A famous quote states that in life, “dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things, but the absence of vision”. This to me captures the situation in Nigeria. While attending the University of Lagos in the 80s, I wrote a paper on the features of economic planning in Nigeria from 1960 to 1985. One of the main elements I can still remember is the flagrant lack of continuity from one regime to another. A regime will come to power with a ten year plan; but is replaced by a new regime three years later. The new regime rather than continue with the ten year plan; produces its own fresh ten year plan that has no coherence or correlation with the previous plan. Then another regime comes to power and the cycle of confusing and visionless leadership continued.
So for almost thirty years, economic planning in Nigeria lacked continuity, coherence and durability. I am not sure much have changed in the past twenty years. President Yar’adua came in with his seven point agenda only for President Jonathan to abandon it three years later for his own “agenda”. These series of short-term focused leadership has been a major feeder of corruption in the nation and a consequential cause of underdevelopment. It seems each government wants to invest only in projects that can be completed during its term of four years; rather than any long term strategic investment in the needs of the nation and its people. This is reflected at both the national and state level. Allow me to state with the states.
To illustrate my point at the state level; I will contrast two states, Katsina and Lagos. It has been reported that Lagos state alone is responsible for 25% of the debts of all the states in Nigeria combined. That is over N1Trillion. The great grandchildren our generation will still be paying off this debt in Lagos. But why such a huge debt? It is my opinion that Lagos state under Tinubu and Fashola started too many infrastructure and other projects all at the same time. These projects could not have been paid for under the State’s normal budgetary bandwidth. So borrowing was inevitable. And they binged on borrowing to a reckless abandon. After all, each contract is opportunity for graft and to steal our common wealth through bribes and over inflated contracts. Hence, the more the number of contracts initiated, the more money the politicians make and able to steal from the State.
I once heard a commissioner in Lagos stating that the easiest way to steal money untraceable in Lagos is through road constructions and dredging. His logic is that these are complicated projects that it is difficult to easily monitor quantity and there are too many variants and profile of projects to be precise. A one kilometre road in the dry land of Ikeja is not same as one kilometre road in swampy Lekki. These understandable variations makes award of contracts difficult to pin down; hence you will notice the same pattern too many simultaneous infrastructure projects in many APC states. It is their tried and tested stealing system. It is contracts galore. The difficulty that Aregbesola faces in Osun today, is exactly the same. He started too many projects that the current income profile of the state cannot support. Hence the state is broke. So what does he do; borrow of course.
This is in contrast with Katsina, a state that is living within its means and developing at a rate its income can sustain. Yar’adua laid a good foundation of prudence in his state that the current governor seem to be continuing. That is why the state is virtually debt free today. Why start twenty road projects when your income can only sustain five of them. Why not start the five; complete it and then start another five and so on. Any household run like these reckless states would have been bankrupt long time ago. Infrastructure development is good, but at what cost and will it be affordable by the people. There is nothing wrong in pacing the development of a state; afterall Rome was not built in a day. True development must be sustainable. Why do state governors not develop a twenty or even thirty year plan for their state and then start the little they can and allow future governments to continue and complete these projects. Why the rush of build-up debts for generations to come? This greed and graft induced urgency will only lead to abandoned projects or infrastructure in the future when subsequent administrations cannot find the money to complete or sustain what they inherited.
As for the Federal government, well that is even worse. Funding from borrowing underpins a lot of what the federal government has been doing in the past few years. That is why a nation that was virtually debt free at the end of the Obasanjo regime is now Billions of dollars in debt again in a few years since. Our politicians seem concerned only about what happens while they are in office and will sell the nation into slavery if needed to make the point. Great leader focus on making live better for the future generations but bad leaders are only interested in what happens to themselves here and now.
The lack of strategic vision for national transformation is apparent in this current government as with many before it. There is little evidence of joined up thinking. But we cannot change the past; hence our criticism has to be directly at the current leadership as that is what we can influence and hope for a change of approach. The UK government has just started a high speed rail project that will be fully completed in 2030; and we are just in 2014. Why? Because they need to spread the cost over that many years to live within their means. If they had been prepared to borrow heavily to fund the project; it could have been finished in a fraction of that timeline.
Good governments do not mortgage the future of generations to come. But with greed as the main motivation; many politicians in Nigeria are only interested in what will pay them now even if the future generations suffer the consequence. Such selfish and visionless leadership is what the nation is encumbered with at all levels. While there are governments like that in Katsina; there is still hope that the tide will turn eventually. The Greeks gave the world the system called democracy. But it was also a common Greek saying that “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”. We pray for such leadership in our nation.