Nigeria’s Social Infrastructure: The Hiccups

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Since man evolved from the state of nature to an organized society in which government takes care of his safety and welfare in return for his vote, loyalty and taxes, social infrastructure has been central to his welfare. In modern times, the citizenry of every nation demand from their leaders basic social amenities that would not only guarantee their happiness and welfare but also promote the security and socio-economic development of the country or state. This is why they aggregated their individual powers and surrendered same to an elected government through votes supported by payment of appropriate taxes.
As Nigeria marks her 54th Independence Anniversary, it is again time to reflect on the dividends of nationhood. How has the social infrastructure helped to improve the quality of life of the average Nigerian since the lowering of the Union Jack of the British colonial master and hoisting of the Green-White-Green independence flag of Nigeria in 1960?
How has the provision of social infrastructure propelled economic development and national growth?
To be sure, by social infrastructure, we refer to such basic social amenities critical to human existence and societal growth which are best served by government through taxes by the citizenry. They include good roads, railways, waterways, housing, potable water, power security and job creation.
A cardinal objective of the Nigerian government since the commencement of the 4th Republic is to leverage on its immense natural and human capital endowments as a leading African nation to join the league of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020.
To give filip to this objective  which is called Vision 20:2020 by the Nigerian government and which was inherited from the President Olusegun Obasanjo government, President Goodluck Jonathan introduced the Transformation Agenda with the promise of massive growth and development in key sectors of the economy including roads, rail, water and air transportation, power and oil and gas among others.
Regrettably, the bold initiatives and huge financial investment of the present government in fast tracking socio-economic growth which had also led to significant improvements in key sectors of the economy have been undermined by insecurity, fuelled by poverty and unemployment.
It is sad that while the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been on the increase in recent times, poverty and unemployment have not been effectively addressed.
A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that Nigeria’s relative poverty measurement stood at 69 per cent(or 112,518, 508 Nigerians). According to the report, North-West and North-East geo-political zones had the highest poverty rate in Nigeria with 77.7 per cent and 76.3 per cent respectively.
In essence, the present security challenges in the country have a lot of economic undertones. Where there is pervasive youth unemployment and poverty, ready-made battalions of potentials are made available for use by extremists.
It therefore requires immediate and long-term economic policies that would actually impact on the citizens because growth and GDP is not enough.
Job creation: The recent constitution of a 31-member presidential board for the creation of three million jobs appear to be an urgent response to the grave unemployment situation in the country. Coming only months to an election year, the altruistic content of the move may have been tainted by expected electoral dividends.
Regardless, three million jobs within 12 months as directed by President Goodluck Jonathan, if achieved will  go a long way in pulling out a substantial number of the unemployed, especially the vulnerable youth from joblessness to gainful engagement.
But beyond the cosmetics, Nigeria needs an enabling environment for job creation and Jonathan’s board will need to provide a co-ordinated platform for the employment of Nigerian youths.
Furthermore, the granting of tax holidays, well-tailored financial support scheme and waivers for imported machinery for production will enable the private sector meet the employment needs of Nigerians.
It is also needful for government to encourage and patronize local products through laws compelling government agencies and private sector to patronize locally produced goods to encourage local manufacturing and employment generation.
Potable water: This is a basic social amenity which has remained inadequate through the 54 years of Nigeria’s independence. Official federal government position today is that 33 per cent, representing 52.8 million Nigerians lack potable water. The figure could be much higher.
Presenting a three-year scorecard recently, the Minister of Water Resources, Mrs Sarah Ochekpe believes that access to potable water has increased to 67 per cent from 58 per cent when the Jonathan government  came in.
However, in major state capitals and rural communities, the proliferation of water boreholes, the growing population of Mai Ruwas and the huge investment of states like Rivers in water schemes indicate that much need to be done to address the potable water issue.
There is the need for the federal government to ensure efficient and effective utilisation of the nation’s water resources. There is the needs to complete on-going dams, irrigation, water supply and other critical projects.
River Basin Development Authorities need to be strengthened for improved performance, especially for grassroots development.
Power: The power sector is one that is yet to fully respond to the Transition Agenda of the present administration as low capacity utilization in manufacturing industries resulting from inadequate power supply has led to closures and relocation of many industries to neighbouring countries with more reliable power supply.
With an estimated 170 million population, Nigeria generates a meager 4,000 mega watts of electricity. As a result, small and medium scale industries, which are the bedrock of economic growth cannot flourish while bigger industries are shrinking and “manufacturing” unemployment.
The problem of the power sector is compounded by the lack of qualified engineers. This follows the sacking of 60 per cent of workers of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria by private investor managers who took over the firm.
However, the Minister of Power, Prof Chinedu Nebo has assured that a meeting soon to be summoned with generating and distributing firms and other stakeholders will consider the Indian model that transformed that country’s power sector.
Furthermore, the Federal Government has resolved to commit $1 billion to improve gas infrastructure in other to stimulate power generation and supply.
