By Adeshola Komolafe
There are too many plans. So which of these plans are we planning to use to plan? – Hilda Dokubo, Nollywood Actress, at 2017 Niger Delta Development Forum.
The Niger Delta Development Forum, a gathering of stakeholders in the Niger Delta region around development issues, has come a long way since started in 2012 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
An annual event sponsored by development partners working in the Niger Delta region, the Forum’s whose objectives include creating awareness and shared understating among stakeholders on the necessity and methodologies for long-term perspective planning and implementation for domestic resource mobilization, and inclusive and resilient regional growth; and showcasing working models for development planning that can transform states and share practical ways of achieving development planning, is at the vanguard of promoting sustainable growth and development in the Niger Delta region.
Future in our hands
The 2017 edition, the sixth in the series with the theme ‘The Future in our hands: A state-led framework for planning and development in the Niger Delta’, held in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital on the 14th and 15th of November 2017. In his welcome address to participants at this year’s event, Dr. Dara Akala, the Executive Director of Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta – PIND – remarked that the 2017 edition was unlike any of the previous editions.
According to him, the DEMAND Alliance partners – PIND, DFID, United States Agency for International Development, USAID, and DFID-funded Markets Development in the Niger Delta, MADE, project – came together as a collective to lay a framework for collaboration with like-minded donor agencies that are funding overlapping programs on economic development in the Niger Delta and that with greater coordination in project implementation, they hope to maximize their development impact, and enhance development of implementation capacity among local organizations in the region.
Reflecting on the outcome previous editions of NDDF, he said ‘each year we have seen partner organizations take ownership of, and adopt policy recommendations into their work plans. BRACED Commission, for example, moved forward on some of the agriculture and investment policy recommendations from a previous NDDF to work directly with the Commissioners of the six States they are mandated to work in. Following a recommendation from NDDF, USAID’s MARKETS II project supplied equipment grants to women and youth for farming in Cross Rivers and Delta States as part of work to address the constraint of access to finance for women and youth. It was also an NDDF session that spurred USAID’s SACE Project to start the #TALKNDIs initiative that tracked Niger Delta institutions responsible for delivering services. They also produced a report titled Citizens Report Card on Niger Delta Institutions, which covered eight local government areas in Cross River, Delta, Edo, and Ondo. Also, taking a cue from NDDF, Abia State Government organized the Aba Urban Development Forum in January 2016 with a focus on developing and rebranding the city of Aba’.
Kick starting the conversation at the Forum, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, Senior Special Adviser to Cross River State Government on Sustainable Development Goals, SDG, and moderator of the opening plenary remarked that ‘the current Niger Delta is not sustainable today. It’s not productive. It’s ridden with social crisis. The internal contradictions are overwhelming. You bring intervention agencies to come and solve the problem, they become the problem. Governors do what they do at the state-level, federal government does what it does at the national level. And the rest of us struggle in-between to get their attention. The oil companies and the economic well-being of our states and region is being undermined by the type of insecurity and problems we have. Investors are not keen on the region anymore. What we have as a region and the model that is driving the region today is not sustainable, it won’t work’. The discussion therefore, on the Framework and Tools for Implementable, Fundable and Sustained Growth and Development Planning in the Niger Delta could not have come at a more auspicious time.
To set the tone of conversation, Prof Adegboyega Oguntade, the lead consultant at Cross River Growth and Development Plan, delivered the keynote paper using the Cross River State Growth and Development Strategy – GDS – Process, as a case study.
It was an incisive presentation and primed the participants to tackle the problem of non-implementation of plans headlong. Most of the participants had an opinion, with most pointing at the inability of successive governments to follow through with the implementation of their plans, or implement that of previous governments. It was clear that most of the participants thought that if there was one thing the government at the various levels had in abundance, it was plans.
Nigeria and history
Nigeria’s history is rife with plans. In fact, there are plans for everything in Nigeria. Well thought out plans that in most cases, factors in every conceivable scenario. There are rooms full of such plans in our various MDAs at either the federal or state level. Beautiful, well-reasoned, well-informed and commonsensical plans. The only problem is these plans, no matter how good and relevant to the wellbeing of the people, are never fully implemented. Some maybe partially implemented. Other are never touched after launching. They remain on the shelves, gathering dust while waiting to receive new members. Every new government that comes to power wants to come up with its own plans. It is like the planners and their sponsors are only interested in the planning process and not the implementation process because even when they have all the resources to implement these plans that took so much human and material resources to produce, they never fully implement them. For instance, there is the 7-point Agenda of the Yar’adua administration, the Vision 20-20, the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (2014) and the Nigeria Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (2014) of the Jonathan Administration, the Strategic Implementation Plan for the Budget of Change (2016) and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017-2020) of the Buhari administration. None has been fully implemented.
Many individuals and organisations have spoken against this culture and proffered solutions to this perennial problem of non-implementation of plans. But all these have all been talk. Little action has been taken to see to the changing of the status quo. But the multi-stakeholders gathering at the 2017 Niger Delta Development Forum took concrete steps to change this narrative. With participants from all walks of life including the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, the NDDC Chairman, representatives of the governments of the nine Niger Delta States and the federal government, including MDAs, Development partners, Academicians, Activists, CSOs, NGOs and celebrities from the Niger Delta region, the Forum sought to map a way forward by bringing together a strong coalition of multi-sector stakeholders to discuss and influence the development, competitiveness and inclusive growth agenda for the Niger Delta region, primarily by assisting state governments and regional bodies to define a State-led framework and tools for planning and development towards inclusive and resilient regional growth.
Multi-stakeholder discussions focusing on the 5 thematic pillars of sustainable development, agriculture, social development, governance and institutions, and energy and infrastructure, proposed development and growth roadmap framework on the themes and short, medium, and long term implementation approaches.
Speaking at the Forum, Laoye Jaiyeola, CEO of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group – NESG – remarked that ‘the theme placed a timely premium and focus on responsible multi-sector stakeholder leadership that is needed to achieve a sustainable development in the Niger Delta. Noting the accumulation of development plans, frameworks, policies and strategies for the Niger Delta that have not gotten the scale of traction and impact that the region deserves, it is essential to stress that the lack of state-level ownership, cohesive regional development integration that pays attention to the unique challenges of each state and the specificity of the requirements have led to very low buy-ins…’.
Considering the foregoing, it means that getting the buy-ins of the critical stakeholders, especially state actors is key in ensuring the implementability or otherwise of any development plan. This therefore underscores the importance of the caliber of participants at this year’s Forum and their commitment to creating a state-level roadmap for incorporating their state’s infrastructural and development plans, private sector involvement and investment opportunities, plus process-based work-plans for developing the plans and a pitch for specific support required, detailing specific follow up actions items, roles and responsibilities and timelines for stakeholders. Going by the impact of decisions reached at previous editions of the NDDF, it is hoped that the outcomes of this year’s NDDF will usher in a new dawn in the implementation of development plans, at least in Niger Delta region.