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A Case for an Integrated National Development Plan

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Today, September 23, 2019, marks a very important day in my life – my first official voice out on a critical issue that constantly keeps Nigeria’s development restrained within the same cycle of mediocre goals and achievements. I use the term mediocre because I feel burdened to speak ill of my home country, even when the ‘ill’ is the truth. More so, even when Truth is adjudged and screened not on the foundations of good will, but on the tenets (if there is such) of politics, religion and tribalistic differences. While the rest of the world have clamored to mold their Nations after Nigeria (yes, Nigeria was born diverse and inclusive, something other nations are trying to achieve today!), we have remained dogged in our exclusive decision-making, with the elite magnifying these differences to exploit the lesser elite (as an honorable man would say), or the poor (as the elites prefer to say). We are constantly reminded of these differences every election cycle, and told we are one every other year in-between.

More disheartening is the fact that key decisions that should be strategic and visionary are often made to suit the stalwarts of these divisive tactics. So today, I am poised to teach as many as love to learn how the oil and gas industry have succeeded in powering the world around us. These techniques were not invented centuries ago, but within the last three decades. Our “fore-engineers” realized, after much hassle and fails, that when you want decisions and key projects to outlast you, you make your opponents and the enforcers part of the decision-making. No other industry, to the best of my opinion, has thrived amid the kind of uncertainty that surrounds the oil and gas industry. From geopolitical tensions, through oil price instabilities, this industry has managed storms, maneuvered through hurricanes and out-lived even the hurricanes that dictated. Most important to this discussion is the ability of the industry to quickly and efficiently re-adjust to price changes, some powered by technology, others by operational de-bottlenecks. One thing that has remained common amongst the successes is effective decision-making. But how do they do it? We’ll discuss it from the Nigerian perspective.

The first question we raise is, how would you expect a PDP project, or decision, to be upheld by an APC government when they were never a part of that decision? Most recently, with lots of oil discovered within their territorial waters, the little country of Guyana has spun into political instability. However, amidst all that rubble, is the finest decision I have seen a government take recently by setting up a committee comprised of nominees from the major parties to review key Government plans and policies. If ever the current government is unseated, the winning party will not go against those decisions because they were a part of it! It’s the finest kind of statesmanship I have seen a while, one I hope someone in Aso rock would look to emulate. However, if we never learnt from the Dutch disease, I suspect the exemplary Guyanese statesmanship would go unnoticed in Aso rock. This inclusiveness defines the most important part of an Integrated national development plan – all involved parties, and stakeholders, should have a seat at the table! You would only do this if you realized that a decision or project was too beneficial to be endangered over your political ego. While we are today lamenting the issues arising from a certain cabal signing a Billion dollar contract, let us hope we do not see a similar fallout whenever the APC government loses power, from the Billions of Dollars of oil contracts signed by former MD of NNPC, without involving the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachukiwu. I expect a similar fallout, if they fail to conceal it like they seek to master.

Secondly, have you ever noticed that infrastructure development in Nigeria is often lopsided? An economy strives on an integrated framework. Perhaps the most painful but glaring example of this are the states that surround Lagos State. Lagos State is arguably the best state in Nigeria, especially when we consider every aspect of a good state – infrastructure, opportunities, security and otherwise. This is what makes it disheartening to see that no Governor of the states next to Lagos State has taken advantage of the developments in Lagos. Rather, Kebbi State flew down to Lagos to negotiate a deal for rice supply. Can you imagine what would have been achieved if the governors of those states had taken advantage of a border with Lagos to develop robust Agriculture and Real estate economies for their states, and then lobbied the Federal Government to get them a functioning railway connecting those states?! You could live in a nice cool estate, surrounded by a serene and natural environment somewhere in Oyo, while working in Lagos. Modest and less crowded schools for kids would spring up. Shop rite, Spar malls and the likes would be compelled to build new branches in those areas because of the new customer base. Construction companies would have to site new operational centers to handle the bulk of projects coming from those things. There would be jobs, less “lazy” youths and quite importantly, revenue and tax opportunities for the State Governments! All this because someone had the onus to plan decades into the future – strategy.

In essence, the Integrated development plan MUST involve all stakeholders – your worst enemy, if he is a stakeholder, has to be at that table. Their suggestions must be made there, not on Kakaki or twitter! These plans must be strategic! How would you employ contractors and have no yardstick for judging their success – yes, Ministers are contractors! Systems must be built to benefit off of one another, with the entire system optimized to maximize returns. We have seen billions of dollars wasted on projects because of this – Structural Adjustment Programme, SURE-P, Port Harcourt mono rail, PRESSID scholarship and so many others. It is absolutely unacceptable to make gambling chips for a few hundreds off of the futures of a million hundreds. Most painful is the fact that when these programmes are abruptly terminated or ended, no one answers for them! In essence, someone took our Billions of dollars, wasted on some project, and the next Governor or President declared inappropriate, and all of a sudden, we have nothing to show for the Billions spent over 4 years!

Furthermore, the government must realize that we are a diverse Nation. We are distinct in religion, language, tribes and beliefs. More importantly, it is wrong to paint this diversity in a negative light. With diversity comes unique strengths. Ultimately, Nigeria has the capacity to be strong in so many areas at the same time because each of these groups would bring their own strength to the table. I hope, but do not expect, a president who comes from one of these groups to see all of us as he sees his people. It is impossible! However, I expect him to realize that it takes more than one of these numerous groups to build a Nation. If the Nigerian army was made up of only one group, they may not reproduce fast enough to maintain the army in the next decade. As such, it is the Leader’s role to try as much as possible, to be the middleman. To do this perfectly, all sides must benefit from each decision! As impossible as it sounds, it is very feasible. Projects in each state must be built to depend on another state for feed. Empowerment programmes by the Government must be strategic in this light. Let us stop “dashing” free money – it can only feed us for 1 month. What happens thereafter? I have observed foreign Governments make decisions to strategically allocate funds to certain kind of projects “to prepare the populace for the next round of jobs or industry the Government plans to build”. Planning projects to benefit more than one state at a time would help reduce the incessant demand for aids from State Governors and their subsequent failures to pay salaries.

Finally, as we enact laws to foster local economies, we must ensure they meet up to standards. I saw in Aba, a flailing industry, laced with gifted hands but no visionary Government to create the enabling environment for them to thrive. I am sure there are others like them. The point is, if we close our borders to importations, we must do so strategically. The local replacements must have been groomed to take over in quantity, and more importantly, in quality. Else, the high-quality imports would flow in the direction of the concentration gradient created by the unsatisfied customers.

Integrated development planning is sustainable, efficient and proven to be successful. As we seek to achieve true independence, let us do so not only by breaking off the colonial chains but also by eliminating the enslavement within, born out of our mortal myopias. I say mortal because all things mortal must one day die! We must outgrow these petty politics – we don big pass am! The ones our predecessors did, na who e epp?!

 

Lotanna Ohazuruike

"The first question we raise is, how would you expect a PDP project, or decision, to be upheld by an APC government when they were never a part of that decision?" That is a big challenge in the politics we play in Africa. No consistency and ongoing handshake across administrations.

Precisely! Billions wasted between election cycles, and when the ruling party, or person, loses, we have nothing to show for it!