By Dele Sobowale
“Such men fight the campaigns of the future, while all the world around them sleep. But, when the time comes, though themselves be gone, the roads they planned are and straight for the march of others….the spirit they call up still lives to lead…” – Georges Clemenceau, 1841-1929, French statesman, journalist.
“People with vision usually do more harm than good.” – John Major, British Prime Minister, 1993 – Vanguard Book of Quotation, VBQ, p, 264. As most of our readers know, the President Mohammadu Buhari administration has appointed a Vision 2050 Committee headed by Mr Atedo Peterside. For now, all we can say is that he was a participant in Vision 2010 and Vision 2020. Those were two grand illusions foisted on Nigeria by governments which ran out of ideas. They failed, as I predicted in 1992, because they were founded on false foundations and deeply flawed assumptions. They were never meant to work and their failure was inevitable.
The most urgent question now is: Will Vision 2050 succeed where others failed or will it become just another expensive jamboree — consisting mostly of idle chatter and self-seeking networking? Unlike 1992, when I took a chance by assuming that I will be alive in 2020 to repeat what I said then; it is difficult to pronounce on an event whose outcome one will not witness. At 76, it is impossible for me to contemplate being alive in thirty years; thirty years is absolutely out of the question. Still an attempt will be made to determine the outcome of this new attempt at visioning the year 2050.
The two statements on the vision appear on the same page in the VBQ – and it was not by accident. Vision 20:2020 already entered into our national economic agenda in 1992. When visioning became accepted as an alternative to five and ten years’ plans, it was time for me to read more about the concept. It soon became clear that visioning is a two-edged sword which can inflict cuts for good or ill. The consequences can sometimes be different from what was envisaged. Malaysia from where we borrowed Vision 2020 had aimed at creating a more egalitarian society. For them rapid economic growth was assured and diversification was already achieved and irreversible. For us the cardinal objective was to make Nigeria – which occupied the number 41 position then – to rank among the world’s top twenty economies by the year 2020. Nobody needs to be reminded that this nation which members of the Vision 2020 expected to have become a broadly diversified economy and less dependent on crude oil exports is still inextricably tied to crude.
We are certainly nowhere near top 20 and as 2020 draws to a close, the nation is limping towards another recession. A casual glance at the Vision 20:2020 document would show that none of the promises made for our country has so far been fulfilled. A serious analysis would reveal that, in many respects, we have retrogressed. Two undeniable indices indicative of an economy which had been in reverse gear for nearly 28 years with respect to the vision targets are out-of-school-children and our poverty ranking. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world and over 13 million Nigerian children are out of school. The population of those out of school kids, the largest in the world, is larger than those of at least fifty member-countries of the United Nations today. In 1992, we were not near that level of disaster. Furthermore, Vision 2050 is being promoted by a Federal Government, FG, which is obviously bereft of ideas and which has failed to fulfil every economic promise made since 2015.
According to its Economic Recovery and Growth Programme, ERGP, Nigeria should now be coasting towards seven per cent Gross Domestic Product, GDP, growth in 2020. Instead, the outlook is for a recession. At the moment FG’s credibility is at its lowest. “Scepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.” James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891. VBQ p 222. Given those track records, the Vision 2050 Committee will start off with a great deal of doubt raised about several aspects of it. But, for now, only a few will be touched upon. The most important are: FG’s objectives in setting up the committee; the composition of the committee; the mandate and time for submitting their report; implementation of recommendations, timing and guarantee of continuity after the Buhari administration departs in 2023.
Permit me to start from the last concern – continuity after 2023. If ever there is one reason for one to dismiss Vision 2050 as a visionless waste of time and resources, it is the fact that continuity of policies and programmes is the last thing that can be guaranteed. Nigerian governments, at Federal and State levels, are notorious for discontinuation of every initiative left unfinished by their predecessors. For instance, Buhari inherited the documents arising from Jonathan’s efforts to restructure the nation. It is inconceivable that a better selection of Nigerians could be assembled. Buhari has ignored it.
Why on earth should he expect three or more successors to continue implementing the Vision 2050 recommendations of his own committee? Obviously, he expects his successors to set a better example than he has done. It is doubtful that will happen. The “not invented by us and therefore useless” syndrome runs deep in Nigerian politicians once they reach office. The timing of the measure is also worrisome.
Buhari, as Presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, if he had been elected in 2011, would have entered office with a Master Plan for Economic Growth and Development. I offered my services to his campaign team free of charge, without being a party member. With Engineer Galadima leading the campaign, an outline of the Plan was unveiled to the group in Dr Usman Bugaje’s office at Wuse – after which an appointment was fixed for me to brief the candidate. Buhari never made himself available for briefing. That was worrisome. In the modern world every candidate for office – President, Governor or Chairman of Local Government – must have an Economic Adviser next to his elbow. After security of lives and properties, jobs and food come next. That is why they need the adviser.
He lost in 2011. In 2015, I approached late Ismaila Funtua and asked him to link me with candidate Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to discuss an update of the 2011 Plan – in case he won. An appointment was fixed through his Private Secretary and I travelled to Abuja, lodged for three days, at my expense, without Buhari honouring the appointment. Despite that, I was still concerned that the APC “Change” campaign was devoid of specifics – especially on the sort of economic policy changes which would be introduced.
I wanted to urge Buhari to start from May 29, 2015 by establishing a committee to revisit the Vision 2020 Committee recommendations and to start immediately to implement the selected few. From my experience collecting materials for the Vanguard Book, VBQ, a newly-elected government, succeeding a predecessor which ran out of favour, can more easily get away with the immediate introduction of tough measures, and blame them on the former government. Goodwill which it enjoys in the beginning will ensure it receives the benefit of doubt from the people. Waiting until it has become more unpopular is a sure recipe for disaster. Subsidy removal and Vision 2020 are coming five years too late for Buhari…
To be continued…