Working today on the Nigeria of tomorrow

Occasional visitors to Nigeria tend to notice the improvements far more than those that live there permanently.Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Ikeja - one of Nigeria's three major international airports

Some of the improvements are small and subtle but, collectively, tend to suggest that a gradual change in culture is taking shape. Whilst Lagos State may perhaps presently provide the best evidence of change for the better, other States are keen not to be left behind and are following Lagos State’s good examples.
The traffic chaos is undoubtedly reduced, not because of any economic downturn as some have suggested, but because Governor Fashola has introduced discipline, the lack of which was responsible for much of the congestion previously. Traffic lights, which were virtually non-existent in Nigeria until a few years ago, are increasingly being installed and, more importantly, are being obeyed. Some of the installations have an additional facility which shows drivers how many seconds they have to wait before the lights turn green. Such facility equally shows for how many seconds the green light will remain. This reassures drivers that the lights have not stuck on red (or green) and encourages them to await their turn which indeed they are doing. Motorcyclists must now wear crash helmets or face the penalties and few are seen without their helmets these days.
Even in torrential rains in Lagos, your correspondent has managed to keep all his appointments on time - and this included a visit to Ikeja on the day of a thunderstorm of such ferocity that several people sadly drowned in truly torrential rainfall.
Litter and garbage has gone from the streets thanks to Governor Fashola’s initiatives and the ‘greening’ of Lagos is clearly visible. Small green oases are appearing, especially at roundabouts and under bridges. Several major roads are now lined with palm trees. Parakeets were observed nesting in the trees and, no, there were no attempts to catch them for dinner!


How Nigeria is moving forward

Building work is evident all over the city. Construction has begun of the Mass Rail Transit System under a public private partnership (PPP). It is envisaged that there will eventually be seven lines in the network - Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Purple, Brown and Orange. The project has begun with the simultaneous construction of the Red and Blue Lines. The first two lines of the urban rail project are estimated to cost $1.4bn. The Red line will be 30km long, and will run between Marina and Agbado. The Blue line will be 27km long, connecting Okokomaiko to Marina. A new Lagos Business District is being built at Lekki on 62 hectares of waterfront land in the Maiyegun Waterfront Development scheme. It is known as the Laplage Business District, lying East of Victoria Island. It forms an integral part of Governor Fashola’s vision to transform Lagos State.
Work has also begun on Eko Atlantic City on reclaimed land just off Bar Beach, Lagos. This ambitious project, referred to as ‘Africa’s City of Tomorrow’, is anticipated to turn Lagos into a successful mega city-state. This state will provide space for the 25mn people expected to live and work in the region by the year 2015.
Accompanying your correspondent on his visit to Nigeria were two colleagues from Kenya. One a British businessman and one a Kenyan African who had never visited Nigeria previously. At the end of his visit, the latter said that he was quite amazed that he had found Nigeria to be totally different from the image of the country portrayed by the media. He said that he had found Nigerians to be friendly, polite and welcoming, especially to foreigners, and that he had found discipline on the roads to be considerably better than in Kenya. From his own experience, he felt that Nigeria had been totally ‘mis-sold’ overseas and believed the country would soon be recognised for its merits rather than its challenges.
In the banking sector, there is ever increasing focus on good governance, even at the expense of short-term profitability. The bank with the highest profit is not necessarily still regarded as a hero. Boards are keen to not just talk good governance but to clearly show evidence of it. The quality and sustainability of profit is receiving increasing attention. Governor Sanusi’s reforms are being respected.
A growing middle class is evident. There are more shopping malls and cafes and restaurants and not all are aimed at the middle class. The ‘man in the street’ can find a good quality burger and chips at lunchtime without parting with too many naira. Indeed, your correspondent and his colleagues, seeking a lunchtime snack, called in at such an establishment and were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, the general cleanliness and the good training and manners of the staff. This felt like Nairobi, or Dar es Salaam or even Johannesburg but, no, we were in Lagos.
The airport is busy but calm and efficient as compared to past years. The air conditioning is working. A customs official at the airport was witnessed declining a tip (not from your correspondent, we hasten to add!) and heard to say, "This is our job, sir. Please, keep your money."


Measurable improvement
A dichotomy was evident when talking to Nigerians form the North and those from the South. Southerners were generally upbeat and confident about the future whilst Northerners appeared resigned to the same old Nigeria. One Hausa gentleman remarked, "It will be 25 years before we can talk of measurable improvement."
Herein lies perhaps the greatest challenge for President Jonathan - to build a united Nigeria.
The world’s largest fertiliser plant, the Elema Petrochemicals Company, will commence production in Port Harcourt in 2014. Power production is no better at present but there is now so much activity and investment in the power sector that it seems almost inevitable that there will be a measurable improvement within the next 24 months.
Potential foreign investors continue to pile in, filling aircraft from Europe and ensuring local hotel occupancy rates that are envied in recession-torn Europe. In every hotel lounge and bar, a plethora of business consultants can be seen busily scanning their laptops and smart phones. More hotels are still being built. The Eko Hotel’s new Convention and Exhibition Centre has the capacity to accommodate 6,000 people and to host a sit-down banquet for 4,300. Surely evidence enough of confidence in Nigeria’s future.

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
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