Long before the coming of the mini gods (or so they saw themselves) commonly known as colonial masters, our various kingdoms with their cities, towns, and villages had their places of reverence and sanctuaries of different forms. These forms took the shape of king’s palaces, homes of deities, shrines, city walls and defenses, and important streams. These were monuments for the people. Alas, monuments that lasted for centuries have now been left in ruins or cannibalised in the name of civilisation. Such is true of the Benin Moat and City Wall. It seems we thrive at destroying all that we should hold dear.
I have often wondered when and where we lost it. It can’t be because we are black, our forefathers were just as black with even less outside knowledge but they preserved their cherished monuments. You see, by the time the colonialists departed our shores, they left us some monuments that they built with our money, of course. Some of these included the Governor General’s house along Marina, the Race Course at Onikan, the Parliament House in Onikan, and the Independence Building also by the Race Course. There was also Lord Lugard’s house in Kaduna.
Just like the decay of some of our traditional structures, most of these 20th century monuments are in various stages of dilapidation, or have been transformed into new creations that provide little resemblance to, or tell the story of their historical pasts. One such example is the present Tafewa Balewa Square at Onikan. It occupies the position of the old Race Course that offered horse racing, cricket games, and leisure centres. As TBS, the place is now a concrete jungle of ubiquitous shops. I am not sure Sir Tafewa Balewa would have approved or felt honoured to lend his name to such hideous transformation. Years ago, the place was privatised following years of government mismanagement. The place is now best used to host the Lagos trade fair, Eyo Festival and political rallies.
The Independence Building, a 25-storey structure, was the first of its kind in Nigeria. It was both an administrative centre and a tourist sight for Lagos visitors. With the advent of military rule in Nigeria, it was eventually converted to the Ministry of Defense, who ran it aground until it was destroyed in a blazing inferno. It remains in its gutted state to date.
On 15 Marina, about 200 metres from the Independence Building, is NECOM House, a 37-storey building that holds the international communication gateway for Nigeria and 13 other African countries. Built in the late 1970s for and by Nitel, this tallest building in Africa was itself gutted in 1983. My companies, Costain (West Africa) Plc and Dolphin Properties Limited renovated and managed it until it was privatised seven years ago. I understand it has been sold again.
The Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) station, first in Africa, was set up in Ibadan in 1959. By 1975, it was acquired by the newly-owned Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), set up by the Federal Government. NTA today has not risen beyond the mouthpiece of the Federal Government, and that has stifled growth, development, and innovation.
We did not inherit everything from the colonialists; we built quite a lot ourselves, including infrastructures and businesses that should have been iconic and viable in themselves. Looking at the management failures of TBS and NECOM House, it should come as no surprise how our innovations ended up too. The National Theatre, which was built to host the major performances of FESTAC 77, gradually deteriorated to the point where just one cinema hall out of four was serviceable. In 2006, it was listed for privatisation.
In the early 1970s, as part of the national economic development plans, the General Yakubu Gowon administration built six steel rolling mills in various parts of the country. These were meant to operate with steel billets from the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, then under construction by the Russians. Meanwhile, thousands of Nigerians had been given scholarships to study metallurgy, engineering, mining, geology, and the sciences in any university abroad that the students were admitted to. The Murtala Muhammed administration that came to power in 1976 sacked the so-called super-permanent secretaries (the drivers of this policy), suspended work on the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, while placing it under a corruption probe; it also cancelled or delayed payments for some of the scholarships in progress. The nation’s steel industry, to this day, did not recover from this derailment. The steel rolling mills are dead, and the steel complex is comatose. As for the trained graduates, most of them relocated to Europe and the US after years of inadequate or no employment.
Similar stories exist with the three paper mills that were established in the country in the ’70s. Even our main economic stay, petroleum resources, have not been spared the gross mismanagement that is the hallmark of self-governance in Nigeria. The major reason, if not the only one, why the petroleum refineries do not produce to capacity or near capacity, is because of Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), or lack of it. At their ages, and they had reached that threshold long ago, the TAM for each refinery has to be done yearly or less. I know this because Costain Oil & Gas, part of the Costain Group, to which my company, Costain (West Africa) Plc, belonged, had a rolling contract for decades maintaining refineries in the Middle-East. The planning and procurement for the next year’s TAM begins the day the current one ends. This is because the refinery cannot be shut down longer than three weeks. That is to say, you cannot carry-out such operations on a wait-for-contract-award basis, a feature of Nigerian management.
At Independence, Nigeria inherited the standard gauge railway network with four major nodes in Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Sokoto and Maidugiri. With the modest growth in commerce, we did not add to this network in anyway until 2012/2016, that is, not counting what was done in preparation for Ajaokuta Steel Complex, which was strictly to serve that complex. The effect was that the country relied, in the main, on road networks for the movement of goods and services. The roads were being constructed yearly, but with poor supervision, quality of the end product was always unreliable. A second problem was our inexplicable practice of abandoning an old road network once a new one is built. We are supposed to be building to add, not to replace! Third, as is the practice in all we do, the issue of maintenance of these roads is perhaps, for all intents and purposes, never seriously discussed. We tend to believe that they would last forever. And, fourth, we are not proactive in planning for road expansion, given the population increase since Independence and our reliance on road transportation. A second Onitsha Bridge over the River Niger is still a phantom, more than 10 years after it was first discussed.
One more sector worthy of mention here is the power sector. I have written a lot on this sector, so I will not dwell so much on it here. It goes without saying that Nigeria can never reach its potential until we get our power supply and distribution right.
Regrettably, the picture we present to the world is that of poor innovators and poor managers of what is ours. Africans are known to be proud people of their heritage. How then did we become comfortable with these derogatory labels? Nigerians make up 25% of the black population in the world. Our failure is the failure of the black race. Shall we allow this to continue?