique strategic advantages rest.

As a country, we should unpretentiously accept that our immediate target is the subsistence level of infrastructure development because we are currently beneath this level. With our high level of unemployment, our solutions should include a higher local labour content so that a competent skills base can be developed in our people whilst at the same time, reducing unemployment levels.

For the reason that our law enforcement, transportation, communication and energy infrastructure are still rudimentary, our efforts should be geared towards getting these right first before moving to the next level of even attempting to build a 5 star hotel. We should be able to prioritize our needs sensibly; for example, taking a hard look at the healthcare sector and realizing that because far more forex leakages occur through medical tourism, improving our healthcare infrastructure might well save the country money and souls ; therefore perhaps the heathcare sector should lead the second level development when we get there.

Our infrastructure development effort should be used to open up the agrarian economy and to develop semi-secondary, small-scale industries in remote places. We simply do not need complicated infrastructure at this point of our development and will be better served by staying away from non-essential high tech investments. Sooner than later, entrepreneurs will occupy the spaces of opportunity presented by our natural progression.

The indiscriminate procurement of infrastructure solutions from anyone that seems to have it without adequate consideration of the best fit for the country will ultimately hurt us. “Developing countries need more infrastructure that is environmentally sound, socially acceptable, and financially sustainable” The World Bank Group

Countries in our situation are always vulnerable to unproductive schemes when assets procured are not socially acceptable or don’t quite address their needs. Social acceptability is enhanced when the owners of the assets are given a role in the selection and creation of the assets. The pertinent considerations amongst others are who the primary beneficiaries should be (is it the locals who will use it or foreigners that make money from building it and go?) why the investment is being made, who our national competitors are and what we are competing for. In addition, how the investment will be maintained, sustained and expanded without jeopardising the country’s ultimate self-sufficiency and independence.

This is why it can be said that whether we like it or not, the eventual solution that will sustain our economic growth and national independence will be predominantly Nigerian in content.

The question of where we would like to go with infrastructure development is answered best after a meticulous and shrewd consideration of our unique national attributes, endowments and weaknesses. Also, we should consider not what the rest of the world has done but where the rest of the world is headed in visualizing how we would like to participate in the global socio-economic space.

America’s foreign policy leads them to pay more attention to militarised infrastructure, this contrasts with a country like Norway that has chosen to focus inwards in spite of their vast wealth. What is our outlook?

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