Celebrating an Icon

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Recently, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy organised a lecture series to celebrate Prof. Akinlawon Mabogunje. Ugo Aliogo who attended the event, reports

It was a large gathering of intellectuals drawn from various tertiary institutions across the country. These intellectuals have been assembled to brainstorm on certain national issue facing the country and chart a blue print forward.

But this mandate, the day was carved out by Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) to honour Prof. Akinlawon Mabogunje, a man whose life personifies grace and excellence. It was a seminar series which has as its theme: ‘Decentralised Governance, the People and Development in Nigeria’. Mabogunje’s life started in Kano State where he spent most of his formative years.

While in Kano, he began to acquire the intuitive understanding of the tenor and texture of cities, the people that inhabit them, the energy that certifies cities, making them combust with liveliness. Also, he was able to understand how to harness the cultural, physical and material nexus to alchemize these elements. He represents both the interweave of the global and the local; the sophistication of the Afropolitan combined with the rustic beauty of the essential African.
The event began not with so much beauty and colour. It was devoid of the preambles and ceremonial activities which usually herald events of such. The focus was to ensure that time was effectively managed to achieve the objectives of the event.

To set the tone for discussion was Prof. Michael Adeyeye, a man with an appetite for knowledge. As a scholar, he has proven his mettle in the academic turf. He is a remarkable personality with grace and fun. The breadth of knowledge is something that cuts apart him from his equals. He began his keynote address on a note of admonition to scholars present. The topic of his presentation was on: Rethinking Decentralisation for Development in Nigeria.

He said considering the collective and far reaching goals the nation has set globally through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030) and her quest for development, “the onus lies on the generation of development scholars, in the public and private sectors interfacing with civil society, to work together and confront frontally whatever hurdles that threaten the nation.”
He took some time to reflect on the short and long term policy interventions that had been made so that governmental system could deliver the desired outputs and impacts, “government is a means, not an end.”
The address presented him an opportunity to discuss extensively on certain issues such as the right kind of national policy instrument, what alternative routes have the country considered, will the system of local government promote development-oriented governance, and other issues.

He argued that centralisation strategy was the main development paradigm after World War II, therefore he noted that the Soviet, Keynesian, and welfare state models all advanced a strong central authority as the fulcrum of development.
Adeyeye further argued that in line with the centralisation strategy, developing countries believed in dependency theory or feared neo-colonialism; “they felt that a strong central government was essential for economic and political independence.”

He added: “With populations that were overwhelmingly rural and poor, rural development was another fundamental goal; however, quite the opposite of centralising tendencies, it required an inherently decentralised process. Indeed, many developing countries including Nigeria epitomised this duality.

“The post-colonial era began with two opposite perspectives on handling future development and ended with a balance between them. Also, many newly independent countries viewed a strong centre as essential to building national unity and overcoming tribal and ethnic divisions. These countries viewed centralised government programmes as the best way to introduce new technologies and modernise societies. Besides, many leaders in developing countries saw centralised rule as a way to thwart political rivals and stay in power.

“As a consequence, developing countries became far more centralised than developed ones. Initially, centralised rule by charismatic leaders who had spearheaded independence movements had widespread acceptability. But by the 1980s, corruption, inflation, poverty, aid weariness and high debt profile led to disillusionment.

“Hence, deconstructing centralisation became another approach to redirect the issue of governance and development. Since the 1950s, dozens of nations have embarked on community and rural development programmes, with India as the first country to scale up community development over the entire country. By 1957, for example, the core ideas of participatory local and community development were fully developed in India.

“Most of these programmes started with similar ideals of decentralised and participatory decision making, local planning and coordination, and development of sustainable local and community institutions. Yet, for both technical and political reasons, the process in most countries stopped short of community empowerment.
“Most large scale programmes failed to apply their ideals of empowering local government and communities. More so, power and implementation shifted back to central agencies and their technical staff, and programmes became highly bureaucratic (Hans P. Binswanger-Mkhize, 2010).

“It is understandable that states and governments across the world irrespective of their nomenclature use the concept and practice of local government as an effective strategy for ensuring good governance at the local level. Local governments are primarily modeled to serve three purposes: first, as a mechanism for democratic participation and inclusive governance; second, as an efficient service delivery tool that is tasked with the provision of social services and basic infrastructure; and finally as a tool for national development and a medium through which the grassroots can contribute and share in the national wealth.”

The seminar changed course from the decentralisation in governance to a serious environmental issue; land reform. The issue was the guest lecture for the seminar and it was entitled: ‘Land Reform and Development Imperatives in Nigeria: Matter Arising.’ The guest lecturer was the Chairman, Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reform, Office of the Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Prof. Peter Adeniyi,
He remarked if individuals aspire to use their land for economic purpose, there is need for them to have a title known as Certificate of Ownership (C/O)

He argued that the C/O ensures that government is aware of the land and there is protection for the owner of such land, “which makes it easier for the land owner to be able to collect money from the bank.”
Adeniyi explained that the centrality of land in micro-economic policy development is little recognised in the country, adding that land is the foundation which environmental planning and development are based.
He called on the present administration to amend the Constitution and Land Use Act (LUA) to create freehold/leasehold interests in land along with establishing a system of matching grants to create a nationwide electronic land title register on a state by state basis.

Adeniyi added: “More than ever before, harsh political, economic and social conditions and low level of technology have considerably diminished people’s resilience and made them vulnerable to impacts of global environmental change. Poor land governance and its concomitant effects including poor land management, tenure insecurity, land degradation, and resource conflicts, among others, further drive the flywheel of poverty in our country. Unfortunately, those who benefit from the weak land governance, brought about by the LUA, are the same set of people political leaderships and professional leaderships, who are reluctant to support any change.”

In his remarks, the Executive Chairman of ISGPP, noted that the seminar was aimed at igniting a national discourse on the obvious truth that the development ideas being implemented in the policy space in Nigeria is not just not working, “therefore as we approach 2019 ISGPP as a Think Tank we are worried and concerned.”

He stated that there is need for development experts to begin a level of conversation now in order to deliver an alternative model of development for the country.
According to him, “There is one fundamental truism that has now been fortunately forced into the development discourse across the globe. This truism is that development is all about the people. In other words, any development efforts that are not conducive to the eventual empowerment of those they are meant for are, by that fact, futile.

“The challenge for development experts in Nigeria therefore, are to come up with the appropriate model for instigating development that will not only be about the people, but will also be accelerated in Nigeria’s own unique development terms. The answer lies in the dynamics of local governance that speaks directly and immediately to the grassroots where Nigerians are.
“This is not a new insight, even though it is just now forcing its way back into development thinking. That the conversation on the Optimum Community (OPTICOM) alternative development model and Land Reform is being flagged from Ibadan is also significant,” he noted.