Last Wednesday, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, unveiled a five-year National Development Plan, which the government says will succeed its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, that is due to expire next month.
Briefing newsmen shortly after the FEC meeting, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr Zainab Ahmed, said the plan is “structured around six concepts and these concepts include economic growth and development, infrastructure, public administration, human capital development, social development and regional development. The framework projects average GDP growth of five per cent. The plan has been costed to have an investment size of N348.7tn over five years.”
Ahmed explained further that the private sector will contribute 85.7% (N298.3tn) of the funding, while the federal government and the states will collectively put forward 14.3% (N49.7tn).
We are intrigued by this new National Development Plan for Nigeria. Development planning is a medium to long term programme designed to bring about enduring structural changes to the economy in selected areas of priority. It is a necessary policy tool because economic development is neither natural nor accidental: it is something deliberately cultivated and nurtured to fruition through sound panning and faithful implementation. Moreover, development planning has proved quite effective in advancing economic progress in many countries.
Nigeria, particularly, has had a long and tortured history of development, beginning with the colonial Ten-Year Plan of Development and Welfare (1946–56). Following independence, successive governments designed and implemented four national development plans during 1962-1968, 1970-1974, 1975-1980, and 1981-1985. In the mid-1980s, the federal government abandoned the erstwhile 5-year medium term plans in favour of three-year rolling plans over a longer period.
This longer-term planning strategy morphed into the Vision 2010 national economic development plan under General Sani Abacha, which in turn, rolled into the Vision 20:2020 programme of former President Goodluck Jonathan. When it was launched in 2010, the Vision 2020 project specifically targeted Nigeria to become one of the top twenty economies in the world by last year.
In between these medium to longer term plans, successive Nigerian governments also declared short term economic development plans, such as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) under General Ibrahim Babangida, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), the late president Yar’adua’s 7-Point Agenda, and the Buhari government’s now expiring Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.
Three constants run through all of these plethora of Nigeria’s development plans. First, a new government would jettison previous or existing plans, formulate its own plan, often following significant public debate. Second, almost all of Nigeria’s development plans have had broadly the same objectives of building human capital, promoting rapid economic growth, developing infrastructure, expanding private sector participation in the economy, and so on. Third, Nigeria’s development planning, so far, has been marked by a lack of plan discipline, misplacement of priorities, systemic corruption and ineffective partnerships between the public and private sectors. No surprise, then, that all of them failed to yield desired results.
No one as yet knows whether Buhari’s new plan will go the way of others. But we note two significant differences between this new plan and the previous plans. The first is the scale of investments targeted in the new plan. An investment of nearly N350tn (about $850bn) over five years will raise Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to about 1.3 trillion United States dollars—triple our current GDP of about 440 billion dollars—during the same period. This new plan also goes well beyond the so-called public-private partnership characteristic of more recent plans, and expects to be led, decisively, by the private sector.
The government’s National Development Plan is therefore fascinating and promising. It is simply the most ambitious economic development plan yet imagined for Nigeria. If fully and faithfully implemented, it has the potential to create tens of millions of new jobs, lift over a hundred million Nigerians out of poverty, and ultimately transform the country’s economic landscape, perhaps forever. This is, in short, a game-changer for Nigeria and a significant shift away from the usually tokenistic economic policy measures characteristic of this and all previous governments in the past. We, therefore, support the new plan in principle and commend the government for dreaming it up at this time in our national economic development.
Still, a lot about this plan would trouble many a discerning Nigerian. First, it is not even clear yet whether the government has a coherent plan in place or is merely expressing an intent. It is true that preparatory work on the plan has been going on for months among key stakeholders, including the constitution of 26 Technical Working Groups (TWGs) earlier in August. But majority of Nigerians are hardly aware of this plan, let alone their roles in it. Surely, details of a development plan must be codified in a written document, freely available and open for public scrutiny?
It is concerning, also, that the government has been on a borrowing binge precisely at the same time it claims to be pursuing a five-year National Development Plan. Are the purported projects for which the government is borrowing money part of the plan? Moreover, the government’s record of faithfully pursuing development programmes is below average at best. Its Presidential Power Initiative (PPI) has been in the doldrums since 2018. And in February this year, the government approved the establishment of a N1tn infrastructure company to focus on critical infrastructural investments. Scarcely a word has been heard of the company since then. Would the new National Development Plan go the way of these too?
Nigerians expect and await reassuring answers to buy into this laudable idea.