The unrestrained and unhealthy rivalry among key officials of the outgoing government contributed immensely to the shocking failure of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to deliver on his promises to bequeath a prospering nation at the end of his eight years in office, a BusinessDay comprehensive investigation has revealed.
Buhari, who was pushed out of office as military dictator in 1985 when his colleagues in the military accused him of failing to perform, will leave office on May 29 with several highly placed officials in his government now saying things could have been better if the former military general had managed to get his senior aides to fall in line.
One case in point relates to Nigeria’s persistent failure to build the right kind of infrastructure that the economy badly needs to stabilise and grow.
On February 18, 2020, a committee appointed by the 36 state governors and led by Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai first presented before the Nigeria Governors’ Forum an ambitious national infrastructure rebuild plan to be anchored on private sector investment. The plan was immediately adopted.
The next day, the plan for Nigeria’s infrastructure rebirth also received the unanimous approval of the National Economic Council (NEC) at a meeting where Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, the 36 state governors as well as the minister of finance, the Central Bank of Nigeria governor Godwin Emefiele, the then CEO of Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) who were all present. Records of the meeting show that Emefiele applauded the plan that would have led to the establishment of National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF).
According to documents reviewed by BusinessDay, the plan involved the identification of key national infrastructure projects (assets) across Nigeria, which were to be vested in the NIIF with the NSIA being mandated to play the role of a catalyst, champion and manager of the fund. The NSIA was then to leverage its two most important qualities – first, its sovereign status, which enables it to move and conclude transactions much faster than would ordinarily be the case and, second, its acclaimed credibility in domestic and international money and capital markets.
However, after the February 19 meeting, NEC sent a memo to Buhari in which he was requested to approve the NEC proposal for the establishment of the NIIF. In responding to the president’s request for comments on the NIIF plan, the CBN governor threw spanner in the works in his May 7, 2020 memo of 27 paragraphs to Buhari, in which he surprisingly sought to kill NIIF while introducing a parallel infrastructure rollout plan under an entity to be called InfraCo.
Emefiele questioned the ability of NSIA as a catalyst and champion, saying: “The governance structure of the NSIA indicates that it is an agency under the Federal Ministry of Finance. Although the NSIA has done appreciably well in managing its funds, we cannot decipher if the markets would judge them favourably when they attempt to raise the huge amount of money needed for the infrastructure projects being considered.”
In his prayer to the president, Emefiele said: “Based on the views highlighted in paragraphs 23 and 24 above, we pray your excellency considers and approves the creation of a CBN-led Infraco..”
On June 6, 2020, Buhari approved the creation of InfraCo with a project steering committee to be chaired by Osinbajo but by this time, the pension funds, which are the largest single source of long-term capital in the country, silently backed off, seeing the new plot by the CBN as a ploy to shut out the private sector from having a strong voice in the infrastructure process.
According to a lawyer who had followed the process closely, “this obviously introduced significant friction amongst key economic sector players in the push for InfraCo. Please bear in mind that the time Emefiele wrote his memo to the president, NSIA had a far better credit rating and credibility with capital markets and international investors than the CBN itself and it (NSIA) was an active player in infrastructure markets while the CBN was, and still is, not.”
“The plot by the CBN governor and the lie on which it was based, starts in the first paragraph. Emefiele wrote this memo as if he was not in NEC when the committee that submitted the report he purported to ‘review’ was constituted in November 2019. He did not disclose to Mr. President that the CBN was represented and played an active part in the deliberations of the NEC Committee that submitted the same report that he ‘reviewed’,” the lawyer said.
A senior official in the presidency who attended the NEC meetings said: “Emefiele never consulted with Osinbajo or the membership of the Committee during his ‘review’. It is also vital to mention that when the report was submitted to NERC in February 2020, the same Emefiele was very effusive in his praise of the report and called for its speedy execution as proposed. It is strange how he turned round to thrash the entire report and the idea of its implementation by NSIA that had demonstrated competence in this area and already had an active infrastructure fund in its portfolio (as opposed to CBN that had zero experience in managing infrastructure funds and financing infrastructure projects).”
At the end of the 22nd meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum held on December 2, 2021 the then Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi issued a four-page communiqué, in which he re-affirmed the governors’ commitment to NIIF led by and under the management of the NSIA, although the communiqué also “noted that the CBN governor had a similar proposal”.
And here was born the anger and distrust of the CBN governor that largely drove the suit some governors brought the apex bank and Buhari to squash the controversial naira redesign plan and through which the Supreme Court upbraided the federal government for persistently failing to uphold the norms of a federation line Nigeria.
BusinessDay reporters spoke to several senior government officials and private sector fund managers, all of whom acknowledge that while the CBN-led InfraCo touted the capacity to aggregate as much as N15 trillion, it was clear that the NIIF represents the fastest and most commercially viable route to developing credible private sector-funded and managed projects without selling these state assets.
Because of the CBN’s plot, key infrastructure projects identified by the NEC for a pilot scheme remain comatose. They include Abuja-Lokoja-Okene-Auchi-Benin road; the Sagamu-Ore-Benin Road (two of the busiest roads in Nigeria), as well as the Western and Eastern narrow-gauge lines that run from Lagos to Kano and Nguru and Port-Harcourt to Kafanchan and Maiduguri, respectively. These two rail lines traverse a total of 22 states and 450 cities and villages in Nigeria and are expected to focus on freight carriage and the movement of passengers.