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‘Why Nigeria’s development plans/visions remain motion without movement’



The great Historian, Diplomat, Educationist, and National Development Advocate, Emeritus Professor Michael Abiola Omolewa interrogates Nigeria’s development plans since colonial era till date marshalling the need to mobilize all and sundry towards the realization of the lofty goals encapsulated in those plans as Nigerians remain hopeful and optimistic in the New Year.

What is your assessment of Nigeria’s development plans and visions since the colonial era?
Nigeria had a ten-year development and welfare plan during the colonial time in 1945. This was towards the end of the Second World War and the period of decolonization in the country when people were expecting significant changes in governance as well as in political, economic and social development of the country.

The colonial government then enacted the Colonial Development and Welfare Act which led to the provision of the colonial development and welfare fund to fund the implementation of the plan. It was the plan that gave birth to the establishment of the University College Ibadan as the first university in Nigeria. It was very elaborate one that was expected to lead to economic and social development in order to facilitate the general welfare of the citizenry. The plan from 1945 was being implemented religiously until Nigeria became independent in 1960. The national government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa decided to continue with the tradition of having a development plan and the first national plan from 1962 to 1968 was proposed and adopted. The second national development plan took place immediately after the civil war under Gen. Gowon (retrd) because of the need to get the country better focused to avoid all the various challenges that led to the Nigerian civil war.

Thus, Gen. Gowon ensure that the Plan had those basic elements of equity, social justice and all the various connected issues were addressed in that development plan. It ran between 1970 to 1974 and remained, perhaps, one of the best documents on the development plan. This was because it listed, carefully, the expectation to have a Nigeria that is united, strong and self-reliant, just and egalitarian, free and democratic. Thereafter, the third national development plan came in 1975 to 1980 which was largely still under the military. The restoration of democracy in 1979 with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the President brought about the fourth development plan, 1980 t0 1985.

As a civilian government, the Shagari era was interested in ensuring that people support not only the programmes mapped out by the government, but also the programmes of his (Shagari) political party – National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The plan had a massive education programme including the launch of the Open University system as well as the Mass Education campaign. The fifth plan ran from 1985 to 1990.

Generally, the development plan is basic and essential to the healthy development of a nation as it helps to generate massive awareness about various areas that require important intervention for the nation to remain solid politically, socially and economically.

However, it is noticed that during the Military era, the conversation was about Vision (not development plan). Thus, there was Vision 2010 during the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha which was perceived to be a major development initiative. The focus was that by 2010, there was going to be measurable and quality development. To realize this, a committee was empanelled in September 1996 to drive the vision.

One of the major terms of reference for the committee was to determine why many years of political independence did not translate to consistent progress in all aspects of national development. Besides, the committee was charged to design a plan of action as well as timeframe for the realization of a rapid and accelerated development of the country. The target was to build Nigerian citizen that was sufficiently knowledgeable, respectable and committed to the development of Nigeria. That was why the Vision 2010 was made up of people of diverse backgrounds and experiences in the public and private sectors. There were technical sub-committees and working groups to galvanize the entire nation.

At dawn of new millennium in year 2000, Nigeria and South Africa spearheaded the introduction of a continental development plan tagged the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) with its Nigerian variant, National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) before the introduction of Vision 20:2020 in 2009 during the administration of the late Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua.

The Vision had the President as the Chairman of the committee in response to the complaint that the previous plans lacked the political will to drive the process to a logical conclusion. Members were also drawn from the National Planning Commission and several technical working groups were established including the Economic Management Team. It was an all-encompassing team including implementation guidelines, monitoring and evaluation strategies. It was a deliberate act to involve the private sector fully with the creation of the Business Support Group initiated by the National Steering Committee for the Vision 20:2020. This was to ensure that private sector helped to mobilize resources needed to translate the vision to reality.

Really, Nigeria has not done badly in the area of having a development plan or vision as a justification for the saying that any nation without a vision can’t make much progress. Even in personal life, if you don’t have a plan, you will not know how to mobilize yourself in the right direction.

