Within few years in the saddle, President Goodluck Jonathan has made appreciable progress in the pursuit of his transformation agenda for the development of Nigeria, reports Kunle Aderinokun
In August 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan struck Nigerians with a comment to the effect that he is the most criticised president in the world. Not a few people welcomed that comment with some ease. Most increased their criticism of him instead. One, it was unusual to hear a president talk in that manner. It also showed that opposition’s criticism about failed infrastructure was hitting home and the president was getting the message.
But speaking that fateful day in August, at the International conference centre in Abuja, on the occasion of the 52nd Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, Jonathan also left a promise. He told Nigerians that before he leaves office, they will sing a new song and he will become the most-liked president.
Specifically he said: “I think I am the most criticised president in the whole world but I want to tell this audience that before I leave, I will be the most-praised president.”
The premise of his logic is that instead of praising him, impatient Nigerians rather criticised him for failed infrastructure and rising insecurity. He felt he was doing well. But some Nigerians think otherwise. That was why he wondered thus: “Sometimes, I ask, were there roads in this country and Jonathan brought flood to destroy the roads? Was there power and Jonathan brought hurricane to wipe it out? If Boko Haram is that of poverty in the North, were there farms and Jonathan brought tsunami and drought to destroy them?”
From those questions, Jonathan himself made a teleological promise when he said: “What I can tell Nigerians is let those talking keep talking, time will tell”. Indeed, time, that space between two events, has always made the difference. Time has always shown presidents and leaders as either performers or time wasters. But is President Jonathan one of those who would be counted among the league of time wasters?
Going deeper into the message contained in his teleological prophecy, one conclusion comes handy –that Jonathan, as president, is privy to detailed information about investments in developmental efforts of his administration, which only needs time to mature and yield fruits. No doubt, infrastructure development don’t develop at the speed of light, despite the fact that Nigerians, consumers of such developments, have grown increasingly impatient having seen the pace at which countries in Asia, Europe, America and even Africa, had responded to infrastructure deficits.
Is President Jonathan moving at the same pace with the world? Has the world left Nigerian somewhere behind? These are questions that Nigerians answer when they travel out of their country. They see efficient rail transport systems; they enjoy good road infrastructure; they are entertained to stable electricity which also powers business; they feel the impact of steady flow of petrol, cooking gas and kerosene off the filling stations; they see very effective hospitals; they experience the impact of efficient crime control and response systems; they see functional airports and schools. And then, they come back home to imagine if their country is cursed and condemned to mismanagement.
Be that as it may, it is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes one child, who has become a man, to change the world. To do that, vision is key.
Looking back at Jonathan’s touch on Nigeria, there is clearly evidence of serious work being done. However, such evidence has been unsatisfying largely due to the fact that most Nigerians are not aware of the developments and the administration does not do a good job of informing the people. For instance, road infrastructure across the country has received massive boost from the government making it possible for a lot of the major federal roads to be either rehabilitated or reconstructed. From available evidence, where work is not yet completed, it is on-going or already captured in the 2014 appropriation. This is evidenced on the Enugu–Port Harcourt road; Katsina-Dara road; Kano-Maiduguri road; Gombe-Numan road and the Benin-Lagos road. Those who also ply the Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja road now sing a new song. Along with these, major works had been accomplished on some strategic link bridges including the Oweto Bridge. Perhaps, the loudest of all was the ground-breaking Second Niger Bridge, which had been on the table for as long as one could remember as a campaign material. Signing off on that bridge demonstrated Jonathan’s vision for ease of travel and business on that axis.
Closely associated with road infrastructure is the administration’s effort to bring back the trains.
To this end, records show that after more than 20 years of lifelessness, train services are coming back to life in Nigeria. Impact of this may not be immediately felt until all the identified routes are re-activated and more coaches brought in. For now, records show that the Western line which stretches from Lagos to Kano, measuring about 1124 km has been completed and is functional. The Eastern line running from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri is nearing completion with two of the three sections billed for completion by the third quarter of 2014. Also, the Abuja-Kaduna line, being built on the standard gauge is nearing completion. Residents of parts of Abuja where the rail line traverse witness this progress. In addition, the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri standard gauge will be completed by the end of 2014. The remarkable progress in this area has also witnessed the procurement of 25 new locomotives, which has brought about massive increase in the number of passengers transported reaching about five million in 2013. This is also impacting positively on movement of goods across states. The impact of this will hit reality level when rail tanks are introduced to move petroleum products by rail and save road infrastructure the damage caused by such vehicles during accidents. To this end, 40 oil wagons, to move petroleum products, are in the offing. For now, almost 200 communities have been connected by rail. This translates to an increase in commerce and other economic activities.