Added to this is the power sector intervention fund of N200 million to be accessed by the private sector, states and local governments to boost electricity.
The fund, Engr Reynolds Bekinbo Dagogo-Jack, chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP) said, is for payment of market liabilities and other obligations across the country.
It is hoped that these initiatives would culminate in the attainment of 10,000 megawatts of electricity by the year’s end as envisaged by the power minister.
Housing: Over the past 54 years, the population of Nigeria has grown tremendously to an estimated 170 million without a corresponding growth in houses for the teeming population. Many of the political parties that have been in government had made housing a campaign promise without exerting the political will to deliver their promises.
The cumulative effect is that, if nothing is done urgently, an estimated 24.4 million Nigerians will be homeless by 2015.
Nigeria today also needs a minimum of N56 trillion to be able to bridge a deficit of 17 million housing units.
The Managing Director, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Gimba Ya’u said recently that the housing deficit rose from seven million housing units in 1991 to between 12 and 15 million, while peaking at between 17 to 18 million units by 2012.
The housing deficit which is expected to be on the rise is an indication that government’s housing policy is not working as expected.
Nigeria’s home ownership rate is currently put at 25 percent which is very low compared to housing situation in some developing and developed countries.
Experts are of the view that until the relevant authorities are able to bring down interest rate to a single-digit level so as to enable low income earners access mortgage loan, housing deficit will continue to rise.
Railways: In the 54 years of Nigeria’s independence, the railways, known to be one of the cheapest means of moving goods and services have grown worse, as most of the archaic engines and coaches are grounded and many stations over grown with weeds.
Appreciating the enormous value on train services, a former governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili introduced the Riveline train service which  daily ferried the citizenry from the Port Harcourt Railway terminus to Oyigbo at minimal cost and  appreciable comfort.
However, the federal government has commenced a gradual revitalization of the rail system by the remodelling nine railway stations.
These include the Iddo Terminus, Ebute Metta Junction Stations in Lagos, Illorin and Kaduna Junction Stations, Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Jos and Gombe Stations.
Already, the Federal Government has inaugurated Transaction Advisers to drive the process for the Public Private Partnership (PPP) in remodelling and redeveloping the stations.
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transport, Mr. Nabolisa Emordi said the remodelling was part of Federal Government’s agenda to revitalize Nigeria railway system for haulage of goods and movement of  passengers.
Water Transport: The challenges of water transportation both for riverine communities and national growth need proper attention.
They include indigenous  ownership of vessels, training of Nigerian seafarers and engineers as well as te removal of wreckages  in the nation’s water ways.
Furthermore, the upsurge in sea piracy in Rivers and Bayelsa States waterways among others have made riverine transportation hazardous in the Niger Delta region. Pirates have regularly attacked passengers, off-loaded passengers on the mangrove, dispossessed, injure and maimed them before speeding off.
To make our waterways safe, the federal government needs to deploy gunboats equipped with marine police as well as house boats at various locations.
The Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Ports Authority (NRA) and National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) need to remove all wrecks on Nigerian waterways and take all other measures required to make navigation smooth and safe.
Air transportation: The history of air transportation in Nigeria in the recent past is one tainted with numerous but amiable crashes  that had claimed the lives of some of the nation’s best military officers, professionals personalities, and youth.
Air transpiration administration at the government regularly sector and at the level of airlines operators  have also been riddled with corruption and sharp practices that had compromised standards and best practices.
It is perhaps for these obvious lapses  that new Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka recently  directed all agencies in the ministry to stop further payments on all capital projects pending conclusion of projects verification he initiated.
The essence of the verification exercise is to ensure  that contractors complied with specification on all contracts awarded so far.
Industry watchers  said the steps so far taken by Chidoka were in the right direction to check fraud and sub-standard contract execution in the Ministry especially with the  image  problem suffered by  the  ministry under the out-gone minister  Stella Oduah over official car contract.
Notwithstanding, the  Federal  Government has done tremendous jobs in renovation and remodeling its airports nationwide.
Air travelers  have continued to commend  the federal government for the feat. It is however envisaged that the new infrastructure well make our air ways viable and safe.
Roads: The Jonathan  government has also recorded tremendous success in the restoration and modernization of the nation’s road network.
This has been  achieved  through  the public-private  partnership  in road sector  development designed to provide better and safer road.
The federal government says that it has constructed  a total of  2,000km of road, by 2013 and plans to increase  same from  about 52 per cent (17,742 km) to over  43 per cent (28,320 km).
However, a major federal link road, awarded in 2006 remains uncompleted till now. The East-West Road, awarded at a cost of N349 billion now stands at 77 per cent  completion, Niger Delta Affairs Minister, has said.
The road which leads to the nation’s two major refineries in Eleme in Rivers State is now in such a terrible state that it is causing accidents, deaths and high transportation cost to commuters along the Eleme Junction-Akpajo axis.
It is envisaged that with the $150 million credit facility from the African Development Bank and N200 billion from SURE-P the road will be completed within the December 2014 completion deadline.
With greater attention paid to the nation’s social infrastructure better days are ahead of Nigeria.

 

Donald Mike-Jaja