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Building infrastructure across Nigeria requires different financing models – Amadi-Echendu

JOE AMADI-ECHENDU is a Professor of Technology Management at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. In this interview with TELIAT SULE, he discusses ways Nigeria can address infrastructural deficit, and how addressing it can fast track economic development. Excerpts:

Sub Saharan African countries have problems developing their infrastructure stock compared to the Asian tigers like Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia, why is this so?

For me, the first challenge for African countries is that they have not shaken off the shackles of colonialism and they are still having deep roots in them. I am not so sure that there is one African country that completely left the shackles. Second is the fact that the polity is very illiterate, that is the political consciousness and awareness of the population is very weak. When you couple that with the fact that the shackles of colonialism are there then you would end up with the sort of things that we see where corruption becomes very endemic. Those are the three reasons, the impact of colonialism in the fact that we haven’t shaken off the shackles.

We can’t blame colonialism, but, you know when you are in prison and you have come out of prison, you can no longer blame the fact that you were in prison. [The challenge is] the fact that we have not broken it; not that we are still being colonized and part of the reason that we have not broken it and it is getting worse is that we now have this endemic corruption. It becomes so embedded with a population that is highly politically illiterate, and thinks that politics is about nepotism, or tribal whatever, not understanding that politics is about making the society better for everyone.

During the panel discussion at the recent Infrastructure Summit organised by the NSE, a speaker said that one of the reasons we are having infrastructure deficit is not because we don’t have adequate resources but because we lack the ability to prioritize our projects. Do you think inability to prioritize is actually the problem of Nigeria?

I think those are symptoms of something much deeper. I am talking about exacerbated avarice, I mean, aggressive greed, That is one element that has grown us into the state we are and then makes it difficult for us to prioritize. Because when you are greedy, you have difficulty prioritizing. You are a short-term person, and if you are a short-term and greedy personality, then prioritizing becomes on the basis of short term, and there will be nothing to deal with on the basis, consequences and impact over a long term.

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In Nigeria, it is difficult to get some of those things done because we have formalized mediocrity. We have adopted mediocrity as a formal way and you cannot start by being wrong to make it right; you have to make an attempt of being right so that when you are going in the wrong, you can see where you are going but when you are already wrong and you try to correct wrong, it could never make it right. I try to tell my children, this is something that I have come to realise, no matter what you do, and the truth will always expose itself even if you lie about the truth. We have adopted mediocrity and that makes it very difficult for even the resources that we have to be channelled into a way where we can prioritize the things that we can’t do. It is not that we don’t have the ability but when you prioritize extreme greed; short term coupled with fact that you normalize this mediocrity, it makes it extremely impossible for you to move forward, you are just sitting in a circle, and eating yourself up, the fly that jumped into the frying pan and jumped out.

Recently, there have been shifts to Public Private Partnership (PPP), one of the models, that Nigeria can use to bridge this infrastructure deficit. Do you think this can actually help us in sub Saharan Africa and are there examples of countries it worked?

I think case studies can be deceptive, because they don’t tell you all the things that particularly made that study successful. It is like partnership (husband and wife), some look like they are successful from outside, and you will use that as a case study but you don’t know the details. Going back, can partnerships work? Of course, yes, life is about partnership. Is it going to be public private partnership in Nigeria?

Well, partnerships work on the basis of some principles. Partnership works on trust, transparency, on the basis of the rule of law. I think you can answer the question yourself. You will have to have some fundamentals in place: rule of law, everybody subject to the rule of law. That is the basis of society, there is no society without the rule of law. So, how can you form a partnership when you want to behave anyhow you want? There is no way it will work under circumstances that make it extremely difficult for the process to be transparent. So, yes partnership can work in Nigeria if some of the bases are in place.

In recent times, true federalism, a concept that gives more control and flexibility to state and local governments, has been tipped to help redirect Nigeria’s economic growth path. Do you believe decentralisation will empower FG, states and local government areas in Nigeria to help bridge the infrastructure deficit?

This is a politically pointed question and it is not within my purview; it is not an area where I am strong. Let me answer it this way. I came from a family of ten kids and I think people in my generation would recognize this. We come from a family with a number of children and you can say, oh because there are so many children, that is why I did not develop myself. There are so many structures, you start fighting for structure, saying what I can do for myself, what can I do to make things happen? We have a structure.

Yes, there are all those nice arguments that just take us back and we don’t go anywhere in my opinion.You have a local government that gets their money directly from the federal government. What have you done with that money before you start asking let us change the structure? And all that lets even change the structure here and there that is not going to empower you anymore. There are local government chairmen who are wasting resources, not being able to deliver and running around, looking so nice, attending personal functions around, throwing money and people love that. So, how is that going to be changed if you now change the structure?

I am just starting at the local government level let alone the state government level. We have states; the executive governors, what stops them? You have sufficient power to deliver infrastructure. How would that make any difference if you would change the structures and what have you? What stops Rivers State from taking its own natural advantage? I don’t think those arguments, yes, they may be nice politically, but they are not going to help on infrastructure or empowering people more, we have the power, just use it.

What financing model would you recommend for the Nigerian leadership that would help enhance the delivery of infrastructure?

You know, in academic terms, that one is a giveaway question; when you see a question that is very simple and has a straightforward answer. I think the financial houses and financial people will be able to go into a lot of details but I think this is very simple from an engineer’s point of view. It is project by project, financing project by project. You cannot have one financing model for a particular region, because the project objectives determine which financial model will best be suited for it. In terms of the World Bank and their report, you would remember that I cited one of the indices that you came across.

I know that I have spent time talking to some of my mates who are in politics. We need to build an infrastructure, build something. Why don’t you invest that money in Nigeria instead of you consuming and just buying things that are going to waste? You have come to the point where you are 65 to70 years old and there is no hospital to care for you, there is none of that to look after you in your old age.

So, there is not going to be one PPP model across Nigeria because each project dictates how it will be financed. The financial model that will work across board, my answer to you is this: all those who made so much money in Nigeria, whether they are spending the money on luxury items like buying a very nice car- a Mercedes-Benz – that don’t have the road to drive it, maybe you should reconsider, making sure that the road is there.

Luckily, COVID 19 has just shown us that at any point in time, all that money can be useless. It was surprising, for nearly two years; I don’t know where my passport is. This is somebody who travels every two weeks, and, for the last two years or so, you have a situation where the world can change your life; start partnering where you are and make things work there. You would be surprised. I think I gave you more answers than I should.

QUOTE: How can you form a partnership when you want to behave anyhow you want? There is no way it will work under circumstances that make it extremely difficult for the process to be transparent

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