But why the gains of these development plans/visions have been elusive with little or nothing to show for the huge resources – human and material – expended in designing them? Does it have to do with the implementation strategies?
Implementation strategy has always been clearly defined. This always reflects in actions to be taken with the timeframe. I think the major problem that I have noticed is that in the Colonial Development and Welfare Plan, there was a specific amount of money that was set aside to assist with the implementation of the plan. For example, there was a dedicated fund for mass education and therefore, knowledgeable personnel were recruited to accomplish this goal. Even in the North, people who were already familiar with Gaskiya tafi kobo movement such as Mallam Kumasi, Joshiah Soyemi Ogunlesi (in the West), Nethaliel Ejioku (in the East), Arthur John Carpenter (in the central) and others were recruited in addition to other officers across the country for the campaign. They also had the money for publicity, documentation, dailies (newspapers), and training of experts who later handled specific tasks towards the realization of the overall objective of the plan. Now, if you have a development plan that is not marched by the necessary funding, there is going to be a disconnection as the plan will be there without funding base. It will just be floating! So, every plan or vision must always be accompanied by very effective funding.

For instance, the Ministerial Strategic Plan (education) developed recently, the idea was to ensure that the whole country would be effectively covered by the mass education programme. In addition, the government then appointed an expert in mass education as Executive Secretary to oversee the entire process. But what I observed happened was the shortfall in funding most of these development plans. Really, to achieve the goal of mass education, a huge amount of money will be needed in mobilization, material preparation, advocacy, monitoring, teaching, appropriate curriculum….

How do we mobilize money in view of other compelling issues of national importance?
Adequate fund can be mobilized by making sure that all the stakeholders make a contribution. This is because anything that is free is not usually appreciated. Parents, workers, managers of industries, organized private sector, development agencies should be made to invest in mass education as this will lead to massive public enlightenment which will later impact on anti-social behavior. There will be programmes that will be addressing those circumstances and situations. Reading culture will improve, political education and awareness will increase as discussion, conversation, open forum and public engagements will reduce cases of violence and hooliganism that have characterized our political life over the years. Therefore, peace and stability will reign in the country.

What is your impression of the strategic plans targeted at the education since the year 2000 for instance when the Education for All was launched?
My observation is that the education sector has not fared fairly well even right from the time of the colonial period. For instance, the accommodation that was provided for the mass education officer was nothing to write home about. Ogunlesi, for instance, was not allowed to stay in the central education ministry, as a result, the energy that was released by Ogunlesi was not marched by the expectation at the ministry itself. Also, there was the debate that whether those who were mass education officers would be paid officers or they would be doing a voluntary job. Shortfall then became the outcome of the realization that nobody was ready to do a voluntary job. In fact, during the post-independence era, it was discovered that a lot of money was invested in universal primary education in some regions. The idea was that once the people were literate right from the beginning, you could now sustain their interest at the post-primary, secondary and tertiary levels. But again, the money has not been forthcoming and this stalls post-education development such as attending conferences and seminars. Generally, the main issue is the absence of continuity in the design and implementation of plans. It has been moved without growth as far as our development plans/visions are concerned.

In what way has the intervention by development agencies such as UNESCO that you served as the 32nd President of its General Conference (2003 to 2005) helped to power the realization of these plans, especially as regards education?
I think you want to say that UN working through its specialized agencies United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) made it its duty right from the beginning to empower all the countries to ensure that every person become educated, not just educated but appropriately educated through the right curriculum, they also ensure that each nation adopts the policy of sustainable development in education or life long learning. In other words, once you start from the cradle to the tertiary education, you don’t end your education just like that, you broaden your scope of education so that you are able to have other areas that can come in. for instance, you can train like myself as a historian but I need for political literacy, I need to be able to know what to vote for and how to vote. I also need economic literacy, so that I don’t have to depend on my salary but I can also use my various skills and talents to make sure that I rise above poverty. Then you can move on to professional literacy.

