Shittu: Endless Pursuit of White Elephant ICT Projects
Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, has spent his tenure pursuing white elephant projects, reports Emma Okonji
The Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, a lawyer by profession, is one minister in the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari still grappling to make a mark in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.
Shittu is clearly a man that wishes to create impact in the ICT industry and in the last four years he has been struggling to do so, with lots of criticisms surrounding his ideas.
First was the idea to establish ICT universities in some selected states across Nigeria, which received condemnation on the ground that all Nigerian universities have computer science departments.
Of course the project did not fly after members of the National Assembly questioned the usefulness of the gigantic project that was expected to gulp billions of naira.
Again the minister in January this year came up with another plan to build a National ICT Park in Abuja, which he said was expected to attract real investment opportunities for the country if properly harnessed.
The establishment of the park according to Shittu, would be an avenue for the training of ICT talents in line with global digital transformation agenda, and would further facilitate digital capacity building for immediate employment, entrepreneurial skills development, job and wealth creation, designed to promote digital economy in an era of disruptive technology through effective regulations.
Shittu, however said the initiative would be supported by private investors, some of whom he said, had already indicated their interests to invest in the National ICT Park, which is expected to open up investment opportunities for the Nigerian economy.
But even as attractive as the project may have sounded, industry stakeholders did not believe that the project will see the light of the day, because of its complexities and the huge capital requirement.
What the minister failed to realise in his almost four years at the helm of the ministry is the need to support start-ups in the sector and make them competitive in a manner that would raise the sector’s contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product and position them firms for global patronage.
Nigeria has lots of start-ups that are begging for the right sponsorship to grow their businesses, but the government is looking elsewhere.
The priority of the Ministry of Communications in the last four years would have been to create an enabling environment for such firms to thrive.
The previous administration had developed several ICT hubs around the country. One of them was the Idea Hub located in Yaba, Lagos. But today, the Idea Hub and other similar ICT hubs have gone into extinction because of the unwillingness of government to maintain the hubs that were supposed to nurture technology start-ups to levels of maturity.
Most ICT hubs that exist in the country today were developed through private initiatives and the bottom line is to make money out of the business.
Nigeria therefore needs government-sponsored ICT hubs and the minister should have been focused on driving such initiatives instead of pursuing gigantic projects that would later turn out to be white elephant projects.
Industry stakeholders are of the view that government must begin to look at investment in ICT infrastructure, instead of leaving it in the hands of private sector players like the telecoms operators.
For instance, Nigeria does not have a national backbone infrastructure that would transmit broadband capacities from the shores of the country to the hinterlands, where the services are needed the most, a situation that has led to high cost of bandwidth in the country, thus limiting the number of persons and organisations who have need for internet access to participate in online business that is currently sweeping across the globe.
Nigeria has about five sub-marine cable companies like MainOne, Glo 1 and MTN WASC that berthed their sub-marine broadband cables at the shores of the country, and the country does not have a national backbone infrastructure to transmit the broadband capacities from the shores of the country to the hinterlands. The ugly situation forced Globacom to begin the process of building its Glo 11 broadband infrastructure that will provide broadband access and internet connectivity to Niger Delta region and the rural communities.
Industry stakeholders are of the view that the minister in almost four years, failed to look inwards and did not embark on ICT projects which were of benefit to Nigerians.
Sirika: High Performance on Safety, Challenged on Airport Infrastructure
Chinedu Eze examines the performance of the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, saying he has underperformed in spite of the high expectations of industry stakeholders
The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, raised the hope of industry stakeholders few months after his appointments, when he addressed them and singled out four key goals he aimed to accomplish by the end of this administration.
That was his first stakeholders’ meeting. Expectations were high because many of the stakeholders believed that being an aviator who was active in the sector, he knew the problems and how he would go about solving them.
It was at that meeting that he announced that the Buhari administration would establish a national carrier, build maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), facility, known as national maintenance hanger, establish a leasing company and also concession major airports in the country to enhance the private sector to contribute in the infrastructure development of the industry.
Unfortunately, with less than one month to the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term, none of these was accomplished.
For instance, effort to establish a national carrier ended in naught, as the federal government announced indefinite suspension of the project in September last year.
Without any of the planned project successfully executed, the aviation industry remains in the doldrums.
