Is it just about roads and bridges?

Few years ago, a former president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, voluntarily admitted that there was a “policy miscalculation” in respect of World Bank’s policy on infrastructure, specifically for African countries. In his humble confession, he said, “We are now saying that’s really the wrong approach, that you’ve got to start investing in your people right now”. He also admitted that the respected organisation had emphasised too much on roads, bridges and electrification/energy which have failed to yield any intimidating progress in the human capital development index of many African countries. Personally, i don’t know whether the direct admission of failure is an apology or an expression of sophisticated excuse. Any ways, the humility of admitting to a mistake should be commended, a quality very absent in the planet of Nigeria’s economic intelligentsia. 

 Frankly, Nigeria has disappointed the world and “she” is still disappointing the world because an oil rich country with no guarantee of regular power supply or viable public infrastructure is worst than a “spoilt brat”. But escaping the trap of wailings, it will be needful to unveil the true picture at this juncture. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Nigeria will be needing $878 billion by 2040 to confront its infrastructure deficits. The African Development Bank (AfDB) also reported that we will be needing $3 trillion to fix the infrastructure deficits. These infrastructure entail social infrastructure and economic infrastructure and Nigeria cannot boast of adequacy in either of the two categories of infrastructure though with latest impressive drive on economic infrastructure such as rail, road and ports by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.  Furthermore, focusing on states in Nigeria and their performance on economic and social infrastructure, one will realise the need for for rethinking in policy formulation and policy execution, especially on infrastructure. Despite fairly aggressive strides of the Federal Government of Nigeria on economic infrastructure, especially, the Nigerian governors have largely remained sluggish and poorly innovative. The few exceptional cases like Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Osun and Bauchi steas are obviously inadequate despite progressive strides.

 It has been observed that these fairly progressive states have focused more on an aspect of economic infrastructure such as roads and bridges but with grossly insufficient focus on social infrastructure such as water supply, health infrastructure, modern educational infrastructure, mass transit, affordable housing and recreational parks. Some governors will or should I say most governors choose to spend more on roads and bridges in the “state capital”.  It is believed that over-concentration on roads and bridges at the expense of other demanding social infrastructure is to create an imagery of “performing governor” to visitors or the most juicy model of enriching and rewarding political financiers. 
Albeit, this analysis should not be misconstrued as castigation of economic infrastructure such as roads and bridges but a reminder on how neglected social infrastructure such as good hospitals, modern schools/libraries, water supply etc have contributed to our poorer social living standards. The preceding administrations in the 60s, 70s and 80s despite imperfections did not only spend on roads and bridges or focus construction of roads in capital cities only and neglected other social amenities that are basic like low-cost housing, pipeborne water, well built schools, affordable health care and agricultural expansion* leading to more human capital development despite the absence of social welfare schemes which many European countries run concurrently with their provision of adequate public amenities. The Lateef Jakande administration of Lagos state in the 80s is a good reminder.  It is better we appreciate the economic realities that roads and bridges are not the only representation of infrastructure and the need to rethink policy and model of infrastructural spending is imminent. We need to be spending adequately on health, education, rural electrification, pipe-borne water, mass housing etc. Governors have abandoned water supply and have normalized borehole drilling. Kogi state residents for example are regular victims of water shortages and largest hit was recently experienced. States with proximity to Atlantic ocean like Lagos state and Ondo state don’t also enjoy adequate water supply despite the infrastructural advantage. 
In conclusion, Nigeria’s infrastructural deficit is massive and its financial demands are intimidating but impressive adequacy is very possible but we must see the need to rethink our infrastructural policies. There must be a balanced focus and spending on economic infrastructure and social infrastructure. Infrastructural loans should not be over-concentrated on economic infrastructures such as rail, roads, bridges and ports at the expense of most demanding standards of living. Fiscal policies by the federal and state governments should see to striking a balance between economic infrastructure and social infrastructure.

Dada-Qadri, a Lawyer and policy analyst, writes via
[email protected]