BusinessDay

When experts advocated increased investment in infrastructure to economic prosperity in Africa

Professionals in the built environment across Africa over the past week converged on Lagos for the 28th annual FIDIC Africa Infrastructure Conference, just as the Association for Consulting Engineering in Nigeria (ACEN) made a fresh disclosure that about $11 trillion would be required to close the infrastructure gap in the critical sectors of the Nigerian economy. SEYI JOHN SALAU writes on the conference that focuses on discussions around contributions of consulting engineers in the economic growth of Africa through infrastructure development

Africa’s infrastructure challenge again came to the fore in Lagos Monday last week with the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, professional engineers, experts and other stakeholders in the built environment advocating for increased investment in the provision of infrastructure to foster real growth and economic prosperity on the continent.

Sanwo-Olu, alongside the professional engineers and experts, spoke at the opening of the 28th Annual FIDIC Africa Infrastructure Conference with the theme, ‘Infrastructure Development in Africa’, held at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos. The three-day conference was organised by Association for Consulting Engineering in Nigeria (ACEN).

While lamenting the dearth of or poor infrastructure in many African countries as one of the drawbacks for achieving meaningful growth in many countries, the speakers noted that infrastructure deficit in sub-Saharan Africa was exacerbated by low investment and poor funding.

They called on governments across Africa to give attention to the provision of critical socio-economic infrastructure that could catalyse growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and stimulate prosperity.

“As the theme of this year’s conference, ‘Infrastructure Development in Africa’, connotes, you have dedicated this edition of your conference towards reawakening us as individuals, private organisations and as government to raise awareness about the critical role infrastructure plays in sustainable socio-economic development especially in a fast-growing and highly competitive global economy in the 21st century,” Sanwo-Olu stated in his keynote speech decrying lack of infrastructure as one of the factors inhibiting Africa from realising its full potential.

Represented by his special adviser on Works and Infrastructure, Aramide Adeyoye, the governor further noted that, without adequate and quality infrastructure, it would be difficult to create jobs especially for the growing youth population and create decent and comfortable living standards for the people.

“This theme is particularly relevant because lack of adequate infrastructure has been identified as one of the key factors responsible for the inability of Africa to realise her full economic potential despite being generously endowed in natural resources,” Sanwo-Olu stated.

According to him, the state government has consistently accorded infrastructure development and renewal priority to build a stronger economic base in line with the status of Lagos State as Africa’s fastest- growing megacity.

Over the years, population growth, migration and urbanisation trends across Africa have brought about an increase in infrastructure development, especially in emerging economies and developing countries. For example, for energy-related infrastructure, an expanded electricity grid is necessary to provide energy in urban and rural areas.

Furthermore, transportation infrastructure like roads, railways, ports, airports, is key for people’s mobility, and for connecting rural areas to domestic and regional markets, thus contributing to a country’s lives by providing access to water, thereby managing the scarce resources in a sustainable manner.

Read also: The Consulate General of Switzerland and Swiss Learning treat guests to A taste of Swiss luxury

James N. Mwangi, CEO, Kurrent Technologies Limited and board member FIDIC, in a presentation titled, ‘The Consulting Engineer in Africa’s Infrastructure Development: Way Forward’ said that the continent must be able to build capacity by developing future leaders. Accordingly, he said Africa will have to embrace emerging technologies and work practices by leveraging enhanced advocacy, ethics and integrity, partnerships through research and home-grown solutions to bridging infrastructure development.

“There is generally inadequate knowledge of the condition of infrastructure amongst the public and decision‑makers, which leads to poor maintenance of existing infrastructure and insufficient maintenance planning for new infrastructure,” Ovens Festus Ehimatie, Executive Director, Federation of African Engineering Organisations, said in a presentation titled, ‘Sustainable Maintainance of Infrastructure in Nigeria: Exploring the Opportunities’.

According to him, most of the laudable projects in Nigeria are in the most deplorable state which constitutes a threat to social, economic and infrastructural advancement of Nigeria. He said that public infrastructure is built to fulfill administrative, social as well as economic responsibilities to the general public. He is also of the view that government assets and facilities should be managed properly with maintenance work to ensure the functionality, minimum cost of repair and provide a safe environment for the users.

