By Obadiah Mailafia
TODAY we proceed with the second part of our reflections on National Goals for the coming decade. We had earlier considered two goals: first, tackling insecurity, and, second, restructuring and nation building to ensure a vibrant and inclusive democratic society.
The third national goal is a national emergency to tackle the power and infrastructures challenge. Among the major binding constraints to national development is power and infrastructures. It is paradoxical that ever since the unbundling of the national Power Holding Company electricity supply has actually deteriorated across our country. The so-called privatised Distribution Companies, DISCOs, have no incentive to invest and expand their services. There is collusion to discourage the metering system in favour of flat charges that fleece consumers. The DICSOs have become cash cows for their shareholders, given that whether they provide adequate services or not they are guaranteed a regular cash flow.
Although we are told that Nigeria has attained 5,900 MW in power generation, the power sector is hampered by a weak state-owned transmission network. Further unbundling of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, is vital to boosting foreign and local investment in the sector. We must intensify building of transmission lines and ensure that distribution networks reach all our communities, rural as well as urban. At the same time we must hasten the completion of the various power projects. Major consideration must be given to use of sustainable energy systems, particularly solar, wind and biogas. As a starting point, all public buildings by law should be fuelled by sustainable energy systems as a compliment to the national power grid. Government buildings, public schools and health clinics by law must have off-grid sustainable energy systems as a compliment to access to the national grid.
In addition, we should begin discussions with the Russian Federation on development of nuclear power. We want nuclear power for peaceful purposes and not for war. A British geological company has discovered uranium deposits in Adamawa, Cross River, Taraba, Bauchi and Kano States. Our neighbouring country of Niger also has considerable uranium deposits. We can mobilise and train the best of our scientific minds and deploy them in the service of our nuclear technological development. This will be the long-term answer to our critical shortfalls in electricity. We must also commit providing electricity for all as a necessary foundation for building a technological-industrial state and to generate millions of jobs for our people.
Other critical infrastructures such as ports, harbours, roads and railways are vital to securing a more prosperous future for our people. We must therefore commit to expanding and modernising our rural roads, highways, ports and harbours, and airports. We need nothing less than a mass transport revolution in our cities. All major towns and cities must have state-of-art tram networks so as to de-congest the heavy traffic that continues to build-up across our country. Nigeria also has a coastline of some 853 km. We can potentially develop not less than 7 deep-sea ports. This must be linked to a vibrant ship-building industry that will make us one of the great sea-faring nations globally.
Equally important is our commitment to development of a robust rail network. Since colonial times, the railways were not only a vehicle for economic development; they served as instruments of nation building. Nigerians of all hues lived and worked on the railways. Great leaders such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, ILembe Odumegwu Ojukwu and Bola Ige were born in Northern Nigeria where their parents worked in the railway system. When the railways flourished, Nigerians travelled easily from one corner of the country to the other. When they disappeared, we became virtual strangers to one another. It is imperative that we revitalise the railways not only as vital arteries of transportation but as a vehicle for nation building. A vibrant rail network based on maglev speed trains should connect all our major cities and regions. We must commit to developing twenty-first century fast trains that will provide cheap, safe and reliable transportation for the great people.
This is the time to diversify our infrastructure development partners rather than relying on the Chinese whose collateralisation of national assets as a condition for loans amounts to another form of economic colonisation. We must look to middling powers such as Japan, Korea, Ukraine, Hungary and the Czech Republic for major technology and infrastructure projects. We are particularly impressed by what Ethiopia has done recently. They have reached a deal with the Chinese that commits them to setting up base in Ethiopia for assembling train engines and coaches; at the same time training Ethiopian engineers and technicians in rail technology. We need to also revitalise Ajaokuta steel, given its importance to the machine tools precision-engineering industry and to industrialisation in general.
As a starting-point, there should be zero-tolerance for all pot holes on our roads and highways. This will save many lives. Having done that, we should embark on reconstruction of the main highways while exploiting the vast bitumen deposits that exist in our country, in addition to exploring the use of concrete as advocated by the businessman Aliko Dangote. We should aim to employ one million of our youths in highway and rail development through direct labour contracts.
Fourth, we must launch a massive agrarian revolution. Without food sufficiency no nation could consider itself to be truly secure. More than 70 percent of our population work in the rural-agrarian sector. But we are also very dependent on food imports, despite progress that has recently been made in terms of domestic rice production. In addition, much of our food production system relies on peasant agriculture, with all the constraints and limitations that this entails.
A major part of the problem derives from the nature of the petrodollar political economy anchored, as it is, on capital-intensive offshore production by multinational oil companies. The sector employs few people. The oil curse syndrome which afflicts our country depends on the fact that dependence on collection of oil rents from multinational oil companies means that succeeding governments owed no loyalty to the citizens of our country. The citizens on, their part, felt they were in no position to demand accountability from their rulers. The social contract between the government and the governed disappeared. The availability of cheap dollars encouraged massive importation of food and other items, leading to historically high exchange rates which discouraged local production.
Going forward, we must re-launch a massive agricultural-agrarian revolution to ensure national food self-sufficiency. We need both the small farmer and the big modern farmer working in tandem. The Green Revolution in Asia was anchored on the peasant farmer, accompanied with subsidies on vital inputs and development of massive networks of agricultural extension workers. We must also encourage research and innovation in the agriculture sector, particularly in development of high-yield and better nutritive indigenous crop varieties. We must also invest in agro-based processing SMEs that boost rural incomes and linkages to the urban industrial sector; enhancing the value-chain for both local and international markets.
Five, we must industrialise or perish! Nigeria must become a first-rate industrial-technological state or we would be nothing under the sun. A successful industrial revolution requires that we invest in our people, develop our talents and revitalise vital industrial sectors. Rebuilding Ajaokuta Steel is crucial, given its strategic importance to the construction industry and particularly to precision-engineering and the machine-tools industry as applied to the automobile, rail and other high engineering works.
To attain accelerated industrialisation, we would need to overcome the key bottlenecks to enhancing productivity in the manufacturing/industrial sector. This includes redeeming the low level technology and technology choice; addressing the challenge of low capacity utilisation, which currently stands at between 30 and 40 percent; tackling the financing handicap by boosting credit to the real sector; building industrial clusters across the country to address the problem of high operating costs related to poor infrastructures, lack of adequate electricity and other structural bottlenecks; linking highway and rail networks to vital industrial production centres; tackling the shortfalls in skills through establishment of technical training institutions while redesigning our education curriculum to prioritise science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and addressing the institutional and policy constraints that impede development of a more vibrant SME sector.