Professionals canvass transparency in infrastructure concession

Olusegun Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo

To address this malaise of infrastructure decay in Nigeria, governments at all tiers are adopting the concession option for the development of their basic infrastructure, but it appears that the initiative is not working

Over interference of the political class into the activities of the Infrastructural Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) has been said to be one major factor why many concession infrastructural deals in Nigeria do fail.

They have equally said the secrecy in which they transactions are brokered is another reason, urging total independence of ICRC, whose members were also asked to take on every deal on its merit having the interest of Nigeria at heart.

Their views are coming on the heels of several failed concession deals, some of which have led to litigations in the nation’s court.
With few exceptions, either under the state or federal government, many infrastructure projects including roads, public institutions, transportation such as railway and public utilities have not been successful.

It would be recalled that at the height of deplorable condition of the nation’s infrastructures, former President Olusegun Obasanjo signed into law Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Act in 2005, which became the harbinger of ICRC.

The concession process allows private investors and operators to inject much needed capital into upgrading and maintaining infrastructure.

For instance, the national road networks in Nigeria especially in the south- west, southeast and south-south zones, with most of them were nothing but death traps.

The cumulative investment of the Federal and State governments in the road sub-sector since independence has been enormous, with all tiers having committed scare resources to maintain them. This, however, has given little result.

Concession was then seen as the option to revamp the nation’s infrastructure decay. Concessions are associated with direct payment by the user in the form of a toll as being done in Europe and America for roads, bridges and tunnels. Tolls constitute veritable sources of internally generated revenue for many countries.

Though laudable as it should, it is however worrisome that this model has not been delivering the desired results in this clime.
Speaking on the challenge, Akin Olawore, a chartered surveyor, development consultant and principal partner, Akin Olawore &Co., noted that infrastructure, as captured under the ICRC Act 2005 covers virtually every sector of the economy that includes power plants, highways, seaports, airports, canals, dams, water supply, telecoms, railways, land reclamation, inter sate transport systems, industrial estates or township development, housing, tourism development, waste management, among others.

He listed some of the notable concessions that could not be successfully concluded to include the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Falomo Shopping Centre, the old Federal Secretariat, Ikoyi, Lagos, Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), Lekki-Eti-Osa Expressway, just to mention a few.

According to him, for concession to be successful in Nigeria, there is need to build strong institution. “Nigeria has good policy, but we always thrive in impunity. ICRC must not only be independent, but must have experts that would not be pandering to the interest of people in government, but rather, the general interest of all Nigerians.

“To concession an infrastructure, the technical competence and financial capability of the concessionaire must be ascertained and transparent”, said Olawore, who expressed satisfaction on the court judgment against the Federal government, in favour of Dr. Wale Babalakin, a senior advocate on Nigeria over the bungled federal secretariat’s redevelopment project.

The Chairperson, Nigerian Institute of quantity Surveyors (NIQS), Lagos Chapter, Mrs. Adenike Ayanda, identified corruption as a major factor hindering the success of concession in Nigeria. This is in view of the seeming secrecy at which agreements made by the affected parties are being done.

According to Adenike, if concession agreements are transparently done and made public, most of the projects would have been successfully executed.

“Besides, what is the nature of budgeting? Were they properly done? Who were the professionals involved? How many of such projects that quantity surveyor get involved? Concession is a serious initiative that requires proper calculation, because in this case, money is involved and as such, there is need for proper budgeting, but all these were missing in Nigeria”, she said, citing the fact that the construction cost in Nigeria is higher than anywhere in world.

Adenike added that parameter for setting developmental agenda is fundamentally flawed.As a way forward, Adenike asked that affected governments to go back to drawing board with the concession firms and bring into the fold professionals that would guide, do the necessary correction and get back to work. “But if we want to continue like this where no project is successfully completed, we are telling the would-be partners to steer clear of our development quests”, warned the NIQS boss.

A legal practitioner, Dele Farotimi, principal partner, Dele Farotimi &Co attributed failure of infrastructure concession in Nigeria to policy reversal, occasioned by changes in political office holders’ attitudes to their predecessors, among others.
According to him, none of the concession deals was done in a transparent manner.

“Concession peoples’ commonwealth must devoid of secrecy. For example, Lekki-Eti-Osa expressway, from day one, was not planned to give value to the people, but rather to meet the financial greed of the political godfathers.

“How can they come up to say that government is paying toll on behalf of the people for the second toll gate at Chevron junction, after the concession was withdrawn and bought back, by paying off the concessionaire? No body is asking any question. Are we better off now than before, is traffic getting better? On whose custody is the revenue being generated at the tolls is being kept?

“Talking of legal scrutiny, has the concession subjected to such legal nuances? Corruption and lack of transparency would not make the policy work in Nigeria, unless our mentality is changed”, said Farotimi.

Another legal practitioner, who was involved in the battle against Lekki-Eti-Osa expressway few years ago, Mr. Adewale Sanni, a principal attorney, Sanni M.M.A &Co, said concession, as a concept and template are foreign. There are different cultural, legal and political environment in the overseas countries and Nigeria, thus, making certain things imperative if concession would ever work here.

“We are bringing foreign ideas into the country without proper structure that would make their domestications meaningful and fruitful. Active participation between the government and citizenry is very fundamental, but unfortunately, this participation is not there except to cast their votes and leave governance to the elected officials, who will not seek their opinions on critical issues that affect their lives.

“How would concession be successful when the electorates are not carried along? With this situation, we are unwittingly drive away genuine foreign investors, because most of these concessions are shrouded in secrecy, where the so-called big men in the country are buying over our collective patrimonies under the guise of bringing foreign investors. The same thing is happening in the power sector today, where we are asked to pay more for power supply”.

Sanni was of the view that for concession to work in Nigeria, those who are negotiating on behalf of government must be detached from political interference and that there must be a kind of summit where stakeholders’ meeting would be held. This, he said, would facilitate “public participation”.

To Mr. Kunle Awobodu, president, Building Collapse Prevention Guild (BCPG), who is also a notable member, Nigerian Institute Of Builders (NIOB), said task before the ICRC requires more core professionals, whose loyalty would be for the country, rater than individuals.

Awobodu said that, apart from undervaluing some of these public institutions, the result can be as bad as its showing now.
“As much as we should not allow some of these projects to waste away, we should be wary of the way they were being given out. It’s not reasonable for institutions like the TBS, the old Federal Secretariat, Falomo Shopping Centre, and the likes to be wasting away. But we must ensure transparency in how they are being concession. Typical example was the old NITEL that was just given out without result.

However, a senior official at the PPP resource Centre of the ICRC, who spoke with The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, said that contrary to the perceived insinuation that the body is not doing enough when it comes to project evaluation, he said competent experts that included quantity surveyors, valuers, accountants, engineers and other relevant bodies are working withy ICRC.
“The only situation is the interference from unexpected quarters, just as it’s happening in virtually every area of our national endeavours.

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