Funding energy, transportation infrastructure

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

The report that the Federal Government would, for the next five years, require US$166 billion to provide energy and transportation infrastructure for Nigeria, as given by the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi could only have scared the daylight out of citizens and shown the near-impossibility of the task. That was at the public hearing the other day on the Nigerian Railway Authority and National Transport Commission Bills by the House of Representatives. Where would the money come from? And how? Those were questions that report threw up. And, justifiably too!

Amaechi also informed the nation that transportation infrastructure alone would take US$50.9 billion or 30.7 per cent of the total of US$166 billion. Thus, on average, about US$10.2 billion would be needed per annum by the Federal Government for that.

Unfortunately, the minister did not give enough details to avail the public the opportunity to appreciate his information. For instance, he failed to signify how the needed amount was arrived at, whether the money would be used for the development of new infrastructure, refurbishment or maintenance of existing ones. Furthermore, he was silent on whether the expected infrastructure would be modern, adequate and functional. He was also silent on such issues as the planned sources of the funds for any planned projects and the policy framework for successfully and efficiently implementing the programme. Most importantly, except for the generic statement that the money would be required for energy and transportation infrastructure, there were no highlights on what Nigerians should be looking forward to seeing in the next five years. One would have expected that the minister would have, in the minimum, provided some indications of exactly what to expect and the relevant milestones upon which performance could be measured.

The government has no need to believe that it must source all the money it needs to fund infrastructure from its own resources alone. All it needs to do is to be creative in considering and adopting some of the numerous alternative sources of finance for different categories of projects and programmes. In these times of revenue crunch, the government must embark on aggressive and effective cost management across all areas of its activities, re-visit, in a more diligent and transparent manner, the adoption of public-private partnerships, build and operate schemes and other private sector-led financing strategies that will not be burdensome on the government and the entire citizenry.
If the Federal Government is contemplating a five-year energy and transportation infrastructure rehabilitation, development and maintenance programme to meet the needs of the nation, it is desirable that it comes up with a draft of such programme which should encompass issues such as the objectives, targets, strategies, funding and milestones. These would not only give focus to the programme but also assist in consistent periodic performance assessment and measurement. It is with such a draft programme that the government should engage the citizens for sensitisation, appreciation and advancement of reasonable suggestions for enhancement. Such engagement of the people will motivate them to buy into the programme and support efforts directed towards its realisation.

Without providing opportunities for the people to be part of the development of the five-year programme, the government would be acting as though it knows all and how best to provide all. That will be an unfortunate denial of the right of the citizens to contribute to what concerns and affects them. Certainly, Nigerians have developed, know what they want and can assist in bringing them to reality. If only the government would take them into confidence and secure their support.
It is necessary to sound a note of caution that Nigerians are no longer excited about the huge amounts of money being bandied as necessary requirements for a better performing infrastructure in the economy. They are aware that huge amounts of money had, in the past, been spent on power, energy, transportation and other infrastructure without visible and commensurate value derived. Indeed, the government will need to work harder to earn the trust and confidence of the people by striving to give value for money.

So, as the Federal Government plans its five-year energy and transportation infrastructure development programme, it should be mindful of the need to be clear-headed as to the needs of the people and design pragmatic and effective ways towards their realisation. It should work with the people in deed and in truth.

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