Nigeria’s Maintenance Culture: a Social Approach

In Nigeria, the stark contrast between the grandeur of newly built infrastructure and the rapid deterioration of public facilities is a puzzle that demands our attention. Corruption is often blamed, but the problem runs deeper than financial mismanagement. This article aims to delve into the intricate web of factors contributing to Nigeria’s maintenance culture. With an emphasis on the impact at individual, community, and government levels.

Maintenance is the routine care and attention we give to certain elements of our buildings, machinery, vehicles, and other facilities. At the household level, apart from the routine cleaning and sweeping of the surroundings, certain maintenance needs on the building’s furniture, plumbing system, electrical fitting, and civil components often do arise. While these maintenance needs can be easily done by the household occupants, others often demand the attention of expert technicians. 

Owing to the fact that a  reasonable number of Nigerians are poor, these maintenance works often get deferred or abandoned. Due to the absence of funds to carry them out. In fact, this is easily seen in the nature of dilapidated houses that are found in most slums and low-income housing areas of our cities. 

Even in houses that are not located in slums, but occupied by persons on rent, the maintenance effort put into maintaining such houses is usually very low. There is a significant disconnect between occupants of rented houses and the realization of the need to maintain such houses. This is because they feel since they don’t own the houses, it’s not their responsibility to maintain them.

This problem of negligence on the part of tenants is at the center of what inspired the recent rise in serviced apartment arrangements. Landlords have found a way to incorporate service charges into the bills of tenants with which the maintenance needs of houses are taken care of. This arrangement is gaining so much acceptance that even persons who live in their own houses often opt to engage the service of professional facilities managers who will tend to the maintenance needs of their houses for a fee.

Such is the dichotomy that exists among Nigerian households. While some are so impoverished that they can barely afford to maintain their houses, others have the means to entirely outsource such maintenance to contractors. In between these two extreme sides exist the majority population of Nigerians. This population has the means to afford some basic maintenance costs but not to the point of outsourcing it. 

Nigeria's maintenance culture

But do the Nigerians who have the means effectively commit themselves to such maintenance, do so? The answer can be found in the way and manner public facilities are run in Nigerian communities. It is common to hear stories about how a certain community goes months or years without water due to the failure of the central borehole drilled by either politicians or the government.

The inability of communities to come together to contribute funds to repair such broken boreholes underscores the psychology of Nigerians and their dependence on awoof (a term used to signify freebies). This is exactly why the government goes ahead to share palliatives to Nigerians as a means of temporary succor to any kind of social and economic problems. 

This combined mentality – of shifted responsibility and cosmetic addressing of problems – on the part of citizens and governments is what perfectly describes the maintenance culture of Nigerians. Our roads, especially those outside the fancy parts of our cities are in a terrible state. Our hospitals are in bad physical shape with minimal signs of preventive and reactive maintenance. 

The answer anyone who dares to ask why our infrastructure and facilities are in such a state of disrepair will be asked is, who will bear the cost of such maintenance? Yes, Nigerians are fond of answering questions with another question. Anyways, The Nigerian government has already taken the direction of removing its hands from subsidizing Nigerians. It now only remains a matter of time before the cost of maintaining our roads and other facilities is completely borne by citizens. By tolling our roads, the government will generate revenues that will go into the maintenance of such roads. And perhaps that will make the Federal Road Maintenance Agency live more to its responsibility.

To address this maintenance culture problem in Nigeria, serious efforts have to be put into lifting millions of Nigerians out of poverty. This should be beyond the half-hearted N-Power and Tradermonie shared with selected Nigerians. Provided Nigerians remain poor, the country’s facilities and infrastructure will not get the adequate public maintenance and custodianship it deserve.

It is the same poverty mindset and pocket that pushes many hoodlums into vandalizing valuable public assets. Such as vandalizing rail tracks and bridges. In fact, many of these miscreants go to the extent of vandalizing electricity transformers and stealing armored cables. To address this, increased community surveillance has to be pursued. Awareness has to be increased to educate the general public on the need to embrace and consider public facilities as their responsibility to protect and not vandalize. 

On the issue of cost recovery, the government and communities have serious work to do. The case of electricity bills that many Nigerians are guilty of by-passing or underpaying underscores our general attitude towards paying for the services we receive. This mentality can be addressed when the government begins providing quality leadership and development initiatives to the people. Because it is only when the government is living up to its responsibility that Nigerians can be motivated to pay for such services. No one wants to pay for poor service and as it stands, that’s what Nigerians are getting on virtually everything. In fact, Nigerians provide most of their utilities and services for themselves without waiting for the government.

Our education system has some role to play in reorienting our maintenance culture. The curriculum of secondary school should be revised to ensure students learn practical experiences on how to do minor household maintenance and repairs. Introductory Technology as a subject taught to students in Junior Secondary School classes can serve as a medium through which these skills can be taught. Technical education as a whole needs to be given utmost priority and the misconception of technicians as low-class workers needs to be addressed. Technicians are honorable and valuable members of society who provide essential services. And it is time they begin to be accorded the respect they deserve and paid handsomely for their services. 

In conclusion, Nigeria’s maintenance culture presents a multifaceted challenge that extends from individual households to government responsibilities. The widespread neglect of maintenance tasks, often due to financial constraints, has led to the deterioration of public facilities and infrastructure. This neglect is not limited to personal property. It also extends to rented homes, where tenants often dissociate themselves from maintenance responsibilities. However, a growing trend of serviced apartments and professional facilities management is emerging as a solution to this problem.

The core issue lies in the mindset of Nigerians, both citizens and the government, who tend to shift responsibility and opt for short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions. Public facilities, such as roads and hospitals, suffer from a lack of preventive and reactive maintenance, perpetuating the cycle of decay. The impending shift towards citizens bearing the full cost of maintenance, such as tolling roads, raises concerns about affordability for the majority of the population.

To address this deeply ingrained maintenance culture, it is imperative to tackle poverty at its roots, moving beyond token initiatives to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty. Additionally, fostering a sense of community responsibility and public awareness to protect and preserve public assets is crucial. Encouraging citizens to pay for services will require government commitment to delivering quality services and infrastructure. Education plays a pivotal role in this transformation, with practical maintenance skills integrated into the curriculum and a renewed respect for technicians as valuable members of society.

In essence, Nigeria’s maintenance crisis demands a comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses economic, social, and educational aspects to cultivate a culture of responsible maintenance for the benefit of all Nigerians and the country’s infrastructure.