Manifestoes for Development



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As open campaigns for the 2023 elections  begin  today, it is important that political parties and  their candidates have prominently  on their agendas genuine development of the people.

In the first quarter of next year, a new president and 30 new governors will be elected. In addition, scores of lawmakers  will also be voted  into  the national and state legislative chambers.  Depending on their concepts of development, these new chief executive officers of state   and lawmakers  can in four years do a lot to advance the cause of development using the instrumentality of people-centred  policies.

Ultimately, the governance  outputs would be determined by  their understanding and commitment to development in real terms.

In other words, at least there should be an elite consensus on the very idea of development. It is the lack of  this socio-economic and political  consensus among members of  the elite (in and out of power) that has deepened  the crisis of governance and underdevelopment at all levels. The most manifest symptoms of this crisis include poverty, inequality, insecurity, disease and ignorance.

Celebrated political economist Claude Ake  observed: “The assumption so readily made that there has been a failure of development [in Africa] is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place.” This observation made by Professor  Ake  in his seminal work, Democracy and Development in Africa, is still  worth pondering by the experts working on the manifestoes of  the political parties and their candidates participating  in all  the categories of  elections.

Parties and candidates could, of course, prefer  different strategies  of development. That may be  a function of divergent ideological approaches. But there must be a clarity of purpose on what exactly constitutes development.

Therefore,  during the campaigns there should be  decent debates about development options and direction of the country.  It should be possible  to locate amidst the voices  in the campaigns the  difference in development policies. This should be clear from the arguments of the various partisans of political parties.

Making the consensus on development  the focus could distinguish the 2023 elections from the  previous ones. In order to  impress the electorate, politicians are wont to promise the execution of a number of  projects and the enactment  of legislations  to back up their policies. Cheery statistics will be projected in making quantitative projections for the future.  .

Beyond technical arguments, however, projects and laws in the book do not automatically translate to an improvement in the quality of the lives of the poor majority.

This point is relevant because in the next five months a lot of projects and laws would be promised by politicians at all levels. It would be necessary to ask the politicians  how they would put into effect  the existing laws and complete the projects begun by previous administrations.

Take a sample!  The Power Sector Reform Act came into existence in 2005. It was hailed as a developmental leap given the centrality of electricity to social life and economic activities. The optimism heightened eight years later when the reform was put into effect by the privatisation exercise that took place in the sector. Now the output from that important sector remains largely unsatisfactory. If you asked 10 economic experts why the power situation remained dark, you would likely get 10 different lectures  laden with technical jargons and enormous statistics. Hardly would you get an answer to the simple question: why is that after 17 years of power sector reform domestic consumers cannot have their homes lit while industrial consumers still power their factories and offices with diesel in  generating sets? Yet, as the Yoruba would say, ti a bi f’ogun odun pinle were, odun melo gan la fe fi siwin na (if it takes 20 years to rehearse madness, how many years will it take to practise the real act)?

A similar story could be told in the healthcare sector. The National Health Insurance Scheme was introduced in 2005. With the aim of democratising access to healthcare delivery, the National Health Act of 2014 as well as its offshoot, the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) are also in place.  Empirically, no one can deny  the efforts at reform in the health sector in the last 20 years. However, the sad truth is that millions of poor Nigerians are yet to be beneficiaries of a universal healthcare coverage. So disease remains a poignant aspect of underdevelopment. Members of the elite have no confidence in the poorly equipped public hospitals with a demoralised staff. The poor majority cannot afford the huge expenses of private hospitals at home and abroad, an option which we members of the elite could consider. Even with the building of the physical facilities and the significant embrace of technology in the health sector, the development indices in the sector cannot be positive until the condition of the workforce running the system is tremendously improved upon. At the heart of the needed investment in the sector should be a conscious improvement in the conditions of service of the labour force in the ssystem. The series of strikes in the sector  do not evoke an sense  of public emergency anymore because the members of the elite who have a voice are not affected by the disruptions. The quality of healthcare delivery is important in defining the concept of development. This is because basic healthcare is one of the areas in which policies could make direct impacts on millions of people.

