Moving Nigeria Forward (II): Security and Infrastructure

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Several development experts and commentators have given wide-ranging opinions about the path to sustainable development for African countries (lumping all into one group), and most of them have focused on developing the leadership capacity of African leaders and fighting corruption. These are two very pivotal steps to the progress of the continent, but neither of them necessarily translates directly to results on the ground; they are underlying factors that would potentially minimize the wastages that African governments are notorious for and spur the growth of industries that are essential for human, social and economic development. In Nigeria, two things are absolutely non-negotiable in our quest for progress and visible development; two things that every developing country needs: security and infrastructure.

The need for adequate security of lives and property cannot possibly be stressed enough in a country with such pronounced diversity and multiplicity of interests. Both citizens and potential foreign investors need assurance of the protection of their assets in order to guarantee continued investment in the country and her citizens. The most volatile countries on earth are unsurprisingly the least developed countries; African countries and Middle-eastern countries. What investor in their right minds would commit significant financial and human resources to a country that is likely to go up in flames without a moment’s warning? What reasonable business person would devote their attention to a location where local citizens are so riled up about the inefficiency of their government that they could tear down structures to register their grievance? What serious capitalist would prefer to situate their enterprise in a locality where their workers stand the risk of being randomly kidnapped and subjected to needless hardship by some hungry folks who just need enough food to get by?

African countries, and Nigeria in particular. have attracted the attention of foreign investors for a number of reasons, none of which include security and political stability. The abundance of natural resources, the greed of political leaders and the concurrent docility of African citizens have all fortuitously meshed into an amazing opportunity for the plundering of Africa’s resources and exploitation of her citizens, in spite of the occasional threats to foreign workers. In Nigeria, our blessing has been our curse; our inability to develop local expertise capable of transforming our wealth of oil resources to economic gain has opened the floodgates for foreign oil companies (who are solely in the country for their own interests) to pillage our resources and leave us with mere scraps.

Foreign oil companies have ridden roughshod over Nigerians for decades because of their expertise, strong negotiating power (and often corrupt activities) and the hand-downs that they have given to us. When companies like Shell and Chevron hire Nigerian engineers and pay them fairly high salaries, organize soccer competitions, build a few classrooms across universities and organize a couple of scholarships, they are praised to high heavens for their creditable investments in the country; however, few people realize that those scraps that are being hiked around are mere peasantry hand-downs that keep the citizens quiet while the country is being milked dry. No comprehensive strategy is being developed to gradually replace these brutal capitalist companies with local ones so that Nigerians can own their resources and help themselves and their future generations. Nigerians have always had a clue that foreign companies have not helped as much as we have expected them to, but listening to the President during his media chat recently, we heard a leader who openly admitted that the country has no control over its own oil resources because of the stranglehold that has been imposed by foreign oil companies.

In an ideal world, Nigerian companies would request to work with foreign companies strictly in areas where strategic partnerships are required to develop the country’s resources. So much has been made of the brilliance of foreign investors, while so little investment has been made in the country’s citizens and this has created the conundrum that now characterizes Nigeria. Up until recently when citizens of the Niger-Delta came to the full realization of the need for foreign companies to contribute their quota to developing the environment which they have helped to destroy and to contribute to the education and economic empowerment of the residents of oil-producing areas, Nigerians demonstrated no intent to keep foreigners accountable for their activities. Between 2006 and now, the instability that has engulfed the country (north and south) is no less a result of the awakening of Nigerians to their rights than it is a manifestation of the growing dissatisfaction of Nigerians with the destructive activities of ‘foreign investors’. If only our government would stop being overly respectful of foreign companies and demand equal investment in the country’s economy and citizens as is being benefited from our natural resources, then peace and quiet might return to the country.

