What Is The Single Most Important Infrastructure Nigeria Must Build?
Often, when this question is asked, most people say — of course it is stable uninterrupted electricity. Or let the roads just be as good as European roads. And so on.
I decided to check history to see when the turning point came in the big economies — the US for example. Here’s what I found — electricity did not get to most US homes until 1930. Of course the US was already a great industrialized economy before this time. So when was the turnkey point? I looked further back and found that there was correlation between when the US industrialization accelerated and the completion of the TransContinental Railroad. And this was in the mid 1800s, way before electricity became ubiquitous. This railroad dropped cost of travel across the US from $1,000 with a journey completion time of 6months in 1852 dollars to $150 dollars in one week. I checked this pattern and it was consistent — rail came before electricity became generally available — in UK, Japan, Russia, Germany. Here’s a table showing this
I’m still researching this and maybe I have confirmation bias, but I think the answer to the question of what the single most important infrastructure we must build in Nigeria (and across Africa) is rail. And the vision for this rail must not be piecemeal but vast and expansive.
Nigeria is essentially in silos at the moment. People, ideas, goods and services cannot easily move around, because the options available for moving around are either extremely inconvenient or prohibitively expensive for most. What are the options Nigerians have to move around?
· Roads — In terrible shape, fraught with dangers of extortion, accidents and extortions by all sorts of law enforcement
· Air — too expensive for most, cannot move massive numbers and highly unreliable in terms of scheduling in Nigeria. Expensive stress.
So ideas develop in silos and do not cross fertilize to create cumulative knowledge and innovation. Many Nigerians live and die where they are born, never seeing the rest of the country. Goods move around but the percentage of final costs that transport costs make up is absurdly high.
This is not fully developed, but I’m tilting towards the conclusion that our critical path infrastructure in Nigeria is rail, not power or roads. Let me have your thoughts