Another law that should be fully implemented for the purpose of genuine development is the Universal Basic Education Act was enacted in 2004. The idea  of this legislation of socio-economic justice is for  the federal government  to support state and local governments in providing qualitative education for all. It is the duty of the parent or whoever has the custody to ensure that the child acquires basic education. Basic education in this context is defined as the education up to the Junior Secondary School (JSS). In fact, by virtue of this law, the transition from primary school to the JSS ought to be automatic as emphasis is to be put on continuous assessment. Now, many years after that noble legislation became part of the nation’s laws more than 20 million children in the streets are left behind in the race for basic education. Nigeria is reportedly the home of the largest number  children out of school in the world.  The state and local governments should  bear responsibility for this monumental failure of governance. The shameful situation in the education sector is now compounded by the disruptions caused by insecurity in the many  parts of Nigeria. The basic education of a whole generation is put in jeopardy.

One of the factors responsible for   the lack of qualitative education  in public schools education is, of course, the poor conditions of service of teachers and other members of the labour force at all levels in the sector. Strikes in the education sector are hardly worth headline news anymore. The government and the public seem to have lost a sense of outrage at the fact that classrooms are shut for months. Yet the hope for the millions that are out of school lies in getting them enrolled in public schools where quality education should be made available. These millions are from poor homes. The option of the few private schools providing quality education is not open to this class of Nigerians. A narrow concept of development which focuses on huge contracts awarded in the sector may not capture these deficits.

In the same tone, despite the commissioning of water projects (ranging from boreholes to waterworks) potable water still remains a luxury for millions of the poor majority of Nigerians. Open defaecation is still a big issue of development in Nigeria in 2022. Poor sanitation in some parts of the country has reached a crisis point. Cholera and other water-borne diseases still plague many communities.

Despite the hundreds of billions of naira in social investments, Nigeria is not yet on the path of social protection. Tens of millions are still waiting to be lifted out of poverty.

Now, from China in the east to Canada in the west, expanding  the frontier  of development  is the soul  of governance in different contexts,  whether the government is elected in liberal democratic tradition or selected by other means. The idea of governance in this context should  beyond random awards of contracts for projects without an integrated concept of development . After all, the job of a governor should be more more than that of a project manager. As the recent of experience Nigeria has shown, some items of infrastructure could be built by the private sector. But every serious government regardless of the system operated should take  responsibility for designing the concept of the development in the interest of the majority of the people.

It is not an accident that on the major issues of development facing humanity –  poverty, climate change, inequality, pandemics, insecurity etc. people turn to their governments for solutions.

The foregoing is  the justification for isuggesting that political parties and candidates  should make the key issues of development a priority.

To be sure, there is no illusion whatsoever here about the  concept of development. The idea of development  is primarily determined by  class interests. For instance,  the needs of the people are basic; but some members of the the elite are sometimes enamoured of the outlandish and fanciful projects. Some of these  grandiose projects  are more often than not abandoned

Here lies the contradiction. This contradiction has to be resolved in the interest of the poor majority.

It has been  proved bitterly by the magnitude  of insecurity in  the country that the failure to reach a consensus about a people-centred concept of development ultimately makes everybody endangered. You cannot be talking of development with increasing inequality. Without a conscious effort at social inclusion, genuine development would remain a mirage.

All told, it is instructive that all political parties could derive inspiration for drawing up manifestoes of development from the Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution. The “Fundamental Objectives and the Directive Principles  of State Policy”  stipulated in the chapter include what a government should do for the benefits of the people  in  the areas of security, health, education, social housing,  food security, job creation, mass transit, water supply, sanitation etc. Liberal and conservative lawyers would be quick to remind us that those provision are not  “justiciable.” Most politicians hardly make reference to that chapter of the constitution. Yet those who seek power and their experts should work out the costs of these essential  policies  for the purpose of development and how to fund their implementation. That should be a central  part of every manifesto.

Nigeria can  be on the path of development if political parties and  their candidates for executive and legislative offices elect to  fulfil those social, economic and political objectives in the Chapter II of the constitution.

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