By Gbenga Akinmoyo

I have a particularly clear perspective of public institutions that provide services for the United Kingdom which today comprises – England; Scotland; Wales and Northern Ireland. For one thing, they certainly remain united in “development” in spite of their diversities in culture, religion, language, etc. I deliberately used the word “development” which is tangential to my discussions today. In common usage, the word means, “The gradual growth of something so that it becomes more advance, stronger, etc.” (Advance Learner’s Oxford Dictionary). So why is the Federal Republic Nigeria classified as a third world/undeveloped country even though it has an abundant wealth of human and enormous natural resources? One major reason may be the absence or lack of development from below the expectations of the more advanced countries.

Nigeria gained independence from Britain on 1st October 1960, which was around 46 years after the amalgamation that historical accounts records to have taken place in 1914. Referred to as the former colonial masters, Britain had substantial impact on the early development of Nigeria before they eventually handed over power to the indigenous leaders. These developments were visibly seen in regards to road construction; various housing estates that were built; the railway corporations that provided rail network throughout the length and breadth of the country thereby connecting the north with the south and the east with the west; but to mention a few examples which the ordinary citizen could easily identify with.

For purpose of emphasis, the British in collaboration with other international intermediaries delivered services to the general public through agencies like –

Nigeria Railway Corporation (1901) traces its history back to 1898 when the first railroad in Nigeria was constructed by the British colonial government;

• ELECTRICTY – Nigeria Electricity Supply Company (1929) was the first electricity company established. Later in the early 1960s, the Niger Dam Authorities and Electricity Corporation amalgamated to form the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) which was renamed National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) after the civil war ended in 1970;

•POSTAL SERVICES – the first post office was established in 1852 and initially operated as part of the British postal system;

•TELECOMMUNICATIONS – telecommunications started in Nigeria in 1886 because of the need of the colonial government to connect with other colonial administration in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and England. By 1893 colonial offices in Lagos, Jebba and Ilorin were provided with telephone services.

•HEALTHCARE – the first healthcare facility in the country was a dispensary which was opened in 1880 by the Church Missionary Society in Obosi, followed by others in Onitsha and Ibadan in 1886. The first hospital was the Sacred Heart Hospital in Abeokuta which was built by the Roman Catholic Mission in 1885.

It is therefore fair to say that the British started a process of setting relevant public service infrastructure and an appropriate platform to build upon. It is also a reflection of the sort of standards they were operating in England and which they continue to maintain and administer today.

Let me give a couple of instances in railways and healthcare:

•RAIL TRANSPORT – from the building of local isolated wooden wagon ways in 1560 to a small patchwork of local rail links in the late 18th century, the Railway transport industry today operates at different levels providing overhead as well as underground services. National Rail Limited is responsible for the over-ground rail tracks. British Rail is dedicated to running trains daily on a rail network of 16,209 km; carrying 1.7 billion passengers and 110 million tonnes of freight annually.

The London Underground which began operations on 10 January 1863, affectionately nicknamed “the Tube” by generations of Londoners, is a rapid mass transit system serving Greater London has grown to 272 stations and 11 lines (routes) stretching deep into the Capital’s suburbs and beyond, carrying 3.15 million passengers daily or 1.026 billion passengers annually (2022/2023) on a system length of 402 km.

•HEALTHCARE – in Great Britain a comprehensive public-health service under government administration that was established by an Act of Parliament in 1946, the NHS started on 5th July 1948 and since then provides health services to the entire population for FREE (except for minor changes reported on 2nd July 2023). As long as you are living lawfully in the UK on a properly settled basis you will be entitled to free healthcare anywhere in the country. There are 4 regional services with NHS England being the lead service and employs 1,275,354 people (February 2023) attending to over 1.6 million contacts daily (19 June 2023) and an estimated 570 million patient interactions in 2021/22 taking into account – General Practitioners (GP); community, mental health; emergency calls to NHS 111 and ambulance services.

As at May 2023, the NHS had over 1.4 million employees and over 190,000 general medical practice staff making it one of the largest employers in the world. The actual number of hospitals in the UK, correct as at August 2023 is 1,148 hospitals which includes 930 NHS Trust-managed hospitals and additional 218 private hospitals that are currently in use.

