An article published in a national daily on March 29, 2012 concerning the unveiling of the new identity and logo of Urban Development Bank plc (renamed Infrastructure Bank plc) once more reiterated Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit. It further heightened my unceasing concern about the decrepit infrastructure and the high rate of unemployment nationwide.
Despite Nigeria’s vast natural and human resources, there is still very little progress on the development scene. The referenced article indicated that Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit requires an annual investment of approximately $20 billion over the next decade.
Nigeria was predicted by various analysts, more than three decades ago, to be at par with most of the BRIC nations today in terms of development, but we’re still far behind largely due to some negative elements inexplicably wired beneath our perceptive. Most problems in an organisation can be attributed to a system which promotes the inexplicable perceptive, not people. Changing the system will change what people do, but changing what people do will not change the system (W. E. Deming, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education). Thus, we need to adjust our policies to amplify Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). We need to be very pragmatic and sincere with our planning.
Today’s reality for Nigeria is a fortified adoption of Public Private Partnerships (PPP), Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools, and accelerated human capital development to leapfrog for advancement without predisposition. Government is the biggest employer of labour in the country and the burden on recurrent expenditure is becoming too worrisome; so it is essential for the federal government to urgently re-organise some agencies such as Nigeria Postal Service (NIPOST), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), National Sports Commission, and Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) to operate as self-sustaining parastatals to further reduce federal recurrent expenditure. Billions of naira could be garnered from these agencies to embark on large scale human and infrastructure development.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), an agency under US Department of Commerce, operates on a self-sustaining basis with no funding from the federal treasury. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which helps US businesses to create revenue and jobs abroad, also operates on a self-sustaining basis and contributed $352 million to the US treasury in the 2010 fiscal year. Additionally, Niagara Falls had also been a self-sustaining park for tourism since 1885 without taxpayers’ money. Most importantly, the employees of the aforementioned establishments enjoy decent salary with attractive healthcare and pension benefits because their wages and benefits are based on agency revenue. These directly motivate staff and boost job performance.
Governor Oshiomole made an important point during recent subsidy debate: Nigerians should not be afraid to lose 1 million jobs in order to create 10 million new jobs. Factually, we have more people in the telecom sector now than in those days of NITEL.
Infrastructure is very crucial because most developed nations are massively investing in infrastructure renewal to reinvigorate their economies while Nigeria is still at a very dawdling development stage. Eventual collapse of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Benin-Ore Road could paralyse the Nigerian economy, if long-lasting solutions are not swiftly adopted. South-west governments may also construct auxiliary highway (O’dua Interstate Parkway) parallel to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway through PPP.
PPP mechanism and considerable ICT utilisation will help Nigeria to reduce the amount of money needed to fix infrastructures across all sectors. ICT solutions streamline business processes and reduce cost of operations; the saved cost can then be utilised to better our lives through improved earnings and enhanced social amenities.
Electricity, fibre optic backbone, railroad, biotechnology and nanotechnology should be the major focus of federal and state governments because that is the future. Hence, investment in ICT and energy infrastructure is very crucial because no ICT solution can work efficiently without a reliable communication network and electricity. Indigenous ICT professionals in the country are offering innovative solutions, but the infrastructures are not in place for effective utilisation. So, the benefits cannot be felt. We’ve all experienced what instant communication could enhance in our society. As such, more investments in ICT and the energy sector should be encouraged through effective policies and investment incentives.
Conversely, most countries are assiduously seeking other alternatives to fossil fuels, which may also be readily available to Nigeria. Therefore, our diesel and power-generator dealers may need to redirect some of their capital to pursue Independent Power Projects (IPPs) in order to take advantage of the first mover theory and to also protect their vested interest in this sector.
We must also empower our people aggressively with modern skills and tools. Although the federal and some state governments periodically employ thousands of people via poverty alleviation programmes, the available jobs are far from enough, considering the number of university and polytechnic graduates we produce yearly. Plumbers, electricians, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) technicians need to be licensed through vocational education and examination; they must also be bonded and insured in order to promote professionalism, accountability, and safety. Circuitously, a new group of structured professionals and employers are being created.
Expatriate drilling technicians with no college degrees at some of Nigeria’s offshore rigs earn approximately $70,000 annually, with some attractive benefits. Nigerians should be seen more in these positions. A substantial number of middle class stimulates some sort of security and confidence in the system. Most residents of Lagos and other highbrow areas in Nigeria make use of multiple bullet-proof doors – security contraptions that are found only in maximum security prisons that house hardened criminals, such as serial killers, in western countries – just to guard against armed robbery. Higher rate of unemployment is a big threat to national security.
Accordingly, we must strongly encourage aspiring entrepreneurs through SMEDAN loan guarantee programmes, coupled with succour from entrepreneur mentoring organisations, such as New Era and Fate Foundation, to boost small scale businesses across the country. Small businesses are the backbone of most developed economies, and there are limits to what public sectors can do to generate employment. Thus, a productive platform for small business support will be an added advantage.
Until Nigeria recognises the importance of inventions, innovations, and intellectual property, we have no choice but to consume foreign technologies. However, Nigeria may take advantage of technology transfer and reengineering strategies, and we may revolutionise our manufacturing sector in the process. Most significantly, the various arms of government must be highly reputed for honouring contracts and agreements in order to attract local and foreign investors.