The Sirika Template As Model For Project Execution In Nigeria


For once, Nigerians had cause to celebrate with abundance last week. Something very unusual in these parts happened. A serving public officer not only gave a deadline for the completion of a crucial project, he actually delivered ahead of schedule. Not only that; as Nigerians agonized over the likelihood of the project going the way of numerous other abandoned or uncompleted in the past, the same Minister literally put his neck on the guillotine with a pledge.

He promised to resign his position if the project was not delivered on schedule. That was also unheard of, in a nation where public servants cling on to their jobs until they died, or are disgraced out of office. Last week, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, not only kept his promise, he delivered the project with twenty-four hours to spare. With the successful execution of the project, the Minister has now positioned himself as the de-facto poster-boy of the APC administration at the center. 

Except for 1999, when the then Power Minister Bola Ige, made the infamous pledge to fix Nigeria’s energy crisis within six months or resign, no other Minster had ever put his job on the line in the same fashion prior to when the Minister of Aviation did so last March. Available records on project execution in the country provided Nigerians with no logical basis to believe either Ige, or Hadi Sirika.

In 2006, in fulfillment of the pledge to construct dual carriageways on all the roads leading to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Federal Government awarded the contract for the then notorious Abuja-Lokoja road to a consortium of four major contractors - Dantata & Sawoe; Reynolds Construction Company Ltd (RCC); Bulletin Construction Company and Gitto Construzioni.  

The contract was for the construction of an additional 2-lane carriageway and rehabilitation of the existing single lane. In some sections, the contractors were to construct a number of bridges and bypasses. The total sum for the completion of the project was N42billion. The completion period was set at 30 months, maximum.  

Incredibly, by 2014, nearly eight years after it was awarded, the contract was still listed among numerous others scheduled for completion by the Jonathan administration. Since no formal announcement of the completion of the project has been forthcoming, I am tempted to believe that it is still work in progress.

The other example, so shameful to behold, is the state of the power sector in Nigeria more than seventeen years after the late Bola Ige promised to successfully reform it within six months of assuming office.  It is on record that not only was there no discernible improvement at the expiration of his self-imposed deadline of six months, he was subsequently re-assigned to the Justice Ministery by the ten President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Today, after all these years, and five Power Ministers in quick succession,  the power generation and distribution capacity of the nation has barely exceeded 3,000 megawatts, which is the same level it was in 1999 when the military voluntarily relinquished power. Close to 20 billion dollars are thought to have been expended on reforming the sector to no avail.

Worst still, Nigerians are no longer sure of when the situation will be improved. The appointment of an acknowledged achiever like Babatunde Fashola as the Minister of Power, excited Nigerians because of his antecedents,   but unfortunately it has become all too obvious that their optimism may have been dashed because the situation in the sector appears to have defied all possible solutions despite his best efforts. Another prime example is the National Identity Card project which has transcended numerous administrations but is yet to be faithfully delivered for the benefit of Nigerians.

 Nigerians, including this writer, should therefore be forgiven for celebrating the modest repairs of the Abuja runway as if Nigeria has just landed a man on the moon. Against the backdrop of the serial failures associated with other national projects in the past, their euphoria is justified, in my opinion.  There are, of course, numerous lessons we can learn from the positive development.

The first lesson is that Nigerians have been starved of genuine reasons to celebrate for as long as we can remember to the extent that the mere rehabilitation of the four kilometer Abuja runaway was widely celebrated as a major accomplishment. The second is that it does not really take very much to please Nigerians for as long as government continues to deliver on tangible projects that are for the common good. I have heard some noises that Government took the issue of the Abuja runway seriously only because it impacted on the elite. The concern is legitimate, but then, there is also the example of the impact the new standard gauge rail line between Abuja and Kaduna has had on commuters within such a very short time.

The third, and final reason obviously inspired today’s discourse. With the appropriate desire, commitment, and project implementation methodology, public servants across the three tiers of government, are capable of delivering on key campaign promises and projects than can rapidly transform the socio-economic well-being of Nigerians. What is apparent is that on this occasion, the Minister of Aviation got his project implementation methodology spot-on even if, in truth, the project was limited in its scope. 

All projects are essentially hostages to the rigor and completeness of the project implementation plan put in place which are invariably predicated on the anticipated goals, and objectives. It also presupposes a thorough grasp of the problem, scope, intervention areas, and the overall anticipated outcomes. Not surprisingly, they are also accompanied by the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the process of actual execution.

Since the end has now justified the means, it is apparent that the Abuja runway rehabilitation project benefitted from adequate planning given the specific time-frame given for its execution. It was also, obviously, well-communicated to all the stakeholders including ordinary Nigerians most of whom may have been tempted to think the target was unrealizable Adequate funding, which is often the bane of numerous failed projects in Nigeria, appears also not to be an issue in this case.

The challenge now is how to extend the Sirika model of project implementation and execution template to other quick-win situations across the country. To do otherwise will be too costly as we have already seen from my narrative. What this experience has proved is that Nigerians know how to appreciate the good work of government no matter who occupiers the hot seat. On the other hand, they have little patience with fake promises or delusions of grandeur. 

No projects should ever be contemplated without adequate funding and planning. Public officers must also demonstrate the courage of Hadi Sirika when they can justify their convictions. Had the Minister bowed to the pressure from some members of the National Assembly, the problem of the runway would have remained unsolved.

As it were, not only has the Minister delivered on its repairs, the nation was also treated to an upgrade of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport terminal building in the process. That got me thinking, what was actually achieved during the airports modernization project launched with so much razzmatazz by the immediate past Minister of Aviation? 

But all these, must not detract from the inevitable need for a second runway for the Abuja airport. It must remain a matter of great priority to avoid repeating history.