- Government called upon to ease the way for new roads and power stations
One clear sign that a country is suffering a severe lack of decent infrastructure is when a night-time power cut in a regional airport raises not a murmur of surprise or protest from anyone. In dozens of meeting rooms, hotels, restaurants and bars during a recent visit to Nigeria, back-up diesel generators kicked in for short periods whenever the grid supply failed.
Many organisations keep a pair of bulky generators to ensure a continuous power supply. Some have more. Only at Kaduna International Airport did everything go dark for several minutes. Power cuts have been part of everyday life for longer than most Nigerians can remember. “It has been like this all my adult life,” says Atedo Peterside, a 61-year-old businessman and banker.
He oversaw the privatisation of Nigeria’s electricity generation and distribution networks under former president Goodluck Jonathan and sits on the government’s Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council. In Mr Peterside’s words, privatisation might have “stopped the bleeding” from the electricity sector but, apart from this, progress has been slow.
On paper, the national grid has a capacity of 13,400MW but in practice it is between a quarter and third of that — only a little more than at independence in 1960. 13,400MW National grid capacity, but just a third is typically available Electricity is far from the only challenge. Roads are littered with potholes. In Lagos, the same short car journey could take 20 minutes or two hours, depending on traffic.
On the 12km bridge that skirts Lagos Lagoon, and for many kilometres beyond, traffic is near-stationary in one direction or the other for several hours each day. On another route in and out of the city, however, along the Atlantic coast through Lekki, conditions can be better. This is thanks to a toll road put out to concession under a public-private partnership in 2008.
“At the time everybody including the World Bank said it wasn’t possible,” says Opuiyo Oforiokuma, head of ARM-Harith Infrastructure Investment, a fund manager, in Lagos. Mr Oforiokuma, a former senior manager at Thames Water International Services in the UK, Latin America and the US, returned to Nigeria in 2006 to set up the toll road PPP, the first of its kind in the country.
“People said we were raising a huge amount of capital, that road users wouldn’t be willing to pay, that there were land issues and the scale and complexity of the project [were too great],” he says. “A lot of that was true.” Nevertheless, the project got off the ground with funding from ARM-Harith and the African Infrastructure Investment Managers, at the time a joint venture between Old Mutual Investment Group of South Africa and Macquarie Capital of Australia.
Hopes that it would be a blueprint for other projects came to nothing. ARM-Harith had to wait until December 2015 to close its next major project, the Azura-Edo 450MW gas-fired power station being built in Edo, east of Lagos. The Azura project established what Mr Oforiokuma says is “a ringfenced template” of financial and other structures but this has yet to be replicated.
$91m Amount raised by Nigeria’s first infrastructure equity fund
Despite a list of potential PPPs and other investment opportunities, the “conveyor belt” of deals that Mr Oforiokuma and others want to see has not happened. He blames many factors: a lack of government or other guarantees, a shortage of the skills to structure projects in an investable way, a resistance to private provision of infrastructure and, above all, the difficulty of attracting capital. Appealing to foreign capital became especially hard after the collapse of the oil price and its effect on Nigeria’s economy, made worse by the government’s refusal to let the naira float. “By fixing the currency, they drove investment away,” Mr Oforiokuma says. “Nobody will put money in when they think the currency is still on a slide.”
Fund management for infrastructure investment is in its infancy. ARM-Harith manages Nigeria’s first infrastructure equity fund, which has raised $91m so far and aims to close by the end of the year. Bolaji Balogun, head of Chapel Hill Denham, another Lagos fund manager, runs the country’s first listed infrastructure debt fund. It is licensed to raise up to $600m; its first raise, in June, was just under $20m and this was used as 10-year loans to off-grid power projects. Its second, of about $70m, is expected to close this month.
Like Mr Oforiokuma, Mr Balogun laments the fact that “pockets of achievement have not turned into oceans of achievement”. He points to an unwillingness among Nigerian pension funds to invest in infrastructure: some 85 per cent of their assets are in government bonds and another 5-8 per cent in bank deposits, he says, leaving little or no allocation for long-term assets. He believes the government should do more.
“There needs to be an infrastructure department with the powers to create an environment that enables PPPs,” he says. Mr Peterside, the government’s adviser, is not optimistic about the prospects for that. “Eventually the government will have to make it attractive for people to invest in infrastructure,” he says. “But it has taken them two years to realise they do not have the money. Everything takes too long.”