Snippets of Underdevelopment

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THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

THE HORZION BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE

An expert in agriculture regretfully observed recently that the real farmers were yet to have access to adequate fertilizer.
He also raised an alarm about the dearth of agricultural extension officers whose professional work is vital to increasing the capacity of the farmers and productivity.

Such a statement might not be a surprise to those familiar with the situation of things in the agricultural sector.
In any case, lack of fertilizer is just one piece of bad news in that all-important sector of the economy.
It is, however, a piece of evidence of the lip-service paid to policy. These are not the sort of stories that should be told in a nation that should be taking developmental leaps.

For decades, even those who are not in the business of agriculture have been turned into experts in the economics and politics and of fertilizer. The fertilizer question has always been a political one in both military and civil dispensations.

Invariably, the issue of fertilizer comes up during political campaigns.
For more than four decades, different administrations have made a sing-song of the “diversification of the economy” with agriculture being prominent in the list of areas of great economic opportunities.

Instead of the simple availability of fertilizer, the public is often regaled with the nitty-gritty of the science of its production. One of the ingredients in the production of fertilizer, phosphate, also assumes its own politics and, sometimes, diplomacy. Allegations of corruption associated with the distribution of fertilizer are legion. It is commonplace to find the phrase, “fertilizer racket “ in newspaper headlines.

For local production, phosphate has to be imported. Morocco is one source of phosphate for local production of fertilizer in Nigeria . The people of Western Sahara fighting for their freedom from Moroccan domination have been serving a notice to Nigeria that the phosphate destined for Nigeria is from their soil. The dispute is yet to be resolved.

Now, the perennial fertilizer tale is just one of the several stories of the gross underdevelopment of the agricultural sector. Yet, it is this shameless story of the non-availability of fertilizer and other structural issues that the people are daily fed with instead of food on the table.
Hence, after decades of slogans, summits, seminars, task forces, committees, commissions etc. food insecurity remains a threat.

Nigeria still imports food.
Apart from the agricultural sector, there are other soul-depressing stories of things that have worked elsewhere in development terms but have simply not worked in Nigeria.
Monuments of underdevelopment abound in infrastructure. There are roads, bridges and water projects conceived in the 1960s which still remain uncompleted or, worse still, abandoned after a lot of money has been invested.
“Abandoned project” is a very familiar phrase in Nigeria’s developmental lexicon.

A government takes off making a lot of noise about abandoned projects. The president or governor sets up a committee to audit the projects and recover public funds from contractors that failed to execute the projects. There is a soul-lifting promise that the projects would be completed within the tenure of the leader.
However, such promises are hardly kept. More often than not the register of abandoned projects is expanded by the time the president or governor leaves office.

Take a few samples.
Ajaokuta is a story of how not execute a project. The idea of what once promised to be a model steel production plant was conceived almost 60 years ago. The project is yet to serve the purpose for which the plant was built. Metallurgical lectures by experts have been offered to the helpless public for decades on the project. The crucial nature of the iron ore in Itakpe has been stressed and the necessary linkage drawn. There have been several attempts to privatise the plant. Yet the Nigerian dream in conceiving the project is yet to realised.

.The second Niger Bridge is truly an important project for the nation’s socio-economic development. But for geo-political considerations it is regarded as a south-east project. But that is not the important thing in this reflection. The idea of the bridge is an old one in the discussions of infrastructural development. However, the bridge comes into focus more often during elections. Different models of financing the project have been put forward by various administrations depending on their fancies. Today, only the ardent optimists hope that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would complete the project before 2023 given the history public disappointment with the execution of the project.

The delay in executing the project is a feature of the culture of disarticulation in Nigeria’s development story. It should be obvious in a setting of sound economic planning that such a bridge is a priority that is worth all the investments put into its prompt execution. But in a dispensation in which development is equated with random award of contracts, the strategic place of the bridge could easily be missed.