The Jonathan administration’s interest in improving water transport has also caused radical investments in inland waterways leading to the dredging of inland waterways and the lower Niger from Baron to Warri. Implication of this is an increase in the utilisation of marine transport in the movement of goods and services. To this end, available records indicates an increase from 2.9 million tonnes in 2011 to over 5 million tonnes of goods moved by water as at 2013. Expectedly, the number of passengers accessing maritime travels also increased from 250,000 in 2011 to about 1.3 million by 2013.
To improve on the health of Nigerians through creating greater access to potable water, the administration has ensured completion of seven new water supply projects including the Northern Ishan Water supply in Edo state, Mangu water treatment plant in Plateau State and the Greater Makurdi water supply scheme in Benue State. However, this is considered inadequate for the population as more communities need to be served to help eradicate water borne diseases. Beyond that however, it is on record that nine dams have been completed and delivered across the country with more irrigation projects executed to enhance agriculture and farming. This translates into the irrigation of about 175,000 hectares of land. Efforts in this regard have also caused an increase in agricultural production through the re-creation of a value chain in the sector leading to increase in access to jobs and agriculture production.
In the aviation sector, the radical transformation brought about by the Jonathan administration, has given Nigeria an increased value in the aviation community around the world. Despite two major plane crashes, which tended to dent efforts at aviation safety in the country, the Jonathan administration had caused massive investments in airport remodelling, delivering in the process, airports, which Nigerians are proud of for their cosy states. For instance, out of the 22 airports in the country, 11 have been totally remodelled while work is on-going on others. The five international airports in Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt, also witnessed massive remodelling and upgrading such that they now serve as good imaging points for Nigeria. To further enhance usability of the airport, six were designated as perishable cargo airports because of their proximity to the nation’s food production basins. These include those in Makurdi, Yola, Lagos, Ilorin and Jos. But the better part of what has been achieved in the aviation sector is the review of safety policies which ensured the making of new policies that reduced import duties, aircraft service and spare parts, as a deliberate means of assisting the airlines to be better managed to reduce nasty incidences and improve safety.
On port reforms, the Jonathan administration moved in to enunciate new policies that reduced the number of agencies at the port thus improving access and functionality of the nation’s ports. It was observed that prior to this, about 21 agencies operated at the ports thus hindering smooth operation and effective clearance of goods. Today, the new policy regime seeks to ensure a 24-hour time limit for clearance of goods. This effort further received a boost when government moved to make sure that the Nigerian Customs acquired capacity to embark on destination inspection. This stands out as a huge achievement as it was happening for the first time in the country. Today, the loss of revenue through the engagement of foreign agencies to undertake inspection of goods, under a pre-shipment inspection regime, has been curtailed. This has also enhanced the capabilities of the Nigerian Customs making them more adept at their work. This was a reform that Nigeria pursued with vigour, and achieved.
In evaluating the administration’s effort at revamping the agriculture sector, it is necessary to take note of where the journey began. Jonathan took off from a point where the agriculture sector was bedevilled by massive corruption in the administration of fertiliser. The fertiliser cartel was so strong and insurmountable. But Jonathan moved in with a certain level of stubbornness towards a desired endgame; and the game changed. The president believes that a business approach to agriculture will change the way one attended to it. That was why a seamless fertiliser administration regime was very important to him. Through his effort, some 10.5 million farmers were registered through the e-wallet system and 6.5 million of them have received subsidised inputs through the e-wallet system. Through this system too, massive corruption that was pervasive in the sector was eliminated saving the country some princely N25billion annually, which hitherto, was lost to the fertiliser cartel. Meanwhile, rice production received a major boost with more improved input. As a result, 1.1 million metric tonnes of dry-season rice was produced in 10 Northern states for the first time with attendant job creation. Also, the massive investment in cassava production attracted Cargil, world leading agric investor, to Nigeria. Cargil seeks to tap into opportunities available in the agric sector and begin transformation of cassava into starch and other food forms for export.
For effort of government at investing in agriculture, it is estimated that Nigeria will increase food production by 20 million tonnes in 2015, thus enhancing its capacity to achieve food security. Already, the food import bill is down by almost N1 trillion dropping from N2.38 trillion in 2011 to N1.5 trillion in 2013.
