From Tony Osauzo, Benin
Infrastructure is critical to economic and social development of nations, and countries desirous of advancement in all ramifications must focus on investing in upgrading infrastructure and development of new ones.
Aware of this, the Federal Government has been committing enormous investments in infrastructure in all segments of the economy across the country. These include power, road construction and rehabilitation, building of new bridges, rail lines and acquisition of new rail coaches, rehabilitation of sea and river ports, rehabilitation of domant refineries and rehabilitatition of airports, among others.
These investments would not have been possible without the cooperation of the National Assembly. This cooperation is as a result of the cordial relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government.
In this era of paucity of funds in the face of dwindling oil revenues, the executive arm has relied heavily on external borrowing to finance these critical assets meant to grow the nation’s economy. Despite concerns over the burgeoning external debt profile of the country as a result of borrowing, the National Assembly, though conscious of the situation, has exhibited understanding that the external loans are a last resort in the absence of other sources of revenue to fund these critical national infrastructural projects.
This is reflected in the report of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts.
Chairman of the committee, Clifford Ordia, in his presentation, said the panel noted with utmost importance the genuine and very serious concerns of Nigerians about the level and sustainability/serviceability of the country’s borrowing in the last decade.
He explained that, “Our (Nigeria’s) debt service figures constitute a huge drain on our revenue to the extent that it account for over 30 per cent of our expenditure in the annual budget.”
He said, due to the shortfall in the country’s annual revenues in relation to the need for rapid infrastructural and human capital development, “we have had to pass deficit budget every year, requiring us to borrow to finance the deficit in our budget”.
Ordia noted that, out of the total borrowing request of $36,837,281,256 contained in the re-forwarded 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) request of Mr. President, a sum of $26,154,536,533 is for funds proposed to be borrowed from various financial institutions from the Peoples Republic of China.
He stressed that the proposed projects in the ministries of Transportation, FCT, Aviation, Works & Housing, Agriculture and Water Resources and some commissions such as National Universities Commission, North East Development Commission and the National Identity Management Commission are mostly ongoing projects and programmes in respect of which external borrowed funds have been spent in the past, including loans.
“These projects have a great multiplier effect on stimulating economic growth through infrastructure development, job creation and poverty alleviation, stimulation of commercial and engineering activities and the consequent tax revenues payable to government as a result of these productive activities”, the lawmaker further explained.
The funding agencies are: World Bank – $796,000,000; China Exim Bank – $2,901,026,509; Industrial Commercial Bank of China – $2,484,555,304; African Development Bank – $104,200,000; Africa Growing Together Fund – $20,000,000; French Development Agency – €240,000,000; European Investment Bank – €250,000,000; European ECA/KfW/IPEX/AFC – $1,959,744,724; and International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD) – $60,000,000.
Some of the projects to be financed with the external loans are the phase 1 expansion of 5.4km of the Abuja-Keffi expressway and dualization of the Keffi-Akwanga-Lafia-Makurdi road located in the southwest of Abuja, crossing the Federal Capital Territory and the states of Nasarawa and Benue, with a total length of 227.2km, including the Abuja-Keffi and Keffi-Makurdi sections. The 5.4km Abuja-Keffi section will have two-lane auxiliary roads on both sides of the existing six-lane section.
The 221.8km Keffi-Makurdi section will see an expansion of the two-way two-lane section to a two-way four-lane section.
Phase II of the project entails the construction of Lafia bypass and dualization of 9th Mile (Enugu)-Otukpo-Makurdi Road located east of Lafia City and the North-Central and South-East of Nigeria, connecting Benue and Enugu states.
The total length of the route is about 268.5km with two-way two-lane design, with 261 culverts and three bridges.
There is the assurance that the Keffi-Makurdi road, which is being financed by this structure, will be completed on time when compared to Lagos-Ibadan, Benin- Shagamu, Onitsha-Enugu, East-West and other roads that are taking many years to complete.
It is also praiseworthy that the Federal Government has embarked on the long-neglected Makurdi-Enugu 9th Mile road with a design including a bypass so that it will not create traffic in the city.
The construction and upgrading of these roads, apart from ensuring free flow of traffic and easy evacuation of goods, will help mitigate high accident rate experienced in the past.
One thing to note is the need to build a transportation corridor for the ‘Golden Strip’ economic zone in the country, constructing the national high-grade road network, which, with the capital city of Abuja as the centre, connects the port city of Lagos in the South West, the port city of Harcourt in the South-South and the city of Kano in the North.
Among them, Lagos is the former capital and largest port city of Nigeria and the economic centre of the country, accounting for one-third of the national industrial enterprises and the number of employees, and its total industrial output value accounts for 60% of that of the country.
On the other hand, Port Harcourt, located in the heart of the oil industry, is the second largest port in the country. At present, it has become the main export port of coal, oil products, tin mines, antimony ore and peanuts in the country, while Kano, the ancient historical city, is located in the northern part of the country and is known as the “Desert Port.” It is now a major industrial and commercial town, a culture and transportation hub in the North.
The Abuja-Lagos section has completed the transformation from two lanes to four lanes, except that the 28km of the Ogbomoso-Atiba section and the 326km Lokoja-Ilorin section have not been transformed from two lanes to four lanes.
Abuja and Lagos are two central cities in Nigeria. There are currently two main passages between Abuja and Lagos, namely, Lokoja-Ilorin-Lagos and Lokoja-Benin City-Lagos, respectively, both are two-lane highways, with a total capacity of equivalent two-way four-lanes.
The Abuja-Kano section has the only main passage, and the current road has undergone the four-lane renovation and upgrading.
Abuja-Port Harcourt also has the only one main passage. In addition to the Keffi-Makurdi section, which has been launched, the Enugu-Port Harcourt section has basically completed the four-lane upgrading and reconstruction, leaving the Makurdi-Enugu section as the only two-way two-lane highway.
After the completion of the project, from the perspective of upgrading and renovation, the ‘Golden Strip’ road network will complete 87 per cent of the four-lane upgrade and renovation.
One good innovation that needs to be applauded is the recent Federal Government approval of federal roads, bridges tolling policy and regulations, which require cars to pay N200 and SUVs N300 on selected roads. This is to ensure timely repayment of loans obtained for the building of these infrastructures. The minister of works and housing and his finance counterpart deserve commendation for this but strict transparency must be put in place in order not to allow the collection of tolls go the way of previous ones, which enriched individuals to the detriment of the nation.