Causes of failure and abandonment of projects and project deliverables in Africa


By O. Chima Okereke, PhD

Herefordshire, UK and

Port Harcourt, Nigeria


The focus of this paper is the exploration of causes of failure and abandonment of project deliverables. That is to investigate the causes that lead to the failure and abandonment of deliverables obtained after the successful completion of projects. The deliverables have been formally handed over to the customer or user for whom the project has been undertaken, and the project closed. However, a few years after the apparently successful takeover of the deliverables by the user, they fail and later are abandoned.

It is certainly normal for a product or system to fail after it has been produced. However, when it fails and cannot be repaired because it could be damaged beyond repairs or the resources with which to effect repairs are not available to the user, it is abandoned. Abandoned deliverables and projects are not strange to nationals of developing countries. Indeed, our industrial landscape is littered with abandoned project deliverables in various stages of disrepair. The common thread running through each of them is that they cannot be repaired and therefore abandoned for good. A report from the Abandoned Projects Audit Commission which was set up by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 shows that 11,886 federal government projects were abandoned in the past 40 years, that is from 1971 to 2011, in Nigeria (Abimbola, 2012). The number should be much higher if projects from the various states are included. This lends some credence to the assertion by Osemenan (1987) “that Nigeria has become the world’s junk –yard of abandoned and failed projects worth billions of naira”[1].

As stated in the foregoing paragraph, much money is lost annually because of these failures. Investors in such projects are the countries who own the abandoned projects, the UN, World Bank, international agencies and communities. What is more, it leads to the economic retardation of nations. How and why? It is simply because 5 or 10 years national development plans are prepared by nations to help them climb up the “economic development ladder”. These plans are comprised of projections and milestones of when certain projects, which are the building blocks and components of the development plans, will be implemented. When implemented, they help to enhance and facilitate the economy and industrial infrastructure of the nations. The operation of the deliverable could constitute a base, “steps or rungs of ladder” on which other new projects can be implemented. In the event of the failure of the first project, the implementation of the second and subsequent projects cannot happen.

To reduce abstraction and dwelling in the theoretical in the foregoing explanation, consider that the first project is the building and implementation of an electricity generating power plant of 6 x 250 megawatts. When it is completed, it will feed 1500 megawatts into the national grid. This will help enhance the national power supply, especially its stability since the voltage and frequency can become stable at the rated values. Besides, power supply capacity is increased high enough to feed many users, businesses, and organisations. With such stable power supply, Broadband Internet system can be introduced. Web hosting application in the Cloud can be used by businesses and companies. However, if the power plant is commissioned into operations and within six months, most of the units fail and are abandoned, the power situation in the nation cannot improve. The introduction of Broadband Internet, web hosting and Cloud cannot take place. The nation is back to its pre-power project implementation condition. Progress and economic development are not just at a standstill but are being retarded because of much money that has been invested in the failed power plant to no effect. Again to be more specific in this scenario, it is the case that at this point of writing, web hosting and Cloud Computing cannot be used in most African countries because the power supply infrastructure to support the technology is not available. It is only in multinational or large organisations, which have their own power supply and not dependent on the national power supply, that such technology is in use.

In preparing this write-up, research has been carried out on some African countries, on some failed and abandoned project deliverables since the objective is to discover the causes of failure of already completed and handed-over deliverables. Some of the findings will be listed and later discussed in depths. This is because it may be relevant to highlight the importance of the project deliverable and then present actual, real-life events that led to their failure and consequent abandonment. At the end of the presentation, an analysis and summary of causes of failure and abandonment of the deliverables will be made. These will constitute lessons learned for our education as investors in developing nations. Hopefully, they could provide guidelines for future investments such that lessons from past failures could help prepare investors and planners for success of new projects.


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About the Author

Chima Okereke, PhD, PMP

Herefordshire, UK



Dr. O. Chima Okereke
, Ph.D., MBA, PMP is the Managing Director and CEO of Total Technology Consultants, Ltd., a project management consulting company working in West Africa and the UK. He is a visiting professor, an industrial educator, a multidisciplinary project management professional, with over 25 years’ experience in oil and gas, steel and power generation industries. For example, On December 26th 2013, he completed an assignment as a visiting professor in project management; teaching a class of students on Master’s degree in project management in the Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia. In August and September 2013, he conducted an innovative, and personally developed training programme for seventy six well engineers of Shell Nigeria to enhance the efficiency of their operations using project and operations management processes.

Before embarking on a career in consulting, he worked for thirteen years in industry rising to the position of a chief engineer with specialisation in industrial controls and instrumentation, electronics, electrical engineering and automation. During those 13 years, he worked on every aspect of projects of new industrial plants including design, construction and installation, commissioning, and engineering operation and maintenance in process industries. Chima sponsored and founded the potential chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, acting as president from 2004 to 2010.

Dr. Okereke has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Lagos, and a PhD and Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Bradford in the UK. He also has a PMP® certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI®) which he passed at first attempt. He has been a registered engineer with COREN in Nigeria since 1983. For many years, Total Technology has been a partner for Oracle Primavera Global Business Unit, a representative in Nigeria of Oracle University for training in Primavera project management courses, and a Gold Level member of Oracle Partner Network (OPN. He is a registered consultant with several UN agencies. More information can be found at http://www.totaltechnologyconsultants.org/.

Chima is the publisher of Project Management Business Digest, a blog aimed at helping organizations use project management for business success. Dr. Okereke is also an international editorial advisor for the PM World Journal and PM World Library. He can be contacted at [email protected]  or [email protected].

To view other works by Dr. Okereke, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/dr-o-chima-okereke/