Jonathan’s touch on Nigeria is one of transformation. He only wants to transform status quo and deliver a better quality of life and improved country that everyone can be proud of. In addition to what has been described above, he has also radically affected other areas of the national life, though unsung. For instance, he has ensured that the manufacturing sector regains its balance having launched the national industrial revolution plan with focus on the value chain of sub sectors. It is noted that Nigeria has massive advantage in such areas as agro processing in rice, sugar and petrochemicals, automobiles, textiles and cement. These are current areas of focus. As it is now, Nigeria has joined the league of cement exporters with an expanded output capacity from two million metric tonnes in 2002 to 28.5 million metric tonnes in 2013. It is estimated that the capacity will hit 39 million metric tonnes by 2015. The efforts have also opened up foreign investment inflow with some $1.2billion investments in fertiliser processing by Dorama, a $250million factory opening in Ogun State by Procter and Gamble and the $100 million brewery investment by SABMiller in Anambra state among many others, who are taking up opportunities in agriculture sector.
On the housing front, the Jonathan administration sought ways of ensuring that Nigerian owned homes through mortgage. To this end, he worked out a new policy of mortgage refinancing and for the first time, afforded Nigerian opportunity to grow the economy. His housing revolution is designed to provide mass housing for people at the lower end of the income scale with affordable housing and a mortgage system to give hope to young people. The system provides loans for 15 to 20 years so more people can own their homes. There are also rent-to-own and lease-to-own schemes. This is a revolution that would create more jobs and is expected to be in place in 2014.
The government recently launched its first 10,000 mortgages for the commencement of the Presidential Initiative on the delivery of affordable housing units to Nigerians. This is part of efforts to fulfil its promise of providing affordable houses to Nigerians.
In telecommunications, the administration has completed construction of 500 kilometres of fibre optic cable to rural areas and established a total of 156 IT rural centres with 110 community communications centres. It also launched a venture capital fund of $15 million, to start, for information communication businesses with the number of phone subscriptions hitting 121.8million.
Also, due to radical reduction in cost, internet access has risen from 45million in 2011 to 57million in 2013, thus granting more people access to internet for knowledge and business related activities.
One area where Jonathan’s transformation agenda is being felt much more is the health sector. For instance, it has contained the Type 3 polio virus with no recorded transmission for over one year and also eradicated guinea worm, which used to affect the lives of 800,000 Nigerians yearly. The administration also delivered on scaling up six cost effective interventions -nutrition, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS, malaria control, routine immunisation- all of which has saved over 436,000 lives. It also scaled up its maternal mortality prevention rate leading to drastic drop in statistics of maternal and infant mortality rates.
The administration’s effort have also been felt on the education front with the establishment of more federal universities and special schools in the North, to Almajiri children. However, despite the rise in strikes by academic workers, the administration’ effort is unrelenting in ensuring an improvement in the upgrade of schools and delivery of qualitative and affordable education to Nigerians. But, there are about 10 million kids out of school. This is serious worry for the administration which is not relenting over the challenge.
Another area, where Jonathan’s transformation has been felt is in sports with the return of the Africa Cup of Nations to Nigeria after 19 years; the Golden Eaglets winning the U17 World Cup again, and in superlative style among several other laurels, which come in as positive marks of the transformation agenda. This is just as the film industry has been expanded to create some 250,000 jobs with Nollywood raking in millions of naira from its production of films, a capacity that is expandable.
Despite these, one area that has remained an albatross of sort, to the administration is the power sector. The administration has made huge investments in the sector but the outcome has been less impressive given that most Nigerians still go for days without electric power. The Jonathan administration has completed a never-expected power privatisation programme, which is hoped, would enhance capacity of the private sector to deliver on promises to improve power needs of the country. Though this is still on course, the transmission of already generated energy is much of a headache. At the moment, the target of 24 hours power supply is still a mirage as supply varies from city to city. But with efforts at improving gas-to-power policy of government, it is hoped that the problems associated with power generation and transmission would be addressed and solved. For now, government has achieved a reduction in gas flaring, thus making same available to power stations at Geregu and Olorunshogo.
No doubt, gestation period for investment in power is more than nine months. Nigerians are impatient but you can’t blame them as they have suffered a lot from the rot in the sector. They desire a change, a clear departure from the past. They want to move on fast and catch up with the rest of the world.
However, they don’t have the total picture of the power architecture in Nigeria. Jonathan and his aides have that picture. Perhaps, that was why he was confident to say ‘time will tell’. For now, what most Nigerians have done, despite their scepticism, is to buy into his optimism. Like he said, time will always tell.