Alongside the need for adequate security to attract local and foreign (socially responsible) investors, there is an urgent and desperate need for Nigeria’s infrastructural deficiencies to be addressed. There have been several blue prints and white papers produced on strategies to improve Nigeria’s infrastructure, all of which have prominent red flags screaming at observers. Power generation has been Nigeria’s Achilles heel for decades and one would expect that visible progress will be made with each successive administration; however the tone and language of the President during the recent media chat gives no confidence that there is a solution in sight. “We are trying, but we cannot make promises” is the last thing that a country that hopes to break into the world’s top economic class needs to be saying through her President. It is quite inconceivable that a country with abundant water resources for hydro-electric power generation, abundant sunlight for solar power generation, abundant wind energy, coal, natural gas and agriculture for alternative power generation still struggles to provide stable electricity to all citizens. It is impossible for a nation’s economy to run successfully on frail power generating sets which emit so much carbon monoxide that kills the environment; it is extremely impossible for small and medium-scale enterprises to thrive in a country where half of their running costs are expended on purchasing fuel for their often-disappointing generating sets and it is impossible for education, health, transportation and other key sectors of the economy to survive on candles as the President believes is the next best alternative while we wait indefinitely for stable power supply to arrive from the skies.

Investment in educational infrastructure is another non-negotiable venture for a country that aspires to global recognition. The countries of the world which have opened their doors to hundreds of thousands of Nigerian students are providing resources that Nigeria urgently needs to guarantee in order to keep the next generation on the ground. Classrooms, laboratories, libraries, experimental equipment and massive financial investment in ongoing research in all fields will be necessary to stimulate creative thought and lead to ground-breaking discoveries that will eventually translate into the physical products that the world needs. Nigeria will have to develop a strategy for raising a generation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics gurus who would compete with their counterparts across the world to introduce the new wave of products that the world anticipates. Nigeria will have to train the next generation of thought leaders in the field of management and business practices and develop a capacity to translate our interest for the arts into considerable expertise. All these would remain wild dreams without the necessary infrastructure that our educational institutions require; from primary to tertiary levels.

Building a sustainable future for the country also requires a very strong health industry and a well-developed strategy for environmental sanitation. Nigerians have come to accept the fact that qualitative health care delivery is only possible outside the shores of the country and therefore those who have the financial resources have resigned themselves to spending at least 10 times the expected cost of healthcare in foreign lands. We would never improve our economy or gain the respect of the world if our citizens die on our hospital beds daily while our public officials undertake medical tourism across the world. From the bottom-up, there is a need to invest in clean water initiatives, construct drainage systems nationwide to reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases, protect the quality of our oxygen to minimize the prevalence of air-borne diseases and invest in medical research to ensure that we are able to stay on track with the rest of the world in combating curable and presently incurable diseases.

As we trudge on towards the beautiful future which we foresee, it is not likely that we would be able to rely on poor road networks, inexistent rail networks, skeletal waterways and calamitous airways.  Investment in transportation is an extremely important aspect of Nigeria’s social and economic growth; local farmers need transportation to get their produce to the markets as do massive factories. The cost of producing, marketing and purchasing goods in the country would be drastically reduced if so much money weren’t wasted between the factories and the market. We can no longer condone poorly constructed roads which require patching up every other week; we can no longer manage beat-up vehicles which break down every other mile; we can no longer wait indefinitely for the speed trains which we have been promised for decades and we can definitely no longer tolerate aircraft being recycled from the world’s dumping sites. We have had enough disasters to last a lifetime with our transport industry and the time is ripe for a complete overhaul of our transportation infrastructure.

The next generation of innovators needs to come out of Nigeria, and they need to be trained and equipped in Nigeria. In order to fulfill this wild ambition, we require massive investment in upgrading our security apparatus from the nation’s top military brass to the newest constable in the police force; we need to strengthen our capacity to quell uprisings across the country and provide enough resources for citizens to get about their daily businesses. With adequate infrastructural investments in power generation, education, health and transportation, Nigeria would be able to provide the basic necessities for citizens to unleash their inner strengths and get their creative juices flowing. A new Nigeria is indeed within reach, but it will never become a reality without a guarantee of security and infrastructure.

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun

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