Scenarios with Obadiah Mailafia

September 28, 2020

Prospects for Agenda 2050

Prospects for Agenda 2050

By Obadiah Mailafia

Without much fanfare and drums, the Federal Government recently launched the Nigeria Agenda 2050 programme in Abuja. Agenda 2050 is a long-term perspective plan that aims to reposition our country as one of the leading nations of the 21st century within the next three decades. The entire programme is being anchored by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Planning and Budget, which also serves as the secretariat.

Agenda 2050 is a long-term perspective strategy that will be implemented within a framework of five-year Medium-Term National Development Plans, MNDPs.   Several Technical Working Groups, TWGs, have been created.

They range from the Macroeconomics Modelling Group to the International Relations and External Trade Group, of which yours sincerely is a member. The Central Working Group coordinates the various technical groups and is expected to process their inputs into an internally consistent and coherent outcome.

I daresay that if Agenda 2050 had not existed it would have been necessary to invent it; coming, as it does, at the ending of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP, covering the years 2017 to 2020.

The ERGP was born as a child of necessity. It came at the wake of one of the worst recessions in living memory. The APC-led administration was caught totally ill-prepared when global prices collapsed in 2015. It took them six months to form a cabinet. The delay compounded the economic crisis which ensued.

This is what happened in May 2015. And because they were not equipped to govern, they had no economic programme and no development strategy. Even the ERGP was something that was kind of foisted upon them. It was not a truly home-grown solution as many would suppose. I was a bit taken aback when the young men from a prestigious global consulting firm were the key people driving the project.

Some of them could have been my students when I was a business school Associate Professor in London in the nineties. I understand the mindset of the professional global bourgeoise. They merely go through the motion of executing a project that rakes in millions of dollars for the firm. Their heart is never in it. They also added insult to injury by bringing another expert all the way from Malaysia to assist with the implementation framework.

The man, to my knowledge, had virtually no understanding of the dynamics and peculiarities of the Nigerian political economy. ERGP was, at best, an elegant waste of time and resources.

Agenda 2050 is coming at a difficult time in our history. We are a tragically divided nation. The fissures in our body politic have never been deeper than they are today. Trust is at a deficit. Most Nigerians do not trust this government and their intentions.

The alleged project to build a $1.9 billion rail line from Katsina to Maradi in Niger Republic, for example, has outraged Nigerians groaning under the weight of poverty, higher petrol and electricity prices and hunger. It might patently be treasonable. To borrow money from the Chinese under commercial rates to construct a rail line leading to another man’s country, for which Nigerians yet unborn will have to pay, is not only wicked and unconscionable; it is high treason.

Long-term perspective plans are good. But they are best carried out under an atmosphere of trust and mutual solidarity. My humble reading of world economic history teaches me that the greatest leaps in social and economic progress are made when nations develop a sense of collective purpose and destiny. I fear that this government, whatever it comes up with, is unlikely to win the minds and hearts of most Nigerians simply because of the trust deficit.

Nigeria jettisoned economic development planning in the eighties, when the IBB military junta was persuaded to pursue neoliberal “structural adjustment programmes”.   Strictly speaking, programmes such as Vision 2020 covering the years 2010-2020 and the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, NEEDS, were largely “rolling plans” rather than economic development plans as technically understood.

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A recent survey by the World Bank shows that in 2019, some 143 countries went back to the tradition of economic development planning as compared to 32 in the year 2000. It seems clear that the policy pendulum is swinging back from neo-liberal free market strategies of macroeconomic development policy management to more interventionist planning paradigms.

Nigeria’s Agenda 2050 is still in the early stages. But there are important lessons that must be imbibed.

First, a clear vision is imperative. It is said that, without vision, the people perish. We must evolve a clear and well-articulated vision of what our country will be three decades down the road. And that vision must be national in outlook and must be one that is shared by the national elites as well as the generality of the populace.

For my part, we need a vision of Nigeria of the year 2050 to be that of a first-rate industrial-technological nation that is also a prosperous democracy and one of the leading nations of the 21st century. We want a country that is progressive and free and that nurtures the creativity and energy of its peoples in an atmosphere that respects human rights, the rule of law, while guaranteeing equal opportunities for all.

Setting a clear vision, with realistic targets, is among the most important factors for the success of Agenda 2050.I envision an economy with a GDP of US$2 trillion and an average per capita income of about US$18,000. This would place us in GDP terms at about the same size Italy is today.

By 2050, Nigeria would be the third most populous nation on earth, at 410 million. We would be following right behind India and China and ahead of the United States and Brazil. In terms of GDP ranking, we should aim to be at least within the top 15 globally.

Equally crucial is the existence of a rigorous implementation framework. Nigeria has not been short on ideas and plans. The devil, as they say, has always been on the nitty-gritty of implementation.

A successful implementation framework requires a clear understanding of ownership, articulation of monitorable milestones and targets, a system for monitoring and evaluation; accountability for results; adaptability in the face of unexpected contingencies; and an effective communication framework to get all stakeholders on board.

Linked to implementation is the imperative of designing a credible and effective financing framework. Money is a necessary but not a sufficient condition, for planning success.

But we need all plans to be reduced to bankable projects – projects for speed trains, harbours, ports, new cities, highways, airports and power stations. We must plan rigorously on how to mobilise capital both internally and externally to finance our ambitious projects.

Equally important is building effective development partnerships. Development partnerships will have to be framed between government and the organised private sector, civil society, NGOs, women and youth groups and other key stakeholders. We also need partnerships with international development agencies and bilateral aid agencies that share our vision for the future.

Lastly, let me emphasise the importance of benchmarking. While mobilising our entire populace towards achieving the Agenda 2050 vision, we need to benchmark ourselves against some economically successful countries for the purpose of collective learning. I have always believed that economic development is ultimately a learning process.

No country is perfect and no country has it all. But we can learn from the achievements of others in certain crucial sectors. The countries I have in mind for benchmarking purposes are Germany, South Korea, UAE, Singapore and Brazil.

Let me seize this opportunity to wish all my gentle readers a happy 60th independence anniversary which comes up on Thursday, October 1.