By Victor Emeruwa
Nigerian politicians always have ready-made answers to the question of poor infrastructure: ‘no money’, ‘we need more money’. Those cliches indicate an end of discussion which forecloses any need for further interrogation on the matter.
Public works is a big deal, at least in Abuja; the capital of Africa’s largest economy. The city is undergoing massive; albeit sluggish makeover. Construction giants scramble for the big contracts, while small; mostly indigenous companies are hired to fix the inner; less complex roads.
The bulk of Nigeria’s paltry ($25Billion) annual budget is found in infrastructure projects however huge bureaucracy is locked in it.
From project conception to execution, the process is clumsy and corrupt with under-table demands that knocks off potential start up contractors, which is why only the multinationals and companies with political connections get the construction jobs.
“Tough rules and routine is the very reasons for lack of transparency and corruption in the public procurement process,” said Oluseun Onigbinde, a public data analyst and Chief Executive Office of BudgIT. Onigbinde’s Traka project is a bank of poorly executed projects, outrightly abandoned projects and never existing projects padded into the budget.
The lack of agile and open public procurement reform, account for non-execution of about 11,886 federal projects, (in 40years) according to Africa Diaspora Research. The report claims Nigeria has spent $5billion on Ajaokuta Steel Company that should have cost $650milion. The project was touted to herald Nigeria’s industrial revolution but has become a white elephant project.
Just last year the Nigerian Senate approved a bill to fund the completion of Ajaokuta steel with additional $1billion to be drawn from the bleeding Excess Crude Account, without calling for probe of more than $5billion already spent on the project. “We will never get it right if we continue to throw public funds at projects without calling for accountability” said Bongo Adi, a Lagos Business School, professor of Economics.
The length of project completion time is a drawback on quality, some projects that should take about six months to complete is stretched into seven to 10years. Professor Adi thinks the government is dodgy about engaging public–private partnership option because of the unwillingness to be transparent.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is considered as the cerebral brain box of the government. He, too has made public claims of how massively his government is spending on infrastructure, he insists that the present government has poured in more funds into projects than the last 16 years of the opposition People’s Democratic Party.
According to Osinbajo, more than 900Billion Naira (approximately $2.5Billion) have gone into improving electricity; though the details of the spending is sketchy. Does it include personnel cost, contracts or procurement? It’s not clear how the money was spent but electricity has remained in the fluctuating range of 3,000 to 5,000 megawatts and more Nigerians have had to rely on their petrol powered generators than ever.
So, far 12Trillion Naira (approximately $33.2Billion) has been borrowed in four years for infrastructure, doubling the pre-2015 external debt profile of 12Trillion Naira. There is no published document to itemise the specific projects covered under the borrowing.
For a population of about 200Million people caught in extreme poverty, President Muhammadu Buhari was expected to hit the track with speed after been declared winner of a hard- fought controversial second term in office.
Mr. Buhari has been criticized for his penchant for slowing government business by his lackluster style and demand for patience and more patience to enable him perform. Nigeria requires no patience to get the 20.9Million jobless population back to work.
The sign posts on construction sites are beaten by the wind, dusty and rusty from prolonged projects. It has remained so as drop of public meager funds are lost in bureaucracy, mismanagement and mindless corruption.