Friday Sermon: Monuments of Waste 3

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By Babatunde Jose

Nigeria will not cease to amaze discerning observers; few countries have as much epitaphs of waste and abandoned projects as we have. The landscape of this country is littered with over 20,000 abandoned projects or ‘epitomes of waste’. Everywhere you look the eyesores convey a country festooned with a political class for whom discontinuity and shortsightedness have been elevated into an art of form. Some of these projects have assumed a life of their own; some of them, spanning nearly forty years. The cost of these abandoned projects   in terms of financial, economic and socio-economic losses is simply immeasurable. Apart from readily serving as conveyor belts through which money is laundered, they are also ignoble epitaphs of corruption.

Kenechukwu Obiezu commenting on this sorry state said:” this invidious legacy is merely a symptom and not a cause, nursed and condoned successively much to our own harm. It is indeed a symptom of the diseased governance we have gleefully entrenched; estates padded up with white elephant projects and utopian promises, shocking short sightedness, lack of experience in leadership, conspicuous poverty of promising antecedents and poorly concealed predilection for avarice and idolatry, we choose other relatively insignificant considerations. Poorly informed and even more impoverished in vision and vigilance, we condone and let ourselves be whipped into nauseating queues of ethnic, religious and fiscal jingoists.”

In 2011, President   Goodluck Jonathan empanelled the Abandoned Projects Audit Commission. Its report   told the story of a country on the verge of abandoning even its own soul. The Commission estimated that about 11,886 Federal Government projects were abandoned in the country in the last 40 years. On May 26, 2016 the former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement, Emeka Eze, revealed that the number of government projects abandoned across the country stood at 19,000.The trend has obviously been on the rise.

During a burial ceremony at the old Ikoyi cemetery, Alhaji Femi Okunnu on looking at the abandoned Federal Secretariat Complex could not hide his lamentation. That was a complex that could be described as the crowing jewel of his tenure as our longest serving Federal Commissioner of Works during the Yakubu Gowon Military Administration. The abandoned Federal Secretariat has been laying waste for over 20 years.

In Lagos alone, we can cite other monuments of waste such as the Trade Fair Complex; purpose-built exhibition halls and offices, complete with a lake motel, restaurants and an amphitheater: It was abandoned for inexplicable reasons and farmed out to spare part sellers while today, trade fairs are held at the TBS a complex that was built to serve as a parade ground. Haba!

The most shameful of all the monuments of waste are the 38-year old, multi-billion dollar Ajaokuta Steel Complex and the Mambilla Hydroelectric Project.

The Ajaokuta saga started in 1979, when the Federal Government of Nigeria under General Olusegun Obasanjo, signed a global contract with TyajzPromExport (TPE) of the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the establishment of the Ajaokuta Steel project. The proposed date of completion was 1986 but it was never completed till date, due to policy inconsistencies and massive project corruption for which no one was ever punished. According to Professor Kole Omotosho, the project was abandoned “after it had become one of the bottomless drain pipes of the national coffers.”

In 1986, former President Babangida signed a new contract with the same Soviet firm, the TPE, with a new completion date of 1989. The project was also later abandoned when it was nearly completed and no reason was given for its abandonment till date.

In all, Nigeria spent $5bn on the Ajaokuta Steel Complex project which was supposed to cost $650m. In anticipation of its going on stream, Nigeria was listed as the 40th steel producing nation in the world but, by 2010 the country was no longer listed at all. Shameless nation!

It is instructive to note that during its period in the wilderness, the country spent over N2.1 Trillion on steel importation: A nation of wastrels! It is sad to note that “During the same period, the TPE successfully completed on schedule, steel complex projects for various countries around the world including China, South Korea and Brazil.

BEWILDERINGLY, Nigeria has become a cauldron of white elephants, one of the most symbolic of the lot should be the Mambilla hydropower plant located in Taraba State, which was initiated during the Shehu Shagari administration in 1982. Thirty-Five years later, the 3,050-megawatt project is yet to generate one watt of electricity. One phrase sums up this fiasco: shame of a nation.

