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Pseudo Hope: A Discourse On Nigeria's Vision 2020 and Future Development

Nigeria may still be able to achieve its Vision 2020 goals, after 2020.

National planning is not a new concept in any political arena. Planning on a national level follows the humanistic way of organization and is widespread across world nations, including Nigeria. The country has mapped out various national plans aimed at development, but so far these plans have resulted in a combination of pseudo hope and unwarranted hype.

Every four years, electorates hand out bouquets of promises to Nigerian citizens. Vision 2020 first featured in September 2009’s bouquet, as a long-term development plan to ultimately place Nigeria in the top 20 global economies in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2020. The plan was first put forward by the Obasanjo administration to achieve specific goals: structural transformation; to reduce the country’s overdependence on oil; and to improve Nigerians’ standards of living. The national development plan would use human and natural resources to achieve higher rates of economic growth and transform this into equitable social development across the country. Strategies linked to Vision 2020 would also further Nigeria’s progress in achieving seven of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2020. The MDGs were established in 2000 by the United Nations to eradicate global poverty and its consequences and increase pro-poor growth.

Vision 2020 was a 10-year plan; it covered a long period compared to development plans in countries that had faced similar problems in the past, such as China. China’s approach to national planning has been to map out and implement a series of Five-Year Plans (FYPs), with each FYP focusing on a set of objectives in the given period, to achieve incremental and sustainable economic growth and development in the long run. The Five-Year Plan was pioneered by the Soviet Union after the Russian revolution and focused on achieving rapid industrialization within five years. Other nations began to adopt FYPs because they had a relatively short timeframe during which leaders could track progress and recalibrate as required; ‘lessons learned’ could be readily incorporated into the next FYP. One of the more popular Chinese FYPs was the Great Leap Forward campaign (1958-1962) under Chairman Mao Zedong. The Great Leap Forward aimed to transform China from an agrarian economy to a communist nirvana to boost revenue and eliminate the urban-rural segregation across the nation.

Nigeria’s Vision 2020 could not have been introduced at a better time. The successful diplomatic efforts of President Obasanjo had reduced foreign portfolio debts and the political atmosphere was charged with hope and promise of the long-awaited Nigerian development. When I heard of Nigeria’s Vision 2020, I thought to myself, ‘something great is about to come forth from Nigeria.’ I was not alone in thinking this; Nigerians looked on in anticipation of the country’s unprecedented growth and its potential ‘bragging rights’ on the global stage.

Vision 2020 as at March 2020

People often say that failure to plan is planning to fail, but even the best-laid plans can come to nought. Even though Nigeria’s best economic development experts drafted Vision 2020, we are still a long way from the 2020 we envisioned. Nigeria’s inability to achieve the objectives spans has multiple reasons. Firstly, national goals have a history of shifting with changes in political power—new political leaders are keen to introduce and favour their own policies at the expense of consistency and continuity. Looking at Vision 2020 itself, different administrations have focused on different aspects of the plan and rebranded these as their own plans for economic growth. The late President Yar’adua began the project with the Seven Point Agenda and President Jonathan would later introduce the Transformation Agenda.

The current administration’s focus is the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), with the same objective of economic growth but without the goal of placing Nigeria among the twenty largest economies. There is also the unfortunate tendency to prioritize the interests of the political party (and its members) in power over those of the public. Bribery, corruption and embezzlement add to the challenge of inequality in a country with over 200 million people—already, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), nearly 50 per cent of Nigerians are deprived of basic needs such as food and clothing.

The objectives of Vision 2020 have also been disrupted to an extent by ethnic and religious tensions and clashes within the country. Physical safety and economic activity have been steadily disrupted with the emergence of extremist group Boko Haram, clashes between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers, and increased anxiety from pro-Biafra nationalists in the South East. Nigeria collaborates with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) towards peace-building, reinforcement of local security, resistance to violence, people-led security, and governance among several others. Whilst the USIP might not have directly mitigated any conflict, they have helped formulate policies, engage stakeholders and offer expert opinion on achieving sustainable peace in Nigeria. To facilitate economic stability with such a large and diverse population, more needs to be done to promote a sense of unity and ensure disputes are resolved as swiftly and effectively as possible.