Today, Nigerian carriers still carry out their major checks overseas, the airports still suffer from obsolete infrastructure, foreign airlines still dominate the airlifting of Nigerian passengers to international destinations because existing indigenous carriers are yet to have the capacity. In addition, there is no national carrier yet to compete with foreign airlines, which repatriate about $2 billion annually as capital flight.
Although these major projects were not accomplished by the sector under Sirika, some progress were recorded in the last four years.
For instance, under the management of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Aero Contractors, which was almost moribund in 2016 was rebounded when the agency appointed a new Chief Executive Officer in the person of Captain Ado Sanusi and the company revved up and developed its maintenance facility that today it conducts C-check on Boeing B737 Classics in addition to small body aircraft like Bombardier Q300, Q400 and others. Today the facility maintenance aircraft for Nigerian airlines, Ghanaian airlines recently signed agreement to maintain aircraft for operators in the Congo Democratic Republic.
In 2018, Air Peace, an indigenous airline made history when it signed an agreement with Boeing for the acquisition of 10 brand new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and in April this year, the airline signed a $2.1 billion (N756.5 billion) agreement with Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, for the purchase of 30 Embraer 195-E2 jets.
In the area of airport infrastructure, the president last year inaugurated the newly- built 15 million passenger-capacity terminal at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), with an assurance that the government was committed to developing Nigeria into a regional air transportation hub, to enable it assume its leadership position in the aviation sub-sector in Africa. Earlier last year, the President unveiled the newly completed international terminal of the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa and there are indications that before the end of the third quarter of this year the international terminals at the Lagos and Kano airports would be unveiled.
Under the Buhari administration, Nigeria has maintained a very good safety recorded that since 2015 there has not been any accident involving commercial airliner in Nigeria.
Industry stakeholders believe the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority of Nigeria (NCAA) has done so much in the industry in the last four years, but because it does not make noise, not many know the significant achievements the regulatory authority has recorded.
Former Director of Engineering and COO of Medview Airline, Lukeman Anumaseun, said NCAA is highly efficient and remarked that while it keeps the airlines on their toes, it has not followed its mandate to the letter because if it does, no airline would continue to exist in Nigeria.
One of the major achievements of Sirika in the aviation industry in the last four years was the payment of pension for the ex-Nigeria Airways workers. After several years of clamour, the federal government in 2018 paid the former workers of the defunct national carrier their remaining pension.
For the President, Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Mr. Illitrus Ahmadu, so far the industry holds promise, even as he and expressed hope that government would do more in the next four years.
But many industry players have become sceptical because their past optimism was deflated by the low performance of the minister in the sector.
Adewole: Battles Low Budgetary Allocations Inspite of THISDAY’s Advocacy
Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Kingsley Nwezeh write that in spite of THISDAY’s advocacy, Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, battled low budgetary allocations in the last four years
With consistent low budgetary allocation to Ministry of Health in the past four years, the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, and the Minister of State, Dr Osagie Ehinare, have battled insufficiency of budgetary allocations, leaving funding gaps. But they have been persistent in the pursuit of policy initiatives and reforms.
THISDAY, the nation’s leading newspaper of record, as part of its corporate social responsibility efforts to help Nigeria focus on the challenges of financing its health sector and finding sustainable solutions to them, held several policy dialogues last year, with technical support from The World Bank.
The huge interest/concern by the participants, including some critical segments of the international community, could be seen in the finding of the Chief of Health, Nutrition and Population of The World Bank, Dr. Benjamin Loevinsohn, who said that Nigeria spends less on healthcare than almost any other country in the world, resulting in poor Nigerians paying out-of-pocket for their health. He noted that most poor Nigerians were unable to afford adequate healthcare.
But, in spite of the yearly low budgetary allocation, THISDAY’s findings revealed that the Ministry of Health boasts of some commendable achievements in terms of policy initiatives and reforms in the health sector in the past four years. As one of the most critical sectors in the country, the sector requires, at any given time, the full attention of government.
Since 2001 when Nigeria hosted African Union leaders, where a resolution to dedicate 15 percent of member-states’ annual budget to the health sector was reached, successive Nigerian health ministers have had no choice but to work with what is allocated to the ministry.
