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Okotie’s elixir for policy somersault

By Eppi Joseph
Policy reserval is a disease common to our governments, military or civilian, since independence in 1960. It has been the bane of development in a way that rubbishes all the positives of perspective planning.

Then, again, the situation is compounded by our predilection for lack of reliable statistics and poor record keeping. Tracking development efforts becomes a herculean task.

Recently, the Institute for Statistics, UIS, an arm of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, condemned a situation where Nigeria does not have reliable data upon which to predicate its development. This has made the agency’s attempt to evaluate the country’s preparedness to meet some international targets like the Education for All, and the Millennium Development Goals, MGDS, difficult to achieve.

When asked recently to evaluate the performance of President Goodluck Jonathan, one of his rivals in the last presidential elections, Rev Chris Okotie of the Fresh Democratic Party, pointed to this obvious constraint of lack of reliable data and access to information, to a realistic analysis of government performance at any level.

Okotie referred to a report in Thisday issue of Friday, September 9, 2011, where on the same day at different public functions, the Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, put the unemployment rate at 14-16 per cent, while his Finance Ministry counterpart, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, quoted 21 percent.

“A government whose ministers; two key officials holding strategic portfolios for that matter, quote conflicting figures in an issue as important as employment, certainly has a problem with planning and quality result,” according to Rev Okotie, also called Prince of Nigeria.

Okotie said that his critique of the Jonathan administration should not be seen as an attempt to smear the government because of his misgivings over the outcome of the 2011 elections. “Far from it, I owe it a duty as The Prince of Nigeria, to point out these flaws to government to engender good governance; that’s my responsibility.

I am not in the league of armchair professional critics or rouble rousers who see nothing good in government,” Okotie explained during a phone interview with this writer on the subject matter.

He linked policy somersaults to failure by planners to always look at the larger picture, on the long term. “There are usually no linkages between new projects and those already on ground. That’s because, new projects mean new contracts and, then kick-backs and inflated costs take the better part of these projects, resulting in their being abandoned,” he said.

The pastor-politician also referred to government attempt to save our textile industry. A N70 billion bail out was arranged, only for the Federal Government to lift the ban on cheap textiles from Asia. There are a lot of instances one can point to, even in the highly sensitive financial sector.

Universal banking was abolished under Central Bank Governor, Charles Soludo; his successor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has reversed the policy. Government routinely bans and unbans the importation of products, confusing investors and damaging their enterprise.

Policy inconsistency is the evidence of deficit planning, lack of coordination and poor internal linkages within the beaucratic apparatus. It shows a dire lack of vision and commitment to set targets and development objectives that a serious nation can hardly afford.

Rev Okotie says Nigeria should return to term planning, like the ten-year development plan of the Gowon era. The rolling-plans of the Babangida regime did not work, as did Abacha’s Vision 2010, which President Musa Yar’Adua shifted to vision 20:2020.

There’s yet nothing on ground to show that in about eight years, the tenure of two-term president, Nigeria would be able to move into the bracket of the world’s top 20 industrialised nations.

The infrastructure deficit is monumental. High unempl-oyment, poorly trained manpower, lack of stable power supply, crime, and now, Boko Haram, labour unrest, and a Federal Government that is still struggling to settle down after 100 days in office. Vision 20:2020 looks more like a pipedream; one hopes it does not end up like its predecessors.

Okotie’s suggestion is that Nigeria inaugurates a multi-party approach to development, which is all inclusive, comprehensive, realistic, holistic, and focused on multi-target objectives in several key sectors like power, re-industrialisation, education, highly skilled, tertiary manpower; quality health care, mass employment, vocational training, ICT, and aggressive international trade, based on a multi-product economy.

The beauty of an all inclusive, term development approach to national planning, according to Rev Okotie, is that change of power in government would not result in cancellation of policies or abandonment of running projects, like is the case currently when succeeding administrations often tend to ignore projects they inherit, and sometimes disavow commitments to existing contracts which they didn’t originate.

Term planning, co-authored by all national political stakeholders, is most likely to be executed faithfully to the end; it also gives little room for policy reversals or abandoned projects, for which all are committed from conception.

Our international trading partners are usually apprehensive of our policy somersault. That is why they often insist on special government guarantee on investments before serious commitments are made.

What drives modern economies are inflow of foreign investment and diversification of exports. One must not fail to note the restructuring of the old Ministry of Trade with an addition of the investment portfolio, as an attempt to buy into this vision.

There are no dearth of competent men and women at President Jonathan’s disposal, what he needs is strong institutions, a commitment to a sustained, anti-graft war, pro-active security infrastructure, and the capacity of his Economic Team to think outside the box.

The President knows his Transformation agenda can not succeed if he fails to revamp the dilapidated public infrastructure and restore sanity to our educational system. Having the will to keep on track, regardless of distractions and political pressures from several power blocks within his huge party, the PDP, is a major challenge for his Presidency.

President Jonathan’s new quest for a single-term six-year Presidency, less than 100 days into his own tenure seriously dissipated whatever goodwill he had. That is the least one expects from a President that only managed to lead a badly fractured nation out of a tumultuous general elections.

Along with a firm response to the security challenges, Jonathan ought, in the first few days of his renewed mandate, to give us reasons to believe that he can, despite all odds, effect a dramatic transformation of the Nigerian State within the four-year single term to which he has committed himself. Sadly, that was not the case. We’re still waiting.


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