Fighting Boko Haram requires economic policies —Mayaki, Niger’s ex-Prime Minister

Dr Ibrahim Mayaki was the Prime Minister of Niger Republic from 1997 to 2000. He was previously the country’s Minister in charge of African Integration and Cooperation and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Since 2009, Mayaki has headed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). This year, he was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to serve as a member of the Lead Group of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement. In this interview by LEON USIGBE in New York, United States of America, he speaks about development challenges in Nigeria and other African countries. Excerpts:


The Programme of Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) aims to develop infrastructure in African countries and aid poverty reduction. How much of this goal has been realised?

If you look at infrastructure development during the colonial era, it was mainly guided by extraction. So, you had the mines or any of the natural resources and road in order to allow the extraction of these natural resources. So, that infrastructure was not propitious to development; it was guided by extraction and exploitation. After the independences, we, more or less, tried to develop a different type of infrastructure but at national level.

What I want you to get is that PIDA makes a break between these approaches and an approach based on regional projects. Why? Because the regional projects like the Nigeria-Niger-Algeria Gas Pipeline, the Trans-Saharan Highway or the Central Corridor in East Africa or the North-South Corridor are trans-boundary projects that will allow us to have corridor development, increase movement of people and goods, increase trade and then, reduce poverty. That is the theoretical picture.

Now, how does it go practically? Practically for PIDA, we have, first of all, to prioritise key regional projects in energy, in roads, rail, in ICT, etc. So, the role of PIDA was to get towards prioritisation. In PIDA, we have more than 400 projects in the pipeline, but you need to go in a progressive and pragmatic way. So, we decided at the African Union level to have 16 priority projects which are mega projects from the Lagos-Abidjan corridor to the Central corridor I mentioned. These mega projects are endorsed by countries and the regional economic communities like ECOWAS and others and the feasibility studies have been done.

Now, we are in the phase of mobilising resources, mainly private resources that will complement public resources in order to get them done. So, PIDA has really produced a revolution in thinking about infrastructure and the main question is not to build a road for the sake of building a road, but to build a road so that it increases trade, facilitates movement and allows production to have a market. So, infrastructure is not looked at as an independent variable, but it is looked at as a means to attain what you were referring to – reduction of poverty, creation of market, etc.


The Trans-Saharan Highway is scheduled to be completed in 2018. Is it going as planned?

Yes, it is going as planned. As a matter of fact, every country has done its homework except my country, Niger, because there is a 90-kilometre stretch within Niger. But Algeria has done its part, Nigeria has done its part and African Development Bank (ADB) has funded this 90-kilometre. If this 90-kilometer is done, the Trans-Saharan Highway, which is 4,500 kilometres, is a huge opportunity for corridor development. First of all, the impact on trade because it will allow free movement of people and goods; you know, it is a highway, a very well done highway. And two, impact on security, because the regions through which this highway is, are going have insecurity issues, whether in the north of Niger or in the north of Nigeria. So, by having that instrument like the Trans-Saharan Highway, it will also demonstrate to the neighbouring populations that trade can take place and it will also allow for a good security response in terms of terrorism, etc.


Nigeria and Niger have been at the forefront of the battle against Boko Haram terrorism. Are there strategies you know of that can put this to permanent rest so as to fast-track development?

The military response is a well coordinated response among Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. And you know the security forces of all these countries cooperate on a daily basis in order to tackle Boko Haram. This is the military response. But you need, and the governments of these countries have also understood that you need an economic response. For example, the need to revitalise the Lake Chad region and not let Lake Chad die out of climate change, like how to create conditions of rural transformation. So, you have the military response but you also need the policy response in terms of developing the area so that these youngsters that go to Boko Haram will see that it is more useful for them to get into sane activities in their areas where they are than to engage in terrorism. You you have to have a two-pronged approach — the military response, but development approach is even more important than the military response.


Should PIDA have a role in infrastructural development in these areas, particularly the devastated north-east of Nigeria? What can PIDA do as a form of contribution?

