Rethinking Nigeria’s Infrastructural Development — Economic Confidential

Rethinking Nigeria’s Infrastructural Development — Economic Confidential
Rethinking Nigeria’s Infrastructural Development — Economic Confidential

Infra-Co: Rethinking Nigeria’s Infrastructural Development
By Abubakar Bello Abdullahi

On Friday, 12th February, 2021 the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, Office of the Vice President, Laolu Akande, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the establishment of a public-private partnership called Infra-Co, or Infrastructure Corporation, with an initial capital of N1 trillion.
According to the State House press release, Infra-Co “will be one of the premier infrastructure finance entities in Africa and will be wholly dedicated to Nigeria’s infrastructure development.”
Akande also added that “Infra-Co will finance public asset development, rehabilitation and reconstruction as well as invest in cutting edge infrastructure projects for roads, rail, power and other key sectors.”

The board of Infra-Co is going to be chaired by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, because for one, the apex Bank is contributing the bulk of the initial capital of N1 trillion, and for another; even though it’s an institutional role, Governor Godwin Emefiele has been the driving force for the formation of Infra-Co. Other major contributors to the initial capital – Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority and Africa Finance Corporation – will also be represented on the board, as well as the Nigerian Governors Forum, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and three independent directors from the private sector.
In particular, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele, had consistently been promoting the creation of Infra-Co since 2019 or so. In September last year, while addressing the Chartered Institute of Bankers’ Banking and Finance Conference, Mr Emefiele had urged the banking community to support Infra-Co by investing in agriculture and ICT, among others. In terms of agriculture, Mr Emefiele said the banks could provide storage facilities, transport logistics and technology platforms to enable farmers sell their produce directly to the markets. He also held that if the banks considered viable IT firms, they would not only serve the local market but also export ICT-related services to the outside world and boost Nigeria’s economic wellbeing.

Infra-Co, therefore, is a stunning initiative by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. It’s long-awaited. It’s much bigger than President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Transcorp idea. If infra-Co bears fruits, it’s going to change the face and pace of infrastructural development in Nigeria.

For too long, the lack of functional bridges, roads, airports and seaports, railways, etc. has hindered the country’s growth and quest for a modern economy. It would appear that over the years, the government which had been almost the sole provider of these structures, had failed to upgrade or modernise them until all of them had become moribund all around the country. That’s why this government’s best attempts to rebuild these bridges, roads, ports, etc., have been seen to be inadequate.

Hence, Infra-Co is a very good platform for the public and private sectors to pool resources together to develop the country in a systematic and sublime manner. Nigeria is a vast country with a large population yearning for functional infrastructure which government’s best effort cannot deliver single-handedly. Despite the long wait, the foreign direct investment to do these things has not materialised. It has been a strategic choice by the investors not to invest in those sectors because they know fully well that doing so will unlock Nigeria’s potential and make it a very competitive country.

We must identify our priority projects as a country and tackle them ourselves; now our billionaire compatriots – Aliko Dangote, Arthur Eze, AbdulSamad Rabi’u, Jim Ovia, Femi Otedola, Indimi, Mike Adenuga, Tony Elumelu, Folorunsho Alakija,  and all those other wealthy Nigerians, including those in the diaspora, will have the framework to invest alongside the government in Infra-Co to give the country a face-lift.
Actually, there are many strategic projects to choose from. At present, the snarling traffic on the dual carriageway that goes through Asokoro to Nasarawa state is too frustrating and economically disastrous for this country.

There’s no way you can invest in another big road to connect the city of Abuja with, say Mararraba in Nasarawa state and not make huge gains from the payment of tolls by motorists. Or consider another arrangement; say a power station dedicated to the supply of electricity for the Onitsha market, or the Kantin Kwari market in Kano or even Wuse market. Or an investment in an intra-city railway for Lagos or Abuja.

A few of our billionaires have, individually, recently embarked on praiseworthy projects to improve Nigeria’s economic condition and make money for themselves. The 650,000-barrel per day Dangote refinery in Lekki, Lagos, which is on the verge of production, is a testimony to the indomitable spirit of Nigerian entrepreneurs and the promise of a handsome reward for relevant and well-conceived projects. When it starts production, the refinery will automatically make Nigeria a hub for petroleum products in Africa. If Dangote’s solo effort could assemble such a wondrous plant, undoubtedly, a cooperative spirit and public-private resources pooled together can make a far greater impact.

Lest I forget, and the Covid-19 pandemic has brought this to the fore, Infra-Co must invest in modern healthcare facilities. This country is in dire need of specialist healthcare. There should be at least two world class health facilities, one each in Abuja and Lagos, to tackle life threatening diseases, including organ transplant expertise. An investor should have the confidence that he can go in and lie down in at least one hospital in Abuja or Lagos and get first class treatment without the hassle of hopping into an air ambulance and travelling all the way to America or Europe for such services.

Even our political leaders and other Nigerians who can afford it may get the opportunity to be treated at home without the shame of embarking on medical tourism to foreign hospitals. Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate in the 2019 election has also been speaking about building a multi-million Naira high-quality hospital in Abuja; he will do well now to work alongside Infra-Co to actualise that vision in the interest of the country.

I have no illusion that Infra-Co will require an effective and efficient governing regime to deliver qualitative infrastructure and reasonable returns for its investors. The experience of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), among other government-run development schemes leaves sour taste in the mouth. So, it’s not just a question of resources because despite the abundant resources poured into that commission, there have been no worthwhile results. Nor is it NDDC alone. This means that we must get the staffing of Infra-Co correctly from the management to the professionals and the man at the bottom. The operations of Infra-Co must conform to global best practices.

Infra-Co has a very bright chance of growing into a conglomerate that will be a major player and reinforce Nigeria’s economic dominance across Africa. It’s not only this country that’s yearning for skills and capital to develop infrastructure. There are opportunities for Infra-Co, if well managed and funded, to make inroad into Benin Republic, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone, etc., to help develop their national infrastructure as well.

Infra-Co will also provide the grounds for our youths to demonstrate their passion and their skills. Our young accountants, architects, computer scientists, etc., will have the opportunity to offer their services in the office and on the field in the making of Nigeria’s infrastructural projects.

Thus, the establishment of Infra-Co by the federal government is a ground-breaking move and I have no doubt in my mind that if it becomes operational, it will add to President Muhammadu Buhari’s rich legacy of infrastructural transformation of Nigeria.

Abubakar Bello Abdullahi
Head, Communication and Advocacy
FSS2020, Central Bank of Nigeria
Abuja.

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