The federal government has initiated the launch of focused laboratories to design implementation strategies for the country’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, in what is seen as a bold attempt to actualise the administration’s economic plan. Chineme Okafor reports
When on Tuesday Vice President Yemi Osinbajo inaugurated the working groups for the focused laboratories, which the federal government hopes to use in realising its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, he had absolutely no doubt about the weakness that has often made Nigeria’s development efforts fatally vulnerable.
“I doubt whether anyone will disagree that Nigerian governments, through the years, have generally laid out reasonably good economic policies and plans,” Osinbajo said in Abuja while inaugurating the contact groups for the laboratories, which will be coordinated by the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning. “Our Achilles heel has always been implementation. Just getting the policies and projects done timeously and according to the plan. So, the unique point of difference between our four-year Economic Recovery and Growth Plan is that it comes with an implementation strategy and devise, which has been described as focus laboratories or labs for short.”
The initiative is planned to include relevant stakeholders in the public and private sectors, who would sit together for many weeks, intensively working and brainstorming on practical steps to get the ERGP active and working for the good of Nigeria. The laboratories would help identify ways the ERGP can sustain the country’s economic growth and job creation drive.
Osinbajo, “This is a policy or project implementation devise; labs operate by bringing together all private and public sector officials necessary to achieve the specific policy or project objectives, in this case, the ERGP, in order to achieve the objective of over seven per cent growth plus exponential job creation by 2020.”
The government said it had chosen to focus the efforts of the laboratories on, “The areas of agriculture and transport being in one group, manufacturing and processing in another, power and gas in another group.”
The vice president explained that the laboratories were meant to bring together private sector and public sector participants, potential investors, to think through the implementation of these specific areas of focus.
“They will be telling us what the problems might be, why it will not work unless we do x.y.z. And working together that way, focusing on our objectives, realising that we cannot work without the private sector, and we have to work together. We believe that we will be able to achieve the very specific objectives that have been set out for us,” he stated.
According to the national planning ministry, the laboratories will run for about three months in three separate phases of pre-laboratory, laboratory, and post-laboratory. They will also involve about 100 persons drawn from both the public and private sectors.
The aim, it explained, would be to get private sector involvement in achieving the objectives of the ERGP by mobilising private sector financing and resources. The key objectives of the laboratories would include identifying relevant key stakeholders from the public and private sectors that are crucial in the delivery and implementation of the various initiatives of the ERGP so as to create ownership; reviewing and re-evaluating the ERGP and sectoral plans against set targets and progress; and identifying gaps in the current eco-system and the key success factors.
The laboratories will also be made to deliver detailed three-feet implementation programme line by line and identify entry point projects; they will identify key performance indicators, activities, budgets, timelines, milestones and responsible action parties; break down silos and encourage key players in governments ministries, departments and agencies to work together in an intensive co-creation manner; in addition to mobilising private sector investment to finance specific capital projects.
“This is why I am particularly delighted that we are today inaugurating the core working groups for our ERGP Focus Labs, ahead of the launch of the Labs themselves in March. This is the first stage in the process of launching the labs themselves,” Osinbajo stated. “The ultimate objective of these focus labs is to stimulate new investments, ensure that they succeed and create jobs on the scale needed by the Nigerian economy, to achieve the objectives that we have set for it. I am particularly excited that we are set for the implementation of these labs today.”
To demonstrate its commitment to the expected works of the laboratories, the government also announced that key drivers of the focus laboratories would include nine ministers in charge of agriculture; transport; mines and steel; industry, trade, and investment; power, works, and housing; petroleum resources; finance; justice; and budget and national planning. They will be joined by senior public officials who would provide the sector expertise required to successfully run the three labs, as well as key private sector operators.
Osinbajo explained that the government in recognising the significant role the private sector could play in getting the ERGP to become a reality, had requested the sector’s deep involvement in the laboratories.
He stated regarding the private sector involvement, “They are significant in the achievement of our economic objectives as a government, and in the success of these labs. Our administration fully recognises that the private sector ought to be the driver of the economy, mobilising and deploying the bulk of the capital required to deliver growth and prosperity, and the role of the government should essentially be to create an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.
I am pleased to note that these labs have been designed to function on that principle.
“We are really committed to this principle and I want those participating in these labs to see it as central, we want to listen to what the private sector and investors are saying, we want to see in what ways we can bend over backwards to accommodate what they are saying so that we can achieve our objectives. This is a partnership not just in a philosophical sense but in a practical sense.”
Beyond Spoken Words
Osinbajo acknowledged in his remarks that the real trouble with most economic development plans or policies Nigeria has had was not that they lacked content or were not implementable, but that they were badly implemented or hardly implemented at all. To this end, economic experts, who shared their thoughts on the ERGP laboratories with THISDAY, said the initiative was a good start.
They, however, said the political will of the government to take tough decisions on recommendations or suggestions that would come from the laboratories was in doubt.
Opting not to be quoted in the paper, the experts felt the government had not shown enough commitment to taking real economic decisions. So they said it would be difficult to completely believe the government would take the recommendations of the laboratories seriously.
An economic analyst, who did not want to be quoted, said, “The focus labs are a welcome tool that will help set out detailed implementation plans and targets for the ERGP. However, the success of the ERGP will depend on the willingness of the Buhari administration to take some tough decisions that will be identified in the labs.
“Some of the tough decisions may include increasing retail power tariffs and releasing control and ownership over some federal roads for PPP investment. It is not yet clear that there is enough appetite from Aso Rock to take those tough decisions.”