I am not a perfectionist. I don’t believe things should be entirely spick and span. But I know sure signs of progress and regression. The Chinese built the Abuja Airport. With the tiles and lighting they put in it, the airport does shine sometimes. We are using perhaps 10% of the capacity of the airport built with Chinese loans, manpower and technology. All we can do is make the airport clean but as things stand, that is too massive a job for us.
From the lift that takes one up to arrival on the first floor, all one sees are finger smudges everywhere. Walls painted white are already stained with grease, dirt and grime. If one looked up at the ceiling one will discover extensive connections made of silk – cobwebs – most of them brownish with dust. We cannot clean the new Abuja airport and that says a lot about us as a people. We love shiny new toys. But after that what? I used to think I was the one who fretted about the inability to pay attention to any amount of details until Reuben Abati wrote about his stint in government and lamented in the same words – quest for new toys and inability to maintain any.
This is a serious psychology to explore. I don’t know who can and will fix this problem. But this is one reason why I made a quest for governance in this space called Nigeria. Development is a constant affair. It is what you do everyday, every minute. What I hear people say is that even when you try to do the right thing, they soon fall apart because ‘we are hopeless’. As I posited in my article on IQ, I believe these things can be learnt. They are no rocket science. I believe this is an elite failure. Our elite are the ones who travel everywhere in the world – in style. They have seen the best. They have even seen the one that represents the future. And they are the ones in power here. Sometimes I worry if perhaps these elites (especially our political elites) have signed some pact to ensure we don’t get it right and continue to be the example of how not to be civilized in the world. Or perhaps they tried at some point then gave up entirely. The way our society looks today, there is every reason to believe they have given up. Our country is one governed by disdain. Anyone outside government circle, and the money-making club, is seen as vermin, best left to their own devices. There are no pointers and examples to our people as to the way we should evolve; a vision for people to emerge better than before. This is also reflected in the deliberate impoverishment of millions and their neglect in the sea of ignorance. This is year 2019 and this mentality is despicable and unacceptable.
What will it take to maintain Abuja Airport at least the way the Chinese who built it would have maintained the edifice? Let us forget that one day we will have to start repaying the loan, or the airport will be taken over from us by the real owners? What will it take to remove cobwebs? What will it take to reach up to the ceilings and get to difficult-to-reach parts of the airport to add a touch of paint? What will it take to ensure a cleaner/janitor shines the elevator every 10 or 15 minutes in a way that thousand irritating fingerprints will not be what greets you? What will it take to get a lift that actually get to the departure on the second floor rather than have passengers haul their luggage through a long, unnecessary ramp to the second-floor departure or down from departure? What will it take to ensure the new Abuja (Chinese) airport does not fall into the curse of disrepair like everything Nigerian? What will it take to ensure that the place does not become the horror that is Lagos Airport?
I tell you what it takes. It takes attention to details and leadership by example on the part of those in whom we have invested power. It takes them being less absorbed with themselves and being able to take a step back and see the mess their space is becoming. It takes them understanding that leadership and development is constant and perpetual. Indeed development is a journey, not a destination. That is why even the most developed country still has government, and public administrators. Governance never ends. Our people in government (politicians and top civil servants) are often too distracted. In a recent engagement with a parastatal I realized that in spite of the good intentions of their leaders, the culture becomes decadent and unproductive simply because for one reason or another, their leaders are never in the country. Buhari himself never stays in the country so the DGs and Ministers take a cue. And the Permsecs and directors follow. In the private sector, leaders understand they need to find time and sit on their eggs like hens do. Otherwise the organization you leave on autopilot will surely crash when your vision is not brought to bear. Predators will eat your eggs. They will never hatch.
This presupposes that our political, administrative and bureaucratic leaders have some sort of positive vision I admit. And vision is a rare commodity in these parts. I will want every reader not to give up on us and think about what it will take to run an institution such as the new Abuja airport and make it look like what we see abroad. Part of what I believe can be done, in addition to the ones I listed above, is that silo mentality should be rid of. So what if maintenance is not under your purview? There has to be a way to throw up such issues in a way that helps the entire organization. In fact, rather than our permanent fixation on capital projects, whereby we continue to build monstrosity upon monstrosity that we cannot maintain, we will do good to understand how to maintain things. I have proposed in the past that we can have maintenance budgets for the next ten years, build nothing new and still be okay. In fact, we need such a therapy to get rid of our new-toy syndrome. The entire country often behaves like a spoilt brat. This is the chief reason why the debt-for-infrastructure idea will not work for us. We need to get in touch with ourselves. We need to grow up.
The investors we are crazy about come here and notice these simple details. It does not tell well about us. It diminishes us greatly. It makes them give us raw deals and short shrifts. It is the reason some Irish guys set up a company just to get PAID, they called it P&ID! The joke is on us. Sometimes I get exasperated being a Nigerian. There is a limit one will continue to agonise, cajole, beg and cry, that things be done right. We must stop behaving like some Homo Erectus, or some partially-evolved human specie. Or are we what the racists say we are?
Finally, I must note that the new Abuja Airport is the only one I know in Africa (leave the rest of the world), where travelers into the country are not biometrically captured. Someone has embezzled all the monies meant for such projects all over Nigeria. Smaller countries like Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire have since evolved. Therefore, right from the shiny little airport, the so-called investor knows that we are an unserious lot. Who cursed Nigeria?