At the end of the seventh edition of the Niger Delta Development Forum, Edo and Abia States emerged winners for producing the long-term development planning reports Ugo Aliogo
The commitment to build sustainable future for the Niger Delta, is one that requires an accelerated development strategic plans in the long term. This commitment requires the concerted efforts of state actors, private sector players and Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) stakeholders to drive a development focus blue print. Government cannot solely drive the development efforts of the region. There is need for creating good policy direction through multi-stakeholder approach.
At the seventh edition of the Niger Delta Development Forum, organised annually by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) recently with the theme: ‘Delivering Results: Executing a State-Led Plan,’ a platform was created for stakeholders to brainstorm, engage in peer-to-peer learning, collaborate and share ideas geared towards improving governance and advocacy in the region.
The event which was organised with support from the European Union (EU), Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), Department for International Development (DFID), and Faculty for Oil Sector Transformation (FOSTER), to Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), was aimed at building on the successful engagement of the previous year.
The 2017 edition was aimed at an objective to strengthening skeletal road maps developed by the various States and helping to tailor strategic approaches to local realities.
The event featured plenary sessions focused on harmonising strategies for impact, sustaining a strategic vision between governments, implementing state-led development in the region, and where the private-sector may be involved especially in state-led development planning.
In his welcome address, the PIND’s Executive Director, Dr. Dara Akala, lauded the foundation’s development partners, and friends from the media and civil society for their support, noting that the first edition of the forum took place at exactly the same venue back in 2012.
He also stated that the 2018 edition of the forum was focusing on development planning as way of consolidating on the resolutions reached in the previous year.
“The purpose really is for us to harmonise and discuss key development issues, and what we are always trying to achieve is to influence government policies of the region, to foster partnerships through this forum, and to attract investment into the region.
“We do know that there is a school of thought that believes that we don’t need plans, that it is not plan that is our problem, it is execution. But we simply defer from that. We need execution no doubt; but we also need very clear, comprehensive and coherent plans that will underpin development efforts at the subnational level in Nigeria and, in particular, in the Niger Delta region,” he noted.
He added that there are various agendas in States, noting that what is often missed is long-term strategic plan that would transcend the life of any administration, “that is where we want to get the States to be.”
One of the unprecedented achievements of the forum, in comparison with all six previous editions, was the long-term development planning pitching competition which had seven States of the region engage in a battle of ideas. The participants included Edo, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Imo, Abia and Akwa Ibom states.
Top government officials from the states were invited to pitch their states’ long-term roadmaps for human and economic development, alongside development experts and key stakeholders. They provided well-thought-out conclusions on how best to approach the issue of sub-national development planning.
In order for development to be based on fresh ideas and achieved at a swift pace, it was agreed that there is need to actively involve young minds in development planning processes steered by government.
After various deliberations on the presentations by the state representatives about their visions, cross-sector opportunities and challenges, it was observed that the plans generally did not align with budgetary realities and fiscal policies. It was also noted that political support at every strata of governance was critical to both the formulation and implementation of development projects.
The forum recommended through a communiqué issued at the end of the forum that states in the region should maximise available options for revenue mobilisation to achieve sustainability and should direct attention to creating, mining and collecting relevant data.
The communiqué was signed by Akala, Team Leader of Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), Tunde Oderinde, and Team Leader the EU Niger Delta Support Programme (NDSP) Kingsley Fossu.
The stakeholders at the forum observed that there is need to include young people in the process of development planning to pool fresh ideas and radical thoughts that will drive economic development.
They explained that the participation of citizens generally is equally crucial, in order to drive the allocation of resources and implementation energy to where they are most needed.
According to document, for plans and budgets to be effectively implemented in the Niger Delta, “political buy-in is extremely critical”, borrowing a leaf from the current practice in Lagos and other States.
The stakeholders also observed the need for clarity on projected outcomes and the constant monitoring and evaluation of plans.
According to the stakeholders: “Niger Delta States need to commence meaningful discussions about inter-state integration within the region; for instance, regarding how to ensure transportation linkages through the water ways, rail connectivity and exploration of deep sea potentials.
“State-led development plans should be linked to global goals like the sustainable development goals, regional development efforts, and others which would focus particularly on education and the environment.
“More highly-effective organisations like PIND with strong convening power need to pool regional players into the discourse, reviews for the design, development, execution and monitoring for a collective Niger Delta regional competitiveness.”
The expert participants, panellists and government representatives also encouraged States to improve on honouring agreements in order to be more attractive to investors, both local and international, and to promote good governance.
Speaking on the performances of the various states, one of the judges, Mrs. Aniagolu-Okoye, lauded the participants and noted that all the presentations were impressive and well-researched. She advised the various governments to prioritise their policies wisely, while also paying attention to how the civil service and civil society may help in executing noted plans.
“It’s important that the states pay attention to their comparative advantage. I know that, if you are a state government, there are so many competing interests. Ask yourself what are the three things that if you do, you will be able to catalyse development; for instance, electricity.
“A lot of the plans we heard were really quite external; they were not looking internally. We should ask: How do restructure the civil service to be able to deliver on the plans because part of the reasons our plans have not worked so far is because the structure to deliver them are very weak,” she noted.
At the end of the competition, Edo and Abia States were declared winners, while Ondo and Akwa Ibom were runners-up.
On his part, the PIND Executive Director observed that all states are winners, noting that through their attendance and active participation, they learnt massively.
He added that new linkages across the States have also been brokered such that the officials are beginning to interact and see what they can achieve together.
“This whole process is not a winners-take-all game. It is true that we shall support those two states, Edo and Abia State, with partners at the same level we supported Cross River State government; but we will still find ways through which we can provide some assistance or the other to these other states also, depending on their level of interest and willingness to take things forward,” he noted.
The responsibility has been given to the state governments and the next step behoves on them. They may decide to do little or nothing, allowing the golden opportunity to pass untapped.
However, it is hoped that this may turn out to be the opening chapter to a new Niger Delta, where nothing is arbitrary and every action is both pragmatic and strategic. A region that plans decades ahead and looks to the future of astonishing results. A region where there are abundant resources available for all classes of people and where ‘lack’ is a reality locked in the past.