Over the years, embarking on road trips across Nigeria provided one with some of the most fulfilling and memorable experiences of my life. Our country is blessed with natural and beautiful landscapes, local cultures, languages and architecture that change as you move through the states or geo-political zones.
It’s only when you travel like this that you experience the richness of our diversity, providing a much needed perspective and deeper understanding of our country. When you can’t see a country for what it really is, then you are especially vulnerable to the manipulation of more radical elements. Travelling through these places gives one a direct connection to them, and it is those connections that are so important to our cohesion.
Unfortunately, the option of travelling by road is more limited today than it was in the past, especially taking into consideration the prevailing security challenges. Nigeria is currently quite low in the global ranking of road networks to people ratio, with many important roads in various states of disrepair.
This has an impact, not only on our individual ability to explore and understand our nation, build connections between us, but on our economy – limiting domestic trade, commerce and tourism; driving up costs and therefore reducing our competitiveness. In turn, this impacts productivity, employment and puts a brake on improvements to living standards.
When a farmer struggles to get his produce to the market, the quality of the produce available to the consumer is lower and costs more. When a petroleum marketer needs to move his products from Lagos to Kano, the time it takes is a direct input into the price differentials we see across the country.
When it takes longer for a can of Coca-Cola to navigate the roads in the East, then it costs more for the consumer when it gets there. When tourists fly into major cities but are unwilling to brave our roads and cannot explore our regions, we lose not just income, but the ability to share our culture and heritage with others.
At a very human level, poor roads contribute to unnecessary accidents and deaths. The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) estimates that 3,700 people lost their lives in the first ten months of 2022, and road quality is one of the top-ten causes of these accidents.
The challenges are not new, and the impact is understood by the government. The Senate has estimated that Nigeria loses over N1 trillion in annual revenue due to bad roads; revenue which is critical to us as a nation. The Federal Roads Management Agency (FERMA) estimates that the cost of loss in man-hours due to traffic caused by poor roads is N1.02 trillion every year. This is before we consider the additional costs associated with price inflation that Nigerians and Nigerian businesses have to absorb.
Many will put the responsibility to fix roads solely on government. Besides, what are the governments at various levels doing if they cannot fix the roads. Indeed, in fairness to the current administration, a lot of work has been done in both road repairs and the construction of new ones. But the truth is, the expectations are very high. However, the reality is that the government alone cannot fix all the roads.
They only have to be strategic and take the lead on an integrated approach to providing motorable roads to the citizenry, which is why in recognition of the importance of improving our road infrastructure, the Nigerian government conceived and launched the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit (RITC) in 2019 – a tax incentive programme to crowd in private sector finance for road construction, maintenance and repair. It is designed to accelerate the investments that can be made to improve the network of roads in the country.
The government recognises the severity of the funding gap that exists, and that partnerships are required to deliver better roads faster. Not only does the RITC programme mobilise additional funding, it ensures that public budgets can be allocated to other equally pressing development priorities. When done well, with proper planning, design and monitoring, these programmes attract significant private sector support and deliver impressive results.
Recognising that the RITC programme encapsulates everything that we at MTN call shared value, we are proud to have marked the 20th anniversary of our operation in Nigeria in 2021, by successfully bidding to reconstruct the 110-kilometre dual carriage Enugu-Onitsha expressway.
There is no better way of demonstrating the strength of the partnership between MTN and Nigeria, than by directly contributing to a project that benefits the government, business and the people by improving people’s ability to connect. It is a tangible manifestation of our belief that “We’re good together” and an extension of our purpose to enable the benefits of a modern connected life to everyone.
MTN will invest N202.8 billion in the rehabilitation of the road, receiving tax credits of the equivalent value that it can use to offset future tax liabilities. Work has already commenced on the road with a delivery schedule that anticipates that people will be able to use it within 18 months. We fully understand the strategic importance of the Enugu-Onitsha road to the eastern economy and Nigeria at large. For us, the completion of the rehabilitation of the expressway is more than fixing a road. It is more than a road; it is connecting people and opening an economy. It is about creating memories for people to appreciate the beauty of our land.
I am incredibly excited at the potential of this partnership to embed a culture of collaboration between the public and private sector in Nigeria. It is not just MTN that recognises this opportunity.
The strong design of the RITC is evidenced in the range of other private sector partners that are joining the programme. By working together, we can accelerate progress towards national development goals, make life easier for Nigerians and improve the prospects for all businesses, large and small.
Personally, I look forward to driving on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, to re-ignite my passion for road trips, and seeing the vibrant beauty that is Nigeria. It is not just about fixing a road; it is about accelerating connectedness and building lasting partnerships.
***Tobechukwu Okigbo is the Chief Corporate Services Officer of MTN Nigeria.*