PoliticsNews & AnalysisNigeria's reforms chug along, sometimes stall


Posted on Monday, 13 May 2013 11:44

Nigeria's reforms chug along, sometimes stall

By Tolu Ogunlesi in Lagos

Toot, toot! President Goodluck Jonathan kept his promise to invest fuel subsidy money into roads and rail – and got a cement train named after him/Photo©PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFPThe Nigerian government is pressing on with renewal in all transport sectors with varying degrees of success.


Before and after photos of Lagos airport's domestic Terminal 1 in a full-page newspaper advertorial attest to the transformation its visitors are already enjoying.

The old terminal, reminiscent of a rundown railway station, has been replaced by a modern, glass-fronted structure with central air conditioning.

Remodelling work is going on in several airports across the country, extending beyond the terminal buildings to include radar coverage, landing equipment, fire-fighting capacity, security and back-up power supplies.

Even more ambitious plans are afoot: a second terminal building for the international airport in Lagos and the development of 'airport cities' in Lagos and Abuja.

In December 2012, the Nigerian Railway Corporation launched the rehabilitated Lagos-Kano line.

Dedicated locomotives will carry cement, taking some pressure off the roads.

Originally opened by the British in 1912, the line had fallen into disuse as part of the wave of infrastructure collapse in the 1980s and 1990s.

Road to nowhere

The rehabilitation of the East-West Road stretching across the Niger Delta and the reconstruction of the 295km Benin-Ore-Sagamu dual carriageway continues.

In 2009, the federal government awarded a 25-year concession worth N90bn ($560m) to Bi-Courtney Ltd for the reconstruction and management of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

In November 2012, it revoked the concession, citing a breach of contract, and awarded a short-term rehabilitation contract to two engineering firms.

The road currently remains in limbo.

The linchpin of the roads and railways revamp is the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) that President Goodluck Jonathan created in February 2012 in the wake of the protests that followed the removal of part of the petrol subsidy.

Jonathan announced that SURE-P would manage the proceeds from the 50 percent increase in fuel price and spend it on the completion of a number of ongoing projects.

With Nigeria's ports, reforms are more complicated.

Simplifying the crippling bureaucracy of cargo operations requires political will.

As recently as 2011, seven years after the government first set up the Presidential Task Force on Port Reform, there were more than a dozen government agencies domiciled at Lagos's ports of Apapa and Tin Can Island.

In October 2011, the task force cut the number down to four and ordered terminals to operate for 24 hours per day.

In May 2012, the federal and Lagos State governments tried to clear the snaking lines of container trucks and petrol tankers in Apapa, but this provided only brief respite.

All-day operations at the ports require the collaboration of the terminal operators, shipping companies and the Nigerian Customs Service.

All parties concerned have been involved in passing the buck.

Collaboration is often the weakest link in Nigeria's government-driven reform programmes.

One of the biggest challenges for road projects is the dichotomy between state and federal ownership.

The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway cuts through three states and is owned by the federal government.

Tensions often arise between Lagos, run by the Action Congress of Nigeria, and the People's Democratic Party-led federal government.

Nigeria's communication technology minister Omobola Johnson is spearheading negotiations with state governors to fix a N145,000/km fee for laying fibre-optic cable.

Taxes and charges to lay cables can vary greatly.

It is part of a larger 'pay once, dig once' strategy that aims to stop operators from digging up the same piece of road.

"We dig once, we put the duct in and everybody else puts their fibre through the duct," she says.

"The big breakthrough is the agreement by state governments that telecoms infrastructure is important.

They see the end benefits of having that infrastructure in their state" ◗ Tolu Ogunlesi in Lagos

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