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July 20, 2018

Nigeria at 54: The Imperatives of development planning

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Being lecture by Rev. Prof. Eghosa Osaghae, Vice Chancellor, Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, at the  October 1, 2014 lecture of the God Mandate Foundation Network

The choice of Nigeria’s independence anniversary for this lecture and its title is a clear indication that the organisers of the lecture appreciate the fact that a nexus exists between development on one hand, and having a free, independent country on the other.

Indeed, philosophers and political theorists across the ages are agreed on the fact that the very essence of a country is development. In other words, a country is desirable and sustainable only to the extent it is able to meet the needs and aspirations of its citizens through holistic development. This assertion implies that an underdeveloped country is not desirable and sustainable, as it does not satisfy the needs and aspirations of its citizens. At 54, we should ask: Is Nigeria a developed country? The answer cannot be an absolute yes or no.

Certainly, in terms of the various parameters by which development is measured, ranging from infrastructure to education, industrial capacity to access to healthcare, Nigeria is not where it was on  October 1, 1960, when it obtained independence from the British colonial power. In 1960, there was only one university in the country and it was not even full-fledged. It was known as London University College, Ibadan, later rechristened University of Ibadan. Fifty-four years on, the story has changed. Nigeria now boasts of 129 universities, of which 40 are federal-owned, 39 state-owned and 50 privately-owned. So, in terms of education, we have developed tremendously.

In 1960, we had just one teaching hospital – that is the University College Hospital (UCH (Ibadan). Today there are, at least, 25 such hospitals, majority of which are variously owned by the federal and state governments. Now, the private universities are taking up the gauntlet in setting up that cost-intensive, tertiary health institution. On this score, the university of which I am the vice-chancellor is the trailblazer. The Igbinedion University Teaching Hospital (IUTH), since inception in 1999, has produced eight sets of medical doctors. So, in terms of healthcare facilities, we have made appreciable progress.

In 1960, dual carriage way was a rarity but now it is commonplace. In 1960, we depended solely on importation for virtually all-industrial products, including cars, but today, we have a wholly Nigerian auto firm – Innoson – that produces automobiles, ranging from passenger buses to luxury jeeps. Without doubt, we have come a long way. We are definitely not where we were at independence 54 years ago. We have posted some giant achievements on diverse fronts. Yet, all things considered, we are a far cry from where we should be in terms of development, given our natural endowments and the span of time under review: 54 years! This is not a joke in the life of a nation. And this fact is attested to by the fact that countries that got their independence about the same time with us are far ahead of us in virtually everything. I mean countries that do not have half as much resources as we do. Countries like South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia; and lately, countries that, though got their independence about a decade before us, were not as promising as we were in 1960 such as India and China. They have all left us behind!

Perhaps, nothing else illustrates the tragedy of our developmental trajectory better than what is happening in our oil sector. Oil was struck at Oloibiri in 1958 in commercial quantities. Since then several more oil wells have been discovered and exploited such that we are the sixth largest oil-producing nation in the world. But alas, 56 years after Oloibiri, we are a net importer of refined petroleum products! We export the best oil in the world, the sweet crude called Bonny Light, and then we spend fortunes importing refined oil obtained from crude of lesser quality than ours, and at prohibitive cost. The cost of importing refined oil to meet domestic consumption requirement is so high that every other administration finds it unbearable to bear and has to do a running battle with organized labour and the hapless Nigerian masses to remove the so-called subsidy on PMS, kerosene and the like.

Side by side, our developmental strides are heart-breaking setbacks. At independence, we had a functional railway system. Presently, we are talking of resuscitating the railway, for it has been in coma for the better part of three decades. At independence, we were self-reliant in food production. Today, we are dependent on imported rice, wheat, cooking oil, and frozen fish and poultry. At independence, a primary school graduate could speak and write good English; today we have university graduates who cannot write a paragraph in flawless English. At independence, the world viewed us as the giant of Africa and sister African nations looked up to us for leadership. Our voice was respected in global affairs; we declared Africa would be the centre-piece of our foreign policy and we, indeed, matched words with actions, supporting liberation movements across the continent, lending financial support to any nation in distress. But today we are the butt of caustic jokes by African leaders who had at one time or the other enjoyed our largesse, and Nigerians are treated with ignominy not only in Europe or North America but in many African countries as well.

In essence, Nigeria is in the quagmire of underdevelopment or what in layman’s language may be described as arrested development. Here we are referring to a situation where a country has lagged behind in its journey towards attaining the status of a developed country. The characteristics of a developed country include: industrialisation, infrastructural adequacy, food security, stable power, steady portable water, low unemployment rate, affordable healthcare, mass access to basic education, diplomatic clout etc. An underdeveloped country is invariably on a negative spiral in terms of these characteristics.

As it should be expected, underdevelopment has not been without its consequences in Nigeria. The most neglected part of the country, the Niger Delta creeks, was the theatre of an insurgency that nearly crippled our economy, as crude oil exploration and exportation – our livewire – was brought to an all-time low until the Umar Yar’Adua administration was able to reach some sort of settlement with the agitators under the auspices of a Presidential Amnesty Programme in 2009. Beyond the Niger Delta, there is rising incidence of armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom across the country, orchestrated invariably by unemployed youths seeking alternative means of earning a living in criminality.

