Monday, 21 November 2011 21:45

Thoughts On Nigeria’s Population Explosion and Infrastructure Investment

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A short while ago, at the 2011 World Population Day celebration, it was revealed that by October 31, Nigeria's population would hit the 167 million mark; and would hit 433 million by 2050. To many, it was a verdict of a bleak future, and an imminent catastrophe. Nigerians then sat back to wait for an official reaction from our leaders. We might as well be waiting for the sky to fall down. But then, I was not very surprised.

Do these people - I mean our leaders - pay any attention to such issues that affect their people? They are not "thinkers" and they are not "people who act" on important issues. In fact they are utterly incapable of recognising important human and social issues even when it's right on top of them. These are the type of people who have been ruling us for decades and held our development as a nation and a people hostage.

Should we be surprised? I always say No! The reason behind this is simple: Nigerians never elected these leaders; they forced themselves on us, either by fraud, i.e. rigging or coercion or by pointing guns at us. So what do we do? We accepted them and then ask God to save us from them. Maybe, maybe not, but I am looking forward to the day when we will be asking God to save our leaders from our hands, when we have our hands around their thieving throats.

Back to the issue of population explosion! A responsible and serious leadership will be very much concerned at this news. They should be asking themselves the following questions:

·How will we feed the extra mouths?

·How will we house the extra bodies?

·How will we educate the extra students?

·How will we provide adequate quality healthcare and prevent diseases for the extra vulnerable?

·How will we provide jobs for the extra youth population as a result?

·How will we provide services and goods for the extra population?

·How will we ensure that the whole people of Nigeria have better quality of living? And a host of other things to think about and start acting on in readiness for the next 10, 20 or 30 years.

The population explosion, which perhaps ought to be a blessing, might prove a nightmare for Nigeria, especially as we are never prepared for anything, until the disaster lands on our feet.

One thing that is certain as day and night is that our leaders are not concerned about the future; never concerned about the future of their country and people. They are more concerned about NOW; about what goes into their pocket NOW; what they can steal and acquire NOW; who cares whether the children of Musa, Akin and Chidi, and their children's children survive in future? "It's not my brief or problem to be responsible for their lives and future, as long as mine are assured".

I like to compare the pictures of Bill Clinton and Obama when they were first elected presidents of the United States, and when they left. They were fresh and young initially. By the time Clinton ruled for eight years, he was looking quite old with grey hairs and worry-lines etched on his face (and this was not as a result of Monica Lewinsky). Have a good look at Barack Obama after 3 years as President, and you will see what I mean. He is still trim, but with more grey hairs and worry-lines; and he smokes even more now because of stress.

Please compare our former and current Presidents, heads of state, State Governors and even Local Government Chair persons, and you will see the difference. Our leaders, elected, selected or not elected, tend to bloat, put on weight and beer-bellies and look robust and over-fed even after what we would have regarded as a strenuous 4 or 8 years in power. Some of them even have time to bleach their skins, partying all the time or to indulge in paedophilia. A former State governor was always found on the golf course even during the week throughout his almost eight-year ignoble and utterly irresponsible rule. Mind you, I am not saying they should be looking haggard and miserable, but please, for crying out loud, they should at least look like they are working for the people who elected them. Do they work 9 to 5?

Their daily appearance is certain proof that our leaders do not work. We work for them. They do not think, we do that for them. They do not worry about anything because the position they find themselves in is one that they are there to enjoy all the fruits of their labour and hence they must be free of all worries – if in indeed we can call their struggles to get into power, labours. Our leaders see governance as a place to relax and enjoy, not working.

No! Our leaders do not have time to think, worry, act and initiate new things and ideas. No, they don't. They don't even want to go through the rigours of thinking; exercising their brains. It is too much for them. It will damage their brains. What they have time for, and think about, is steal from the treasury; accept bribes, party and womanise. These are special acquired societal skills that do not require much exercise of the faculties. And they also do have time to bully us.

When leaders don't have time to think, worry and act, what you get are indolent, useless, greedy, corrupt, murderous and irresponsible leaders, with the accompanying mismanagement, looting, profligacy and selfishness. Like they say, the Devil will always find work for the idle hand, same thing for the idle mind. And believe me, these people are idle – politicians, civil servants, soldiers, police, etc, the people needed to drive the wheels of progress and development, the well-being, the economy, the workings, the heart of a country.

All they can think of is how much money they will make from inflating contracts; from looting the treasury; from accepting bribes; from making illegal deductions from Federal Allocations; from making money from implementing social and community projects that should normally benefit the people.

So when again I read recently that the Minister for Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala said that Nigeria needs to spend $67 billion on infrastructure development projects over the next four years,ranging from refineries, transportation, energy and information technology, I nearly went ballistic. And these are just for the priority projects, not all. This is not because of inflation of the figures, but rather under-estimation of our problems. Nigeria probably needs twice as much, even over the next 4 years.

The main reason is because there is hardly any infrastructure really worth saying is on the ground. All of them are moribund – agriculture and food; healthcare and hospitals; schools and education; electricity and power; railway, road, air and marine transport, government buildings, you name it. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Let us be realistic, and I support the Finance Minister in her assessment; the Government alone can never be able to finance all the infrastructural rehabilitation and/or development in this country. No sane or responsible government must even consider that. It is a daunting task of fixing a long neglected and decayed infrastructure, a culture of lack of maintenance, further exacerbated by massive and endemic corruption, greed, inefficient bureaucracy and wastefulness.

