Celebrating Barons, Mediocrity and Brigandage

Failing to plan and planning to fail are two unsavoury sides of the same bad coin. They denote incompetence and lack of understanding of the basic building blocks of dynamic change. And dynamic change is the main driver of progressive development in all spheres of human endeavours.

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Nigerian governments at all levels do both with amazing efficiency. They fail to plan and plan to fail all the time. The best plan is worth less than the paper it’s written on when there’s no effective execution of the plan. This is why the nation’s landscape is littered with expensively gigantic white elephant projects, many of which have been abandoned.

As the saying goes, a nation whose leaders have no vision and a passion to change their country for good inevitably suffers. Such a nation becomes trapped in a debilitating stasis. And its social fabric is dangerously stretched to the point where law and order completely breaks down, and state institutions and authorities are rendered ineffective and irrelevant.

Let’s look at Turkey. It is a country whose leader has both vision and passion to make his country not only a prime regional power, but also a global player. Yes, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a ruthless autocrat, if not a tyrant. Yet he loves his country and won’t allow Turkey to be pushed around by any other country no matter how powerful and influential it is.

Just recently, Erdogan thumped his nose at the United States of America when the Donald Trump administration warned Turkey not to buy advanced military hardware from Russia. Turkey is a member of NATO, the 70-year-old military alliance of the US and the major European countries. And it has ordered two Russia’s S-400 advanced air and missile defence system at a cost of $2.5 billion. A move that is deemed anathema to NATO’s foundational principles and strategic objectives. Even the threat of American and European economic and military sanctions has failed to deter Erdogan. He wants the Russian missile defence system as leverage against the increasing hostility of the Trump administration to Turkey and rabidly pro-Israeli policies. And he will get it.

Nigeria is the only country in the world where a governor, after serving eight years, becomes, inexplicably, stupendously wealthy and owns private executive jets

As a key part of his grand plan to make Turkey an economic giant, Istanbul’s new international airport was formally opened on Monday, April 8. The gargantuan dimensions of the airport are truly astounding. It is the largest and greenest airport terminal in the world with a cumulative space of 1.4 million square metres. It has 143 boarding bridges and 371 aircraft parking positions. With two runways, it will initially process 90 million passengers a year. And this is just the first phase.

When it is fully developed by 2023, it will have six runways and the capacity to handle 200 million passengers per annum. Costing $11 billion, it’s estimated to generate 100,000 jobs and 150,000 indirect jobs. With just one mega project, conceptualised and executed with unrelenting focus and national pride, the Turkish government has created a quarter of a million jobs. The airport is expected to give a huge bounce to the country’s tourism industry by contributing about $7 billion to it annually.

What is even more astounding about the airport is that its construction began in 2015. It is the operational hub of Turkish Airline, the world’s fastest growing airline with the widest network of international destinations. The new airport is designed to give Dubai a serious run for its money as the premier global commercial aviation hub.

The Turkish wonder airport is a prime example of a dynamic change that drives rapid development. Compare it to the sub-standard new terminals that are being built in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, and you are scandalised by our leaders’ tunnel vision and our government’s embarrassing incompetence.

The construction of the new terminals began two years before the sod was turned on the new Istanbul airport. Yet none of them has been completed. The Abuja one was hurriedly opened early this year as part of APC’s campaign gimmicks. It is supposed to have six boarding bridges. But only two has been installed. The rest have been warehoused as extensive work needs to be done on the taxing way and aircraft parking lot before they can be erected.

More distressing is the fact that the road to the airport has not been expanded. So accessing the new terminal and the domestic wing of the airport is often a hellish experience. But will our government be shamed and at the same time challenged by the Turkish example? You can bet your last naira that it will never happen.

Hadi Sirika, minister of state for aviation, recently announced, without the slightest hint of embarrassment, that the government was seeking a $450 million loan to complete the terminals. In 2012, the Goodluck Jonathan administration had borrowed $500 million from China while providing the counterpart funding of $100 million. The four terminals were to cost $600 million. They all had the same uninspiring design despite the compelling need for Lagos to have a much bigger terminal, as the country’s aviation hub.

But the usual Nigerian politics of putting what’s best for the entire country on the back burner trumped the logic of investing more of the money in Murtala Mohammed Airport. Instead of building a world-class airport in Lagos, the nation’s financial, commercial and industrial centre, the government decided to build four small, sub-standard – by international aviation benchmarks – new terminals. And by the time they are completed, they will be outdated in terms of their facilities.

Ankara and Istanbul are to Turkey what Abuja and Lagos are to Nigeria. Ankara is the national capital while Instanbul is the country’s financial, commercial and industrial hub. The Turkish government recognises the unique dynamics of the country’s two largest, most important cities. So it correctly decided to invest $11 billion in developing the new airport in Instanbul, and the whole country would benefit through the impact it would have on the economy.

Murtala Mohammed International Airport is an unmitigated disgrace to the country. The terminal is decrepit and all the facilities, from the central air-conditioning system to the lifts, are outdated and frequently break down. Even the most basic amenities, like tissue paper, are hard to come by. Accessing the airport through the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway or Ikeja is a nightmare. But this may improve soon when the Lagos State government-funded 10-lane road project to the airport is completed.

The absence of a comprehensive long-term national development plan makes our efforts at achieving a sustained, impactful growth impossible, feeble and haphazard. And in spite of APC’s promised ‘change’ and ‘next level’, this is never going to happen soon, as President Muhammadu Buhari is no President Erdogan. Buhari, according to his promoters, has integrity, whatever that means. But the so-called integrity is no substitute for an inspiring vision and a burning passion underpinned by competence.

As Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade once told this magazine, Nigerian political leaders spend 80 per cent of their time politicking and holding unproductive meetings, and 20 per cent on the real jobs for which they were elected. Their overarching interest is getting power and retaining it at all costs. They hardly live up to the responsibilities of their high offices but luxuriate in the unlimited privileges the offices offer them. With no serious check on their power and authority, they bend the rules and game the system to enrich themselves and their cronies. This is why Nigeria is the only country in the world where a governor, after serving eight years, becomes, inexplicably, stupendously wealthy and owns private executive jets.

So as Turkey takes immense pride in its landmark achievement in modern aviation history, made in a record time, we condone and even celebrate the mediocrity, mendacity and brigandage of our political barons, who turned our recent general elections into ‘Warsaw War’, voodoo-numbers game and magic of the vilest kind. Serious nations are marching forward. But, unfortunately, Nigeria, led by intellectual and moral pigmies enabled by a docile population, is stuck in a state of arrested development.

While the Algerians and Sudanese have taken matters into their own hands to change their countries’ trajectories, Nigerians are waiting for God to come rescue us from our tormentors. We mask our collective cowardice and refusal to take responsibility for changing our abject condition by resorting to mouthing inanities like, “It is well”; “E go better.”  

Knowing something is wrong and doing nothing about it is bad. But justifying not doing anything about what is wrong and outsourcing the provision of the solution to God is a sin. Maybe God will soon get irritated to point of wanting to end our nuisance of ceaseless prayers, by causing a denouement to our plight. In the mean time, an ominous silence envelops the nation waiting in despair. If and when God finally decides to show its wrath, it may not be pretty.


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