Missing the point on infrastructure

During the last administration Reno, one of the mouth pieces of government, was fond of asking an interesting question on twitter, “Has the electricity in your area improved?”. He would then use the opinions of those who genuinely experienced improvements in electricity supply as some kind of evidence that the power sector was improving. I always thought the question was odd. Given that Nigeria is kind of a large country, at any given point in time someone would have experienced better electricity supply. So, regardless of what was happening in the power sector, you would always have people who had honestly experienced better electricity. A lot of people in fact. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean there was any actual improvement. If you wanted to know if there was more power generated and distributed, you would have to measure it as the NERC did. Of course if the goal is propaganda then the strategy makes sense.

More recently, the phenomenon appears to be repeating itself. Just a recap, we know we have serious infrastructure challenges that require serious investment. According to the World Bank as at 2011 we needed at least $14.2bn a year for at least a decade to start to close the gap. According to the previous governments infrastructure plan we need about $33bn a year. Unfortunately, the federal governments entire budget is somewhere around $27bn (actual revenue is a lot lower than that). You don’t need to be a mathematician to know that the FG and the states cannot fund the required infrastructure on its own. In the past we have done deals with China to help us build some stuff with concessionary loans. In recent times there has been a road trust fund and some type of tax rebate mechanism for road construction. Not sure how successful that has been.

The point is, we need a lot of investment in infrastructure to just keep up. If we really wanted know how well we were doing in terms of closing the infrastructure gap, we would have to measure it. We currently don’t. But just looking at the spending and private investment numbers, you can guess that we aren’t investing nearly enough of what is required. Of course, even if you invested something you can always take pictures and do press conferences to show that you are working. OBJ took pictures. Yar’Adua took pictures. GEJ took pictures. PMB is taking pictures. Yet here we are.

Like in Reno’s case, if the goal is propaganda then 👍. But if the goal is the economy, then that won’t cut it. Too little investment means we are essentially running on a treadmill. Truckers will drive happily on the new 100km of new road way but the remaining 400km will be business as usual while the previous 100km starts to go south. Or they spend weeks sleeping at the port.

The challenge with improving Nigerian infrastructure is driving investment into it. Unfortunately it does not look like that needle is moving.