For instance, in medicine, doctors need to continue training, get a new method of treatment. After this, there is a need for social literacy, this will make one be socially correct, they avoid anti-social behaviours because they know that it is not in the interest of the nation or the individual. Finally, the UN through UNESCO ensures that regularly, professionals Mathematics education meet from time to time to review progress in that area. They first met in Denmark in 1949 and in 1960, they moved on and met in Canada, again they moved on and met in Tokyo in 1972, in 1985, they met again in Paris, in 1997 they met in Amburg, in 2009, they met in brazil. In each of all these conferences, all the countries come together to report their progress in adult education, mathematics education, and lifelong learning. So, the United Nations also sent its result and recommendation to each country for funding. It is when everybody is involved in the development process that we get the talents and skills that are given to each person as a contribution to national development.
You have talked about the colonial and military era, but thank God in the last 20 years we have been operating under democracy, yet in the area of UNESCO recommendation especially budgeting for education, it has been a conflicting conversation among stakeholders, that virtually most governments don’t respect the recommendation, saying it is not a law.

How do you think we can move beyond this conversation, and begin to face the reality?
The funding of education is a product of what is available on ground. If a nation has only N10, and you need N20, no matter the recommendation, it is the N10 that would be distributed. So, what is in the best interest of everybody is to make sure that the economy is healthy. Don’t forget that vision 2010 was that after 50 years of independence, Nigeria should be able to stand tall and have enough funding for all the programmes that will produce a good citizen. In other words, the health sector will be taken care of, the education sector intact and uninterrupted electricity. And then, vision 2020 said by 2020 Nigeria would be one of the 20 largest economies in the world, once Nigeria becomes one of the 20 largest economies, it means that we are going to be operating like Singapore and the United States and many of our challenges will be solved. The economy will be able to take care of all these challenges. Related to that is the fact that once the economy is solid, and you are now able to get this education on a proper footing, you will now be able to have knowledgeable, efficient and dynamic people who will be able to offer leadership, not only at the national level but also at the international level. Vision 2020 states that Nigeria should be able by 2020 to consolidate its leadership role in Africa and establish itself as a significant player in the global economic and political spheres. It means there will be food security, adequate security for the people and the welfare of the people will be taken care of. Therefore, whatever the recommendation that is given to the nation, what is important and imperative is a strong economy and a strong desire to make sure that that economy is able to fund the human resources and manpower development of the nation.
How will this strong economy be possible when we operate a monoculture revenue base in the country?
In many universities there is what is called the entrepreneurship programme, in other words, the university no longer an ivory tower, it is a ground to prepare these young minds for livelihood. For instance, if a student is learning history, she is also learning fashion designing. The new graduates are different now, just imagine someone who studied agriculture is not just producing cocoa but also getting the ICT functioning. The way to sustain this is to make sure that there is an encouragement to these young ones through appropriate curriculum, effective teaching strategy and innovative mechanism that will produce a new Nigeria that is not just interested in the certificate or in the qualification but is interested in using all the skills and facilities for self-improvement of the community, nation and the entire world.

But with self-improvement, there is still a high rate of unemployment?
There are unemployment and underemployment. There are situations, where graduates are serving as gateman because that is the only job he could get, that is not employment but underemployment, so, what he needs is full employment and for him to get that, there is need for job creation, and to create jobs, you need the industries and to have the industries you need good and effective marketing of the products of Nigeria and as you also said, the diversification of our economy so that we are not just relying on just the oil. And as you know, we are not just relying on the oil, now there is a move to make sure that people are good in agriculture and people also good in other areas, other than oil and gas. You now find the ministry of agriculture introducing, some of our yams are now being sold in England which is really very good, from there we begin to sell our cotton, ground nut, palm oil as we used to during the early period of colonial era.

