DON OKERE| Indisputably, the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has seemingly shown from its 2016 budget that it places emphasis on infrastructural development. It has enlarged the capital vote for the 2016 budget by almost 300 percent to N1.8 trillion. It also allocated almost 24 percent of it principally to infrastructure, a whopping N433.4 billion, reflecting the realities and desired spending priorities for national development and growth.
The rise in the capital vote is good news, even though the present figure remains grossly inadequate in the light of the huge infrastructure deficit in the country and the urgent need to build a robust and sustainable non-oil economy we hanker for. The government has also shown commitment by lumping key ministries responsible for infrastructure tasks into one—works, housing and power—and handing them over to Mr. Babatunde Fashola, former governor of Lagos State, apparently following his touted super performance in upgrading the infrastructure in Lagos State.
With an enormous infrastructural gap restraining activities of many industrial firms while increasing the cost of doing business in the country, informed Nigerians had severally canvassed increase in budgetary allocations for infrastructural projects to make the country diversify from its non-sustainable oil economy.
Poor infrastructure, unarguably, impedes a nation’s economic growth and international competitiveness. Its insufficiency is also a major cause of loss of quality of life, illness and death. Infrastructure comprises basic services and facilities required for businesses to compete and grow. In other words, investment in infrastructure is linked to economic development, job creation, productivity and quality of life. It is also important to note that the multiplier effect of infrastructural development, in terms of aggregate spinoffs, could change the unappetizing matrix of the country.
The infrastructure profile– road networks, rail, power substructure, etc– of the country is in a sorry state. The federal highways across the country have almost collapsed because they have remained unmaintained or have not been sufficiently maintained or have not been touched over the years. However, some of the federal highways may have received the intervention of some governors, but this has not been enough. Poor power transmission infrastructure across the country also affects power supply. The power system is the effective and indispensable machinery for the rapid industrial and economic growth of any nation. The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), which is expected to evacuate the power generated to the distribution companies, is said to have inherited dilapidated transmission infrastructure. This has been the bane of effective distribution of power supply in the country. TCN, the only utility company along the value-chain that has not been privatised but been managed by the Federal Government through a private contractor, Manitoba of Canada, cannot transmit more than 4,500 megawatts of electricity across its network without experiencing system collapse! This is a major challenge for the government as it starts tackling the infrastructure deficit in the country.
It is salutary that the Federal Government has earmarked N433.4 billion for infrastructure. Nonetheless, it is not enough to vote such humongous amount for infrastructure; it is salient that the government embarks on practical provision or fixing of infrastructure as quickly as possible. Road construction is always affected by the rainy season. After the budget is passed, without cognizance to the budget imbroglio, it won’t take too long before the advent of the rains. It is imperative for the Federal Government to factor in this in its implementation of the capital projects, especially roads, in order not to record low capital budget implementation. What this means is that after the budget is passed it should hit the ground running in order to exhaust the capital component of the budget before year end. Mr. Babatunde Fashola should also know that handing over the super ministries to him is a test of his managerial shrewdness even though some other variables may come to play in the performance of his duties. It is imperative for him to find ways of going around them and show Mr President, and indeed Nigerians, that his choice is that of a round peg in a round hole.
The National Assembly must also play its role in tandem with the yearnings of the people. The budget must be given speedy passage. The lawmakers must also ensure that the 2016 budget, especially the capital vote component, is implemented to the letter. There was a report that over 11,000 projects across the country were abandoned due to the non-implementation of the capital component of the 2015 budget. The National Assembly must ensure its oversight function is done in the national interest. Again, as the government meets the recurrent and overhead expenditures of the various government agencies, it should not be to the detriment of the capital vote component. This has been the case in the past where the capital vote component of the budget is neglected, yet capital expenditure defines the quality of life of the citizens through its provision for development, acquisition and upgrading of infrastructure.
Admittedly, the failure in the implementation of the capital component of budgets in the country is a historical weakness of the economy, the onus now lies on the Buhari administration to reverse this despicable trend and show Nigerians the change it means.