On May 29, 2023, Nigeria will have a new President.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s inauguration coincides with that of 26 governors whom the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared winners of the just-concluded elections in their respective states. More so, INEC has come under intense criticism over various irregularities as aggrieved candidates head to court. As the post-election battles continue, ordinary Nigerians cannot remain transfixed forever.
Though disappointed by the outcome, they are moving on fast. More importantly, they have compelling demands for their new leaders; infrastructure! Having groveled under poor infrastructure for decades, citizens are growing less tolerant of poor governance.
Whereas stomach infrastructure—the use of gifts and promises of food to win voters’ support—swayed a sizeable portion of the electorate years ago, such a strategy could backfire if applied in the wrong places today. But there is more to worry about.
There are low-hanging fruits to boost citizens’ confidence and garner buy-in from the populace
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the incoming president now faces a litany of challenges in a polarised country whose youths have lost trust in the government, institutions such as INEC and security agencies. Nigeria’s ailing economy, perennial strikes by academic unions and the looming discontinuance of fuel subsidy in June will give his presidency a rough start.
Pundits argue that the removal of fuel subsidy may see Nigerians paying N750 for one litre of petrol, a 305% increase from the usual N185 pump price. The Nigerian government has promised that removing the petrol subsidy will save N250 billion monthly and N3 trillion annually. However, it must justify these savings by channeling them into rapid infrastructure development, visible to over 200 million Nigerians.
Infrastructure development is critical for economic growth, social development and improved living standards. While Nigeria has made some progress over the years, it is lightyears behind the expectations of her people. I discuss five critical areas the new government could uphold over the next four years:
Moving 200 million people from one place to another is a priority, especially when the nation’s productivity depends on mobility. The new Nigerian leadership must focus on transport infrastructure; the construction of new and rehabilitation of decaying roads, rails, bridges, airports and ports will facilitate trade and commerce, creating job opportunities and stimulating economic growth.
For instance, during the Obasanjo administration, his government embarked on a massive road construction project nationwide, which helped to open up rural areas, improve transportation and stimulate economic activities. Similarly, the Buhari administration launched a heavy campaign on railroads, stabilising the Abuja-Kaduna, Itakpe-Warri, Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja Metro, Lagos Blue Rail and the Kano-Maradi lines. It also completed several road projects, including the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge, which are expected to stimulate economic growth.
The nation’s new leaders must consolidate these gains and ensure proper maintenance to address the pockets of infrastructure decay nationwide. But simply building transport infrastructure will not suffice. The question of security still looms large after the terrorist attack of March 2022 on a train travelling from the capital city Abuja to Kaduna, Nigeria’s northwest.
Speaking at the Africa CEO Forum in March 2017, the President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, said, “To stay in power, African leaders need to give power. Africa is tired of being in the dark!” Access to electricity is critical for Nigeria’s economic growth and development. But more than six decades after independence, it cannot guarantee power supply for its citizens. This is not due to a lack of effort; it is due to an inadequate and unsustained effort.
For example, the Yar’Adua administration launched the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) to address the country’s power deficit. The project involved the construction of several power plants across the country, which helped to improve access to electricity. With its oil, gas, hydro and solar resources, Nigeria can generate 12,000 MW of electricity from its existing infrastructure. However, it only generates around 4,000 MW, which is inadequate for 200 million people. This has to change.
3. Water and Sanitation
Earlier this year it was widely reported that 922 cholera cases have been recorded in Nigeria and 32 patients succumbed to the disease in Q1 2023. This is a glaring reminder that Nigeria is yet to get its healthcare, water and sanitation right. The new government at all levels would need to surely deliver sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure. Access to clean water and sanitary facilities is critical to quality of living. While past administrations have inched towards this goal, more must be done. Building water and sanitation facilities is only a surface treatment. The real work must begin with massive reorientation at the grassroots.
Healthcare is a corollary to the third point above. Improved healthcare infrastructure will lead to better national productivity. Nigeria needs more inclusiveness in this area. The then Obasanjo administration launched the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to avail subsidised healthcare for all. The scheme involved the construction of several healthcare facilities nationwide, which helped to improve access to healthcare services. But the obstacles Nigerians face today have evolved.
The elephant in the room is the massive exodus of qualified doctors and nurses from Nigeria to other countries. The black giant now trains medical practitioners only to lose them to climes that take workers’ welfare seriously. In this case, building state-of-the-art health facilities will be useless without the brains to operate them. Therefore, the new administration must focus on the welfare of health workers. A motivated workforce will do “wonders” for Nigeria’s health sector.
In 2022, Nigerian universities resumed after an eight-month strike over poor lecturers’ welfare. Industrial actions are not new. What is new is the catastrophic consequences such standstills inflict on the economy.
University workers’ strikes have been a perennial challenge for every administration since 1988. It reveals a deep-seated reluctance to address the issue head-on. Although President-Elect Tinubu has promised to end strikes for good, it is still unclear how he plans to mend decades of distrust between university unions and the government. Nevertheless, a lasting truce that’ll prevent strikes for four straight years will be a considerable achievement.
In conclusion, Nigeria is a reservoir of successes and compounded challenges. Therefore, expecting a set of leaders to wipe these challenges within four years will be unfair to them. Nevertheless, there are low-hanging fruits to boost citizens’ confidence and garner buy-in from the populace. Focusing on transport, power sanitation, healthcare and education infrastructure will yield economic growth, social development and improve the living standards for Nigerians.
Ajia is a project development consultant with a particular interest in megaprojects and infrastructure finance in Africa. He is a Doctoral Researcher at the Cranfield School of Management, UK.