Task before the economic team
The Nigerian government recently constituted a team of experts to advise the President on the management of the economy and address the numerous social challenges facing the country. The council members are well known figures in the private sector, public service, academia and the international community. They are expected to give special attention to challenges in sectors such as: education, health, unemployment, high cost of living, Insecurity, out of school children, dilapidated infrastructures, the malaria scourge, drug abuse etc. This is a daunting task which may not necessarily require breaking new grounds to achieve set objectives. There are several past discontinued programs which should simply be revived.
For example: DFRRI ,( Directorate of Food Roads and Rural Infrastructures, (PTF) the Petrol Trust Fund, NNSC ( Nigeria National supply Company), (FHA) the Federal Housing Authority (NDE) National Directorate of Employment. (NOA) National Orientation Agency (Family Support). The Low cost house policy and the educational program of Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Governor of Lagos State from 1979-83. The advisory council may adopt the concept and programs of these organizations to produce Short, Mid and Long term development plans which will stand the test of time. This was the practice in the past, especially during the first and second republics. The 1970-1980 Development Master Plan gave birth to infrastructures such as: the National Theatre, Festac Town, Murtala Mohammed Airport, the Refineries, River Basin agricultural and irrigation projects, Hydro Electric Power Plants, car and truck assembly plants, the Iron and Industries, expansion of Nigeria Airways fleet, The expansion of National Shipping Line fleet etc.
These development plans were conceived and implemented by ‘super Permanent Secretaries’ of that era; intellectual giants of the like of : Phillip Asiodu, Alison Ayida, Damcida, G. Longe, Ime Ebong , CO Lawson, Sule Kolo, F. Adesanoye, M. Daggash, A. Attah, JTF Iyalla, SO Wey all backed by their colleagues in the Civil Service. Although, cynics now mock and call civil servants ‘evil servants’ out of ignorance. Whereas, no government program can succeed without the inputs and cooperation of civil servants. And no country can rise above the quality of its civil service. The advisory council members should be conscious of this fact and work with top Civil Servants in the various ministries, and most especially the National Planning Commission (NPC) to develop a plan which will guide government activities for immediate, Mid and Long Term implementation. The social impact of DFFRI.
The Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure) 1984-1993 during the regime of IBB cannot be ignored. DFFRI constructed roads, built clinics, schools, dug water boreholes, provided electricity in rural communities etc PTF (the Petroleum Trust Fund) 1994-1999) headed by President Buhari was another project which addressed several social problems. The PTF rehabilitated / constructed over 17,000 kilometers of roads, supplied books to schools, rehabilitated and supplied medical equipment and drugs to hospitals, provided potable water and electricity to rural communities.
The Nigerian National Supply Company (NNSC) on the other hand was a direct attack on hunger and poverty. Food and provisions were sold to the public at moderate prices. The NNSC sold rice, milk, vegetable oils, stock fish, canned fish, sugar to the public at controlled prices, such that, a 50 kilo bag of rice was sold for as low as 15 naira in 1980.
The dissolution of these agencies without replacement marked the beginning of government’s absence in the affairs and welfare of the Nigerian people. It led to urban migration, poverty, and the generalized insecurity the country is facing today. The advisory council may be guided by the following suggestions: 1. Review and expand DFFRI programs to address the problems of access roads, potable water and run down schools in rural communities. 2. Revisit the Petroleun Trust Fund (PTF) and adopt its social development programs, which was to provide infrastructures in rural areas. 3. Revive the Nigerian National Supply Company (NNSC) through which the so called ‘Essenco’ or essential commodities; such as rice; vegetable oil, milk, stockfish, sugar were sold directly to civil servants and the public at controlled prices. This program reduced hunger and extreme poverty in the country. 4. Restore the role of the Federal Housing Authoity (FHA) as the government agency responsible for providing affordable houses to the public. The experience and success of Festac town and Gwarimpa in Abuja are good examples. 5. The oil refineries should be refurbished and made to work by appointing trusted administrators to manage them, or invite oil companies to buy or lease them. 6. Strongly advocate for the construction of the Dasin Hausa dam in Adamawa state which will hold the water released from Lagdo dam in Cameroon, and stop the floods downstream in Nigeria.
7. Advocate for the rehabilitation of dozens of abandoned dams all over the country to increase hydro generated electricity, provide water for irrigation and develop rural communities. 8. Support the efforts to put millions of Nigerian children in school for security reasons. 9. Support the fight against malaria by other means, such as the use of larvicides bacillus to destroy mosquito larvae in their aqueous habitats. 10. Reiterate the importance of education as the foundation and panacea to most social ills, and without which all other efforts may simply be futile. In conclusion, the advisory council is saddled with a task of critical national importance. Their achievements will be judged by visible and concrete achievements with impact, rather than figures, statistics and excuses which have no bearing on the living conditions of the Nigerian people.
Rasheed, former director, Trade and Investment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote from Lagos.
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