No effort by the government to reassure the public can explain away the sheer waste and ineptitude that have characterized the project. Put at the sum of $5billion; it ranks as the most expensive project in the history of this country. The project is billed to be a game-changer in a nation reeling under the crushing weight of poor power generation capacity that only intermittently attain a temporary peak of 4,600MW. In terms of scope, the project is the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa. The Mambilla project has been stalled in spite of the seeming efforts of successive governments to get it off the ground.

The large project was so attractive that President Obasanjo created and chaired a special committee on Mambilla a few weeks before the end of his tenure. The President handed a new contract to China Gezhouba Group Corporation, the main builder of China’s Three Gorges Dam. The only other thing which has so far happened was a ground-breaking ceremony to inaugurate the project – the kind of ribbon-cutting event that publicity seeking politicians love.

With the grim picture we have painted, Nigeria’s hope of becoming a technologically developed country would remain a mirage if corruption and waste are not immediately addressed. Added to this is a litany of woes: Botched privatization imposed on the nation by SAP in the 80s. Privatized companies in the steel sector that used to employ up to 20,000 workers now have less than 4,000 after the exercise.

The Daily Times Plc which was acquired by the Folio Communication Ltd in July 2004, under very disturbing and questionable circumstance, has since been out of circulation, and its assets stripped to the bone. The Electricity Meter Company of Nigeria, Zaria that was sold to Dantata Investments Ltd in December 2002 is not performing.

Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria (PAN) sacked 226 workers, as lack of patronage and unfavourable government policies stifle its operations. The Federal Super-phosphates Fertilizer Company Limited in Kaduna has virtually closed shop. The fertilizer plant was acquired by Heiko Consortium in September 2005.

The Nigerian Sugar Company, Bacita Kwara State, sold in 2005 to Joseph Dam & Son has stopped sugar production. The Zuma Steel rolling mill in Jos and the Osogbo Steel Rolling Mill have been grounded. Both of them were privatised in November 2005. Their continual closure has cost the nation billions of naira.  Other steel companies sold include: The Nigerian Iron Ore Mining Company, Itakpe in Kogi State; Delta Steel Company, Ovwian Aladja and The Katsina Rolling Mill.

Of all these, it is only the Katsina Rolling Mill that is functioning, while the Delta Steel Company is operating at around 10 per cent capacity.

No doubt, if indeed such a monumental number wastes could be chalked up by the Federal Government, a fortiori, the state Governments must be faring a lot worse. The Oodua Group, an investment and business conglomerate owned by the South West states is a classic case of the topic under review. It’s Cocoa Industry that used to produce Vitalo, which rivaled Ovaltine, Milo and Bournvita in those days has become moribund. Daily Sketch in Ibadan also went the same way including Cashew Industry and Askar Paint in Ibadan are all languishing in the dustbin of history.

Nigeria Romania Wood Industry, in Ondo State is also dead; despite its great promise and potentials with its own dedicated forest. Ditto for the Okitipupa Oil Palm Industry, which could have turned Ondo State into a net producer of not only palm oil but also its bleached variety. The same fate befell, Oluwa Glass Industry at Igbokoda, which at one time was producing wind-shields for cars.  The same fate happened to, Oku Iboku and Iwopin Paper Mills, which at a time were manufacturing newsprint for the newspaper industry and Kraft paper for the packaging industry. The list goes on and for want of space, we can only mention some in passing and leave the reader to their imagination.

TINAPA: A N60bn investment in Cross River State has gone moribund. The $475 million (N76 billion) CCTV pilot project, designed to help Nigeria shore-up her security, is also awaiting the undertaker.

How did we get to this sorry state? This is a matter for serious conjecture and sober reflection. It is however borne of a culture of neglect and ‘I-don’t-careism’: A lackadaisical and unwholesome attitude which has turned erstwhile leaders into traitorous scoundrels and scallywags.

Evil has spread over the land and the sea because of corruption and hence, Allah will cause some people to suffer so that perhaps they will return to Him. (Quran 30:41)

Our tormentors should remember: The Gates of Hell are not closed

On a lighter note, it seems even the culture of waste extends to death: 21 years after, the organizers are yet to complete late President Nnamdi Azikiwe’s mausoleum! Hmm, indeed, ’there was a country’!

Barka Juma’at and happy weekend. 

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