My problems are accountability and corruption; profligacy and mismanagement. How many billions of dollar and pound have been poured into Nigeria via foreign loans, grants, etc since the end of the Civil War? This money, these sources of developmental funds comes in everyday, available to be used for one development project or the other, but alas, they end up in private pockets. The projects are too numerous to list here, but they are well known in broad categories – Health, e.g. hospital rehabilitations, child health, polio eradication, rural healthcare, etc; Agriculture, e.g. irrigation, river basins authorities, fadama projects, etc; Power, e.g. integrated power projects, etc; Education, e.g. computer fall all, e-learning, nomadic education, etc; and thousands of such projects.

What results do we see of these projects, funded by well-meaning organisations around the world? Nothing! Nobody ever benefits from them except those Nigerian officials put in charge, and who merely put the money in their pockets, walk away and nobody asks them what they did with the millions of dollars and pounds.

It is very nauseating and frustrating when these things happen and keeps happening. And these are my fears for the call that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is making. Out of the $67 billion, id available, Nigerians will be lucky if a third of it is spent as it should be spent. No, there are some people ready to pocket 66% of the money, if not 90% if possible. Contracts will be inflated; physical money will be pilfered; low and poor quality materials will be used or supplied and work will be done which will not meet specifications, standards and quality.

So how do we ensure these do not happen? It is all about transparency and accountability. Our society and system is so corrupt that I hesitate to make pronouncements here as it will hardly bear any fruit. In fact, I have always contended that corruption was built into the system by our political and military leaders and civil servants, past and present, executive, legislative, judiciary, public and private and all other areas.

But the whole problem boils down to transparency and accountability in Governance, Public Procurement and Due Process. Public procurement is the purchase of goods and services by governments and state-owned enterprises is highly exposed to corruption. Both public and private actors in the procurement process may be tempted to divert goods and services or public funds for their personal use. It is therefore imperative to identify "weak links" in the public procurement process where the risk of corruption is high, to explore the best ways of improving transparency and accountability and to identify effective actions to prevent, detect and sanction corruption in this field.

According to the Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, www.U4.no, it is possible tocombat and prevent corruptionin public contracting and procurement. There is now a global consensus on the need to curb corruption that encompasses companies, governments, donors and credit agencies and civil society organisations around the world.

We used to believe that the only way to fight corruption in governance and public contracting was through law enforcement and control. While this is clearly necessary, it often comes too late, after the damage has been caused. This was more of Quality Control, rather than Quality Assurance. More importantly, corrupt behaviour should be prevented by giving those involved in contracting and procurement the opportunity to avoid it and the pressure to do so.

Good rules, transparency and monitoringare three elements that help to prevent corruption in this area. Donors should assist governments in elaborating and enforcing procurement laws and procedural guidelines whichcomply with international standards.

These procurement rulesshould at least minimise confidentiality, state open bidding from pre-qualified suppliers as a principle, guarantee access to information.

Efficient managementis one of the most effective preventive mechanisms. It promotes transparency and accountability, facilitates oversight and citizen participation, and brings legitimacy to governmental decisions. Rules that follow these principles also provide a good basis to prevent corruption.

Rules are not enough, however, and law enforcement mechanisms are often weak, as we have found out to our cost in Nigeria. Monitoringby local and international experts and independent oversight agencies can help make existing norms effective. Civil society also has an important role to play in monitoring.Donors can alsopromote integrity in the private sector, e.g. through information campaigns.

Adequate training of procurement officers, the establishment of multidisciplinary and multi-party evaluation committees, rotation principles for procurement officials and the establishment of accountability and report procedures, are key in fighting corruption. Incentives promoting 'good behaviour' for individuals are also needed, such as the performance-based staff incentive structures. Systems usually plan punishment for 'bad behaviour', but experience proves that rewards for good behaviour can motivate individuals. The development of codes of conduct for staff is also extremely important.

Will all these work in a Nigeria that has been brought to its knees by massive and endemic corruption? That is another problem. But we should still try.

However, only a transparent, honest, clean, sincere, focused, visionary leadership will be able to do this. What we have at present will not do it; that is the bad and hopeless news. Already, according to ex-President Obasanjo, the current leadership has managed to make $35 billion foreign reserve that he left for late President Yar 'Adua disappear into thin air (I'd rather say, disappear into private pockets and bank accounts) I am not surprised judging by the level of waste, corruption and mismanagement I see or encounter everyday in Nigeria. So you can imagine what they will do to $67 billion if available!

I fear o.

We keep stealing what belongs to us in the first place!!!! Madness, I call it!

 

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Akintokunbo Adejumo

Akintokunbo Adejumo, M Sc.,CIHM, MCMI, FITP, MIH, a social and political commentator on Nigerian issues, lives and works in London, UK as a housing professional. He is a graduate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria (1979) and University of Manitoba, Canada (1985). He is also the Coordinator of CHAMPIONS FOR NIGERIA, an organisation devoted to celebrating genuine progress, excellence, commitment, selfless and unalloyed service to Nigeria and the people of Nigeria