As should be expected, the president’s new year message has received critical reviews in some quarters as well as applause in some others.
One particular criticism of the letter to the nation deserves a whole commentary on its own. This is because the proposition is a reminder of an element often missed when development is discussed in this country.
Some commentators wonder why President Muhammadu Buhari should be talking of “Nigeria’s Decade” when his tenure would end in 2023. Buhari should only be concerned about the projects his administration could competently execute in the next three years, so goes the argument.
That in itself is a problematic view of development.
Quite to the contrary, one deficit in the president’s statement is that it does not take enough coherent long-term view of development. The president’s statement is not adequately strategic. It is not enough to list projects which, undeniably, are very crucial. It is also important to plan development. The president should be concerned about the shape things to come in the future and not just now.
So, the statement could have been more inspiring if the president had announced that those important infrastructural projects would be implemented in the context of a development plan.
In other words, Nigeria should go back to the idea of development plans as was the case in the first two decades or so of independence. That is going back to the future, if you like.
Planning is the word.
This is the least that is expected from those who have the responsibility for governance given the debacle of underdevelopment the nation is facing at present.
The presidency is probably right in saying that Buhari is not focused on a succession plan, at least for now. But Buhari should take note of the other important suggestion that he should develop a holistic vision of the type of society he wishes Nigeria to be in a decade from now.
Buhari should have a big picture of things if he is to leave a worthwhile legacy. The elements of this vision include conscious nation-building and fidelity to the rule of law.
Among the surviving members of the generation of public officers who participated in drawing up past development plans is Chief Phillip Asiodu. Nigeria is lucky to have his generation around. For instance, the other day the development passion in him was given a notable expression. As the president of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Asiodu made a call to which those in the business of thinking for the administration ought to listen carefully. He projected into the future to locate the enormous damage uncontrolled plastic pollution could do to development. He, therefore, urged the government to fight the “menace of plastic pollution,” which he identified as an “enemy” of the nation’s “development agenda.” That is talking development in theory and practice.
Now, you cannot be talking seriously about sustainable development without placing environmental issues at the centre of policy and strategy.
That’s just an example of thinking about development in terms of long-term plans.
Indeed, some of the roads, bridges, water schemes, power projects, schools, hospitals etc. that were built during the immediate post-independence Nigeria were embodied in these plans. Many of these projects later collapsed due to the lack of vision by some of the subsequent administrations.
Asiodu and other members of his generation of development planners are never tired of reminding the nation of the indispensability of development plans for the nation to make progress. They should know what they are talking about when it comes to planning for Nigeria.
The point being made by this generation of planners should be taken more seriously by the administration and its experts.
The president has appropriately projected that the 2020s would be Nigeria’s Decade. Nothing less should be desired if the nation is to take a leap in developmental terms.
But it should be remembered that there was once Vision 2010 which was followed by Vision 2020. Strategists of the Buhari administration should interrogate the nation’s recent economic history to determine why these visions of the previous decades were not realised.
Nigeria abandoned the culture of well-articulated development plans with clearly defined goals and national character. Future economic historians may locate this abandonment of development plans as an economically destructive step taken by successive administrations in Nigeria.
For almost four decades the development story has been those of structural adjustment programmes and multiple visions which were never realised. Strategically speaking, things are even worse in these days of short and medium – term recovery and growth plans being peddled for approval before the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Ironically, the development plans were criticised especially by the intellectuals of the left in those days because of its capitalist ideological content. The decline now is such that there is hardly any articulated long-term plan worth engaging by intellectuals of the left, right or centre.
A nation should deliberately craft its idea of development. The intellectual foundations of development should be found in development plans and strategies. Here we are talking of an idea that would be so basic that different tiers of government and even political parties would embrace the plan regardless of ideological divergence, if any.
Besides, coherence must be strictly brought to bear in policy formulation, articulation and implementation.
Talking about coherence, the National Security Strategy launched on December 12, last year is focused on human security with the components of jobs, good, shelter and peace. Now, this would be more meaningful in the light of a development plan. There is certainly a security element in development.
In fact, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution provide an adequate substratum for a people-centred development plan to feed on in the present circumstance.
If Nigeria can realise the goals enshrined in its constitution, it would be one of the most developed, just and equitable nations in the world.
But then development has to be scientifically planned.
For instance, the president doesn’t say much when he talks of pursuing “reforms” in education and health sectors.
That is why there should be a development plan that projects that by 2030 the national shame of having the largest number of children out school would be history. That would mean planning already for the 26, 000 babies born on January 1 who would be preparing to be in secondary school on January 1, 2030.
Similar metrics could be applied in the health sector in terms of the percentage by which infant and maternal mortalities are reduced. Other provisions in a development plan could include the volume of freshwater to be consumed as the population grows and the investments in public goods needed to banish open defaecation.
These are the real goals of development and not just the “diversification of the economy,” which if efficiently done could only be a means to achieve the goals.
A sustainable war could only be waged against poverty only when development is planned. Ad-hoc schemes and random execution of projects can hardly tackle poverty fundamentally. The outcomes of these short term recovery efforts have been largely burgeoning inequality after the contracts.
All told, the creative energies of the people would only be mobilised when the leadership is clearly seen to be championing the cause of social justice, equity, national integration, fairness, humaness and moral regeneration.
This is squarely the urgent task before Buhari as he contemplates his legacy.