(BACKPAGE) The blueprint for tomorrow

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BY BABATUNDE FASHOLA

In offering my thoughts about a blueprint for tomorrow in Nigeria, I choose to deal with what I call first principles. I will deal locally and globally with what has happened, and is happening. What we all know and need to look at again, and from here hope to project what tomorrow offers.

No part of the earth is new except those that are yet to be discovered by human beings. Powers, Nations and Countries have all existed in various forms and evolved differently. One first principle that History has taught us, is that Empires have risen and fallen and this will never stop as we are witnesses to some Empires now in decline.

Simultaneously, there is a renaissance in some places not the least Africa, and this brings on the significance of this gathering.

Let us look at Nigeria as the subject of tomorrow. A territory of 923,770 square Kilometers of land area, bounded by the ocean and desert, bejeweled with various natural resources and biodiversity with a 200 million human capital. A market to ignore at your peril.

In an increasingly plural planet, at a time that diversity and identity have become not only a justice issue but also an economic one, the largest nation of black people in the world triggers more than a passing interest. At the heart of the human capital lies a youthful bulk, aged between 18 and 35 who are nowhere near the peak of their powers. A real advantage for tomorrow.

As the world searches for a new global legal order acceptable to all, one thing is undeniable, prosperity will be anchored on soft power rather than military might. That is why Nigeria sustains the largest democratic political undertaking on the African continent.

It is a powerful statement of freedoms which businesses require to thrive. On the back of that and in recent years she has committed to an aggressive investment on her public infrastructure to support enterprise and her youthful and growing population.

Expansion and upgrade of five major international airports in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kano, Abuja which are strategic human and enterprise hubs, are an important statement of readiness for tomorrow. She is expanding her gas supply infrastructure and I point to the Ajaokuta – Kaduna- Kano project stretching across 614 Km at $3.2 Billion.

Broadband infrastructure deployment is being deployed without fuss. On the Abuja-Makurdi 220km highway and the Kano-Maiduguri 560km the ducts to lay fibre optic cable are being constructed and have been completed respectively.

A new refinery capable of processing 650,000 barrels of crude oil per day has come on stream and is about to commence production, inclusive of a petrochemical plant and fertilizer plant. This is complemented by a new sea port in the Lekki area of Lagos. These two projects alone account for $22 Billion dollars of local and international investment.

Rail transport assets are also being developed and deployed for use. Road transport assets are being constructed in peace time at a rate only comparable to the post-civil war experience of the early 1970s. I have been directly involved in this effort and can provide some details.

At the last count in my handover notes in May of 2023, we had over 13,117.09 kilometers of roads under construction and rehabilitation.

This is equivalent to driving from Abuja to Johannesburg and back and at handover over 9,000 km had been executed, and the number grows daily as work continues Kilometer after Kilometer.

These roads link our air and sea ports, connect to our petroleum depots and strategic agricultural regions in addition to linking us to neighbouring countries in the North, East, West and South of our international borders. They are not roads of desire, but instead strategic economic roads for internal and international trade on the back of our signatory to the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.

“At the last count in my handover notes in May of 2023, we had over 13,117.09 kilometers of roads under construction and rehabilitation”

The last impact surveys we conducted in 2021 showed that travel time on the completed portions of these roads reduced by up to 50% and contiguous real estate values rose by up to 30%.

These are not just indices of efficiency and competitiveness for businesses; they are a broad response to multi-dimensional poverty.

For example, it would now take a few minutes to drive across the River Niger instead of a whole day, while a drive from the east of Nigeria to Abuja across the River Benue reduces travel time by four hours on the new Loko-Oweto Bridge.

As at May of 2023, a total of N3.929 trillion has been committed by eight companies to build 85 roads covering 7,830.71Km under the Tax Credit Policy. This is money not yet spent but committed.

In just eight years she has doubled her infrastructure to GDP from 20% to 40% and is not relenting. The significance for businesses that support construction such as quarry, lubricants, steel reinforcement, and cement is a matter of excitement for investors who play in these sectors.

Another event that went unnoticed is the number of Nigerians who gained access to electricity. That number was 96.9 million people in 2015 and rose to 112.63 million in 2019. I know that reliability of supply is still an issue and for some this may be a matter to be cynical about. For an investor looking at tomorrow, an increase of 16.03 million consumers with access to electricity and the possibility to increase that market share is what tomorrow is about.

This is the size of the population of many countries put together within the African continent and in other continents. But it represents only part of our journey and the market demand for electric power. Undeniably on a continent of over one billion people the best place also is the biggest in economic output measured by GDP, and the place with the most diverse, most talented and most zestful human capital.

When the conversation is about markets, size matters and Nigeria has it. The number of Nigerian created unicorns, chart bursting music and movies bear testimony to the productive capacity that resides in Nigeria. Remember what l said about soft power. On the back of the infrastructure hardware in transport, energy and digital areas are legislative and policy initiatives that would herald a new dawn tomorrow.

While climate change poses security challenges on her desert boundaries and drives migration towards the coastal areas from outside and within the borders, due to water shortage and flooding in others, Nigeria is convinced about the science of climate change and is a signatory to COP 23 and the commitment to net zero.

In this regard Nigeria sees climate actions as a viable opportunity to respond to these challenges. Nigeria is thus the first country in Africa to develop and implement a comprehensive Energy Transition Plan (ETP) seeking to achieve net zero by 2060 and universal access to energy by 2030 (7 years from now). This Plan was launched in Glasgow in 2021. This is a pathway to rapid industrialization tomorrow.

There is also the recently enunciated policy on Blockchain making Nigeria the lead African country with respect to Blockchain policy. According to a Baker Mckenzie report, Nigeria “reportedly has the world’s third largest bitcoin holdings as a percentage of gross domestic product.”

The policy approved on 3rd May of 2023 by the Federal Executive Council at the instance of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has seven parts aimed at creating a blockchain powered economy that supports secure transactions, data sharing and value exchange between people, businesses and government.

In furtherance of implementation, a training programme for capacity development has been funded for 20,000 young Nigerians and at least 5,000 have enrolled in the programme. The combination of the hardware of infrastructure and policy and law, only sets the stage for the most important component, the human capital.

My focus on this aspect is the largest batch of that asset. The youthful ones – First I invite our attention to their mindset. What I see is an increasing projection of their originality. A mindset to assert their Nigerianness, from dress and fashion; to music and culture, and if you have followed the debate about jollof rice, you will understand their need to project and protect their cuisine.

They have branded their country in their own way. They don’t call her Nigeria. They call her NAIJA. They are pushing and propelling that brand at the centre stage of major Global events. From the World Cup in Qatar, to the King’s coronation in England, the Champions League football final and most recently the Juneteenth Memorial celebration of the end of Slavery before a Global audience.

Everywhere you turn, NAIJA is there.

These are the type of citizens who do their duty as envisaged under Section 24 of the constitution to “…enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria.” When a new global legal order is to be agreed upon, these young people will not only be in the room, they will be at the table because they represent diversity and they are from the largest nation of black people in the whole world.

Are there challenges? Of course, there are. What is the value of a life lived without challenges? How can we celebrate achievement without adversity? I acknowledge the non-partisan nature of this meeting and I respect it. However, when we are confronted with challenges, we cannot avoid an assessment of the role of leadership. Leadership is undeniably a critical factor. Nigeria has just elected a new president. I am sure he will reveal himself to those who do not yet know enough of him by the leadership he will offer.

But if morning shows the day, some of the decisions taken so far especially on the economic front are already impacting the market and exciting investors.

Let me remind us that he came to power by forging a merger of political parties in 2013 with President Buhari. That is the first and only successful merger of political parties in Nigeria for a long time.

That party unseated an incumbent President, a rarity in these parts.

Everything the then opposition said was impossible, Tinubu and his party proved them wrong. These are important leadership traits that impact business and investment. The merger indicates his ability to forge partnerships, waiting for 8 years for his partner to run his term before seeking office shows that he is a faithful partner and can sustain policy. The reforms he is initiating are not a fleeting fancy, he is here for the long game as permitted by law.

An example is the judicial reforms led at sub-national level in Lagos which have gained national acceptance.

All told ladies and gentlemen, the stars have aligned for Nigeria. A youthful and skilled manpower is projecting soft power globally.

The largest democracy on the African continent has just produced a political leadership whose record shows a capacity to thrive against the odds.

It would be a very hard search to find a leader who won an election against such odds. That kind of resilience and resolve must stand the country in very good stead as she confronts tomorrow with a leader who does not surrender. Who can bet against Nigeria? I would not.

This keynote speech was delivered on July 12 by Fashola, SAN, CON, former governor of Lagos State, at the 2023 Standard Chartered Treasury Leadership Forum (TLF) with the theme, “The Blueprint for Tomorrow.”