A famous Igbo proverb aptly states that no one gets wealthy by throwing the things of value he or she previously acquired away. It goes to prove how vital cumulative acquisition is on the journey to prosperity. This principle is always naturally in the application, whether it is in the case of an individual, organisation or a country. Most wealthy people attained their socio-economic state by painstakingly and gradually building their wealth by several deferred gratifications. In a world of scarcity, every fiscal or investment action has a corresponding opportunity cost. Therefore, those who frivolously fritter away their earnings only realise years later that the opportunities of owning their own houses, businesses or any other things of value consistent with the already consumed resources are lost. The worst, however, is the opportunity losses that combine the costs of both early and later enjoyments. Commencing a project usually requires a delayed utility that is, by principle, the positive consequence of the invested monetary resources. In effect, the current, pleasures are put forward to a later date in the future when the ongoing investment may have ripened. If for any reason, however, the project is abandoned, both the delights that should have occurred at the beginning and the expected satisfaction from the plans when completed are both lost.
Nigeria is a country decorated with the ugly floras of abandoned projects. Over the years, the combined elements of our DNA made up of corruption, wastefulness and poor quality leadership underlie that insane vegetative artefacts. In 2012, the presidential projects assessment committee determined that the number of abandoned federal government projects were 11,886. They put a value of about NGN7 trillion on this. Four years later, the director-general of the bureau for public procurement put the number of abandoned projects across the country at an unbelievable 19,000. That was a whopping 7000 additional abandoned projects in a short space of time. Anyway, it seems that either incorrect estimation or the mad race to initiate projects that would enable the corrupt drawdown of financial resources before the 2015 election can only explain this number of projects. But how can one interpret the seemingly more reliable estimation by the Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria which based on their 2017 survey, put the number of abandoned projects in Nigeria at 56,000? According to the Institute, these abandoned projects were collectively worth the value of NGN12 trillion at the time of their audit and estimation in 2017. When viewed differently, this amount is about 1.2 times the size of 2019 federal government budget and about 9% of our GDP.
What have we not abandoned as a country? Major road projects have been abandoned and have for decades denied tens of millions of people access to markets and other critical infrastructure. Electricity and rail projects have also been abandoned. Policies and programmes have been abandoned. The list is endless. The heart-rending aspect of all of these is that the full amount that should ordinarily have been used to complete these projects have been drawn down and embezzled. Not only that, no one cares to dig deeper and find out why and the persons responsible for such. Even the knowledge of some these culprits means little as they still go unscathed and unprosecuted. These untouchables are the same group of people that will yet receive more mouthwatering projects in the future. Nigeria and its citizens continue to reel in the pains of deprivation on accounts of these high-profile and seemingly ‘above-the-law’ hoodlums.
The effects and consequences of abandoned projects are quite high. The first end-result is its creation of a pervasive atmosphere of lack of trust in Nigeria itself. We can no longer trust ourselves to agree together on a project, or on anything for that matter, and still, see it entirely executed as initially designed and planned. The fact that our leaders are the main culprits in all of this has considerably depleted the trust which ordinary people used to have on them. The absence of trust for leadership kills the remnant spirit of patriotism that is still in some while strengthening the willingness of some to engage in corrupt practices. This trust issue leads to a second significant consequence which is the vicious cycle in which the leadership of the country further weakens our justice system and the latter in turn encourages the malicious capacity of the former to undermine it. The fact that our justice system allowed the abandonment of as much as 56,000 public projects is indicative of the extent of the system’s dereliction of its duty. In every sane society except in force majeure situations, the embezzlement and consequent abandonment of public projects are criminal offences demanding inevitable prosecution. We know that if that was the case in Nigeria, it is difficult if not impossible, to have a pileup of the 56,000 projects abandoned. Of course, there is a litany of woes attending to this ugly scenario. These include the loss of employment which the project will have ordinarily provided many, as well as the loss of the alternative uses of the funds sunk in the project. In addition to that, in many instances, the market value appreciations that are the usual outcomes of successfully established project presence in an area is equally lost. And so forth.
The two most important reasons why we abandon projects in Nigeria are unpatriotism and corruption. These two factors are mutually reinforcing and vicious. Many projects are doomed to abandonment even from the point of budgeting for them. They are conduit pipes through which collectively owned resources, especially money can be taken out of the system fraudulently. In some instances, there are deliberate under budgeting, which naturally makes it impossible to complete the project. The under-budgeting for projects helps in quickly dismissing any investigation into how the disbursement of monies meant for the project. The tactics are to divert attention from even investigating the deployment of the insufficient amounts budgeted for the destined-to-be-uncompleted projects as it is easy to broadly attribute the abandonment to inadequate fiscal outlay for the project. In other instances, those with the responsibility to execute duly designed and approved public plans brazenly embezzle the money meant for the execution knowing that our justice system is too weak to catch up with them. Without a doubt, in the absence of corruption, it will be difficult to have 95% of the currently abandoned public projects in Nigeria. There are, of course, other reasons why projects are left uncompleted.
One that is quite commonplace and which may be difficult to dissociate from corruption is the issue of poor planning and poor design. Take, for instance, the case of road construction. Several roads in Nigeria undergo development without any duly approved model from all the relevant technical parties that should ordinarily certify critical aspects of the road design. But some of them not supported by such necessary professional drawings and models have run into severe construction hiccups. In some cases, for instance, construction may not proceed because of an unanticipated construction of complex bridges or technical navigations across swamps and long-distance mangroves, or even mountainous terrains. Faced with such unforeseen complexities there is usually no option, but to halt progressive development and subsequently abandon the projects. The same applies to complex buildings and other infrastructure. In some instance, they embezzle the money provided to hire other competencies that should ordinarily prepare robust supporting designs. Amateurs and untested professionals are called up to fill in those roles and submit shoddy reports. The result often is the abandonment of such projects. The reasons are endless but mostly revolve around our insincerity.
Imagine how much positive transformation that NGN12 trillion will bring about in this country. Imagine how much return that the sum will yield if we put this amount of money in the hands of private investors. No wonder some analysts have correctly painted the picture of reconstructing Nigeria for future greatness on the back of its abandoned projects. Indeed our abandoned projects can create the roads that we badly need, the hospitals that our citizens yearn for, the electricity we badly need to light up our homes and power our machines and even the security that we cry to have. These projects have denied our teeming youths of the opportunities for employment, yet it can be the new platform for new prosperity. Since lots of audits have already been carried out on many of these projects, it is only advisable that the concludes on the ones slated for privatisation as it should be. Dispose of likewise some that require an outright sale. The ones that can be completed need to be put in the budget of the coming one or two years and recovered. The completion of abandoned projects either through privatisation, outright sale, or directly will result in heightened economic activities and employment levels in the country.