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Lack of planning bane of Nigeria’s arrested development, says Diete-Spiff

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In this interview with Kelvin Ebiri, former Military Governor of old Rivers State and now Chairman, Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers, Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, Alfred Diete-Spi, speaks on Nigeria’s arrested development as arising from poor planning and other inflicted challenges

what is your assessment of Nigeria at 59?
dependent in 1960. In 1963 they had population census and came up with a figure of 63 million. Since then our estimated figure is 200 million. You can see that in the last 59 years the population has grown by a 137 million. So you find that the young people below 60 are the number that have swollen the population, taking for granted that all the people who were counted in 1963 are still alive, which is not possible. You see the number of people, mouths to feed, demands to meet and general provision of amenities have increased. Whatever it is, the country has not collapsed, but whatever aspiration people had, it’s been met and doubled because we were planning at the time for 63 million. Now, we are planning three times that population. The country has done very well when you think of it. Salaries are paid. It has gone up more than 1000 per cent. What a standard civil servant was earning in 1960-63 was 14 Pounds. I left school in 1960. My job; I earned 14 Pounds a month. If you covert 14 British Pounds which we were using now you could see that we are paying more with the N30,000.

Generally, the roads which were single lanes are now dualised. You have highways. We have expressways. We don’t have motorways and it was a deliberate policy. The difference between expressway and motorways is that it has control exits and entrances. Otherwise, Lagos–Ibadan is like a motorway but it is not. So the entrances and exits are not controlled. Nigeria has done extremely well when you come to think of it. Population-wise, we have done well. Education-wise, we have also. Think of how universities were there in 1960. Transportation-wise, think of how many airlines were there. It was only Nigeria Airways with little aircrafts. Since that time of independence till now, a lot has happened. True enough, we have made some good progress with the shipping lines, though the national shipping line fizzled out. Nigerian Airways has fizzled out but you find that private airlines have taken over. We cannot say that confidently about shipping, but a lot of shipping services serving the oil companies, the supply vessels are owned by Nigerians.

So, here too, Nigeria has not done too badly. What has been the cause of Nigeria’s arrested development?
The opportunities now are greater. We have not got to where we ought to be, but that does not mean that we have not made some positive gains. The Kainji Dam was built; the Mambala and all the other three dams by Tafawa Abubakar Balewa government were not followed up. So here again, plan and implementation, distortion of plans and people just coming in with new ideas without a backward look and far-reaching forward planning have been a problem. We as a government had four years’ development plan. Since we left government we have not had any development plans again. Vision 2020 was the last plan. The year 2000 was supposed to be magic year when everything was supposed to happen, but never did. In all these things you find that with change of government, things get overlooked. New people come in with new ideas and fancy planning. That has been the main thing set- ting back the country. Plan implementation and sincerity of purpose. People, most of the time, particularly politicians, take decisions that are very subjective, just to satisfy their own whims and caprices. If there is a master- plan and everyone falls in line and there is a plan implementation committee and they toe the line, we would have gone much far- ther. But that does not mean that we have not achieved anything.

But military incursion into politics has been blamed for derailment of Nigeria’s development?
Here again, the Tafawa government was accused of extravagance and corruption. Ten per cent was their own. They declared that anything you want, you have to put 10 per cent for them. They were the 10 ‘percenters’. The military intervened; they struck and took over power. The first military government was groping; frankly, it was a new innovation. They didn’t know what exactly to do. But by the time the second military government took over, they knew some of the pitfalls to avoid. But even at that, it had civilian council which had the power of the legislature as well as the executive. That too helped. I was a military governor. I did not have a deputy. I had all the civilians around me and then to put a bit of colouration, you had military commanders to be members of the council, though they had no responsibilities.

At the federal level, General Yakubu Gowon was there and he didn’t have a deputy. He had members of the Supreme Military Council and also officers who were given ministries to manage. Ours was a military government. Were they military trained-lawyers that were writing the edits?

