By Raheem Akingbolu

For governments in the state and federal levels to attract the respect they deserve and be seen as all inclusive, development experts have urged officials to be transparent in their approach as well as embark on people-oriented projects.

This was stakeholders’ position at a forum held recently in Lagos to discuss the viability of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) as it concerns the Mega City Status of Lagos and the country as a whole.

The forum, which was put together by Center for Ethics and Sustainable Development (CESD) in collaboration with Center for Public Policy Alternatives (CPPA), saw academics  and professionals brainstorm on the concept, what ought to be done and the impacts on development. The convener of the initiative, Dr. Olajumoke-Seweje Akiode, said PPP remains the potent tool needed to fast track development in a society.

She said:  “For any nation to witness any meaningful development and progress, the major route to take is to go through PPP. Development and infrastructure can only be scaled up when both the private sector and government go into partnership, which is what PPP offers. With this forum, we want to sensitise the public as well as educate ourselves on the way to go. At the end, we want both government and other stakeholders to have fully bought into the genuine culture of PPP. It is sad that today, many government institutions; both at the state and federal level, have almost turned it to slogan to further deceive Nigerians when they are not committed to the real ideal of PPP. We are trying to create a platform where we will all learn the basics to fully understand the concept of PPP.”

A director in the Lagos State Ministry of Works, Nurudeen Sodehinde, who spoke extensively on the state’s approach to infrastructural development, especially as it concerns PPP pointed out that the concept is cumbersome more than people imagine and that the state government always consider the interest of all when it comes to PPP.  He cited the proposed Fourth Mainland Bridge, which has not been embarked upon because of the huge plan it required.

He however admitted that PPP is one approach that should be welcomed considering the fact that both parties are meant to share the risks involved. He urged the people to consider the need to support government in its effort to improve infrastructure by fulfilling their own part of the bargain, like payment of taxes and tolls. According to him, the partnership is beneficial in that it helps both parties to share risks.

He said: “Nothing sustainable can be free; we should be ready to pay for every service we enjoy so as to encourage maintenance and continuity in governance. The fact that we have natural resources does not preclude us from paying for infrastructure we enjoy,”

Buttressing the position of the consultant, a Senior Lecturer in the University of Lagos, Dr. Adebisi Sunday said such partnership arrangement should be welcomed since both parties have the obligation to respect the right of one another. Adebisi said sharing risks would help both parties to fulfil their own part of their obligations as no one would be prepared to bear the consequence of their action.  While urging government to provide enabling environment for such partnership to blossom, the university don said government owes it a duty to formulate policies that would protect the interest of the private sector.

He said: “Government must provide sustainable policy that will protect the private sector because they own the land and the law. For that reason, it should offer clear cut policies and show that it is serious in implementing them. Besides, the policies must be allowed to become law.

However, it needs stating that public private partnership can only come into fruition if it is need-driven just we have in the case of the Fourth Mainland Bridge which a lot of people have been clamouring for, for many years,” he further added

Adebisi noted that rather than creating much noise on its intention to deliver the project, government should focus attention in creating the needed structure to actualise it saying that at the moment nothing seems to be in place.

On her part, an Associate Professor of Urban Planning, also from University of Lagos, Dr. Taibat Lawanson said it was unfortunate that what government described as public private partnership is not really true in the real sense of it, arguing that the people which ought to be the focus had been left behind in the scheme of things.

In what looked like a radical view to the discourse, Lawanson had proposed 4P instead of 3P to mean Public-Private-People Partnership so that those to whom the government has a responsibility to can feel that they are part of it. Driving home her point, she said government has a mandate to the people and that this involves opening up the space for development as well as considering public interest while embarking on projects.

 A principal partner in BONA FIDEI Law, a commercial law firm based in Lagos, Mr. Anthony Kpokpo, said PPP arrangements in Nigeria including Lagos have always been shrouded in secrecy.

According to Kpokpo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, until government begins to lay the books on the table before embarking on it, the people would continue to see the insincerity on the part of government. Citing example of a recent arrangement between the Lagos state government and other partners, he stated that his findings showed that one of the partners, Visible Asset had no information on its website to show how capable it is to deliver on its mandate, an indication of lack of transparency in the arrangement. The commercial lawyer also berated the state government for the power it gives to an agency of government called Lagos Global that has no legal backing, over the legally established PPP office.

He said: “If you take a look at what goes on, often time, you will see that there is lack of transparency. That is why you see governments failing to follow due process when it comes to the arrangement itself. That is why we have chosen to ignore the structure and the processes involved. Take the case of Visible Asset, a partner in the Fourth mainland bridge project; it has no visible project in its website. One can now wonder how government arrived at Visible Asset”, he said.