• Saturday, May 25, 2024
businessday logo


Projects continuity bill, when passed into law, will stop abandoned projects in Nigeria


In this interview, Executive Secretary National Planning Commission and Secretary to the National Economic Council, Ntufam Fidel Ugbo speaks on law and economic development, the role of National planning commission in the development of the country,  his plans for Cross River State if elected the State Governor and sundry national issues. Excerpts:

Q: Tell us about your training and the prelude to your current position as Executive Secretary of the National Planning Commission?

My beginning was a very humble one. I was not born in the city. I grew up in a rural community, went to primary school in the same rural community, and I ensured that I took my academics extremely serious. I understood at a very early age that I had to excel. My undergraduate studies was at the University of Calabar, where I obtained a first degree in economics, a second in finance and a third degree in Law (LLB). There after, I went to  the Nigerian Law School, and was eventually called to the Nigerian Bar in 2005.

Prior to my current position, I worked at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); was one time the commissioner for finance, planning and budget in Cross River State and also as the Secretary to the Government of the state. I am now the Executive Secretary, National Planning Commission and also Secretary, National Economic Council.

Q: Having studied Law, economics and finance, what do you think about the current dynamics of law as it exist and is currently applied in Nigeria?

The law works with development and both must thrive to achieve economic growth. However, to work effectively, there has to be an enabling environment. We need to improve and develop our legal systems to encourage investments and investors.

To ensure that law brings about economic development, we must apply them to programmes and projects and also ensure that they are sustained. The biggest challenge however, lies with our processes. Projects and programmes in Nigeria lack continuity. We see projects abandoned with the end of every administration.

The commission came up with a law called the ‘Projects continuity Bill’, which is before the National Assembly, with the hope that the National Assembly will deliberate on it and pass it into law. Hopefully with this law, there will be continuity from one administration to another administration and Nigerians will in turn realise the benefits of their tax money. These are some of the ways the law can ensure development and economic growth.

The gap between law and development is bridged, when an enabling environment is created and the legal system is efficient.

Q: How would government policies also support such developments?

At the commission, we strive to see that there is continuity in government policies. Remember that we started with the vision 2020. The vision 2020 document about 5000 Nigerians participated in tracking the Nigerian vision. The reason we got all Nigerians from all works of life to participate in the project was to give every Nigerian the opportunity to make valuable contributions to the plan. To ensure this is properly coordinated, The National Planning Commission works together with the three tiers of Government, alongside with the National Economic Council. The council as you know, is chaired by the Vice President of Nigeria, with all the 36 States Governors in attendance. So you have representation from the Federal Government, the States and the Local Governments in one sitting and all issues incidental to the development of the nation is discussed at this meeting – which is coordinated from the National Planning Commission.

Q: How do operations at the commission impact directly on the nation’s development and what would you say are the intrigues of the office?

The National Planning Commission is the only commission in Nigeria with duties spanning across the three tiers of government; that is, the Federal, State and the Local governments. We oversee every planning activity across the tiers of government and whatever we do as the planning commission also cascades to all these tiers of government.

The commission is also a window to the world in attracting grants from donor agencies, from bilateral partners into Nigeria. We are also a coordinating commission; in charge of coordinating all development assistance coming into Nigeria for any ministry, department or an agency of Government. While the Ministry of Finance is in charge of credit facilities – loan facilities, credit facilities, etc., the national planning commission deals with grants, in aids to Nigeria either in cash or in kind.

Q: Tell us about some key strategic steps the commission has taken towards economic development?

We have set up a national monitoring and evaluation system for the country which is working very robustly, we have also established a Geographic Information System (GIS) monitoring lab in the National Planning Commission – this comes with an understanding that we are in an age of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which we must apply in running all our processes. We have done all that which is the pride of the commission and it all happened during my tenure as the Secretary to the commission, so, I am indeed proud that we are doing what we ought to do. Some of these we have achieved by partnering with other organs of government available to us; such as the Joint Planning Board.

Q: What are the duties of the Joint Planning Board?

The Joint Planning Board is a body where all the States Planning Commissioners meet quarterly to discuss issues that affect the three tiers of government and what can be done. We make resolutions and go ahead to enforce them, but we also monitor the entire process. With the National Monitoring and Evaluation that we have put in place, we also encourage states to adopt the same system, as it helps us assess our achievements and shortfalls. This will guide us and help us make amendments and generally improve on processes. To this extent, we I believe we are making wonderful contributions with our planning and coordination of the three tiers of governments.

Q: We have reasons to believe that you have ambitions to contest for the governorship of your state, Cross River State, is this correct?

Service to me has been part of my life because when I was talking to you about the areas I have offered services here and there you will see that it has always been a life of service to the people, service the nation and all that. And if at this point in time I consider that I have it takes to  step up my service to my State, I think I right.

Q: Do you think you can bring your legal training to bear on governance of the sate?

Politics is all about law and order, my law background will be able to give me an insight into what should be the proper legal frameworks, the proper laws that we should put in place to propel our economic development in order to create the enabling environment for governance. How does it enhance the understanding between the executive and legislative arms of government.

If you have somebody who has a fair idea of the law, you will be able to manage the relationship between the Legislative arm, the Executive arm and the Judiciary,  so these have again placed me in a position where I will be able to  address some of these issues for the benefit of the people of Cross River State.

I was engaged in the Central Bank of Nigeria as an economist where I worked for 24 years. Out of the 24 years, 20 years were with the CBN and four years  were  the years I spent  as Commissioner for Finance, Planning and budget  in  Cross River State, that was between 1995 and 1999.  When I returned to the Bank,  I read law and took a Masters degree in Finance which exposed me to all forms of financing options and all that. As if that was to say look, you are going to face a State that is financially challenged, you should have those views to decide on how you are going to innovatively create some financing that will help to propel development in the State. So, I believe that these background  that I had, with the fact that I worked in the CBN,  I worked in the International Economic Relations Department of the Bank, I am now working in National Planning Commission where I have to coordinate and direct  development assistance to Nigeria, interfacing with development partners and interfacing with bilateral partners from different  parts of the world  that send one form of development assistance or the other to the nation, that in itself has  also placed  me in a  better position to bring this experience to bear on the people of Cross River State to be able to share the benefits.

Q: What are your hopes towards the forthcoming elections?

I earnestly hope that we can play by the rules. Candidates and contestants should try to face the issues and not attack persons. Politics should be issue-based. If we play by the rules and address issues, politics and the political arena would be much more meaningful to everyone.