The Chairman of the Resort Group, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), has said ignorance was responsible for infrastructure deficit in Nigeria.
Speaking in Lagos on Thursday at the Annual Lecture of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, themed: “Infrastructure Development and Growth in Nigeria: Prospects and Challenges,” Babalakin said Nigerians were suffering for “a deep level of ignorance”.
Explaining that “we have gotten our educational system wrong”, the lawyer said the system does not teach people what their rights are and the fundamentals of building a strong society.
Babalakin, who is the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, said there was the need for Nigerians to hold the government accountable and persistently demand for their entitlements.
He said development cannot happen in a situation where people are too ignorant of their rights to question the status quo and they accept whatever is thrown at them.
Babalakin’s words: “You can go through the primary, secondary and university systems today without realizing that government owes you anything or knowing that telling the truth is fundamental in building a society and you say you want to develop infrastructure.”
Explaining that infrastructural development was not about money but serious commitment and a lot of intellectual rigour, Babalakin cited the example of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2, which was built by one of his companies, Stabilini Visinoni Limited, 12 years ago and is being managed by another of his companies, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited.
The businessman said those who approved the concession for the terminal did not want the project completed, adding that he completed the project against the run of play.
His words: “And from the first day, they took away 60 per cent of our revenue against our agreement.”
Babalakin identified the problems he experienced with the government as ignorance, deliberate refusal to understand and malice, adding: “It’s been 12 years since we completed MMA2 and no government, including the state government, has done anything comparable.
“This is because infrastructural development is not about money.
“It is about serious commitment and a lot of intellectual rigour.
“A few terminals have been built but they are not workable.”
For example, he said the new International Airport built in Lagos, which cost $600 million, had no provision for coordinated movement, adding that a Chinese company was asking for another $400 million to make it “workable”.
Identifying some of the anomalies at the terminal, the lawyer said: “There is no link between the car park and the terminal building.
“There is no apron.
“You have to taxi to the old terminal to board.
“With 10 per cent of that as support from the government and encouragement, we will do 10 times better and we are willing to.”
On his challenges at MMA2, the lawyer said it took 10 years to prove that BASL was never indebted on MMA2.
Babalakin’s words: “The Supreme Court only ruled on April 5 that government was owing us N132 billion.
“Where were the bankers since 10 years?
“They were nowhere to be found.
“As soon as there was a hitch, they surrendered us to be consumed by the system.
“We had a clear agreement on where the money was going to come from and when somebody breached the agreement I expected them to file behind me to address the issue, but they didn’t do so.
“They just abandoned us.”
He said it was sad that at the credit committee of bankers, the discussants were people who had never made a matchstick before and had no understanding of the issues, yet they were making uninformed decisions on major projects.
Babalakin advised prospective investors to ensure that they have a solid legal team in place before investing their money to prevent stories that are heart rending and damaging.
On the setting up of Assets Management Company of Nigeria, the lawyer said the idea could have been good but the implementation was archaic, unconstitutional and an embarrassment for those born into the legal profession.
Babalakin said: “Giving such powers to anybody without a process is unthinkable.
“We had three issues before AMCON.
“In one of the transactions, we knew we didn’t owe money and it was in the witness box that the lawyers of AMCON realized that we were never given a loan and as such there was no loan agreement to present to the judge.
“It was the peak of mental laziness.
“The judge awarded N3 billion against AMCON for libel and damages because we didn’t owe any money and had been maligned.”
On the cancellation of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project, which was initially awarded to one of his companies, Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited, Babalakin said his team got the road design ready within a month but it took the government over 21 months to approve it.
He said it was sad that seven years after the project was cancelled, the road was only 40% per cent ready.
He said: “They are building 40 per cent of what we wanted to build and the project has no design.
“It is a mere resurfacing of the 1977 road.
“The architecture of that place has changed phenomenally since 1977 and our design accommodated all the changes.
“We had seven overhead bridges along the road.
“There is no projection for any overhead bridge there now.
“Our total cost was N112 billion.
“Now, over N350 billion has been spent on 40 per cent of what we planned to build and they are still at 40 per cent.
Babalakin urged bankers to form the intellectual bulwark to help the financing of projects in Nigeria, regretting that the system was still very pedestrian.