Now, if you think the fate of the bridge is due to the fact that no Igbo man has been president in this dispensation, ponder the fate of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the east-west road in the Niger Delta.
A former president said towards the end of his tenure that he felt ashamed of the state the federal highways and bridges. That was an honest moment some years ago. The highways are largely not motorable even today, after five years of another president in power

The Lagos-Ibadan expressway was commissioned 42 years ago. It is obviously an economically important road in Nigeria. The reconstruction of the 127.6 kilometre – road has been a major feature of the politics of this civil dispensation. It has been a subject of flag-off ceremonies and various economic experiments. Although it is a Nigerian road in every socio-economic sense, yet in the geo-political taxonomy of projects in Nigeria it would be classified as a south-west project for budgetary considerations.

Meanwhile, a Yoruba man was president for eight years and the road could not be fixed during his tenure. So much for identity politics without social content!
The famous east-west road is reputed to traverse all the Niger Delta states. It is a very important road to this region that has suffered great injustice endemic in the distorted Nigerian federalism. The other day, a television on footage of a portion of the road showed a total collapse of things. Travellers got trapped and spent nights on the road. The pains were quite evident on the faces of the helpless people.

So, this economically crucial road in the region from where crude oil is exported is yet to be fixed. Yet, an Ijaw man was president for at least five years. The east-west road is a metaphor for the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta region.

Meanwhile, seminars and conferences have been held on the execution of these pivotal projects and several others. For decades, successive minsters in charge of works have conducted tours at the sites with their teams of project managers. Besides, experts adept at rationalising failures of successive governments have explained to the public the details of the engineering required in the construction of these projects. All the bolts and nuts needed have been mentioned.

Instead of stories of people enjoying the benefits of these projects, the public sphere has been inundated with all the technical details of the raw materials needed and the operations to be carried out for the projects to be consummated. It is as if everyone should know as much as a civil engineer before travelling on the road or crossing a bridge.
It is actually an index of underdevelopment that public officials spend years explaining technical details of projects to the public without the projects being completed.

All this amounts to a rationalisation of the monumental failure to deliver public goods.
Come to think of it, the thirst of water consumers would never be quenched with technical rationalisation of why millions of Nigerians have no access to potable water. And the people do not actually require the knowledge of an engineer before having water to drink.

Politicians take pride in commissioning boreholes in 2020 instead of planning and executing large water schemes to supply the people with adequate potable water.
By the way, members of the Nigerian elite visit other countries and they enjoy facilities that “remain on the drawing board” in their own country. Does it occur to them that no one bothers them with the technical details of the provision and operations of the items of infrastructure?

For instance, Dubai is a major destination of the Nigerian nouveau for holidays, meetings and celebration of weddings and birthdays. Perhaps, the only event that Dubai is yet to be made the venue is the funeral of an aged parent who dies in Nigeria! The attraction of Dubai is that the infrastructure works – roads, airports, hospitals, schools, recreation and other facilities. Power supply is steady. Potable water is taken for granted even the desert. All this is a result of planning and vision. Dubai didn’t happen by mere execution of contractor-induced projects which are programmed to be abandoned.

In many aspects, the underdevelopment of Nigeria requires a surgical approach to even reduce poverty and inequality.
The politicians in power and their advisers and technocrats are the surgeons with the task of putting the nation on the path of development. Now, a good surgeon would, of course, explain the surgery to his patient to the extent that a layman would require to agree to be operated upon. The surgeon actually knows what to do as a consummate professional. It would be sheer failure if a surgeon engages his patient endlessly with jargons meant for scientific conferences without performing the surgery. Worse still, if the patient dies for lack of urgent attention, the surgeon could be considered a misfit not knowing his purpose.

So, it is with governments.
The poor state of infrastructural development cannot be explained away as due to only lack of resources. Resources have been wasted, misapplied and misappropriated.
With prudent management of resources and competence in administration, the Nigerian developmental landscape should be relatively brighter than it is today.
Even when you have all the resources, Nigeria will only take developmental leap in the context of economic planning and governance oriented towards the delivery of public goods and people’s welfare.
Otherwise, instead of the benefits of development, stories of underdevelopment will continue to be told.

QUOTE

“It is an index of underdevelopment that public officials spend years explaining technical details of projects to the public without the projects being completed”