James Ojo Adakole
Over the years, Nigeria has had various economic policy documents and development plans, which were intended to make the country grow and be economically competitive.
In 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the Vision 20:2020 at the tail end of his second four-year term. The main purpose of the initiative was captured this way: “By 2020 Nigeria will be one of the 20 largest economies in the world, able to consolidate its leadership role in Africa and establish itself as a significant player in the global economic and political arena.”
Twelve years after the declaration and less than one month to 2020, however, the reality on ground shows that very little progress has been made towards the goal.
Nigeria is currently rated as the poverty capital of the world with a threatening percentage of its population of almost 200 million people wallowing in abject poverty. The economic indices also give room for worry than optimism with a growing debt profile. Key sectors such as health, education among others are still in the woods owing to improper funding and corruption.
At a recent event, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed that the federal government was mulling another 20-year economic development plan to succeed the Vision 20:2020. She announced that plans were also in place to tinker with the five-year plan, to continue the Economic and Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
“The ERGP that we are currently implementing expires in 2020, just as the Vision 20:2020 also expires next year. So, in this third quarter of 2019, we will kickstart a process of a new long term development plan which could be 20 years or 30 years,” the minister was quoted as saying at the BusinessDay Investment and Capital Markets conference in Abuja.
“An important next step will be to transition our 2017-2020 Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) to a successive long-term Vision 2040 plan. To this end, I am currently working with the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning to prepare a Medium Term Economic Growth Acceleration Plan for 2021-2024 as a successor to the ERGP.”
Experts have expressed concern over the inability of successive governments in Nigeria, from the military era to the democratic dispensation, to translate various economic development plans from mere conception to reality. The development, they argue, undermines the federal government’s proposed economic development plan.
Commenting on this, a Public Relations expert, Mr. Agi Victor, said the country’s problem has been poor implementation of its many promising economic plans. He told Sunday Sun: “Our problem has always been implementation of economic plans. It is not enough to have a good paperwork; the plan which must reflect the true state of affairs should also be easily implemented. In most of these economic projections, what has happened is for a particular government to assemble sound economists in Abuja, who may really be good with economic figures; but we can’t just rely on some economic figures from wherever to make plans.
“Where are these figures emanating from, are they products of research, are the real people who need to benefit from these plans consulted, and so on?
“For instance, whereas I am not ignorant of the intention of our government in closing the southern border, the effect of just waking up one day, based on the assumptions that we are self-sufficient is not well thought out. While I agree that our borders are porous, we can certainly not survive in isolation from beneficial bilateral and multilateral trade in the ECOWAS region. Now what has happened is that some local producers may have benefited from this move, but it has sadly also meant inflation on some other household items. I think this has been the simple logic in our economic plans over the year; they have been mostly superficial, without considering the real players and what they actually need.”
Aside the poor implementation, Victor, who is also a public affairs analyst, said the sustainability has remained a cog in the wheel of the nation’s quest to concretise the various economic development plans.
He added: “Sustainability has also been an issue in our plan. Well, Vision 20:2020 which will elapse next year could be said to have been futuristic enough, but a situation where new governments come up and jettison the economic direction of the previous government is a factor that has contributed to this. Apart from the Vision 20:2020 which we have not even heard anything about over the last few years, you see that our economic plans have not been sustainable. Our national economic plans should be such that anyone who comes into government should work with, except if we are saying that they are just mere products of some sittings in Abuja, without the real issues being projected. This seems to have been the case.
“If we can comfortably say that the SDGs are being pursued in our economic plans, then we can say that there’s hope for the economic plans being proposed by our government. Do we have priority for education, SMEs, infrastructure and such other things that drive growth? If yes, and it is not based on just paperwork, then there’s hope, but unfortunately, we are not seeing that yet.”
Also speaking, a renowned public affairs analyst, Mr. Ambrose Igboke, blamed government’s insincerity and commitment for the failure of previous economic development plans the country has had.
His words: “Right from when I was a child, I have been hearing different kinds of economic documents by the federal government of Nigeria. After the civil war, Gen. Yakubo Gowon introduced the three Rs—Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction—which was mouthed to chart a new course forward for the country after a brutal war that lasted 30 months. But nothing significant came out of that. What happened in the RRR was that they killed all the things that were manufactured during the Biafran war: how the people of Biafra were able to convert a passenger plane to a fighter plane, all those things we lost them and the technology. Gowon left in 1975, and by the time Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as a military head of state, he started Operation Feed the Nation which was meant to boost agriculture. But where did it finally end? Nothing! Shagari also came with his own Green Revolution. Then General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida came with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which devalued the Naira and turned most companies into moribund institutions.