In Abuja, the nation’s capital, a coterie of female university graduates line the streets at night seeking randy clients as a means of livelihood, also on account of joblessness. For the elite, many of whom have no visible source of income, politics has become a vocation and, as a result, winning elections to run public offices is now a do-or-die affair: election rigging, thuggery, assassination etc are regular features of our so-called democracy because winning or losing in an election have consequences for the welfare of the contesting politicians.

The critical question to pose then is: After 54 years on a negative spiral in things that are sine qua non to development with horrendous consequences to boot, how can the decline be stopped? The first step towards arriving at a correct answer to this question will be to find out how Nigeria veered off the road to development and allowed stagnation to set in. Of course, a variety of factors readily pop up in the mind as causes: Corruption, political instability, ill-conceived public policies, lack of planning, mediocre leadership etc. Each of these is a correct answer, albeit with varying degree of culpability. For the purpose of this lecture, I am focusing  lack of planning. I am zeroing in on this because it is the most potent, yet it is the least talked about.

Talking of lack of planning, a common feature of most newly industrialised countries is the serious attention they pay to development planning. And this does not come as a surprise. What having a plan means is that you have a roadmap as regards where you want to be as a nation in diverse aspect of development within a specified period of time, usually five years. A good plan is the product of scientific research by social scientists, particularly economists, and a coterie of other relevant experts in engineering, health, education and so on. The plan defines what your priorities for the time in view should be as a country, furnishes a comprehensive list of projects for execution, and projects both revenue and expenditure. Between 1960 and the mid-80s when Nigeria made appreciable progress on all fronts, it was due largely to the fact that we had development plans being implemented with seriousness. The second and third generation universities, some of our airports, power plants, dual carriage ways etc can all be located within the First, Second, Third and Fourth Development Plans. I think Nigeria’s effort at planning stopped with the Fourth Development Plan when in 1985 the Babangida administration argued that a five-year plan was not feasible in a regime of economic crisis and uncertainty and rather opted for what its ideologues called “rolling plans”. The time allotted to each rolling plan was three years. A rolling plan means you could roll over plans, programmes, and projects scheduled for implementation in a given year into the next if there are exigencies that make that compelling. If you ask for my take on this, I will unreservedly tell you that a rolling plan is an euphemism for having no plan at all. Its selling point of flexibility in the face of uncertainty is neither novel nor ingenious. Even within the framework of a Five-Year Development Plan, there is room for amendments in the course of implementation.

In the light of emerging realities, leading to sharp distortion of projected revenue, for instance, projects hitherto earmarked for execution within a budgetary year can be postponed till another year when the financial situation is more clement. But to say you should make a mantra and a ground rule of “rolling over” of goals, objectives, and targets of a development plan is tantamount to fiddling with a country’s well-being. It amounts to gross irresponsibility and abdication of leadership; for there is no greater tool for accelerated development and to make up for lost years by backward nations other than scientifically evolved Development Plans. Since Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) stepped aside, we have been visited with similarly unserious packages touted as development plans of sorts. There was Abacha’s Vision 2010, Obasanjo’s National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), Yar’Adua’s Vision 2020, and, presently, Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda and Medium Term Economic Framework. The speed with which each administration jettisons the innovation of its predecessor, as evidenced in this catalogue, is a clear indication that planning has been and is still in a prolonged coma in Nigeria.

This is why it comes as no surprise that in the present democratic dispensation when price per barrel of crude oil has hovered between $80 and over $100 there is no commensurate achievements vis-à-vis development. We could have taken good advantage of the influx of petro-dollars had we a series of Development Plans backed by relevant laws in place to guide our developmental efforts. Rather what do we have? A situation where politicians who know little or nothing about economics tear the only thing that may have a veneer of planning – that is, the annual budget bill – into shreds, removing this, adding that, and sometime, refusing to act on it till almost mid-way into the year the budget is supposed to serve! At the end, you have a distorted, unscientific, self-serving document that goes by the name of annual budget. You find recurrent expenditures constituting over 70 percent, leaving about 30 percent for capital expenditure. The bulk of the budget goes into paying salaries of civil servants and the humongous perks of lawmakers and other political office holders. How does a country develop in this circumstance?

The way forward

We certainly cannot over-stress the damage that the jettisoning of planning is doing to Nigeria’s quest for development.  What then is the way forward? The answer is simple. Nigeria should return to development planning as the founding fathers of this country handed it down. In this connection, the platform of the National Economic Council headed by the vice President and which includes all the state governors in our federation should be the forum to discuss and work out modalities for the drafting of a series of National Development Plans. This inclusive approach is recommended because a good plan integrates the potentials of a country as a whole without leaving any segment aside. Some aspects of each plan will be meant for implementation at the federal level, some at state level, and some by the private sector. Each plan mobilises the energies of the country collectively towards the attainment of development targets that are collectively adopted for the common good. Having a plan then reduces the drift in government where state executives operate like a ship captain on a high sea without a navigating compass. Though changes occur in leadership at any tier of government, an ongoing plan offers focus regarding priorities and the direction in which public resources should be deployed. The onus is on every Nigerian aware of this fact to press for a return to development planning at every given opportunity, just as I have just done with the opportunity the organisers of this lecture have afforded me.

 

Mirror Copy at the Sun News Online

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