Nigeria brims over with abandoned projects, aborted hopes and dried up dreams. The incapacity of the state to deliver minimal benefits to stakeholders constricts the space for individual and corporate fulfillment producing in its wake a nation that is the graveyard of noble dreams and uplifting projects. According to Ibrahim Bunu, former Federal Capital Territory Minister, there are at least 11,886 projects in varying stages of abandonment or dereliction dotting the national landscape.
That revelation is itself a metaphor of futility and fiasco; it speaks of a space in which the human agency is so often countermanded as if sentenced to a classical riddle evoking the labour of Sisyphus in which so much exertion, so much effort, so much attention amount to very little.
Mapping the crisis of the Nigerian state is a subject for another day but what is important for now is the growing unanimity that Vision 20:2020 like so many visions and political projects before it has joined the league of public policies flagged off with gusto and brio and consuming billions of naira only to be abandoned or substituted by the latest policy fad. The Guardian in an informative report published last week described Vision 2020 as a vision on the death row citing as evidence the comatose status of the industrial sector which should have been if all had gone well the centerpiece of the policy agenda. Matters are however more degenerate than that for even state officials who once spoke enthusiastically about the vision no longer pay it the slightest rhetorical attention in their public speeches having now switched to the “transformation agenda” whatever this means in our context which we are informed is the current administration’s policy thrust.
Part of the problem let us understand is that many of these programmes were imported from outside of Nigeria, a pattern which fits easily into the prevalent consumerist culture reeking with cheap imports usually of unverified quality with no attempt made whatsoever to recast them in the Nigerian context. Mass culture epitomises this regurgitive and imitative quality as witnessed in the popularity of such television programmes as Idols and How to be a Millionaire. In a similar vein, one of our writers recounted recently how a Nigerian cultural show which billings were to showcase aspects of our culture abroad adopted as its designer maxim “Yes, We Can” confirming that both state and society are hooked on the latest buzzword from the western world especially the United States. It should not be surprising to learn therefore that several countries and transnational organisations had launched various version of vision 2020 before Nigeria’s own was announced suddenly some seven years ago.
Unimaginative and drab recycling of programmes developed elsewhere is not the only problem however; sometimes what passes for policies are no more than brainwaves or wishes gestating off the hook. Former Central Bank Governor, Prof. Charles Soludo, who later became one of the leading critics of vision 2020 provides insight recently into the tawdry antecedents of the policy. He was quoted by the Guardian of March 3 as saying that “we crafted vision 2020 in 2006 with President Olusegun Obasanjo as the chief visioner, the impetus was the Goldman Sachs report on the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the next 11 countries (N.11) which included Nigeria. The report predicted that Nigeria could be among the largest economy in 2025, with all the caveats”. Soludo went on to say that following a remark made to the effect that Nigeria’s growth rate was higher for 2004 and 2005 than the figures turned out by Sachs, Obasanjo exclaimed that in that case Nigeria could achieve the goal ahead of the predicted 2025. That very night at a state banquet involving the public and private sectors Obasanjo enunciated vision 2020. If Soludo’s account of the origins of the vision are correct then is it any wonder that it has come to such grief? In a more settled and tractable policy universe, both the Goldman Sachs report and Soludo’s observation would have been subjected to rigorous analysis and debates before they became national policy.
Of course, this was the road not taken and President Umaru Yar’Adua who inherited the policy and apparently without studying its antecedents elevated it into a national mission with his own seven point agenda constituting an important plank on the highway to vision actualisation. Having committed the nation to the policy, Yar’Adua commissioned a study group comprising 1,000 experts working for over nine months to produce a draft vision 2020. At the launch of that blueprint on September 25, 2009, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, at the time vice president waxed eloquent. To quote him: “What we are saying through this blueprint – is that we are prepared to take the necessary steps to place us in our rightful place in the committee of nations. The targets for 2020 are realistic and can be achieved even before then”. In spite of this audacious declaration there was very little evidence that any concrete steps were being taken in the direction of the vision as other projects and contingencies such as Prof. Dora Akunyili’s “rebranding drive”, as well as the all consuming preparation for the 2011 elections soon seized center stage.
In his inauguration day speech in May 2011, Jonathan introduced the now rhetorically dominant transformation agenda without making clear whether this was a substitute for the Vision or an implementation ladder whose terminus will be the Vision. Policy failures can occur if the authors of a policy do not fully understand what they are about or have not taken time to think through the policies at the conception stage. A certain ambiguity continues to trail the vision which sometimes is stated as Nigeria becoming one of the 20 largest economies by 2020 and at other times one of the 20 most industrialised economies by the same year.
Although the two objectives are obviously related, they connote perhaps different implementation strategies. At any rate, rather than nudge the nation in this direction what Prof. Banji Oyeyinka described at a recent convocation lecture delivered at Caleb University as the unsustainable cost of governance has been evident. Oyeyinka, Director of Monitoring and Research at UN-HABITAT Nairobi argues that in the years since the advent of civilian rule “the country’s recurrent expenditure which was in the past pegged to non-oil revenue rose significantly largely as a result of a sudden jump in personnel cost and overheads as political appointees took office”. Even if we discount the hemorrhage of public finance through such incidents as the ongoing scandal involving Hon. Herman Hembe and Ms Aruma Oteh, the Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission, the current squandermania cannot be the appropriate strategy for a nation which had declared such a lofty goal as Vision 2020.
More importantly, there was little if any attempt to get Nigerian citizens to buy into the Vision for like so many defunct visions before it, it began and ended or at least ending as an intramural political elite affair gulping down the nation’s resources but with very little to show for it. In sum, the failure of the vision is yet another signifier of a failed state whose residual capacities are directed towards the drama of the accumulation of power and resources by a prodigal political elite unmindful of the staggering poverty and woes that surround it.