Another Chance for Development Plan

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THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

THE HORIOZ BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE

It should be noteworthy to development enthusiasts that the federal government is reportedly paying some attention to planning for economic development.
At least, the optimists ought to show more than passing interests when there is the talk of Nigeria Agenda 2050 in Abuja amidst the socio-economic havoc being wreaked by coronavirus in Nigeria as in other countries.
Doubtless, it takes almost an incurable optimist about the future to take official proclamations about economic development planning seriously anymore.

This is because of the levity with which long-time planning has been treated by successive governments in the last four decades.
The orthodox economic philosophy has been decidedly anti-planning. This is despite the plethora of slogans and acronyms that have been peddled in the last few decades. These include SAP, Vision 2010, , NEEDS, Seven-Point Agenda, Transformation Agenda and Vision 20:2020.

The net result of the implementation or non-implementation of these economic packages has been the decline of Nigeria in virtually all indices of development.
In any case, there is hardly any autopsy done to determine why the random dreams contained in these economic agendas died with the administrations that put them in place.

In the Nigerian culture of economic management, every administration comes up with its own economic phrases to stabilise the economy and possibly achieve growth. The trend has been more of fire-fighting than making strategic plans.

There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is taking a fundamentally different path to development both in style and substance. This administration is also imbued with the same neo-liberal impulse dominating policies with the bitter consequences of worsening poverty and widening equality.

Nothing so far indicates that the government craves for a developmental leap.
Without giving a report of the diagnosis of the failure of Nigeria Vision 20:2020 and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP 2017-2020), the administration is already working on the Nigeria Agenda 2050.
A report is expected to be submitted on this agenda in a year’s time.

The report is expected to be a synthesis of the expert work being done currently by the technical working groups on different sectors such as security, defence, agriculture, rural development, environment, water resources, sanitation, culture, tourism hospitality, social development, regional development, disaster management, creative industry etc.

Hence, the working groups are supposed to review existing policies and economic designs as they make projections.
Economic planning used to be an important aspect of governance in Nigeria. Some roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, water schemes etc. were built on the basis of planning with a sense of integrated development. When the story of Nigeria’s underdevelopment is fully told, the factor of the abandonment of planning would have a conspicuous place in it. The ad hoc economic experiments that followed the jettisoning of national plans have not achieved the stated objectives.

As a matter of fact, most of the economic experiments could not actually be called “national” because the inspiration was always from exogenous forces. They were based on the Washington Consensus which ignored the enormous social costs of the adjustment inflicted on the poor people.

Yet, the larger context of economic management is very important in developing a new plan.
It is, therefore, suggested that those working on Nigeria Agenda 2050 should not perceive their very important task as a mere technical exercise.

They should consider a political economy approach.
A certain degree of political discipline is required to give effect to any economic package no matter how technically sound it might seem to the designers. Hence, there is the need to scientifically study Nigeria’s economic history beyond feeding the public with technical jargons.

Take a sample of the recent economic history. In the mid 1990s some of the Nigeria’s best and brightest from multi-disciplinary backgrounds assembled in Abuja for months to prepare the Vision 2010. As the work progressed, the experts exude enormous optimism. Cheery news came out of the group work. When the report was ready, there was eureka among the believers of the vision, who must have thought that a formula had at last been found for Nigeria’s development.

The patriotic promoters of Vision 2010 didn’t seem to reckon with the reality of the political economy at the time: General Sanni Abacha was in power with his own agenda of what to with Nigeria. The experts were busy with their econometrics, forgetting Abacha’s calculus for power for his own purpose. The dream embodied in Vision 2010 died, but the destructive impact of Abacha on the political economy is still being felt 22 years after his death.

So, both the economic and political environments ought to have been considered in a realistic visioning process. The socio-political environment of the Abacha years was not a promising one for such a vision as it was obvious that the necessary elite consensus could not be easily garnered in liberal terms. As some elements of the elite were visioning in Abuja, some others were in incarceration, pushed into exile or forced to remain invisible within the system.

