REGIONAL PROSPERITY IN THE NIGER DELTA

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Planning will help deliver a booming economy in the Niger Delta, writes Chuks Ofulue

According to World Bank Country report 2014, Nigeria was among the fastest growing economies in the world from 2010 till the early part of 2013 when the growth in its Gross Domestic Products (GDP) averaged seven per cent. In 2014, the country’s GDP was rebased from USD 270 billion to USD 510 billion, with a 90% increase.

This increase was attributed to the inclusion of telecommunications, movies, and retail sectors not previously captured, making Nigeria the biggest economy in Africa. While the economy grew rapidly at that time, the Niger Delta regional economy was transforming very slowly because of contraction in economic activities.

But despite being the largest economy in Africa last year with a GDP of USD 375.8 billion, Nigeria was declared by the United Nations Human Development Index (2018) as the country with the highest rate of extreme poverty as about 180 million people struggled to survive. The World Bank Country Report for Nigeria (2016) states that macroeconomic data on growth, poverty and living standard in the past couple of years have been appalling.

On the one hand, states in the Niger Delta region appear to be experiencing a moderate growth averaging 2.1% annually compared to 2.3% for the rest of the country, according to 2018 data from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Yet, the region’s per capita poverty rate still remains high at 65 per cent.

Statistics revealed a puzzling contrast between rapid growth and minimal welfare improvement. The growth concentrated particularly in pro-poor sectors of trade and agriculture, which ordinarily would suggest substantial welfare benefits for many Niger Deltans.
Nevertheless, an improvement in the social welfare indicators was found to be much slower in the region at that time than would be expected. In reality, poverty reduction and job creation did not keep pace with the economy and population. This is substantially due to a lack of planning on the part of state governments within the Niger Delta region.

An economy-improved Niger Delta will be attained only when there is a clear vision for the future. This involves articulating a strong co-created plan and a monitoring mechanism by the region’s state governments. The essence of planning is to design a development framework that will provide a clear direction towards sustainable growth.

Rather than taking an ad-hoc approach to development, planning helps to identify key areas of focus to deliver and measure positive growth in all sectors, create employment opportunities and better standards of living. The approach at framing a development plan is based on the understanding that some factors will drive economic growth and aid the processes of the distribution of benefits more widely. It should also galvanize a broad-based youth integration strategy aimed at promoting a sense of ownership and inclusive development.

In this way, planning will help to deliver a booming Niger Delta economy and increase the people’s quality of life. Efficient and effective planning will lead to an increase in job opportunities, support social and cultural activities, enhance education and health services valued by communities.

Niger Delta State governments can take clues from Lagos and Cross River States. The Lagos State Development Plan (LSDP) is a 13-year plan described as a policy document that harmonizes all existing high-level policy documents and captures past strategic development plans and statements into a whole document.

In May 2019, the Cross River State government launched a 30-year Growth and Development Strategy (GDS) as a response to the development challenges in the state. Over the 30-year life span period of GDS, the plan will be broken into various medium and short-term plans with implementation lasting the duration of each administration, followed by evaluation at the end of each administration. This shows a plan and a corresponding framework structure in place.

The Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) through its annual development forum ‒ the Niger Delta Development Forum (NDDF) ‒ envisions a Niger Delta where people can live with a sustainable livelihood ‒ provide jobs, generate income, and create economic opportunities unhindered by constraints from within and outside the market system.

The forum is a catalytic information sharing and collaboration opportunities for government, private sector and civil society organizations pursuing approaches for equitable and inclusive economic growth in the Niger Delta. The forum provides a platform to connect with other partners to collectively pursue improved development policies and practices in the Niger Delta.

As a follow-up to the recommendations from the 2016 edition in Owerri, Imo State, NDDF 2017 brought together in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, a strong coalition of multi-sector stakeholders to discuss and influence the development, competitiveness and inclusive growth agenda for the region — primarily by assisting state governments and regional bodies to define a state-led framework and tool for planning and development towards inclusive and resilient regional growth. The 2018 forum further enhanced the outcomes of the 2017 NDDF advanced with the theme: Delivering results, imploring the Niger Delta states to execute a state-led plan.

Policies for inclusive growth are important components of any government strategy for sustainable development and a framework for achieving this is a well-functioning development plan. There is a need for a clear, definitive articulation of the state’s formal development agenda for a 25 to 30 years plan that will zero down to the avowed mission of the states. This will involve an in-depth analytical description of the state’s economy, including projections, targets, and costs.

The requirements for proper policy articulation will be to carry out a socio-economic survey, baseline economic survey and Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threat (SWOT) analysis of the state as a basis for formulation.

With the present reality, the narrative that Nigeria will be a better place seems to be far-fetched. The idea then should be to encourage a strong private sector that will deliver the development and growth that the Niger Delta economy needs. The government should provide support through the creation of an enabling environment arising from policies, laws, and regulations.

Civil society, the development community, the private sector, and other stakeholders usually act as catalysts in state’s development affairs and it is important for the government to include these stakeholders when discussing underlying barriers to economic growth. There should be input from major stakeholders in each state to meet their unique needs and competitive advantages as well as the federal government’s requirements. This will enable governments and other stakeholders to visualize plans tailored to the specific needs of each state, as well as monitor development impact through set indicators.

There should be opportunities to design incentive structures and interventions that can enhance markets, infrastructure, labour productivity, and resource competitiveness as it relates to long-term planning and culminating in an overall plan that has goals and targets over a period of time.

We need a benchmark where Nigeria and the Niger Delta region set goals determined by states needs and figure out how far they have to go. While some of the challenges are specific (e.g. end poverty), others are a little vague e.g. (promote peaceful and tolerant societies).

Hence, the need for tools to measure all the impact state-set goals is trying to achieve and sum it up into a single number that can be used as a benchmark and track progress from time to time.

Ofulue is the Analysis and Advocacy Manager at Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta