October 26, 2017 / 5:53 PM / 24 days ago

Nigerian lawmakers call for transport state of emergency

ABUJA, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Nigerian lawmakers called on the government on Thursday to declare a state of emergency for the country’s crumbling roads to tackle decades of infrastructural decay that has limited economic growth.

Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and biggest energy producer, the dire state of the country’s roads have long held back the economy’s potential, economists say.

In a vote on Thursday, Nigeria’s lower chamber of parliament noted “the failure of successive administrations to prioritise road construction and maintenance,” leaving major routes in “various states of disrepair”.

The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has said it aims to diversify the economy away from oil, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of government revenues.

That includes plans to spend heavily on infrastructure as part of a record 2017 budget, though economists say capital expenditure for the year is lower than expected so far.

“Nigeria’s whole challenge right now is trying to reduce the dependence on oil and that means unlocking the potential of almost every Nigerian state,” said John Ashbourne, Africa analyst at Capital Economics.

“Holding them back is that getting anything from inland to market is incredibly time-consuming and expensive.”

The government does not dispute that Nigeria’s roads are in poor condition and on Thursday said it had set up a tax relief scheme for road-building firms to help address the issue.

But Buhari’s administration has not followed through with its spending plans for infrastructure. About one-tenth of the amount budgeted for capital projects between January and July 2017 was spent for that purpose, two-thirds less than during the same period in 2016, according to Capital Economics.

The current state of infrastructure puts the Buhari government’s plans, including ambitions to turn Nigeria into a manufacturing hub and for the agriculture sector to fuel economic growth, at risk, economists say.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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