youThe Lagos-Ibadan Highway is only 128 kilometers away, or about 85 minutes by car at the legal speed limit. In 1999, former President Obasanjo awarded a contract for its “rehabilitation and reconstruction.” But 24 years and almost six presidential terms later, that path is still there, unfinished. The late President Yar’adua and former President Goodluck Jonathan also relaunched the project in May 2009 and July 2013, respectively. President Buhari resumed the work in June 2016, but it has not yet been completed. Meanwhile, the cost of its reconstruction has risen from less than N50 billion in 1999 to N91 billion in 2009, to N167 billion in 2013 to N310 billion today.

Welcome to Nigeria. Few human societies will tolerate a situation like this, but it is standard practice here. This is Nigerian history everywhere you look. This is also the story of the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Expressway, and the dualization of the 100 km Suleja-Minna Highway, which started in January 2011 but is still not completed 12 years later. Good things almost never go well here. We have invested billions of dollars in Ajaokuta Steel over the last 40 years, but without producing an ounce of steel. It’s the same story with the dredging of the Niger River, our rail network, electricity generation and distribution, refineries, and hundreds of other good things that could have happened to Nigeria since our self-rule in 1960.

There is something sick about Nigeria that is hard to understand or explain. If you want to know, don’t ask anyone. Just look at anything that anyone, be it Nigerian government institutions, individuals or the so-called private sector, is doing on behalf of Nigeria, like the few examples cited above, and you’ll feel the palpable sense of that unease, even if you can’t put a finger on it. finger or a name with precision. It seems that we dance around the same problems almost all the time. Thirty years ago, Nigeria frequently imported toxic fuel from some countries, despite being a net producer of oil. Today, that situation has not changed. Thirty years ago, millions of our homes lacked electricity and water; still the same today. Thirty years ago, the reconstruction of the railway lines was a major government project; the same lines are still under construction today, with only a few completed.

How is all this explained? One answer that has always served us well is bad leadership and corruption. Almost everything about Nigeria is blamed on corruption, the national disease that is supposed to peculiarly afflict our leadership. But corruption alone cannot adequately explain this level of repeated national failure. It has to be something more than corruption. And the search for a comprehensive answer to the question of why we seem to have remained in the same place despite the passage of time, energy and resources is important, if we must go one step further. I don’t have the answers myself, but I am confident that corruption cannot be the only problem, however convenient that answer may seem.

Since 1978, when the Lagos-Ibadan highway was first built by the same Obasanjo who couldn’t do it a second time even with more money, the Chinese have lifted nearly 800 million people out of poverty. They have built hundreds of brand new cities from scratch, complete with towering skyscrapers for housing and offices, not to mention roads, electricity, and all other infrastructure. China didn’t get into the game of building high-speed trains until 2008. Today, just 15 years later, it has a network of more than 40,000 kilometers of such trains, the longest in the world. There were some mind-boggling cases of corruption to do all these things in China, but the job was done.

In fact, the Chinese political economic system, in which state capitalism sits at ease alongside private speculation, is uniquely designed to breed corruption, as the actors driving state capitalism are too often intimately connected with the main private companies. However, the work is done and, in most cases, in record time. Furthermore, China is not alone in doing things despite corruption. In the US and UK, for the past two years, incredible levels of corruption have followed the fight against COVID-19 on all fronts of the fight.

In fact, the New York Times recently reported that it will take US federal and state authorities more than ten years to investigate and prosecute corruption cases associated with the billions the government shelled out on the license program alone, much of which disappeared into pockets private. Yet both countries developed vaccines amid the deadliest pandemic, built brand-new hospitals and intensive care units, and sustained the economy and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people amid massive street and workplace closures. . Why, even here in Nigeria, the British colonialists built the 1,343 km Lagos-Kano railway line in only about 30 years (1898-1927), with nothing but manual labor, primitive technology by today’s standards, and absolutely no money of the oil.

So perhaps one answer is a lack of collective imagination to govern ourselves as other societies do; after all, the objective of governance is to solve social problems such as the construction of roads, bridges, railways, housing, electricity generation and distribution plants, the education of our children, etc. Every kind of infrastructure financing mechanism known to mankind has been tried for various projects in Nigeria, from full government funding to private concessions, SUKUK and what have you, but it has almost been known to work to deliver the desired projects. Corruption can be part of the problem, but there are ways to beat corruption at its own game and get the job done. So maybe a lack of imagination is the problem.

At the same time, you will often be surprised, amused, and deeply disturbed at the same time when you feel the intensity with which even educated Nigerians fall into petty ethnic or religious sentiments when it comes to issues of national importance. In fact, 60 years after self-rule, the very idea of ​​Nigeria is still being questioned on a daily basis and almost all of our politics revolves around this dispute, rather than solving problems like tackling poverty or building infrastructure. One only has to remember the amount of energy dissipated on things like the Muslim-Muslim formula or the southern presidency, to the detriment of things that directly affect the lives of all of us.

So perhaps a political culture that pays more attention to these issues than to issues like food and housing for all is also part of the problem. Such a political culture can only make corruption thrive, go unnoticed or go unpunished even where it is detected, as is often the case here. The things to which a people pay the most attention invariably determine their collective destiny, whether they are aware of it or not. In other words, one answer to the question why almost all of Nigeria’s history has been a movement without movement is that we have a politics without meaning and aim. A policy specifically designed to dodge problems, rather than confront and solve them; a policy intended to accomplish nothing of substance more than blowing hot air; a politics based mainly on conversation, rather than on governmental and social action; and a policy that has kept us where in the same point even when others get ahead with the passage of time. Welcome to Nigeria once again.