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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Misconception Of Infrastructure As Development



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A Nigerian governor said: “When I have provided roads and electricity to my people, I would have done all for which I was voted to this office.”  Prof. Nnaji asked: “When has the provision of basic amenities become the most significant accomplishment of government anywhere?”

Prof. Bart Nnaji

                                                                                    The Guardian, 6th March, 2012, page 80.


“The Federal Government, in partnership with the private sector, especially foreign investors, has targeted $14.2 billion (N2.22 trillion) yearly, to fix the nation’s phenomenally parlous infrastructural facilities…electricity, roads, railwaylines, portable water, healthcare and education…through the establishment of Infrastructure Bank Plc…for eliminating or even just narrowing infrastructure deficit will add at least four per cent to the GDP growth of the country.”

The Guardian, 30th March 2012, page 15.


These quotations clearly show the exaggerated and deceitful attention Nigerian leadership accord the provision of infrastructure. To them, once infrastructure is provided, the country is developed. This line of thinking is wrong because infrastructure is not and it is different from development.


To be sure of what infrastructure is, Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (Third Edition 2001) defined it as follows: “The infrastructure of a country, society or organization consists of the basic facilities such as transport, communications, power supplies, and buildings, which enable it to function.” The Chambers Dictionary (2006 Edition) defined it as: “inner structure, structure of component parts; a system of communications and services as backing for military, commercial etc. operations.” The New Webster’s Dictionary of English Language (International Edition, 2004) defined it as: “ the whole system of bases, services, training establishments etc. required for use of troops in military operations or the basic framework of any organization.” The Latin prefix “infra” means below. Putting all these together, infrastructure refers to the basic physical facility needed for the functioning of systems, organizations, nations and societies.


On the other hand, what is development?  Development is an omnibus word. But our interest here is to consider development in relation to a people, community, nation, country or society. As a Social Scientist, it could be defined as a situation where a people have the capacity to articulate and implement their progress by transforming their environment, talents, resources, positive systems and traditional occupations for the purpose of satisfying their needs. In development parlance, one of its theories is the Modernization Theory of Development. It suggests that to be a developed people, Third World countries need to imitate the physical features and characters of Europe or North America. They did not define development based on their own experiences; but they defined it for us. However, this theory had been the most favored and accepted by Third World leaders as the path to development. Third World leaders therefore decided that to become developed is to build and replicate the kind of infrastructure they see in Europe and North America like roads, bridges, electricity, water, schools, computers, tractors without farms, buying of transit motors, building of airports and railways, telecommunications, hospitals etc. Yet, despite the quantity and the millions, billions and trillions spent on providing these facilities, these countries still remained underdeveloped. Why? The reason is that development goes beyond building of infrastructure and living like Europeans or Americans. Put together, development is about what you are doing with your items of development: your environment, your natural resources, your people’s talents, their positive systems and traditional occupations. The people’s development can only occur when and where there is consistent improvement in these items of development under the people’s management and mastery.

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To be able to do this, the people need a leadership that should be able to provide first the relevant development ideological construct that should at the onset, define what type of development the people need? Is it European, American, Asian, Arabic or African development? Taking Nigeria as an example, what type of development does the country have? It is well known that Nigeria is developing as Europeans, Americans, Asians, Arabians and truly less and less of Africans. When a country develops this way, it is surely odd and confusing. But take note that one civilization is better than the other depending on what you do with your items of development. Otherwise, the United States of America (USA) would simply have copied Europe and developed as Europeans. They did not and today, they are better developing according to who they are, what they have and what they need. Nigeria needs to make a difference by developing as Africans within the Global System and that would be the only time her development would be meaningful.


Having decided on the type of development the people need (through a referendum), the next thing to do would be to see how development can be achieved among the items of development. For example, if Nigeria needs infrastructure to preserve and improve her environment within the African milieu, what type of infrastructure does she need? Given the nature of her environment, what must she not do to hurt her environment? If Nigeria succeeds in preserving and developing her environment, Nigeria would be capable of employing over five million Nigerians. As for natural resources (waters, deserts, sand, sand-glass, heat energy from rocks and sun, forests, mineral deposits etc.), what exactly are they? We need to have an above average knowledge of the resources, their locations, quantity and quality of deposits etc. What exactly do we need out of them? Can they be processed from one commodity to another? What desirable system of education does Nigerians need to learn and know more about them, discover them, refine and manage them as businesses? A well managed and developed natural resources industry in Nigeria could employ over fifty million Nigerians. What about Nigeria’s agriculture? Are Nigerians learning, teaching and studying it enough to be able to transform it into giant industries capable of cultivating and processing cocoa, palm oil, groundnut, yam, cassava, melon, okra, mangoes, pears, pineapples, oranges, cashews, potatoes, tomatoes and numerous vegetables into industrial and consumable goods? What about the numerous species of fishes in Nigerian waters? A well managed and developed Nigerian Agriculture Industry would be capable of feeding Africa and employing over one hundred million Nigerians.


As per people, what are the individual talents domiciled in the estimated 167 million Nigerians? Is Nigeria’s educational system, whether it is for the Almajiri or the abused-child hawker, able to discover the talents in Nigerian children, grow these talents and equip them intellectually and seamlessly move them into entrepreneurship capable of organizing all the other items of development into a national synergy? Talents development should be the centre and hub of Nigeria’s educational system. Any educational system that does not know how to identify and grow talents (the work-seed of a human being) is irrelevant. A well managed and developed talent-based educational system would produce business owners and employers of labour across all facets of human endeavor in Nigeria. This can produce over two hundred and fifty thousand (an estimated number of graduates produced in Nigeria every year) entrepreneurs annually, who in turn will employ at least five same-talent employees and this simply translates into one million employment every year. Given the massive resources, talents and agricultural potentials as explained above, Nigeria has no business with unemployment and youth idleness. By this calculation, Nigeria could productively engage over 156 million people by the year 2060 at an average of 3.25 million yearly. Building infrastructure without development cannot even employ 15 million.

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In all of these, certain type and quantity of infrastructure is needed. So the symbiotic relationship between infrastructure and development is that infrastructure facilitates a well thought out development item and process. Therefore the provision of infrastructure should not be regarded as development until it is provided to achieve a defined development. This makes development a synergy and a super-structure that must be organic, complete, complex, embracing and a continuum; while infrastructure is just a one-off stuff.


From the above, it is clear that national development commences from the thinking-through of the development the country needs. Her development depends on the nature, quantity and quality of her items of development. The thinking-through would provide the necessary development ideology or “big picture”. It is the development ideology that should determine what and the extent of infrastructure needed with respect to the transformation of each item of development. Upon the determination of an appropriate development ideology, it is the duty of leadership to think and provide the necessary vision, mission, objectives, policies and tactical plans and programs to achieve development. In this process, whatever infrastructure that is provided must be in consonance with the development ideology. But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case: leadership provides infrastructure first and hope that development (which they had never given a thought) would automatically be achieved later. This had been the misleading approach since 1960; they put more efforts, resources and emphasis on providing infrastructure, not development. This way infrastructure is seen and provided as a stand-alone idea and this is incongruent with any society development process.


All through the last 98 years of Nigeria’s existence as a country, she had been planning and implementing the provision of infrastructure and the fact that the country still remains an underdeveloped country should cause her leaders to have a rethink. This is the tragedy of Nigeria’s efforts towards her development: no development ideology in her politics. Infrastructure is not development; it is a facilitator of development. Infrastructure is like the human body, while development is like the human soul. Which should society target to develop first: the soul or the body?




Okachikwu Dibia

Maitama, Abuja


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