The Architect’s colloquium has proved to be a powerful tool for harnessing professional knowledge for the development and enhancement of the Nigerian built environment. The high level of urbanisation in Nigerian major cities such as Abuja, Kano and Lagos is alarming. Considering our population which currently stands at 170 million, and a growth rate of 2 per cent, one wonders how the nation can sustain such rapid urbanisation in the face of inadequate infrastructure in our cities.
Quite simply put, our country has a large infrastructure deficit. Physical infrastructure such as roads, houses, power and water are essential for the growth of our economy. Without adequate investment in infrastructure our economy will stagnate.
The infrastructure deficit is large and exists in almost every sector. For the road sector alone, we have estimated that in order to adequately support economic growth at current rates and meet vision 20:20:20, we need to be investing in construction of at least 14,000 km of new roads annually for the next 7 years. We will also have to maintain and rehabilitate the existing network as a matter of routine. These will require the average annual expenditure on roads to increase six-fold to nearly 900 Billion naira.
The President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan-led Federal government realises that infrastructure is key in realising the objectives of the administration’s transformation agenda, and has devoted much time in exploring new ways of bridging the infrastructure gap in the country.
The Federal Government recently developed the national infrastructure master plan. The issue of financing featured prominently in the plan. The government has devoted much time in exploring new ways of bridging the infrastructure gap. It is clear that we cannot continue to rely on the limited financial resources available to government. The challenges are all the more intense against the backdrop of current global financial tightening and increased competition for available infrastructure funds.
There is global competition amongst nations to attract private capital into infrastructure through public private partnership and other forms of engaging private capital. One of the essential ingredients for attracting private finance is the existence of strong institutions that provide the conduit for collaboration as well as buttress investor confidence. It is partly for this reason that the President Jonathan’s administration embarked on major reforms in the power sector that led to the privatisation of power generation and distribution, while concentrating on building a transmission infrastructure for the sector.
Today, the transport sector (Roads, Rails, Marine and Aviation) has reached an advanced stage; on completion, it will bring about a new lease of life in our cities and country.
Innovation in infrastructure delivery is yet another area we can harness our God-given resources to bring basic services to our citizens. We have seen new technologies emerge in areas of alternative energy source for household appliances ranging from solar panel roofing sheets to solar powered water heaters, and the ball-to-electricity technology invented by a young Nigerian-American. These innovations have huge potentials in Nigeria as we have abundance of sunlight and require diverse energy sources in order to meet the energy needs of our country.
These innovations will be more quickly accepted if they are inculcated in the design stage of buildings and public facilities in a cost effective way.
It is pertinent for Nigerians in the built sector to bring up ideas that will enable Nigerians benefit from these promising innovations which have the potential of creating employment for our teaming youths.
No doubt, the reality of our nation today is that there is a yawning gap in infrastructure. This yawning gap pervades through the various sectors of the nation’s economy; from power to roads, from rail/water to air transportation, from mining to water resources, and from ICT to housing.
Countries like ours can double its Gross Domestic Product, currently put at 510 billion dollars within a few years if the right infrastructure is put in place. The question then, is how can this massive infrastructure development be funded?
The situation requires an attitudinal change; the following actions are recommended to bring Nigeria infrastructure out of the wood; Declaration of emergency in the Infrastructure sector, Establishment of an Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF) (with the National Assembly passing appropriate legislation establishing the IDF and implementation of the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan from first line charge over a 10-Year period) and better corporate governance that requires an amendment to the company and allied matters Act, which will allows companies to contribute 3-5 per cent of their pre-tax income to the IDF.
If truly good and sustainable infrastructure is needed in Nigeria not only to serve as catalyst for economic growth, but also for the creative engagement of citizens and to generate national development, then the executive and legislative arms of government must collaborate to do the Needful as recommended in order to adequately bridge the infrastructure gap.
What role can the professions play in this envisaged infrastructure renaissance in our country? This question is all the more important looking at the case study of Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano.
Easily, with the addition of Abuja, these cities showcase the threat of rapid urbanisation in Nigeria. The questions we would ask ourselves are: What happened, and where were the professionals when a city like Abuja that had a well thought out plan started degenerating into a slum? How did we contribute to this sorry past in our cities? What role did the planning and development agencies play to promote the development of slums in our cities? Why should it take upward of one, two or three years to obtain development approvals in a city like Abuja, thereby forcing developers to build without approval and fuelling corruption in the system’s checks and balances architecture? Why are the States planning departments approving building plans in areas without Lay-Outs and basic infrastructure (including flood plains), thereby promoting the emergence of slums and blighted neighbourhoods in our cities? I could go on and on.
The truth is, there has been a systemic failure and we all have a share in the blame. If only the professionals in the public or private sector had remained true to their ethics and good conscience, the story would have been different.