It is worthwhile to compare Nigeria’s journey with Vision 2020 with Rwanda’s. Both countries had the objectives to increase standards of living, boost economic growth and eliminate hunger and poverty through a Vision 2020 (Rwanda has a plan of the same name). Whereas Nigeria intended to be one of the top twenty prosperous economies, Rwanda’s target was to achieve at least 7 per cent annual growth to become a middle-income country. The different end goals produced different results. Rwanda has revamped itself as a nation committed to development and attracts greater foreign investment, especially towards fostering a knowledge-based economy. This has been through strengthening institutions, championing zero tolerance for corruption, embracing transparency and accountability, and investing in hard and soft infrastructure.

Nigeria, on the other hand, still faces the same struggles Vision 2020 sought to combat. Systemic corruption and little to no accountability made unfulfilled political promises and mandates the norm. According to the 2019 Corruption Perception Index, Nigeria ranked 146th least corrupt of 180 countries, compared to Rwanda’s 51st, demonstrating the huge difference in the levels of corruption. A lower level of corruption in Rwanda would contribute to its higher ranking on the World Bank Doing Business Index—Rwanda was ranked as the 29th easiest place to do business, while Nigeria ranked 131st as at 2019. In addition to these points, Nigeria’s overdependence on oil became the national standard operating procedure for economic management and the steady decline of oil prices in global markets has meant lower oil revenues for the country.

It is difficult to predict how Nigeria’s political significance and power relations will develop over the next decade. The ‘giant of Africa’ was conspicuously absent from the 2018 G20 Buenos Aires summit, where the world’s leading industrialized and emerging economies discussed international financial stability and crucial global issues. Nigeria’s exclusion is of significance; a 2018 report by allAfrica suggests this could be a consequence of development indices being lower than they should be.

We must also consider power relations with other countries. Nigeria has had amicable relations with the United States and is central to the US government’s global development strategy. Moreover, Nigeria partners with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a US government mission in Nigeria, on issues related to improving governance, fostering economic growth, improving stability and increasing opportunity. In more recent times, Nigeria-US relations have been strained due to the Boko Haram crisis in the North East. Nigeria, for instance, was one of the countries to include in the US travel ban announced by the Trump Administration in 2020. It is arguable that the steady influx of Nigerian immigrants in the US also influenced President Trump’s decision.

Closer to home, Nigeria’s relationship with South Africa has been strained since the start of democracy (after the apartheid) in South Africa in 1994. The late President Mandela had called for Nigeria’s expulsion from the Commonwealth after the execution of political activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, arguing that the disregard of human rights during the late Sani Abacha’s regime (1993-1998) was sufficient grounds for removal. Both nations have competed to extend their dominance beyond their respective sub-regions and claim regional hegemony, a rivalry that intensified when Presidents Jonathan and Zuma could not resolve the chairmanship of the African Union Commission in 2012.

The most recent reflection of the strained relationship between Nigeria and South Africa are the 2019 xenophobic attacks by South Africans against other African immigrants, including Nigerians. Despite the strife between the two countries, Nigeria and South Africa maintain robust economic relationships. South African companies operate in Nigeria and vice versa; telecommunication giant MTN, Oando Plc and Dangote Group have bolstered the commercial relationships between the two countries in more recent times.