“It is important to note that, Nigerian public do not own public infrastructures. They generally see public property as nobody’s property. Hence, they do not attach care when using public utilities, this mentality of most Nigerians constitute a problem to maintenance culture in Nigeria. Also, most public infrastructures are constructed and commissioned without any blueprint on how they should be maintained,” Ehimatie said.

Accordingly, he said that maintenance culture is an attitude that is lacking in Nigeria. Ehimatie said poor maintenance culture has become a widely recognized problem in Nigeria that has adversely affected the quality of public properties. “Most public infrastructure in Nigeria, are in deplorable state, ranging from roads, schools, hospitals, libraries amongst others. The deplorable state of public infrastructure in Nigeria makes it imperative for proper and routine maintenance to be carried out in order to save our infrastructure from total collapse, and to ensure the continuous functioning and use of public infrastructure,” he concludes.

Mayowa Ademola Adebayo, principal partner, Dexterdem and Associates Engineers and Project Managers Company Limited, in a presentation: titled, ‘Leveraging on Emerging Technologies as a Tool for Infrastructure Development in Africa’ said that emerging technologies are critical enabler for productivity tools for infrastructural development in Africa.

In Africa, these emerging technologies can be exploited to optimize the design process and implementation of infrastructure projects by the African engineering professionals. According to Adebayo, emerging technologies that can help infrastructure development in Africa include 3D printing; cloud computing; robotics; drones; internet of things (IoT), and building information modeling (BIM).

On the back of this, a cross section of experts and speakers at the conference harped on the need for government to take advantage of the public-private partnership (PPP) financing model, saying private sector funding would accelerate the delivery of long-term infrastructure, bolster availability of services to the people as well as help create more jobs.

During the session on ‘The PPP Model and Infrastructure Development in Africa’, the discussants explored the different public-private partnership (PPP) model available for bridging Africa’s infrastructure gap vis-à-vis the various legal and legislative challenges.

Vince Onyejeli, director, head of infrastructure and major projects advisory, KPMG Advisory Services, Abuja, disclosed that funding gap can be bridged by a set of specialised infrastructure fund and fund managers. Similarly, he said African countries can also leverage road-tax credit (infrastructure credit) in bridging the funding gap in Africa’s infrastructure development.

He however considers some of the challenges that the government must urgently address in tapping into the PPP model to include legal protection of investors; consumers’ payments discipline; government/ multilateral guarantee, and the need to clean-up the regulatory space to make it more attractive to private sector players and investors in general.

Speaking on ‘The PPP Model and Infrastructure Development in Africa’, Abimbola Akeredolu, chair, board of directors Lagos Chamber of Commerce International Arbitration Centre (LACIAC) Lagos, said that credible projects proposal, transparency and efficient procurement process are key drivers for successful PPP arrangement.

According to her, every PPP arrangement must meet certain conditions listed as real demand for the service; environmental and social consideration; multilateral/development Bank involvement; currency fluctuations; local content; getting the buy-in of the relevant stakeholders and itemizing the benefits to them, and enforceability of contracts/respect for agreements.

On his part, Kabelo Motswagole, President, International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) Africa, said the conference theme was apt and auspicious at a time most governments in Africa are looking for alternative ways of funding infrastructure development and maintenance. “This is particularly so as the COVID-19 pandemic expenditure depleted most countries’ development budgets”.

Motswagole added that issues of sustainability and resilient infrastructure were important to Consulting Engineers; therefore the conference was expected to generate solutions and useful resources that could help the government in addressing the challenges of infrastructure.

President of ACEN, Ajibade Oke, in an address to the participants at the two-day conference, said increasing population in Africa places the burden on countries in the continent, especially Nigeria to continue to invest in socio-economic infrastructure.

“There will always be a need for infrastructural development as population increases. This phenomenon is more apparent in Africa where population increases geometrically. Unfortunately, Africa also has the disadvantage of needing to catch up with the rest of the world. Nigeria needs about 11 trillion dollars to get adequate infrastructure and to also meet up with the rest of the world. The world will not wait for Africa. We need to double up,” he said.

Oke, who said the hosting of the conference in Nigeria for the third time was significant in the light of the current recovery from the global pandemic occasioned by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), stated that infrastructure development was strategic to the efforts at stimulating the national economy.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.