What Explains the Effectiveness of Major Public Project Delivery in Nigeria?
Ten years ago, a study commissioned by the President of the Federal Government of Nigeria identified that 11,886 large government projects of a total of 19,000 since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 not only failed but were abandoned. This abandonment rate of 63% of all government projects implies a severe problem in driving economic prosperity. With the global economic fragmentation, international help is fast disappearing; further adding to this is the COVID 19 pandemic. Project failure in Nigeria contributes to declining government legitimacy.
The current investigation focuses on the management needs of government projects in order to succeed --- what resources, governance, and expertise and partnerships can support government infrastructure projects in helping the growing population to achieve economic development: roads, bridges, airports, power generation and transmission, hospitals, telecommunications networks, and so on. Governments are responsible for providing (or enabling the provision of) such infrastructure. Governments that do not offer these infrastructures limit economic and social development. Unfortunately, the ability of successive Nigerian governments to successfully deliver infrastructure development projects has been poor. This investigation asks why this is the case and seeks to offer recommendations to improve this situation.
The work approached a mixed-method strategy of investigation: first, a unique detailed data set has been collected with 55 data points each on 19 abandoned and 19 completed projects (where there exists no systematic data on government projects in Nigeria). The econometric analysis of these data identifies the size of the economic levers that the success variables represent – making moderate improvements can (as suggested by the project sample) save hundreds of millions of dollars for a single project. Second, complementing the econometric analysis, 11 detailed case studies (of projects among the 38 on which quantitative data have been collected) demonstrate the causal “stories” of events and show the success drivers "live" – what it “looks like on the ground” when project success variables are missing and how the variables interact.
Within about 100 variables that have been identified by previous literature as “generic” error sources in large projects, the investigation empirically identifies a small number of common themes that connect abandoned projects in Nigeria: underdeveloped financial planning combined with centralized decision-making, and corruption. Centralized decision-making (by the president or governor or a small group of connected people) results in projects emerging from the president desk rather than from careful plans. Widespread corruption not only inflates costs but also “poisons” the effectiveness of other management decisions.
In order to address the problems, the study recommends several short-term measures, such as high-level political priorities, institutional changes, and portfolio planning and budgeting. Institutionally, the study proposes establishing a new Ministry of Large Projects focusing on Project Execution, project audit, and fraud protection.