Few weeks ago, I read about the House of Representatives setting up a committee to probe the spate of abandoned properties in the country. From the estimate given at the inauguration of the committee, headed by Honourable Ademorin Kuye, the sum of almost a trillion naira is on the verge of being wasted by this reckless act, which has, over time, become a permanent feature in our national life. Equally, in my last column of Thursday, June 4, 2020, I alluded to a few instances leading to this colossal waste of the scarce resources of the nation. Today, I shall be expanding that thesis by discussing the main factors responsible for the waste. Before delving into this substance, let me quickly appreciate the very thin line between abandoned properties and abandoned projects, as most times the latter leads to the former.
Abandoned properties are largely properties acquired or projects embarked upon hitherto to be serviceable and functional for the objective initially conceived for it, but which, with the passage of time, became abandoned due either to non-completion, or, disuse, thereby left to rot away by government at all levels. This description applies to even projects that are intangible. From the above, it is clear that there may just be a thin line between abandoned property and abandoned project as, in most cases, when a project is abandoned, a property is involved save and except where the project is only conceived on paper but was never embarked upon by which certain assets meant for its completion would have been acquired. There are basically two categories of these properties: those abandoned by private citizens, including enterprises, and those abandoned by government at all levels, government agencies and other public institutions. While we appreciate the fact that both categories are harmful, particularly in terms of constituting security risks and hazards to citizens, clearly, they endanger us and constitute incalculable waste and loss to the economy. In a recent paper delivered by Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, the Honorable Minister for Works and Housing, at the Coliseum of the United Action for Change, he enumerated and highlighted the various dangers looming around us through the existence of these abandoned structures particularly in terms of various organised crimes plaguing us in the nation today. These bandoned structures continue to deface the environment and constitute a great drain on the limited resources of the nation.
We have chosen to concentrate on those funded by public resources, that is, public abandoned properties, as those will appear not to belong to anyone in the country. Those we put as custodians of the assets, now becoming liabilities, either by way of election or appointment, care less about the degeneration for reasons best known to them. It is in this context that one is glad that the lower chamber is showing concern about the menace.
Coasting back to the germane causal factors responsible for these heinous disasters, the first underlying factor is the budgetary issue. Oftentimes, most of these abandoned projects arose out of inadequate or disjointed budgeting. Sufficient provisions are never made, even where they are conceived as turnkey projects. Once commenced, they become abandoned, as no further budgetary provisions are ever made again for the implementation of the projects. Adjunct to this is the question of funding. Even where there are sufficient budgetary provisions, most of the abandoned projects suffered from inappropriate funding. Although there is a provision in the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act forbidding this, it is more honored in breach than obedience. It is only hoped that the commission will wake up to address this gap that is hemorrhaging the nation.
Project planning, including costing, is another militating factor against delivery of initiated projects. There is hardly any comprehensive planning for projects before they are embarked upon. For example, road projects commenced without considering underbelly services existing on the alignment will definitely lead to distortion of the concept underlying why road projects are embarked upon in the first place as such projects, at a later stage of construction, would be obstructed and frustrated by the challenges arising from the relocation of the services. By extension, poor project management is another factor affecting delivery of projects in this part of the world and thereby leading to abandonment ultimately.
The reality today is that project management has been unveiled to be a skill essential to the delivery of any project. It has gone beyond the capacity of a contractor or the project owner. Poor management or mismanagement of project is, therefore, responsible for the failure of some projects. Where people who are to midwife a project do not have the required skill in terms of its management, it is a sure bet that the project will definitely fail.
A factor also militating against delivery is the contracting of incompetent contractors. This is a matter of common knowledge in our clime as an average member of a political party is a self-certified contractor ready to compete with Julius Berger in the most complex of all engineering projects. I have earlier captured the multiplier negative effects of this in a column May 7, 2020 “The challenge of patronage in national development (1)” https://www.sunnewsonline.com/the-challenge-of-patronage-in-national-development-1.
Most times, this arose out of political patronage. A project entrusted to a contractor that is not qualified to handle a project will eventually end up being abandoned, if not due to the incompetence but procrastination, leading to inflation that will render the project incapable of delivery.
Litigation equally does impair the delivery of projects, also resulting in abandonment. Projects are tied in courts for years and decades due to litigation around them. This is a commonality in our clime where cases almost last till eternity. Again, at the risk of emphasis, galloping inflation in Nigeria today frustrates several projects, particularly where there are foreign components essential to the performance of the project.
Another factor is corruption among civil servants who try to scuttle every project once awarded to a contractor whose guts they do not fancy. All manner of impediments are thrown on the path of such contractor until he is frustrated. In many cases, such civil servants who are to supervise such projects would deliberately impede the performance as surveys necessary for construction projects would never be ready on time and where the project is such that could be affected by rainfall, the seasonal requirement of completing it on time will constitute an impossibility when much time would have been wasted before the contractor is mobilised to site. Where the state is required to secure right of way for the construction to be made by the contractor, this may last till eternity as the omo onile or illegal occupants, who are required to be resettled from the land on which construction is to be done would intervene and constitute a nuisance, delaying the performance of the project by the contractor. At the end of the day, the same civil servants who created the impediments delaying the performance of the job would be the ones to write reports to the government detailing the failure of the contractor to deliver within the time scheduled. Where such a contract is cancelled, litigation ensues and parties may be in court for long. When the contracts are awarded to new contractors, they result in excessive costs. A particular state in Nigeria is notorious for payment of damages of humongous nature arising from abandoned projects.
Finally, and by no means exhaustive, the role of ego in failure of projects and abandonment of properties is unquantifiable. This relates mostly to political heads, elected or appointed. Successive public officials often abandon projects of their predecessors due to ego. This accounts for a sizeable number of abandoned projects littering our environment today. In this regard, and of the dangers inherent in the ugly practice, you may wish to visit my last column alluded to at the beginning of this piece. Prognosis to the myriads of challenges identified above ranges from good budgetary practice for projects, adequate funding of projects initiated and many more.
There is the need to start ensuring effective and efficient project planning and costing. Of necessity also is effective project management in the execution of projects. Again, as indicated in my column of May 7, 2020, engagement of competent contractors to handle projects is not negotiable. Extraneous factors in the awards of contracts must stop. Anti-corruption agencies, civil society organisations and other relevant bodies must start being alive to their duties in this regard. Calibration of projects to meet the desired objectives of projects must be fulfilled prior to commencement of projects.
Prompt resolution of conflicts resulting in litigation, particularly through arbitration, conciliation, mediation or any other form of alternative disputes resolution mechanism is a desideratum to avoiding cases of abandoned projects and properties. Again, edging of inflation in the formulation and execution of projects can be helpful in the prevention of projects being abandoned, for example, it could be through insurance of such potential inflation.
Finally, as already canvassed in my last column referred to earlier, there is urgent need to start criminalizing abandonment of projects by successive public officials due to change of baton. Completion of all outstanding inherited projects must be mandated by way of legislation. The elimination of this scourge is a task that must be accomplished in our collective interest.