“Within these periods, we had several others such as Light and Electricity for All by 1990. From 1990, they pushed it to Year 2000. From 2000, it was pushed to 2010 where we had vision 2010, and then we had vision 20:2020. Now that vision 2020 is about to expire, they want to formulate another one.
“Nigerian governments are good at coming up with great ideas that don’t translate into anything. There are no economic blueprints that are being followed to the letter. So, what we have come to understand is that all these documents are all political gimmicks for the people. What they do is that they float it, for people to have hope that something will happen. Meanwhile, there are no concrete steps to actualise them.
“When you say vision 2020, 2030, there is no vision, our vision has escaped since. We now live in a subsistent level like an animal kingdom where we live for the next minute. That is why people will loot money they cannot spend in the next thirty generations. That is people will vote someone who will waste their lives in the next four years and collect N2,000 or even N1,000. That is why we have situations where people squander money allocated for development of local hospitals and prefer to travel overseas for their health needs. That is why some people go abroad to spend of millions to train their wards, while our educational system here is collapsing. So, we are basically living at a subsistence level. While other countries are having practical 50-year development plans and implementing them, we in Nigeria live for the next minute.
“So, we look for how to survive, how to buy a car, how to build a house, how to eat, how to feed ourselves, how to build roads. That is why politicians now see construction of roads as achievement. In fact, politicians are now seeing paying of salaries as achievement. That is how low we have reduced ourselves. So, a society living at that level cannot have a vision for the next generation. So, the documents we just churn out calling it all kinds of names will never work.
“We all saw pictures of Dubai and Lagos in 1990. Lagos was far more sophisticated than Dubai in 1990. Now, see what Dubai has become because there was a vision. Take a look at Singapore also. Look at neighbouring Ghana too. This was the same Ghana that many of its citizens ran away from to Nigeria due to political upheaval and then there was the issue of Ghana-Must-Go, but now Ghana is the Eldorado that Nigerians are running to. Look at Rwanda that just came out from the throes of the 1994 genocide war. They came out with an economic blueprint and developmental agenda and see where they are. Look at Ethiopia. So, we don’t have an economic vision or plan. And no matter what the government does, it will still amount to nothing because it is the same set of people that have been running the affairs of the country since the 60s.
“Therefore, they are just changing the names of the documents. It is the same thing. It is not going to work because there are no decisive and pragmatic steps to make them work in the first place. It is just a paper work and when one expires, they change the name and push the year forward.”
Corroborating Igboke’s opinion, respected monetary and development economist, Dr. Tayo Bello, cited insincerity of successive leaders and partisan politics as bane of the acualisation of various economic development plans proposed over the years.
“Globally, when you have a development plan, it should not be political at all. You plan it with a policy guideline and the policy survives the tenure of a particular government. But in Nigeria, any development plan is guided and tailored towards the government in power and once that government is gone, that is the end. The late President Umari Yaradua for instance had a good development plan with his Seven-point Agenda, but where has it taken us to? What of Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda?”
Similarly, a senior lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Dr. Ifeanyi Anorue, called on Nigerian leaders to become pragmatic in their pursuit of economic development plans.
He told Sunday Sun: “Nigerians are known for coming up with noble ideas that have never yielded fruitful achievements. Whether you are talking about the 7-Point Agenda, Transformation Agenda; Structural Adjustment Programme; Vision 20:2020; Economic and Recovery Growth Plan etc, on face value, these represent a plethora of noble ideas but in real sense lack the commitment and dedication of leadership to achieve expected results. For us to achieve result, ideas need to be effectively conceptualised and issues properly defined and by extension concretized in terms of achievable goals. We are yet to define our goals and show the required commitment. There are reasons for this. We have d challenge of leadership. When honest people are in charge, challenges become issues and practical steps are taken to provide solutions to such issues. Until our leaders learn to remain focused and visionary in their approach to governance; until governance becomes positively mission-oriented and purposeful, fruitful results remain illusions. Everything boils down to corruption which has become very endemic in our everyday activity as a people or nation. The commitment and dedication by the Asian Tigers is a reference point.”
On his part, a social commentator, Mr. Godwin Obekpa said: “One problem with the Nigerian state is the placement of personal ambition above the general good. The ambition I speak of is not that of holding unto power or others in that category but that of fighting unnecessarily to make a name for oneself. Each of the leaders had more interest in buying credits for themselves while giving those developmental plans than the interest of the country. This means that the plans, as smart as they seem, were more politics and power driven than what they call it actually.
“This is why those plans have always failed and predictably, including the present administration. We will have a working plan when both the Constitution and the country are restructured to accomplish a people driven government not a sentimental and ego-driven system as we have today.”