My Mercedes is bigger than yours
I am borrowing the title of a 1975 book by Nkem Nwankwo to express my thoughts today. Published by Heinemann African Writers Series, it is the story of postcolonial Nigerian society, and the social climbing that attended it. As a young schoolboy, one grew up on the staple of such writings. In Nigeria, when one new administration comes, it abandons most, if not all the projects its predecessors had been doing. The billions of naira or dollars, legitimate and padded that had been spent on such projects do not matter. It is a question of aggrandizement, of competition, of not wanting to walk in anyone’s shadows. My Mercedes is Bigger than yours, they struggle to tell one another.
Therefore, abandoned and uncompleted projects dot the entire national landscape. But not Muhammadu Buhari. This is one President that came to his assignment with clear objectives. It is our country, and the projects are for the land, and for the people. Therefore, all worthy projects were continued with gusto. Some are already completed and serving Nigerians, and many others in different stages of completion. Water projects, power, roads, schools, hospitals, and many others, in different stages of abandonment, line the length and breadth of the country, simply because the governments that conceived and started them were not able to complete. When the successors came, they wanted to ‘do their own thing,’ as if it’s a personal estate. And the country hemorrhages, suffers, and is almost asphyxiated.
But one mark the President Buhari administration is making is its ability and determination to continue and complete inherited projects, some dating back several decades. It is not about pride, not ego, not what I want, but about what is good for the country. The Bonny-Bodo road in Rivers State was conceived and inaugurated 47 years ago. Governments came and went, and the road, envisaged to link Bonny Island with the rest of the state, never saw the light of day. It remained just a dream. And at times, dreams die first, before the dreamer. For now, the only way to access Bonny, where our cash cow, the Nigeria Natural Liquefied Gas company is located, is by water and air, with all the attendant dangers and perils.
To build a road into Bonny would cost billions upon billions of naira. If any government got serious about such project, wouldn’t it affect the volume of cash the officials would salt away from the kitty? Till Buhari came. And he is doing what Napoleon couldn’t do. The Bonny-Bodo road, with many bridges, was awarded for N120 billion, and in collaboration with NLNG, the work began in 2017. It promises to be one of the legacy projects of the administration. We can never say too much about the Second Niger Bridge. The existing one was built in 1965, and had become totally inadequate to serve as the artery between the southern and other parts of the country. When it is festive season like Christmas, come and see how people suffer on the bridge, spending hours on end, sometimes days. The bridge became an object of fake political promises, particularly in the 16 years of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It was like a pie in the sky, which they kept building with their mouths.
Whenever elections approached, they would go to the site with hoes, cutlasses and wheelbarrows, pretending to dig the ground, all to win votes. Whenever the polls were completed, and they had swindled the people of their votes, they disappeared. Till the next election. And they claimed to have spent billions upon billions of naira on the project. Yet, it remained at the blueprint level. Olusegun Obasanjo launched it with much fanfare. That was where it ended. Umaru Yar’Adua did not seem to touch it, maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. Goodluck Jonathan said his middle name was Ebele, making him an indigene of the South East, where the bridge was situated. He said what he would say he did for his people, if he couldn’t build the bridge. He spent six years in office, and all he left were the ubiquitous hoes, cutlasses and wheelbarrows. Enter Muhammadu Buhari.
Without fanfare, without flourish, he set to work. The Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) was set up in 2018 to fast-track completion of critical infrastructural projects. And at the last count, the Second Niger Bridge was 48% completed, with the sights firmly set on the first quarter of 2022 as completion time. The things we couldn’t accomplish when we were swimming in petro-dollars, we are now daring and making steady progress on, at a season of scarcity. That is what you get when the Captain of a ship has only come to serve, not to feather his own nest. The Mambila Hydro Power project was conceived in 1972. How many governments, both military and civilian have we had since then? How many billions upon billions of dollars have we earned from oil since then? But Mambila remained a dream, pipe dream. Till a man came from Daura, and seriousness is now being shown.
Finally, Mambila Power project is appearing doable. The country’s biggest power plant will produce approximately 3,050 MW of electricity, and estimated to cost $5.8 billion. Chinese Export-Import Bank will provide 85 percent of the funding, while Nigeria brings the remaining 15 %. Completion time is 2030, long after Buhari would have left power. Yet, the man is planning and working for the future of Nigerians. The project would generate at least 50,000 jobs. The Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited was started in 1979, and envisaged to launch Nigeria into the steel development realm in a few years. But 41 years later, it remains mere dream, with billions of dollars gone down the drain.
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