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Developmentalism and Nigeria’s governance

By C. Don Adinuba
11 July 2016   |   6:54 am
Just last week the government started a new development initiative which will see each of the 177 communities in the state have a new project worth N20m, with the communities deciding the projects themselves.
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Like hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, I supported erstwhile Central Bank governor Chukwuma Soludo, an outstanding economist and practical man of ideas, in his quest to become the Anambra State governor in 2010 because of his grand vision to create an African version of Dubai and Taiwan. Soludo’s vision represented a remarkable deviation in Nigerian politics which has for decades been preoccupied with divisive issues, rather than development.

The world will not take Africa seriously until we begin to develop. Mohammed Al Maktoum, the modernizing ruler of Dubai, in his book entitled Flashes of Thought, notes: “our region and its peoples are in dire need of a successful model in the (African) world—one that gives hope and proves that focusing on growth is better than focusing on wars; that launching projects is far more useful than launching rockets”. Unlike many Africans who follow the Kwame Nkrumah maxim “seek you first the political kingdom and every other thing will be added unto you”, a parody of a scriptural passage, Al Maktoum subscribes to the primacy of economic development. “We believe that a state with economic power also reaps the benefits of political power”, he writes.

One public officer whose decoration next Sunday in Lagos with the annual Zik Leadership Prize will be well received across the country is Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State because he is a practitioner of what social scientists now call developmentalism or the developmental state ideology. Obiano has demonstrated that any serious government in Nigeria can achieve a lot even with less resource, especially, in these economically perilous times, when some 28 out of 36 states in the country have become virtually bankrupt, unable to pay salaries and meet basic contractual obligations. In Anambra which receives a fraction of what oil-bearing states get monthly from the federation account, the government is taking on new ambitious projects and programmes with far-reaching impacts.

On May 17, 2016, Obiano presented cheques for N367 million to the Anglican and Catholic churches in the state for the management of their schools, describing education as the first line of charge of his government. Truly, students from the state have been excelling in all external examinations in Nigeria, representing the country in educational contests. Some $3.2 billion has been invested in agriculture in the last two years, with the state expected in the next three years to become Nigeria’s foremost rice producer.

Anambra has since last December been exporting bitter leaf and ugu vegetables to Europe which has stringent standards for food imports. Franca Awhefeda, a Nigerian research student in international management at Roehampton University in London, has just published a racy article on how Anambra State is now used as an example by academics in the United Kingdom that Africans can practise Just In Time (JIT), a management concept developed in the 1970s by leading Japanese corporations like Toyota, which practically abolishes inventories because of the almost 10 per cent efficiency in time and resource utilisation.

Just last week the government started a new development initiative which will see each of the 177 communities in the state have a new project worth N20m, with the communities deciding the projects themselves. Anambra is still building roads and bridges across the state, despite the economic downturn in the country, so it is no surprise that states like neighbouring Kogi have been sending delegations there to understudy its effective resource management.

While it is tempting to ascribe the performance to the governor’s background in accounting, auditing and banking, it is more compelling to trace it to Obiano’s embrace of developmentalism; after all, there are state governments headed by accomplished accountants and bankers with a backlog of workers’ salaries. Developmentalism explains Obiano’s choice of technocrats who used to work at the World Bank, IMF and leading commercial banks to be on the cabinet but also in key institutions like the state investment agency.

This governance style may not have earned plaudits from professional politicians but it has served the public well. Developmentalism, closely associated with the rapid development of Southeast Asia, is generally defined as a policy committed to the socioeconomic transformation of a society so that its members can have radically improved living standards within a short period. There is little politicking which is the bane of poor societies. Sacrilege is committed daily in the name of politics in underdeveloped nations, as we have seen in the management of $15 billion security funds under President Goodluck Jonathan, which was unconscionably shared to a handful of politicians. Professional politicians who have no capacity for policy or public service keep the nation in a permanent campaign mode, so that they will be relevant and make a fortune for themselves. I have seen well meaning top public officers derail because professional politicians convinced them to start campaigning for a second term while less than one year in office.

Babatunde Fashola was a huge success as Lagos State governor because he was not obsessed with raw politics. How many times did anyone see him talk about “Yoruba this” or “Muslim that”? He got involved in politicking only during the campaign period. It is no coincidence that states whose governors have been in the forefront of ethnic and religious politics are the ones owing their workers the longest backlog of salary arrears.

One, therefore, notes with gladness that more Nigerians are turning to developmentalism. At a lecture last March 17, to mark the inauguration of the Centre for Financial Journalism in Lagos, Akpan Hogan Ekpo, an economics professor and director general of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, recommended, though rather tangentially, the developmental state ideology to the President Buhari administration, citing the example of Ethiopia which is fast becoming a model in development for African nations.

An article on Ethiopia’s development model by two foreign doctoral candidates at the University of Cambridge which was posted on Nigerian online platforms last week happily earned enthusiastic reviews. Developmentalists in public office like Obiano and Fashola have shown that for Nigeria it is still morning yet on creation day.

Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.