Hence, only the element of political economy could explain the cold attitude of the succeeding administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo to Vision 2010. The tenure of General Abdulsalami Abubakar was so short that visioning or making any strategic plan would be a luxury. He was actually in office for less than a year. It would, of course, amount to a political abomination for any policy adviser to recommend to Obasanjo a Vision 2010 developed under Abacha’s watch.

It is also the lack of the political economy approach that makes technical experts design economic policies which ministers in the governments ignore while political parties do not articulate the programmes in the policy. Governments at all tiers should find a basis to engage with a national development plan. There must, at least, be a political basis on which to build a consensus. It is not for nothing that Adam Smith wrote about “political economy” and not just technical economics devoid of a moral ecology.
In fact, as one economist puts it: “Policy proposes. Politics disposes.”

For instance, in a viable development plan there must be a consensus on the basic needs of the people as a priority.
In virtually all states the majority of residents lack potable water and open defaecation is still a serious issue of development. Yet, the state governments embark on what the late politician, Ojo Madueke, would call “monumentalism.” Governors embark on multi-billion naira projects as monuments to their tenures.

The basic needs of the people – physical security, universal healthcare, quality education, social housing, affordable transportation, food security etc. are neglected. Instead, the limited resources are devoted to awarding contracts which both the contractors and the clients know would be abandoned. Such projects begun by federal and state governments are visible on the socio-economic landscape as lessons on how not to govern.

Meanwhile, while embarking on these squandering of limited resources the governments claim they are on mission to “develop” the states and indeed the whole country. These projects are advertised on anniversary dates as evidence of spectacular transformation. The governments receive the applause. But the condition of the people continues to deteriorate. This is because the public itself is hardly bothered about the qualitative impact of the many projects celebrated in the last few decades on the people.
Some patriots have suggested that putting together a development plan must be informed by some economic thoughts. The ideas behind the projects should be clearly defined and publicly discussed.

There were definite thoughts behind the national economic plans in the past. The current economic managers may have one or two things to learn from this past, warts and all. They may also check what could be learnt from the way other nations – developed and developing – are plotting their ways out of the current crisis and planning to erect a strong foundation for their future.

In many respects, , the resultant economic crisis from the outbreak of coronavirus is compelling nations to seek economic thoughts on how to redesign their societies in adapting to the changes brought about by the pandemic. In other words, they are going beyond putting out the fire of coronavirus. The thoughts needed for economic management in Nigeria today are more than what business school economics can offer. The dynamics of the social space are not coterminous with those of the market. That is one lesson of the present crisis that should not be lost.

For example, some governments of different ideological temperaments in the West are not just preparing stimulus packages. They are also seeking serious economic ideas in building their thoughts on economic transformation post-COVID-19.
Hence, inspiration is now being sought from the history of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd American president who led his country through a greater part of the Great Depression. The development ideas he embraced successfully crystalised in the New Deal. Workable economic thoughts are being sought from the Roosevelt example because coronavirus has exposed the sordid parts of the present socio-economic system.

It is in this context that the current crisis provides a great opportunity to redesign Nigeria on the basis of socio-economic justice, equity and freedom from hunger, disease and ignorance.
The starting point should be putting together a truly national economic plan. Such a plan would be preceded by fundamental discussions in which every state, regardless of which party is control, would be involved. Inputs should even come from the local governments.
The various factions of the Nigerian elite in power should agree on what Edwin Madunagu would call an “irreducible minimum” in any consideration of development. The forum of the National Economic Council should be very instrumental in making the process highly inclusive.

For instance, one lesson of the crisis is that healthcare, education and social security are basic elements of development. So, in planning for a productive society aiming at sustainable development these and other sectors should form the priority in development planning. For whichever party that may be in power at the centre or any state in the next few years, universal healthcare is a developmental goal that should be honestly and vigorously pursued. That would mean greater investments in the sector.
The virus has also exposed the degree of inequality in the system. The days of the lockdown showed the vulnerability of the poorest segment of the society. As some would say, the terrible choice was that of “hunger virus” or coronavirus. Social security should, therefore, be an element of a humane development plan.

It is also an opportunity for education to be better framed for the purpose of development. With a young population, the development experts should consider the redesigning of the collapsed public education as an important aspect of planning for the future.
All told, investing in human development is actually planning for a truly productive economy and society.