By Kenneth Jukpor
Prof. Patrick Utomi is the Founder, Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL). He was a guest speaker at the recent National Transport Summit organized by the Chartered Institute of Transport Administration (CIoTA) National Transport Summit and he discussed with MMS Plus at the summit where he addressed a plethora of transport sector issues. Excerpts:
The contribution of the transportation sector to the economy has been insignificant over the years. How could this unfortunate trend be corrected?
If you take any economic process and you don’t find any catalytic play of logistics, then you don’t have economics. Challenge me, give me any example! Transportation is so critical that most economic development are based on the contributions of transport experts.
Economics is about transformation of whatever you are talking about from a particular state to a higher level. China’s dramatic assent in recent years is so significant because of how they have turned their logistics around and infrastructure.
This example is important to us if we are going to make the improvement that our country has the natural endowments to have. Africa will not make the progress that God has destined it to make unless Nigeria leads the way. People reflect on South East Asia miracle. What simply happened there was that one country started to get it right and others looked across the border and asked, what is happening in Singapore?
Malaysia, China and others moved upward like a set of flying geese moving towards progress. African development can happen like a set of flying geese soaring higher and Nigeria is central to that. Things may have not worked for us because we have not done some things around our transport well, small countries are propping up to take the lead in doing what we ought to do.
I was in Addis Ababa recently; there is a light rail around Addis that the Chinese have put in place. The road network has improved tremendously. Addis Ababa that we used to go that looked like a joke in the 70s .
I was also in South Africa; you know they have always been a leader in infrastructure that has always been their advantage. We ought to see a lot of investments going into transport infrastructure in our country.
Many things are happening under this government but somehow this government doesn’t know how to communicate. There are many things they can’t put out for people to know. More importantly we need to have a change of orientation on infrastructure as something that comes out of government budget. How much is Nigeria’s budget? Nigeria’s budget is more part of the GDP of the country and of what is required to get the GDP.
What you require is investments and they cannot come from that budget. We have to make ourselves attractive as destination for flow of foreign capital. There is plenty of capital out there. There is a French economist called Thomas Piketi, he has become quite famous, some call him the new Marx because of the work he has done in the area of capital. He authored a book on capital and the origin of inequality which is one of the most popular books in economics today. The point that Piketi makes is that at no time in human history was there enough capital in the world as a result of globalization.
The problem, which he argued, is that most of the capital is in a few hands. But that is not really my problem right now. Look, ten young men in California hold more capital than the whole of Africa. People like Mark Zukerberg and other internet boys. Between them, they have more capital than the entire continent of Africa.
So how do you get part of that money? The narrative on Nigeria regarding the money is that such volume of money is not coming to Nigeria. In Tokyo, someone made a presentation and said they would build a plant in Ghana. This is because we don’t tell our stories well and we don’t do things well. We miss some of these benefits.
Property rights matters. People don’t go to countries where property rights are threatened. You see some governors revoking C of Os approved by their predecessors for which some persons or organizations may have invested billions of naira just because they want to steal the land and give to their friends. People will not want to come to a country like that and the media need to be able to challenge to those things .
If you are bringing someone to invest billions in transport infrastructure in Nigeria, we can’t rust the fact that one state governor will just wake up and revoke the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for land, rail line and others. It can happen because it is happening
One of the things you hear people say is “Na grammar we go chop?” . Every laudable programme must first start as a theory. But we have allowed a popular culture that snares our thinking and it is not helping our cause. Thinking is about applying the mind to solving problems and we need more thinking.
You stressed the need for private sector investment in transport infrastructure. However, several investors who got legitimate contracts and concession ended up losing their investments as a result of political interference. How could CIoTA lead the campaign against such practice?
A foreigner that views such actions critically would not find the country as a place attractive to make investments. This leads to poverty from generation to generation. You don’t have to look hard to find examples. I can give you a thousand of such occurrences. I wrote an opinion piece few months ago entitled “Internally Generated Poverty”. That piece focused on this issue.
We need strong institutions to hold politicians accountable and restrain them from such irrational actions. There is no difference between a Nigerian politician and an American politician. The difference is in the system. It’s just that what they will like to do there, they can’t do because there are institutions that hold them back.
As terrible as President Donald Trump is claimed to be in America, whatever he tries to do, the system checks him and the court can hold him back. That is what credible institutions do. That is what assures of property rights.
There is a brilliant book written by a former Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and one of his colleagues, the book is titled; “Saving Capitalism from the Capitalist”. The greatest danger to the growth of capitalist is to apply creative destruction. You have to destroy those on top with a better idea and better way of doing things. However, these people have a lot of power, they are the one who have dinner with presidents and governors and they can sabotage a young man who has a good idea. The only way you can progress when you have obstacles like this is to bring ideas.