NDDF 2018: How Niger Delta states, private sector, civil society are uniting to plan ahead
For three days, two states in the Niger Delta region played host to top government functionaries, distinguished players in the private sector, experienced civil society actors, as well as development partners of repute. While all the personalities had different social, cultural, and professional backgrounds, they camped in Benin, Edo State, and Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, for one sole purpose: Preparing for the future through long-term, strategic development plans.
It was the seventh edition of the Niger Delta Development Forum, an event organised annually by the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), with the support of a host of partners and donor organisations: from, the European Union (EU), Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), Department for International Development (DFID), and Faculty for Oil Sector Transformation (FOSTER), to Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI).
For 2018, the forum took place between Tuesday, November 27, and Thursday, November 29; and the selected theme was: “Delivering Results: Executing a State-Led Plan”. It was three days of brainstorming and peer-to-peer learning, three days of collaborating, and three days of sharing ideas geared towards improving governance and advocacy in the Niger Delta region.
The edition, building on the successful engagements of the previous year, was held with the objective of strengthening skeletal road maps developed by the various states and helping to tailor strategic approaches to local realities. The event featured plenary sessions focused on harmonising strategies for impact, sustaining a strategic vision between governments, implementing state-led development in the Niger Delta, and where the private-sector may come in when it comes to state-led development planning.
Francis Ntamu, Chief Economic Adviser to the governor of Cross River State, and Seun Akinsanya, Director of Economic Planning at the Lagos State Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, were among the panelists invited to share insights on and lessons from development plans presently in operation in their respective states.
Other experts in attendance included Joe Abah, DAI Nigeria Country Director; Mohammed Aliu Momoh, Facilitator of the Investment Working Group of the Nigerian National Assembly Business Environment Roubdtable (NASSBER); Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye, Country Director of Water Aid; Toyosi Akerele, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rise Networks; Abel Akeni, Head of Innovation at BudgIT; and Seun Ojo, Head of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group’s Public Policy Intelligence and Reform Management Unit.
In his welcome address, Dara Akala, PIND’s Executive Director, thanked the foundation’s development partners, and allies from the civil society sector and media for their support. The first edition of the forum took place at exactly the same venue back in 2012, he noted light-heartedly.
He also explained that the 2018 edition of the forum is focusing on development planning as way of consolidating on the resolutions reached in the previous year.
“The purpose really is for us to harmonise and discuss key development issues, and what we are always trying to achieve is to influence government policies of the region, to foster partnerships through this forum, and to attract investment into the region,” he says.
“We do know that there is a school of thought that believes that we don’t need plans, that it is not plan that is our problem, it is execution. But we simply defer from that. We need execution no doubt; but we also need very clear, comprehensive and coherent plans that will underpin development efforts at the subnational level In Nigeria and, in particular, in the Niger Delta region.
“There are several kinds of agendas in the states, but what is often missing is that long-term strategic plan that will transcend the life of any administration,” Dr Akala adds. “That is where we want to get the states to be.”
One distinguishing feature and unprecedented achievement of the forum, compared to all six previous editions, is the long-term development planning pitching competition which saw seven states of the Niger Delta engage in a battle of ideas. The participants included Edo, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Imo, Abia and Akwa Ibom states.
Top government officials from the states were invited to pitch their states’ long-term roadmaps for human and economic development and, together with development experts among other key stakeholders, they came to well-thought-out conclusions on how best to approach the issue of sub-national development planning.
In order for development to be based on fresh ideas and achieved at a swift pace, for instance, it was agreed that there is need to actively involve young minds in development planning processes steered by government.After various deliberations on the presentations of the state representatives about their visions, cross-sector opportunities and challenges, it was observed that the plans generally did not align with budgetary realities and fiscal policies, and that political support at every strata of governance is critical to both the formulation and implementation of development projects.
That states in the Niger Delta should maximise available options for revenue mobilisation to achieve sustainability and should direct attention to creating, mining and collecting relevant data were among the various recommendations included in the communiqué issued after the forum.
The communiqué was signed by Dara Akala, PIND Executive Director, Tunde Oderinde, Team Leader of Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), and Kingsley Fossu, Team Leader the EU Niger Delta Support Programme (NDSP). “There is need to include young people in the process of development planning to pool fresh ideas and radical thoughts that will drive economic development,” the stakeholders advise. The participation of citizens generally is equally crucial, they added, in order to drive the allocation of resources and implementation energy to where they are most needed.
According to document, for plans and budgets to be effectively implemented in the Niger Delta, “political buy-in is extremely critical”, borrowing a leaf from the current practice in Lagos as well as other states. The stakeholders also stressed the need for clarity on projected outcomes and the constant monitoring and evaluation of plans.
“Niger Delta states need to commence meaningful discussions about inter-state integration within the region; for instance regarding how to ensure transportation linkages through the water ways, rail connectivity and exploration of deep sea potentials,” they note. “State-led development plans should be linked to global goals like the sustainable development goals, regional development efforts, etc. and ensure focus particularly on education and the environment.
“More highly-effective organizations like PIND with strong convening power need to pool regional players into the discourse, reviews for the design, development, execution and monitoring for a collective Niger Delta regional competitiveness.”The expert participants, panelists and government representatives also encouraged states to improve on honouring agreements in order to be more attractive to investors, both local and international, and to promote good governance.
Speaking on the performances of the various states, Mrs Aniagolu-Okoye, who was one of the judges, congratulated the participants and said all the presentations were impressive and well-researched. She advised the various governments to prioritise their policies wisely, while also paying attention to how the civil service and civil society may help in executing noted plans.
“It’s important that the states pay attention to their comparative advantage,” she says. “I know that, if you are a state government, there are so many competing interests. Ask yourself what are the three things that if you do, you will be able to catalyse development; for instance, electricity.“A lot of the plans we heard were really quite external; they were not looking internally. We should ask: How do restructure the civil service to be able to deliver on the plans because part of the reasons our plans have not worked so far is because the structure to deliver them are very weak.”
At the end of the competition, Edo and Abia states were declared as the winners, while Ondo and Akwa Ibom closely followed as runners-up. But in truth, as the PIND Executive Director observed, all the states are winners. This is because, through their attendance and active participation, they learnt massively. New linkages across the states have also been brokered such that the officials are beginning to interact and see what they can achieve together.
“This whole process is not a winners-take-all game,” Dr Akala clarifies. “It is true that we shall support those two states, Edo and Abia State, with partners at the same level we supported Cross River State government; but we will still find ways through which we can provide some assistance or the other to these other states also, depending on their level of interest and willingness to take things forward.”
The ball has therefore been placed in the court of the respective state governments, and the next move is up to them. At worst, they may decide to do little or nothing, allowing the golden opportunity to pass untapped. But at best, this may turn out to be the opening chapter to a new Niger Delta — one where nothing is arbitrary and every action is both pragmatic and strategic, a Niger Delta that plans decades ahead and looks to the future of astonishing results, a Niger Delta where there are abundant resources available for all classes of people and where ‘lack’ is a reality locked in the past.