Poor Communication Is Nigeria's Biggest Problem
Tonnie Iredia

With less than 2 months to the end of the year, many people must by now be eagerly awaiting the promised review of Nigeria’s Revenue Allocation Formula. Of course, it is a subject that has over the years lacked any measure of empiricism. State governors in particular have severally and openly drawn attention to the lopsided order instituted in the past by successive military regimes in the country. The relevant authority, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, had however promised a comprehensive review to ensure a more equitable distribution of the accrued revenue into the Federation Account among the three tiers of government before the end of the year. The Chairman of the Commission, Engr. Elias Mbam, had revealed the constitution of a nationwide public hearing on thesubject to be conducted on zonal basis from July to end this month. My first reactionto the RMFAC plan was to hope that someday someone would have the courage to allow the allocation to be premised on factors such as the distribution of functions.

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In fact, i have always wondered why the federal government takes a lion share of our resources and yet gets the least job that greatly impacts the public like the provision of roads infrastructure for the nation. Nigeria’s national road network is an estimated
195,000km. Out of this, federal roads are estimated to be about 35,000 km, which is less than 18percent of the roads; yet, the federal government picks up 52. 68percent of the nation’s revenue. State roads are approximately 17,000km, which is less than 09 percent of our roads while state governments get 26.72 per cent of our revenue. Local government roads on the other hand are 140, 000km which is over 70 percent of the number of roads while the local governments get 20.60 percent of national revenue. From this picture, it is either we cherish over providing for the federal level which is why a federal election usually takes the form of a battle rather than a game or we take delight in ensuring that the rural areas where majority of our roads and our people are located get minimum development. Why can’t the distribution of roads attract commensurate resources in such a way that we either increase federal roads or increase local allocation of resources?

What the above submission shows is that there was, ab initio, no systemic and
empirical basis for working on Nigerian roads. Indeed, critics are agreed that our
“roads are generally either in a state of disrepair, poorly maintained or altogether
untarred.” It is estimated that only a meagre fraction of Nigeria’s 195,000km of road network is paved. At a point, our federal legislators did the usual thing of urging the federal government to declare a state of emergency on roads in the country. Someone
needs to tell our political leadership that a state of emergency would not change the state of an underfunded project if those calling for a state of emergency do not insist that the project is appropriately provided for in the next budget. Instead, the project would continue to be subjected to trial by error with little or no difference to the conditions calling for change. So, Nigeria continues to experiment diverse strategies on road development without evidence of which has efficacy.

Last week, the federal government assigned to the Nigerian National Petroleum
Corporation, NNPC, the task of reconstructing 21 critical federal roads. Bearing in
mind that Nigerians have been in dire need of roads, some may have applauded the decision but many of us laypersons may not have understood the involvement of our petroleum experts in roads construction. While gathering data for this piece, I found a paper which suggested that the NNPC would fund the projects through its tax liabilities on the basis of the executive order titled ‘Road Infrastructural development
and refurbishment Investment Tax Credit.’ The scheme certainly requires better public enlightenment for people to understand why NNPC shouldn’t pay its taxes appropriately to enable the Ministry of Works to fix our roads, instead of adding road construction or maintenance to the tedious job of the NNPC. That is obviously a simpler way of ensuring that division of labour in the Nigerian governance project is
premised on specialization where every actor is assigned a specified role on the basis of his or her professed expertise and competence. In which case, the task of every actor should be functionally related to the specified corporate goal of the organization concerned

The point being made is that in the Nigerian project, who does what, where, when
and how should not lack clarity. The idea of giving the same assignment either
wholly or in part to two different organizations is ill advisable. With reference to
Nigerian roads therefore, we submit that even if it were mere road maintenance and
not full construction, NNPC still does not immediately come to mind as Nigeria has a full-fletched Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA). The latter would not only do a better job if appropriately funded, its huge workforce would be put into optimal use. This would assist the NNPC to carry out one of its functions of petroleum energy distribution using good roads without necessarily becoming the road maker and usurping the principal mandate of another societal institution. Here, we have refrained from raising the on-going controversy by state governors, that
NNPC resources are not for the federal government alone. We are only concerned that NNPC should not be unduly distracted from the main function for which it was established.

One of the challenges of Nigeria’s petroleum sector is the failure to properly maintain our refineries – a job which the NNPC is more likely to do better than road maintenance. There is no better time than now to do so and reposition our petroleum industry for the next couple of years until petroleum loses value. As explained a few days back by an outstanding player in the industry, Sanusi Barkindo, Secretary General of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, ‘crowding out investment could worsen tightness in the gas market.’ Barkindo, himself a Nigerian and former boss of our NNPC argues that ‘even by 2045, oil and gas together would continue to provide more than half of the world’s energy needs – with oil at 28 percent and gas around 24 per cent adding that the two fuels would be the “heavy-lifters” of the world’s economy and energy system for the foreseeable future.’ Our take on this is that NNPC should spend more time on oil and gas rather than matters ancillary to them. With greater efficiency, the corporation can stabilize the nation for as long as petroleum remains the international product of reckoning.

Except this suggestion is heeded, NNPC may unwittingly be exposed to criticism by Nigerians on subjects outside her real mandate. Many for example don’t believe the recent unusual claim that the corporation, for the first time in its 44 years of existence, made huge profit in a year when nothing worked for anyone else worldwide. Again, although no one knows the criteria used in determining the roads that qualified to be picked for construction, there is the impression that NNPC unilaterally decided the 21 roads she would like to work on. As a result, people are now looking at such issues as which zones were favoured or not. On national television the other day, a discussant raised the issue of how the Warri/Benin expressway which on the basis of proximity to oil installations and which has been in an exceedingly poor state for so long ought to have caught NNPC’s attention. In this age of politicization of public policies, a frontline societal institution such as the NNPC must not be encouraged to dabble into the vagaries of political weather.

Prof. Iredia, former Director-General of NTA, wrote and published this article in Vanguard News Nigeria at page 16.