No!!! It was civilians. Talk about the constitution. Who were the people who wrote it? They say our constitution was given to us by the military. Agreed. But who were the legal minds that did the framing? It was the constitution drafting committee, the constitution review committee that looked at these things and came up with what we have today. Frankly, the military government in our time had been soft and it allowed the participation of civilians. Most of whom were politicians before then and had their various idiosyncrasies and soft spots.
Politics, although not officially allowed, was still being played. With Obafemi Awolowo as Minister of Finance, obviously, and his group were still meeting and planning for the day the military will leave. Here again, the military government was very liberal. When people like General Ibrahim Babaginda came in, he came with the idea of a little to right, a little to the left. Here again, the military government was trying to find out what was best for Nigerians. We had started off with the British parliamentary system; at the end of the day it was unanimously, voluntarily and popularly accepted that Nigeria should go presidential. The main thing I see that is making the presidential system not to work too well is the non- adherence to the basic principles of governance. If an entity called a state has powers to make laws, it must also have apparatus to implement and enforce those laws. Corruption was one of the reasons the first civilian regime was toppled. The situation today is even worst. Does it mean politicians haven’t learnt anything yet?

The politicians today were not there. They were not involved. We were talking about 10 per cent then. Now, nobody is talking of that. They are taking 90 per cent. It is the other way round. They are becoming greedier and more demanding. Today, the government is closer to the people which is good. What lessons are they learning? Where they in power then? They were not. Even if you read about these things, besides, how many times do people bother to go and read about Nigerian history? And even if they do, they are not obliged to act on what they have learnt. Politicians are coming and going in. I support this idea of #Not Too Young To Run. I will encourage them to come in early and learn on the job. Hopefully, in the next 60 years we will have come up with a template to follow and pitfalls to avoid.

What is your assessment of the country’s democratization process since 1999?
It’s been PDP all along; it is only now that there has been a change of government at the federal level. At the state level, there has been winner-takes-all kind of situation. There are few changes with governments coming on. It all makes for good development. It is good when there are changes as people come in. Also, they are coming and learning on the job. 20 years is nothing to go by.

Isn’t it paradoxical that a country that has so much prospect 59 years ago is now the World’s Poverty Capital?
But here again, with all these revelation and discovery of the corruption and the amount of money which has salted away by individuals and corporate bodies, it all adds up to the reasons for poverty. Things that would have been used for development have gone into wrong hands and have been used for politics, for people having big, fat bank account abroad. And what are they saving the money for, particularly now, to run an election? Why should a governor want to salt away so much money? It is because election costs so much money. It is hard work to become a champion. It is harder work to remain a champion. The moment a governor goes in, he starts planning how he will continue and win the next election. So he starts salting away money. He also has to start reimbursing himself of all he has spent. The money that is supposed to be used for development and meet- ing other social needs is being salted away and kept aside for people who are aspiring to run for political position. The amount being salted away is mind-blowing. So, you find that a lot of the money that should have been spent to improve the lot of the ordinary man is being put aside for politics by people who have access to public funds. Unless you have access, can you steal that kind of money?

It is people who have access and had the opportunity of managing that money that succeed in stealing it. The ordinary man does not have access to such fund, so he cannot be accused of stealing. This has been the bane of society. That has been our biggest draw back. Comparatively, has the Niger Delta been progressively transformed in the past 59 years?
The Niger Delta region, according to the Lord Wilkins Commission, was cited as a very delicate place and should be treated as a special place. The Basin Authority was created, but had no executive powers. Then somebody just created other basins again; so, Niger Delta was just one of them. Monies were being made available to the other basin authorities while the one for Niger Delta was being starved. All that had happened and it is still happening. Nobody is talking about Niger Delta. We now pressed and got Niger Delta ministry and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). But who appoints the board members? People who are appointed turn out to be politicians. So they go in there and start salting money and aspiring to be governors in their state. The bottom of the moneybag is torn open and the thing is just broken by gravity for them. So, what is meant for the development of Niger Delta has been put in the hands of politicians. How do you give a yam to a goat to take care of the yam? You know what will happen. Or you tell a lion to take care of a goat. The goat will be eaten up and all the bones cracked. This is the situation. A lot of people who have what it takes to transform the Niger Delta are not put there, because it is a subjective appointment. The people who are appointed, the people who appoint them sit on them and try to direct them, better still, remote control them. And so, the people say everybody is filling their boot; let me not be a fool, let me also fill my boot. So frankly, little is being done for the region. These are some of the things one has observed. It is most unfortunate that we are not learning. Some of us who have been in this government business in the last 50 years could see through some of these things.


In this article:
Alfred Diete-SpiNigeria
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