Since the Abuja Declaration, the highest percentage made in that direction was 5.95 percent in 2012. In President Mohammadu Buhari’s 2018 budget proposal, N340.45 billion representing 3.9 percent of the N8.6 trillion was allocated to the health ministry. As a professor of Gynaecology and former Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan, Professor Isaac Adewole, and the Minister of State for Health, Dr Osagie Ehinare, have been strong on implementation of policy initiatives.
Although some of the policies preceded the Buhari Administration, they saw to its logical conclusion. Development partners notably, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, Department for International Development, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among others, have made significant contributions in a bid to mitigate disease burdens and meet universal health care projections and targets.
Professor Adewole said recently that apart from the money added in the 2018 budget, the ministry had received about $22 million to fund the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF).
“The Department for International Development (DFID) is also putting 50 million pounds over the next five years” he added
As part of the National Health Act and a fundamental funding provision under the Act, the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF), provides one percent of the consolidated revenue for health funding. For the first time since the passage of the National Health Act in 2014, N55 billion was earmarked by the National Assembly as stipulated by the Act in 2018 budget. Six states are to benefit from the initial roll out. They include Osun, Abia, Niger, Yobe, Borno and Edo.
The federal government recently flagged off the enrolment of clients under the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) in Oshogbo, Osun State. The event which was held at the Primary Health Care Centre, Isale-Agbara, Osogbo, is a key component of the National Health Act, which aims at extending Primary Healthcare (PHC) to all Nigerians by substantially increasing the level of financial resources to PHC services.
Speaking at the Launch, the Minister of Health said that the BHCPF programme, also known as Huwe was a signature programme of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration.
With prolonged leadership crisis at the National Health Insurance Scheme and the poor national coverage of the NHIS scheme — since inception, and the passage of the National Health Insurance Amendment Bill by the National Assembly, it is expected that challenges facing the scheme would now be laid to rest.
This came as a result of a combined efforts of the ministers, Senator Lanre Tejuosho and Hon. Muhammad Usman, who heads the Senate and House Committees on Health. Though yet to be assented to by the President, the Bill is believed to have significantly resolved some lingering issues. Some health sector players, however, insist that there were still some grey areas.
On the Universal Health Coverage, Professor Adewole, believes that more funding from government would engender quality healthcare with a view to achieving the coverage.
“For us to accelerate progress on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Federal and State Governments would need to invest more significantly in health.
“Because of limited government and pooled health financing, health spending was dominated by out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditures. As a result, OOP spending accounts for about 75% of total health expenditure – among the highest in the world – and 25% of households spend more than 10% of their household consumption on health, sign that more people were prone to poverty traps if they fall ill.
“According to the latest National Health Accounts, 67%, 26%, and 7% of government health spending took place at the Federal, State, and Local levels respectively in 2016, as a result, PHCs frequently lack basic amenities, equipment, and drugs which are severely undermining service delivery and efforts to improve health outcomes”, he said at a recent event.
In spite of efforts at funding the health sector, disease burdens remain high. Nigeria still accounts for a significant percentage of the global malaria burden. According to the World Malaria Report, Nigeria still accounts for 25% of the global malaria burden. Nigeria also accounts for 19% of deaths from malaria.
“Though funding for malaria control has remained relatively stable since 2010, we need to improve on the level of our investment to achieve a reduction of at least 40% in malaria case incidence and mortality rates globally by 2020′, Adewole said in a recent interview.
The figures are not very far in relation to other diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis et cetera in terms of disease burden, funding and distance from eradication.
According to the 2017 Global TB Report, Nigeria is among the 14 high burden countries for TB, TB/HIV and MDR-TB. The country is also ranked 7th among the 30 high TB burden countries and 1st in Africa. Nigeria was among the 10 countries that account for 64 percent of the global gap in TB case finding in 2017. India, Indonesia and Nigeria account for almost half of the total gap. The National Strategic Plan, NSP, on tuberculosis, said recently that Nigeria requires $336m to address TB challenges by 2020. But, a breakdown of the funding for the disease in Nigeria so far, shows that $31m (9%) has been provided domestically, and $90m (27%) has been raised through international donors; leaving a $215m (64%) funding gap.
With low budgetary allocation, the performance of the ministers would only be viewed from the funds available and the judicious application; but critics are quick to argue that development partners make significant contributions to the funding of health programmes in Nigeria, pointing to the state of teaching hospitals and federal medical centres, as signs of poor management. Overall, it is an above average performance.