‘Infrastructure development is the key to Nigeria’s economic growth’
Tony Odiadi, a lawyer, arbitrator and public affairs commentator, is a man with a broad national and international experience in developmental policy initiatives. He was a member of the Judiciary & Rule of Law TWG, Central Working Group of Vision 2020 and also a member of the Nigeria Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP) Committee. In this interview with ADELOWO ADEBUMITI, he spoke on the nation’s infrastructural challenges, the Project Continuity Bill before the National Assembly and economic opportunities for states and local governments.
You were a member of Vision 2020 both at the Technical Working Group level and Central Working Group, you were also invited to participate in the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP). As a member, what were the mandates of these committees?
That is correct. Each of these had different mandates. Simply put, the Vision 2020 Committees made up essentially of technocrats were set up to articulate broad national development targets for Nigeria as a nation to be achieved by the year 2020. There were several TWGs sectorally distributed such as Judiciary and Rule of Law in which I served, Governance, Agriculture and Food Security, Health, Water, Tourism, Security, Power/Energy, ICT, Environment, National Values, Transport, etc. So each group deliberated and came up with sectoral plans, targets and strategies for implementation with each divided into short term, medium term and long term. The whole idea was to structure the Nigerian economy in such a way that it will enjoy accelerated growth to come within the first 20 largest economies of the world from number 44 that it was in 2009, to anything 12-20 in the year 2020.
What about NIIMP, the infrastructure development initiative?
As for the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP), the mandate was to look specifically at the infrastructural needs in all the sectors and the six geopolitical regions. So that is the difference. The NIIMP was clearly intended to complement the Vision 2020 programme as a coordinated integrated infrastructure plan linking the sectors into a functioning whole for growth and development. Because of the huge investment involved in infrastructure development, it made sense to spread the Master plan to 30 years. It was estimated that about USD2.9 trillion would be spent to get Nigeria’s infrastructure stock to about 75% in three decades. In the plan, you will see infrastructure investment by regions, priority projects sector by sector, financing plan, enablers for implementation and plan all in details.
When there is a change in leadership in Nigeria things are expected to change. Are the two plans still relevant for the present government?
Yes of course, both plans are very relevant and valid for any current development needs, those who raised the idea as well as those who spent months on them did a lot of work outside public glare. They are really the only documented nationally involved economic plans that we have today in Nigeria. Both initiatives had international best practice focus with consultants making input to make sure we had solid and top quality outcomes. The previous governments drew a lot from those reports for development initiative. I expect this government to look at them too as economic plans. There will be much guidance to be drawn and save spending on such an effort. I agree each administration has its own policy options, development priorities, but guidance as to what already exist on the ground is important. At any rate, government is a continuum.
Do you expect any continuity in the economic or development plans of Nigeria from your knowledge?
That is exactly the point I am making. One of the problems we have is usually lack of continuity, in terms of projects, national target, strategies of implementation and development focus. If you remember the way we started as a nation. At independence, immediately we began with the First Development Plan 1962-1968, which the civil war obviously interrupted, then the Second Development Plan 1970-1974, then the Third in 1975-1980, the Fourth 1981-1985, then came the Structural Adjustment Programme. At each national plan cycle, some goals and targets were set with timelines. These plans unfortunately are rarely followed through, at times even abandoned completely.
Any example of such projects?
Yes, of course, and a good one. The Buhari Government must be commended for finishing up and launching the Kaduna-Abuja Railways a few days ago. It is a good sign of project continuity. We expect the current administration to take an inventory of all existing project initiatives that were embarked upon out by the previous administrations and do an assessment of them, so as to find out the stages of implementation of each. The ones that are challenged by fund, fund them to completion. This will form part of our completed project and infrastructure stock and it will enhance our development profile and standing nationally and globally. New projects should be conceived in the contest of existing ongoing ones.
One of the challenges facing Nigeria is infrastructure deficit. Whatis your assessment of the state of infrastructure in the country?
Nigeria has very serious infrastructure gap. If you look at our population, we are about 170 million. The gap in infrastructure is so heavy. Nigeria has barely 35% infrastructure stock, way down the 70% of the GDP needed to be considered developed. India has 58%, South Africa 87%, Brazil 61%, China 63% thereabout. Take another measurable index like housing, there is a 17 million housing gap in Nigeria, we are farming less than 50% of the arable land in Nigeria, our road density is less than 30% of India’s, etc. So Nigeria is way down and needs to do more in the areas of transportation, agriculture, ICT penetration, and telecommunication system, even in our key source of economy, the oil and gas industry. The infrastructure gap in that area is so much. Poor maintenance and perennially damage have ensured that we are not able to really optimize our potential.
How can states and local governments key into the diversification agenda of the Federal Government?
What is left is for every tier of government and indeed the private sector to put on their thinking cap and plan. What any state can do is to sit down, and do an assessment of its own environment, and see areas where it has greater strength and competitiveness. If you have a bloated civil service, cut down where people are mostly idle. Most states can go into agriculture, agro-allied industry, leather works, textiles, cottage manufacturing, commerce and industry, and service provision. If states look inward, they will be able to do that. Part of the things that make states not able to develop themselves is the fact that they walk up to the Federal Government at the end of every month for subvention. A lot of things are lying fallow, untapped.
Should government completely divest from ventures and leave every economic activity to private sector operators?
That sounds good but at our level of development and poor capital capacity per capita, there is still a role for government in mentoring economic activities and setting up cluster economic zones. India, China, Malaysia, Brazil, even UK, etc continue to have some state enterprises as take-off points, examples and models to be replicated by the private sector. No doubt, government should create a fair regulatory regime, set standards, operating as an incentive to investors and operators.
Government can help with insurance schemes, crop storage facilities located strategically for preservation, develop local and international market through bilateral networks. The West African and larger African market is still not fully tapped into by Nigeria. These are the things that both local and state governments must be challenged to come back into. They must think seriously about development. Nigerians must go back to agriculture and diversify the economy.
If the country starts to invest heavily in infrastructure and also reviews all abandoned projects with a view to completing them, where do you see Nigeria in the next 10 years?
If some of the development projects and plans which have been articulated into documents are implemented with fidelity, I think Nigeria would begin to grow at the pace its potential really can carry. With an optimistic note, we can achieve no 20 or worse 21, 22 or 23, though we have dropped in global and African ranking which is not good. But we must quickly address national security and negotiate our way out of serial internal disaffections and conflicts. Nigeria is a great country. It has the human capital, though we must spend more on education and keep students learning seriously.