• Wednesday, April 17, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

SME-focused industrialization and fiscal federalism

Emeka-Osuji_art

It was John Santayana, the Spanish philosopher and novelist who was credited with the saying that those who do not study history are bound to repeat it. Indeed, an eye in the past is necessary to sharpen the vision of the future. Nigeria, probably more than any other country, needs to keep an eye on its history not just to avoid the risk of repetition but to use it to shape the future. How many of us in Nigeria today, even among the academic and thought-leading communities, were aware or remembered that this country has a plan called the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP)? Of course, not many of us and those who do have either not read it or read but forgotten the contents. Thanks to the authors of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) recently launched by the present administration, for calling attention to that document.

The launched of the ERGP was widely commended for a number of attributes that it embodies, which have the potential to set it apart. For me the emphasis which it places on implementation without external prompting seems to be the point of divergence from other plans. Perhaps, the authors of the document had that same feeling when they said very strongly that “the ERGP differs from previous plans in several ways. First, focused implementation is at the core of the delivery strategy”. The plan is actually strong in articulation and coverage, touching practically on every point of economic pain the country is experiencing.

Interestingly, the plan seems to recognise the usefulness of the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan prepared by the previous government and as far as one could see, did not implement. Someone had to pick it up from the dusty archives and give it the prominent position it has gained in the ERGP. The first of the three key implementation strategies of the ERGP for the industrial objectives is to accelerate the implementation of the NIRP, which was launched by the Jonathan Administration in 2014. Others are to promote innovation and technology-led industries, and to encourage the development and growth of the resource processing subsector. This is where history comes into this whole matter. I may not be well-informed of what government did about the NIRP at that time but it appears me that much did not get done in implementation. The question is why did the bureaucrats go to sleep on that plan? Did Jonathan go away with these public servants or are they the people to implement this SME-focused industrialization policy?

This is where I worry about Nigeria public officials. I think they have the wrong concept of loyalty. These people spend enormous resources to prepare intelligent plans and feel no sense of loss when such plans are shovelled into the dust bin by whoever they report to in the name of loyalty. Once the leader shows no interest in anything these people are glad to treat it like a leper, even if the thing is clearly of high national importance. I know that civil servants are to be seen and not hear but the time has come for us to think again about certain traditions imposed by the exploitative colonial masters to rid us of our national wealth. I think our loyalty should lie with our country. After all, we have had leaders in this country whose private agenda far superseded the national interest. Should the civil service not have a way of responding to the conduct of such people and in the national interest? This sheepish conduct is probably the reason why people load tons of cash from the treasury and everybody keeps quite till we hire a whistle blower. If the ERGP will be implemented by those who wrote and filed away the NIRP, then we have more coming. Well, some say it is difficult to think creatively, or even concentrate on anything, in an environment poisoned by easy wealth, open treasury looting and oil theft, all ramped up to official status. Perhaps, people had better things to do than worry about development plans.

We really need to return to the issue of implementation. It cannot be overemphasised. Very well written plans are not the product of rocket scientists. Not at all. The issue is implementation and following through. It is better to have poorly written plans effectively implemented than to have masterpieces of plans that end up in the dust bin. Those of us that are interested in the informal or SME sector have applauded the plan for proposing to “drive its industrialization policy on the SME sector, but there is nothing innovative about that phase. It is however noteworthy that in stating why it differs from previous plans, the first reason given by the writers of the ERGP was that “focused implementation is at the core of the delivery strategy”. I hope the operatives in the service were in agreement with their bosses when they included this clause. One hopes that focused plan funding is also at the core of this plan. Anyway, we in the SME sector will keep an eye on this promise. And the brilliant men and women who wrote the plan should be interested in how their useful ideas and efforts benefit their country. Doing otherwise is self-deprecation.

One of the major challenges to the SME sector is power supply. The central government has failed to solve this problem because of official corruption. However, the evident disconnect between the nature of our federation and the demands of grassroots development prevent individual initiatives being propelled beyond the areas of focus for the central government. Reading through the ERGP, one could see that the federal government may have embarked on a solitary frolic of its own. The plan has no state component. It only proposes to encourage sub-nationals to develop their own ERGPs, may be like the erstwhile former NEEDS, SEEDs and LEEDs programmes. Kai Mallam! That to me is begging the question. What if they refuse? Can they be compelled? If they write their own plans, do they have the resources to implement them?

SMEs are closer to the sub-national governments than the federal. Anchoring industrialization on SMEs domiciled predominantly in the rural areas without a significant role for the grassroots governments (state and local) seems, to harbour the seed of future policy disarray. There lies the gap in the SME-focused industrialization plan. It will indeed be quite innovative to successfully implement a federal plan in a federation of insolvent components lacking in fiscal federalism.

 

Emeka Osuji