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Policy-research imperative in Nigeria’s development process

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In 1966, Professor Wolfgang Stolper, Advisor to the Nigerian government on the First National Development Plan (1962-1968), delivered a stinging and prescient judgment that goes straight to the heart of Nigeria’s development problem, and that of any other nation, for that matter.

Stolper decried the inherent difficulty in Nigeria’s development planning without the fundamentals of the necessary economic facts and statistics that will backstop policy intelligence, decisions and actions. Prof. Stolper made this assertion while he was part of Nigeria’s Economic Planning Unit that prepared the First National Development Plan after independence.

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One of the fundamental reasons why that development plan failed was the essential lack of statistical parameters by which development policies were to be crafted. Planning without fact implies a state’s lack of a culture of and respect for vital statistics raw materials and other scientific management parameters in policymaking and implementation. This makes it very difficult for Nigeria to design and implement cogent policies that address the development and governance challenges in the country in a manner that could be managed scientifically.

This challenge was robustly taken up by the likes of the late Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade and others like him. Much later in 2006, the professionalization and reform of the statistical system of the former Federal Office of Statistics give credence to Nigeria’s growing awareness of the place of economic facts and statistics in development and policy designs and intelligence. Now rechristened the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), this agency is saddled with the responsibility of generating “on a continuous and sustainable basis, socio-economic statistics on all facets of development in Nigeria.” This becomes a significant addition to the task of infrastructural development that will elevate the development agenda of the Nigerian state. Unfortunately, seeing the development agenda only in terms of infrastructural development locks Nigeria into a nineteenth-century perspective on what development is all about.

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While no one can doubt the significance of the hardware of development—building bridges, highways, electricity, hospitals, and so on—in the welfare of the citizens, a more significant dimension of development concerns what we can call the software of development. In this regard, I have in mind the place and role of research in the generation of the requisite policy intelligence and action required to jumpstart the critical progress that Nigeria needs. Neil Armstrong, the American astronaut, puts it simply: “research is creating new knowledge.” And this new knowledge is deployed regularly by the state to meet the challenges of development and governance. And this is all the more so because the world is now firmly in the knowledge age where the hardware of development requires the software to make sense of the well-being of the citizens. A nation without a viable and vibrant research industry or the leadership sophistication to deploy such an industry to the imperatives of the knowledge age lacks a definite and useful understanding of what development means.

Unfortunately, Nigeria seems to fall into this category. Let me share three cogent experiential nuggets to drive home my point about the curious state of Nigeria in terms of research, learning and development. The first derived from my coordination of the Education Sector Analysis project when I was at the Federal Ministry of Education in 1999 to 2002. The funding we got from development partners, running into billions of naira, enabled a massive updating of the statistics of significant sub-sectors of the education sector. It is sad that when I left, the Statistics Unit of the ministry could not generate sufficient fund for years to carry out its responsibilities. In 2003, and as part of the government’s effort to develop a national public service reform strategy, I coordinated a benchmarking tour of over twenty countries. This tour went well in its attempt at generating experiences and blueprints that have served these countries well. But then, on returning from this study tours, there was no available budget or even some institutional incentives to organize learning events that would have assisted in interrogating the fundamental findings from the tours, supplemented with commissioned action researches that would have helped in adapting these findings to Nigeria’s local realities.

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The last experience I want to share concerns my observation of the public administration research framework in the past few years. This is crucial because it serves as a nodal point by which research discourses orient policy decisions and designs. This is what is called the town-gown synergy that allows intellectual innovations and theoretical findings to enter into mutually beneficial relationship with public service and public policy experiences. The reality in Nigeria now is marked by a disconnection between research and policy, between town and gown. The anti-intellectualism in Nigeria’s policy space creates a situation where policymakers would usually regard technical submissions to government as being too theoretical. The flip side is marked by the bending of academic research in universities and even research institutes on solely staff promotion efforts rather than as contributions that orient policy development.

There is more. Since the late 1980s, the public administration community has failed to build a coherent and optimal professional association gatekeeping platform or even a community of practice and expert coordination that could serve as a basis for professional practice in Nigeria. There is also not in place a database of research outputs or conference platforms that could serve as the forum for continuously interrogating Nigeria’s administrative crisis and public service challenges in the knowledge age. The consequence is that gatekeeping has become an onerous thing that allows many debilitating practices to slip through. This provides a reasonable explanation for why government officials are dependent on external data sources—UN, IMF, OXFAM, OECD, the World Bank, etc.—for statistical understanding of our own realities, but also why Nigeria unreflectively adopts imported models and paradigms for policy and development praxis.

To be continued tomorrow
Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, professor of public policy & Directing Staff, National Institute
For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos.

tolaopa2003@gmail.com

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