Despite the delay in actualizing its various national developmental plans, Nigeria has attained global influence as a soft power state based on its democratic credentials, movie and music industries and vibrant foreign policy. The Nigerian movie industry acts as one of the most effective ways for the country to impart its cultural history and promote cultural diplomacy. So far, Nollywood has dominated Africa and journeyed further to the US, the UK, Canada, Spain and Germany. Nollywood has also been instrumental in the creation of an original pan-African cinema. At the 2019 Creative Business Cup (CBC), Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Hajiya Aisha Abubakar, praised the Nigerian music industry, which is predicted to be worth $73 million by 2021. Last and by no means least, the Nigerian literary scene and writers have made an enormous impact globally. Wole Soyinka became Africa’s first Nobel laureate for Literature in 1986, the late Chinua Achebe’s debut novel, Things Fall Apart, sold over 20 million copies worldwide, and multiple-award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work plays a vital role in the feminism movement. Development in these areas has placed Nigeria centre stage.

Beyond Vision 2020

Failing to fulfil the vision or to the needs and objectives of our national plans depreciates the value of national policies. And we must learn from our shortcomings where Vision 2020 is concerned. With the current administration beginning talks of Vision 2040, how can we ensure we are not in the same position in another ten years? In another 20 years?

Firstly, it is worth exploring the implementation of national plans with shorter timelines as this has worked for different countries in the past. There could also be substantial merit in empowering national institutions with mandates that support national planning objectives. Whereas political parties can change every four years, our national institutions are forever and can provide an element of consistency if they play a greater role in implementing national plans.

The state of the country’s democracy satisfies only a few Nigerians and the majority are uncertain about the intentions of the country’s judicial and political systems. There has been mass emigration of high performing human capital to ‘greener pastures’, worsening the rapid brain drain in Nigeria and Africa overall. Some people believe that no matter who comes into power, Nigeria will remain stagnant. To address this, political leaders must be held accountable for their actions and must ensure they pursue the peace, prosperity and economic growth for citizens. The government has signed multiple anti-corruption acts into law and established commissions to enforce them, including the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

However, more must be done to empower these bodies to carry out their mandates. The presidential pardon of ex-Governor Alamieyeseigha, whilst legal, was condemned as a setback in Nigeria’s fight against corruption and arguably undermined the efforts of EFCC. Cases like this should prompt the review of sections in the Nigerian Senate Acts that limit the autonomy of the EFCC. The government could diversify the EFCC board to include more non-government officials to safeguard against power dynamics.

Nigeria should harness its extensive human capital and create a nurturing environment for individuals to flourish, create and innovate without fear of sudden subjugation by state powers. Although Nigeria now ranks higher in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index (131st in 2020 versus 146st in 2019), more progress is needed to become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. This should attract greater foreign direct investment and encourage Nigerians in the diaspora to return. Nigeria needs to provide more employment opportunities for its youth and food programs for the homeless and poor citizens, in addition to sustainable housing and homeownership schemes. The government can also benefit from involving its citizens in creating policies—in a democratic country like Nigeria, citizens should be given opportunities to impact public policy through participation in the public decision-making process. This has proven effective in California and the Netherlands, according to articles by Davenport Institute and the Government of the Netherlands. A 2011 study by Brenton Holmes for the Australian Parliament also discusses how the citizen should be at the centre of policymaker’s decision as both a target and an agent.

United We Stand

Other solutions are taking a ‘united we stand’ approach to address and overcome our economic or development problems rather than weaponizing our ethnic and religious differences, expansion and maintenance of existing oil refineries and developing other revenue generation streams (such as tourism and agriculture) and addressing infrastructure deficits. The success of the creative industry gives Nigeria greater opportunity to drive its own narrative and showcase its progress to the rest of the world. If Nigeria is to grow past the stage of underdevelopment, the government needs to invest in sharing inspirational stories of excellence in Nigeria, its history and its accomplished citizens.

Overall, Nigeria has made significant progress in its democratic development and non-oil industries, although it must overcome the formidable challenges to economic growth and development above to fulfil its momentous prospects. If ERPG and future development plans are successful, this will strengthen the country’s political influence and improve life for its citizens

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