PIDA, remember, is a set of projects that have been chosen on the basis of their economic impact. So, if you look at the Great Green Wall which goes from Senegal through Mali, Bourkina Faso, Niger, Chad, up to Djibouti, the Great Green Wall is part of NEPAD projects where you will have segments dedicated to reforestation, segments dedicated to roads and segments eventually dedicated to rail. So, this is a very important project which is not as such a PIDA project but a NEPAD project. And then, the Dakar-Bamako rail, Cotonou-Niamey-Ougadagudou-Bobojulaso-Abidjan. This rail is also ensuring that trade is enhanced within the region. Whenever you enhance trade, you also enhance quality of life and then you have an advantage fighting terrorism. So, it is not only the military response, it has to also be a development response.


Do you have a strategy to attract foreign investors to invest in infrastructure in Africa?

Yes. That’s what we do systematically. We have a breakfast meeting where we have foreign investors discussing about de-risking infrastructure projects in Africa. We will be evaluating in terms of performance in the measures we can attract these private investors on our infrastructure projects. And we see it already in the Lagos-Abidjan corridor; we see it in railway, we see it in the Central corridor; we see it in the North-South corridor. You see, we have reached an interest which is growing regarding private sector investment in infrastructure in Africa. What is also growing is the realisation with knowledge, the analysis at the level of institutions like the World Bank. We are going to start looking at how we can guarantee investments from the private sector investors so that they feel less at risk. It is of basic consumptional factors-World Bank, ADB, NEPAD, African Union Commission, regional economic communities, in order to push towards that and it is showing results.


There have been suggestions that individual African countries should focus on areas where they have comparative advantage. In which case, if you have comparative advantage in aviation, concentrate there to make you the hub, while others focus on other areas. Some say this may hurt the sense of national pride. What do you think?

You are absolutely right because regional solutions to national problems…you see, Nigeria is there, now almost 170 million people. Nigeria has developed for example, reserve centres in agriculture domain. So, why should Niger reinvent the wheel and put funds in reserve centres in tropical agriculture if we take advantage of what Nigeria has done and transform the Nigerian centres into regional centers? The same goes with universities and the same goes with energy; the same goes with aviation. It doesn’t make sense for all of us to have our own airlines; small country of five million inhabitants will have its own airline compared to a country of 170 million? So, the concept of Air Afrique sometime back was a good concept, but it was trashed down by Air France which is making its highest benefits today in Africa. So, we as Africans should be able to replicate that example and look at a regional solution.

Let me give you another example which you will find weird. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo presided over a panel which looked at the flexes of drug dealings in West Africa and you have drug lords from Colombia coming with a plane in West Africa, facilitating the transportation of drugs regionally and then, hitting the European market. They are practising in a bad way, regional integration system that we do not always practise for the sake of good in energy or in transport. So, at the end of the day, it is fundamentally a question of leadership. When you have a critical mass of leaders who are convinced that regional solution will help boost the region, then, you are advancing. And I think ECOWAS in that case is a good example.


What can you say about the bearing of corruption on infrastructure development in Africa? Furthermore, what is your assessment of the fight against corruption in Nigeria?

All the ways to fight corruption are good. If you take for example the report of former President Thambo Mbeki (of South Africa) on illicit financial flows coming out of Africa, it was estimated, when he launched his report one and half years ago, that it was $55 billion. Mind you, the total income for the year is $20 billion to $25 billion. So, the money that goes out is almost double of the one for the year. Point number two: These figures have been reviewed lately in the past three to four months and they are realistically set at around $80 billion a year. Now, 75 per cent of this illicit financial flow is linked to extractive industry not paying their taxes. So, it is tax avoidance linked to corruption which allows these illicit transactions to take place.

In order to put the house in order, you have to recuperate these flows. And where is the money going? The money is going to Europe, the US, etc,. The money is not staying in Africa because the difference with Asia where you have a high level of corruption too is that in Asia, the Asians reinvest the product of corruption in their countries. We don’t reinvest; we take it out. So, we are penalised on a double basis. So, what we need to do, just as President Muhammadu Buhari has done, is to reinforce the capacities of the supervising bodies, show examples that will really reframe the processes. But most of all, at the end of the day, it is a long term battle where you need sound institutions; you need policy makers who are accountable. It is the creation of a noble culture to allow the fight in the long term to be really effective. But you need to take that way if you want to succeed, knowing that the results will come on a progressive basis.