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Nigeria still birthing white elephants!

The term “white elephant” is used to describe projects which gulp huge amounts of money, but fail to deliver benefits commensurate to their cost. In…

The term “white elephant” is used to describe projects which gulp huge amounts of money, but fail to deliver benefits commensurate to their cost. In a wider perspective, the definition should also involve considering the socio-economic needs of the people and whether or not such projects are a priority.

In Nigeria, such ill-conceived projects are embarked upon because the political class is devoid of any socialist philosophy which would push them towards the primary duty of governance which is taking care of the most basic needs of citizens. Rather than concentrating on uplifting the citizenry and relieving their immediate sufferings, the political class concentrates on appropriating luxuries to themselves while throwing massive amounts of public money at corruption-laden, humongous self-glorification projects.

White Elephant projects, which have become a national embarrassment include, but are not in limited to, the Ajaokuta Steel project which gulped $8 billion, the loss-making Ebonyi Airport and Jigawa’s Dutse International Airport which recorded zero passenger traffic in a whole year, the abandoned Tinapa project in Cross River State which cost $450 million, the Rivers State monorail on which N33.9 billion was allegedly spent, and the N600 million Minna Airport City project. All of these projects and many more unnamed ones are classic examples of the inability to properly define social challenges and think deeply about the real needs of citizens in order to map out strategies to relieve their immediate sufferings.

This failure of leadership is why the Nigerian landscape is littered with ill-considered white elephant projects which serve no useful economic purpose. Completed, unutilised or abandoned infrastructure abounds in the nation and no plans have been articulated to see how they can be put to use or the squandered monies recovered. Regrettably, the lack of proper consultation and poor design thinking combined with egoistic corrupt leadership virtually ensures that large-scale public projects in Nigeria routinely fail because they are “white elephant” embarked upon to fill the pockets of the initiators.

In spite of the scarcity of funds and the government’s continuous borrowing, the desire to impress the public with “eye service” and feed their bloated ego means that such projects are still in vogue with governors and presidents who embark on more of them almost yearly.

It is abundantly clear that Nigerian politicians erroneously believe that nations are judged by the number of colossal physical structures they have and how the rich live, rather than how well the poor and underprivileged are taken care of.

Even as Nigerians still refer to the nation as the “Giant of Africa” there can be no denying that both state and federal governments have abandoned their responsibility to provide low-cost housing, pay salaries and pensions promptly, fund education and healthcare adequately, repair dilapidated infrastructure, provide electricity and running water to homes, keep a clean healthy environment, and generally concentrate on improving the welfare of citizens within their tenure. The giant of Africa only exists on paper as Nigeria is becoming an economically failed nation in which the environment is replete with filth, squalor, and sub-human living conditions.

Even then, governments at both state and federal levels continuously borrow and accrue more debts for the next generation to embark upon projects which do not in any way benefit the less privileged. The root of the problem is that sycophants and those without compassion for the poor or underprivileged celebrate such projects and give politicians a false sense of achievement.

It seems quite absurd that the federal government, which struggles to fund the annual budget and fails to control rampant corruption, is embarking on two monumental projects whose justification is suspect at this point in time. Even as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) overflows with uncompleted public projects despite having consumed more than enough funds to have turned every state capital into a modern city, federal government is embarking on an $18 billion “Centenary City” which will in no way benefit the millions of Nigerians living below the international poverty line in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s), village mud huts, or substandard overpriced unhygienic rented urban accommodations.

Even more perplexing is the fact while there is an admittedly dilapidated road from Lagos to Calabar which passes through virtually every major town or city en route and would make far more sense to renovate and construct railway lines through, the federal government is embarking on a N1.5 trillion “coastal highway” which will not pass through any major town on the route.

In a nation notorious for over-priced infrastructure and woeful maintenance culture, it makes little sense to build roads which the nation cannot maintain when mass transit of people and goods dictates building modern railway lines and stations in cities. History teaches us that it is unlikely that either of these projects will be completed at the given time or given cost.

A presidential infrastructure audit committee listed nearly 8,000 abandoned projects across the country. Considering that the 127.5km Lagos/Ibadan Expressway is not complete after 20 years, it’s unlikely that a 700km coastal road can be completed within the next seven years left of the Tinubu administration.

There is widespread criticism of both projects in terms of bloated costs, failure to adhere to due process, and indeed their necessity. Alas in the midst of mass migration of Nigerians fleeing insecurity, social deprivations, and economic ruination in their nation, Nigeria is still birthing new White Elephant Projects!

 

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