Another issue is brain drain, yes, we produce and we have a high level of human capital but the environment is not conducive for them to contribute to our national development, otherwise, they seek greener pasture outside, how do we address this?
Yes, it was brain drain but now we have discovered that it is also brain gain because we train these our young students and they get to these advanced countries for permanent relocation but on many occasions, they are forced to come back, not because of the discrimination out there but because of the realization that they have to contribute towards the survival of their country. So, the brain drain took them away and there they acquired the experience and expertise and then they come back to become brain gain. It is in the process of managing the drain and gain that Nigeria can now begin to encourage a dialogue between the country and those in diaspora and bring them with the gains that they have already acquired and that is going to be helpful. If you just train them and keep them here, then you discover that there will be very little progress. Even China and Japan sent people abroad to gain experience and come back to make sure that that drain is translated to gain. If you get to China, you will thing you are in New York because they have acquired skills and they are harvesting it back into their country.
But the complaint is still that the environment is not conducive for our people in the Diaspora to come back. Sometimes, they come and run back because of the obstacles in the country. Is there any programme that can be powered by the government to ensure that there is trust in bringing back our human capital oversees to partake in our development process?
I think there is a commission that is dedicated to the diaspora and I believe that commission will be to answer that question. I think they can commission studies into finding out the incentives that can be given to these people in diaspora to come back and talking to the relevant agencies and institutions in Nigeria to open up so that they can take advantage of the gains of these people in diaspora.

This administration since 2015 designed what could be called Three Points Development Agenda with emphasis on Security, Diversification of Economy and Anti-graft campaign, what will you suggest should be done to foster the realization of these points?
When you have this development plan, it is not the government that is the sole determinant. Government brings in specialists from every part; they bring in actors, those who have proved efficient in the past, government also brings in the stakeholders, advisers and international development partners and at the end there able to know the direction because as government they have the responsibility to say this is the way we should go, the government stands at the driver’s seat so, they are to conveniently navigate the course of development and while navigating this, they can make corrections, and alterations in the process. I believe that should be the solution to our current development strategy.

The first phase of the Ministerial Strategic Plan was in 2016-2019, now we are at the threshold of 2020 and it is believed that most of the highlights have not been achieved, as expected, what is the update?
There is a new ministerial strategic plan which is leading to 2022, don’t forget that in all the pillars identified there is already an awareness of the need to tackle illiteracy. For instance, in a situation where you have the bulk of the people as illiterate, it is not helpful, it means that we are ignoring the ability of these illiterate people that have skills that cannot be deployed for the development of the country, the almajiri for instance. That ministerial strategy plan is already consciously addressing the issue of ICT in schools so that everybody is technology conscious because there is a further gap between the developing and developed countries. That is going to be at a disadvantage to the nation and correcting that is part of the ministerial strategy plan. The person still driving it is the same person who started the earlier ministerial strategy plan in 2019, and that is now being extended to 2022.

Now, the question is, will there be enough funding, there is need for an enhancement of the allocation to the education sector to be able to make sure that all these various needs in education sector are met so that education in many of the countries of the world becomes a tool for achieving all those national goals that are enumerated in the development plan. Unless you carry the people along, you will just be operating on your own, but if it is going to be bottom-up, it means the bottom has to be very strong and for the bottom to be strong the ministerial strategy plan is saying we need funding, if the funding is not available then there will be a problem, the problem will not just be in the education sector but a national problem. I pray that the whole nation comes together to say we must fund education at every level so that every child in the country takes advantage of the educational facility as we have in the US where Mrs. Laura Bush led the theme of “no child is left behind,” so, in Nigeria, no child must be left behind, all of us must become truly educated, truly empowered through knowledge-based, through application of that knowledge towards the national cohesion, national unity, national development and therefore national happiness.
How can the inability of Nigeria to meet up with the MDGs in 2015 be prevented now that we march towards the SDGs in 2030?
The problem in developing countries generally is lack of discipline. We work at cross purposes so when one is going east, the other one is going north. Once we are able to mobilise and say this is our national goal and plan then discipline will help us reach the place. There is a need to carry the people along and to do this you have to make them enlightened and educated through the mass education programme so that there will be a conviction and ownership of the programme. Once there is ownership, everybody has a stake in it and everybody wants it to succeed and they will do anything to make sure that it succeeded. Failure to do this will lead to a disconnect and in some years again we are asking where we have gone wrong. Let’s get this mass education properly coordinated, funded and administered and let’s now pray that all of us with a similar purpose we will be able to reach our goal. 

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