What is apparent from these two instances in the UK is that government recognizes and appreciates that it has a responsibility to provide certain basic services to the general public and it must build robust institutions in order to meet the public demand, regardless of which political party is at the helm of affairs. It is what we in Nigeria expect and often refer to as the dividends of democracy.

So why is the situation different in the third world and Nigeria in particular? Why is it that institutions operated by government do not have a long shelf-life like those of their counterparts in the UK from which we received out tutelage?

It is interesting to learn that nine out of the ten oldest institutions in Nigeria are run by private interests and not government operated. These companies are: First Bank (1894); John Holt 1897); Union Bank (1917); United Africa Company, UAC (1931); Wema Bank (1945); United Bank for Africa, UBA (1949); Julius Berger a German-owned company (1950); Oando, second oil-based company in Nigeria (1956); Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN (1958); and Aero Contractors (1959).

All of these institutions were established before Nigeria independence in 1960 and they have done well to survive – the Nigerian Civil War (1967 to 1970); various military interventions; and both political and economic instabilities over the last six decades, post-independence. But, how many statutory institutions previously created by law and controlled by government to provide basic services are still operational? They were established to run services, which private investors cannot afford to embark on due to the high capital requirement and low profit prospects, for example NITEL; NEPA; NIPOST; Water Boards; Nigeria Airways etc.

President Bola Tinubu recently announced the creation of a new federal ministry referred to as the “Federal Ministry for Marine and Blue Economy” to be headed by the immediate past Governor of Osun State, H.E. Adegboyega Oyetola. Ordinarily in developmental terms this should be a most welcome announcement given that it has been reported that the Blue Economy has the potential to generate in excess of $300 billion of wealth for countries located near the ocean and major coast lines. Similarly, the new Minister of the FCT has given marching orders to those responsible to ensure that the Abuja Mass Rail Transit is completed an operational within the next eight months, which is a dysfunctional facility originally commissioned in July 2018, but the train service reportedly packed up largely due to vandalism. This 4th day of September 2023, the Lagos State government will open the new Blue Rail Line as part of the mass transit initiative of the state government, but how sustainable is this lofty concept?

We have to ask the pertinent question given its track record, how well has government(s) performed, either state or federal, in respect of public enterprises? Sadly, many of them are defunct or moribund. But in contrast, this is not the case in England in respect of their public service enterprises from where Nigeria presumably replicated its modules. It is rather conspicuous that public enterprises have not had a similar survival rate for variety of reasons which include some of the following under-listed considerations.

  1. Gross deficiency of corrective mechanisms which are supposed to operate as checks and balances are either weak or completely non-existent. It is one thing for government to provide services through the various public enterprises but they also have a responsibility to safeguard and maintain the facilities. Whilst it is true that we have an extremely poor national maintenance culture, it is also evident that the people fail in their responsibility to protect public facilities. The audacity of the citizens who vandalize public facilities and go unpunished is alarming. Theft of expansion joints on the recently commissioned Second Niger Bridge in Anambra; theft of metal drain ducts and cutting of metal railings from the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos; and theft of electrical cable equipment at the domestic runway of the Murtala Muhammad Airport in Lagos which affected the re-installed airfield lighting systems are just a few examples of criminal activity which constitute acts of terrorism and demonstrate how daring and unpatriotic our people can be. Drastic action must be taken against offenders once they are apprehended, investigated and duly prosecuted in order to pose a serious deterrent to others which is clear not presently the case.

2. Poor services, arrogance and insensitivity to customers occasioned by poor leadership had often led to the collapse of many public institutions in Nigeria. Even though electricity was first supplied in Nigeria in 1896 and the first supply company dates as far back as 1929, the decades of operations has not been accompanied by development. The National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) is more popularly known as, “Never Expect Power Always” now operates as the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) but exhibits poor level of transmission even though the country is endowed with large gas deposits, hydro solar and even wind sources, which are not commensurate with the 3,500 to 4,000 megawatts of electricity generated to service its huge population of over 200 million people. The Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) was a monopoly telephone service.

