There is one unadvertised policy decision by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration that Nigerians need to commend and support. In the course of the National Good Governance Tour, it was disclosed by the Information Minister, Mr. Labaran Maku, that the Jonathan government took a deliberate decision that a certain portion of Federal projects must be given to our indigenous contractors in order to build their competence. This explains why some of our local contractors are handling very important Federal road and building projects in many parts of the country.
It is however unfortunate that due to many factors, some of these indigenous firms have failed to do satisfactory work in some cases. But this does not take anything away from the soundness of Jonathan’s decision. His expression of faith in local contractors is wise, patriotic and bold. Given our general lack of self belief and the poor image local firms have unfortunately acquired for themselves over the years, it takes a president who loves his country and wants it to grow to ‘risk’ having even a modicum of faith in our business firms.
Our governments, and not just the Federal Government, owe it a responsibility to our quest for development to help our local engineering firms to build their level of competence as well as confidence by entrusting them with very challenging jobs. I was particularly gratified when I learnt that the opening up of the Goodluck Jonathan District, also known as Maitama Extension, in the FCT, was awarded to a wholly owned indigenous contracting firm. This company has proceeded to engage local engineers and other professionals. The benefit of this singular expression of faith in our people to the economy will be incalculable.
Many of our people will be employed and their earnings will help to boost our economy. What is more, the experience and the confidence they will gain from providing engineering infrastructures in a virgin land cannot be estimated. May be the local contracting firm handling the Goodluck Jonathan District and others like it are our own Julius Berger, Gitto and CCCEC in the making. After all these construction giants did not become giants overnight. One day, someone somewhere took the decision to help them grow and become the giants that they have become today. That is why the Jonathan decision on our local firms is significant and worthy of commendation.
It is to our eternal shame that our brand new capital city Abuja is known in some quarters as Berger Town because a large chunk of it was and is still being built by Julius Berger. It was perhaps excusable that some 35 years ago when construction work on Abuja began, we did not have many Nigerians with the requisite expertise and money and organisation to participate in the building of Abuja. But that is no longer the case today. We have many of our people who have what it takes to handle any design or construction projects of whatever magnitude or complexity. It is only wise that such men and women among us should be called upon or challenged to contribute their quota to the building up of our environment.
For some of us who are aware of the enormous potential we have of everything we have for growth and development, the sight of Chinese, Europeans, Lebanese and other races in every nook and corner of our country handling many construction projects feels us with shame and patriotic pains. Why does it look as if we are incapable of doing even the most basic of things for ourselves without the help of foreigners? What is responsible is simply lack of self belief and nothing else. Nigerians are not in any way inferior to other races. Why our people are underlings in the construction and other sectors is because of our attitude. We have what the late flamboyant politician and patriot, K.O.Mbadiwe, used to describe in his bombastic English as ‘’psychological self-deafeatism’’. We are like grasshoppers in our own sight and so have we become because as the Holy Book says ‘’whatever a man thinketh in his heart so is he’’.
And that is why I will like to repeat my earlier assertion that what Jonathan has done is very good for our national development aspiration. It constitutes one silent act of good governance. It is the duty and responsibility of government to grow its people and their businesses if the nation is to grow and develop because no people, no matter how materially endowed they are to hire foreign labour and expertise, can become developed without the sweat and ingenuity of its people. That is one of the ways of building a nation. For President Jonathan to have refused to join the bandwagon of condemning indigenous contractors marks him out as a man who loves his country.
Jonathan has taken the first good step. I want him to go many steps further. His recognition of local contractors should not be an indifferent one. He, or rather government, should become more involved and committed and get the idea structured and institutionalised. Since the President seems to like committees so much he should set up a small committee perhaps in the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Projects Monitoring and Evaluation or in the National Planning Commission to ensure that each year, there is a steady increase in the number of Nigerian contractors patronised so that over a span of say ten to twenty years, our local contractors will account for about 80 per cent of all contract jobs in the country.
Much more importantly, this Jonathan initiative should not just end with the Jonathan administration. Rather, it should become institutionalised as a national policy to be embraced also by the states and local governments. I suggest that at the next t National Council on Works, this idea should be extensively deliberated upon and a committee formed to bring out a national policy on the engagement of local contractors, consultants and procurers.
The government of Nigeria under Jonathan should revisit the idea of state-sponsored capitalism championed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who wanted to create our own kind of chaobel. The idea here is that the state will help selected private companies to grow and become world conglomerates and in a way become the economic arm of the nation’s diplomacy. This idea has created the Daewoo, KIA and other South Korean conglomerates. Jonathan should see what he can do to help our local firms to acquire all the machinery they need to become effective handlers of the nation’s engineering and construction challenges. This is a country that is virtually undeveloped. There are therefore many projects that must necessarily be given out for execution. Selected local firms should be helped to become truly competitive so that they can corner a substantial portion of the very lucrative construction jobs in Nigeria.
We must deliberately cultivate some abiding faith in our local capacity or else the competencies of our people will atrophied. If the young are not nurtured, they cannot grow to become giants even if they have the gene of giants in them.