• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

No Joy in 2020

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Gapejarbeda

Nigeria has a self- appointed date with the year 2020 and it is all about development. The federal government has since launched a Vision 2020 Programme to produce a vision document that would guide our development processes in the next 11 years.  The year 2020 is when Nigeria hopes to make the list of the first twenty economies in the world. It is not a bad aspiration given that our President Yar’Adua has assured that Nigeria is ready to emerge from the shackles of corruption and mismanagement.
Many doubt that Nigeria can deliver. But two days ago, Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman, the president’s point man on Vision 2020 said that we can if we are committed enough because when people are committed to change, then change will happen. We agree.
Dr. Usman, the Deputy Chairman, National Planning Commission has an extremely difficult job which he began predictably by appointing a National Technical Working Group. The group was split into 12 special groups of experts in diverse fields of the economy and polity. It was inaugurated last April in Abuja. So far, so good.
But then, Dr. Usman told the National Technical Working Group members that they had barely seven months to deliver a final Vision 2020 document for President Yar’Adua to launch on October 1st, 2009. No pressure here! Last week, the minister tongue-lashed the poor working group members for failing to carry out critical reflective thinking in the work they had done so far.

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Now, we understand from a mutual friend that Dr. Usman, a consummate professional, is a gentleman not given to public expression of exasperation. The minister must be clearly over-stretched by this incredible race to 2020, and this is quite understandable. The man is only human, and despite his genteel exterior, his boss, President Yar’Adua, is rumored to be an unruffled slave driver.

Still, the minister’s disappointment over the lack-luster performance of the people he appointed raises a number of questions about the conduct of government business.
Ideally, government should draw up the outlines of the development document in the form of a Blue Paper or White Paper which would thereafter be turned over to a team of well-paid experts with outstanding credentials and experience to engage in what is probably one of the most difficult cerebral work ever: looking into the national crystal ball and making informed projections about how to get from here to the top 20 economies list in 11 short years.
Such a crack team can not be empanelled on the basis of federal character. Neither should such a panel be populated with over-stretched senior-level civil servants. Civil servants should only be drafted as resource persons for such a technical panel.
Upon completion of their work, government would then publish concrete plan targets and strategies which will be open to the public and all relevant stakeholders. This process enables the government to gather more information, synthesize projections, make necessary changes, and then, formulate actual workable plans for final legislative action by the National Assembly. Policy making in democracies is deliberative and full of delays but its outcome always beats half-baked policies developed by a panel in a hurry.
While we appreciate government’s invitation to Nigerians to become more proactive and to participate in Vision 2020 exercise, the extent to which government has created easily accessible avenues to facilitate the advertised participatory process is unclear. One concern is that in a bid to beat the October 1st deadline, we might end up with a less rigorously designed development plan.
Left to us, the goal for Vision 2020 would be more modest than making the first twenty economies list.
We would aim at getting far away from the ugly list of low human development at which we are ignobly number 158 out of 180 countries.
Panel members should ask questions and proffer answers as to why our life expectancy at birth today should be 46.5 when it was about 60 years in 1960. Then they should provide a plan to improve the situation between now and the 2020 magic year. There are other concrete declines that are crying out for attention.

For example, our adult literacy rate still remains at 69.1 (it’s a mere 30.9 per cent for 15 and older age group), while combined school enrolment (primary, secondary and tertiary) is just 56.2 per cent. Why? What’s the problem here? What is the answer?
And, what can we do about our current 37.3 per cent probability of not surviving at birth? How can we reduce the percentage of our population that still lives below poverty line (US$1 a day since 1990) from the current outrageous level of 70.8 per cent?
We hope the working groups are as shocked as we are that 43 percent of our children who will be 16 years old in 2020 are currently suffering stunted growth while 14 per cent suffer low birth weights and 29 per cent are under weight.
They should tell the honourable minister to tell Mr. President that whether we make the list of 20 largest economies or not, these demographic trends portend little joy for us in 2020.