3. The attitude of the people has been conditioned by the consistent failure of public enterprises to live up to expectations. The lack of real ownership and accountability in many public institutions has created apathy and disillusionment on the part of the citizenry and civil society organizations with many unwilling to ask questions. There is less patriotism by citizens as their livelihood has nose-dived with them becoming poorer and poorer due to non-implementation of policies after the euphoria that greeted initial announcement of the policies;

4. Corruption, mismanagement and the personal greed of government officials and appointees often leading to low productivity. The Nigerian refineries situation and pro-longed lack of maintenance is a very good example to cite in this regard. There are five major refineries in Nigeria, four of which are owned and operated by government, two of which are found in Harcourt port and one each in Warri and Kaduna. The fifth is owned by Niger Delta Petroleum Resource (NDPR). In the last 10 years according to data available from a THISDAY analysis, between 2011 and 2022 the country’s daily oil refining fell sharply by about 1,800%. While in 2011, Nigeria still managed to refine 108.000 barrels per day (bpd) in-country but that number fell to 6,000 bpd in 2022. Crude oil is the major foreign exchange of the country yet those in charge of the economy have allowed the refineries to deteriorate, under their watch, to such an extent that the Federal Government announced that the amounts approved for the rehabilitation of the refineries are $1.5 billion, $740 million and $548 million for the Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Warri refineries respectively.

5. Changes of government policies: Every government comes with its own approach to governance which it tries to define through policy. Unfortunately the political instability, political interference and macro-economic dislocations in Nigeria’s history have dealt a severe blow on consistent government policies and implementation over sustained periods. From Operation Feed the Nation, OFN in 1976, to Green Revolution in 1979; to Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure, DIFRRI in 1986; to National Agricultural Land Development Agency, NALDA in 1989; to National Economic Development Strategy, Better Life for Rural Women in 1987; Family Economic Advancement Programme, FEAP in 1992; NEEDS in 2004 etc. just ending up as mere slogans or symbolic policies with very limited impact. Even more recently, in November 2015 the Buhari administration launched the Anchor Borrowers Programme to boost agricultural production, improve foreign exchange and reverse Nigeria’s negative balance of trade on food. But the loan scheme which purportedly released over N1.1 trillion to beneficiaries has run into glitches with a whooping balance of N577 billion remaining un-repaid and unaccounted for.

The story is similar at the sub-national level taking Ondo State as an example, the Dr Olusegun Mimiko administration between 2009 and 2017 spent substantial public funds in the construction of bus stops and acquisition of mass-transit buses to facilitate the free-shuttle bus service for school children and construction of Mega Schools to enhance the standard of education in the state. He also built Mother-and-Child Hospitals and Abiye maternal units across the state. Those laudable initiatives were meant to impact on the education and health sectors of Ondo State have been abandoned by his successor over the last 6 years and the services discontinued in addition to the regrettable waste of public funds.

6. Naivety of political elite: mainly policy initiatives introduced by successive governments over the years aimed at poverty alleviation have failed for varying reasons such as – lack of clearly defined policy framework with no proper guidelines for poverty reduction rather they enriched the pockets of political appointees and stooges; poor governance mentality leading to abandonment of projects; the lack of involvement of the ultimate beneficiaries in project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation; thinly allocated resources to projects because the programmes had unwieldy scope from the outset; the unnecessary overlapping of functions of agencies and institutions which ultimately led to institutional rivalry and conflicts with inevitable project abandonment; poor human capital development and inadequate funding. These are all systemic failures that the political class must acknowledge, take responsibility for and correct in the future.

7.Another major problem is the attitude of the operators of the institutions. The mentality that the institutions are owned by government leads to the continued dependence on government budgets to sustain operations. Similarly, many public institutions suffer from nepotism and ethinicism in the processes of hiring, discipline and reward-systems which result in their consequent poor performance;

There is no cogent reason for persistent failure off public enterprises and a lot of remedial solutions is centred on Leadership, which the new government(s) will do good to pay due diligence. We invite you to respond to this article, with your comments and views.

This article was written by Gbenga Akinmoyo (Hon GaRo), who is a legal practitioner, political & public affairs analyst, Executive Director of Rebuild Nigeria 360° and Co-Founder/CEO of LeadIFollow Limited (+234 803 660 9090).

4th September 2023

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