[August 22, 2007]
The Colour of Yar’Adua’s Agenda
(This Day (Nigeria) With a target of 13% growth rate for the economy and the declaration of total commitment to the rule of law among other goals, the Yar’Adua administration seemed to have articulated its policies clearer at a recent retreat.
The statement issued at the end of the forum organised for ministers, permanent secretaries, special advisers and other senior officials could help in decoding the broad vision of the administration.
Before the retreat, the vision of President Umaru Yar’Adua could be partly deciphered from the inherited slogan from the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo that by 2020, Nigeria’s economy should be one of the 20 biggest economies in the world. As far as slogans go, this appears quite captivating. What is, however, foggy in it is the road map for Nigeria to arrive at that destination.
It is even more intriguing when the proponents of the 2020 slogan carry on as if they are oblivious of an earlier grand vision, which also was drawn up with a lot of funfare. Here we are talking of Vision 2010. No one discusses that anymore simply because it is politically incorrect to do so. The vision was formulated over a decade ago under regime of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. In any case it could have been extremely crazy of any technocrat or vision enthusiast to suggest the adoption of Vision 2010 to Obasanjo who was jailed by the Abacha regime.
The reference to Vision 2010 in appraising the direction of the Yar’Adua administration is to stress the point that the issues involved transcend growth rates, inflation rates or attracting foreign investments. They are not just technical; they also have political basis and implications. In fact, as history has shown, they are politically determined. That is why leftists scholars insist that what we should be discussing really is a political economy and not merely technical economic issues.
So what should be in focus is how Yar’Adua intends to reshape the political economy.
To be fair, his campaigns were anchored in the now famous Seven-Point Agenda. Some items of this agenda were also reportedly reiterated in the retreat under review. Prominent among them are the energy crisis; human capital development through education and health; zero-tolerance for corruption; resolution of the Niger Delta debacle; infrastructural revamp; land reforms and poverty alleviation. Dealing with the specifics, any one familiar with the crisis of underdevelopment ravaging the Nigerian political economy would readily agree that a serious administration should focus on these problem areas. In other words, to transform the Nigerian condition is to squarely address these issues.
However, as Dr. Ike Okonta has maintained in the last two weeks in his Sunday column in this newspaper, it is still pertinent to ask the question: What is Yar’Adua’s Big Idea? And it is far from being pedantic to insist on this question. A President is not a technician. He may not know how to screw the bolts and the knots; it is not even his place to know the civil engineering of building bridges or the epidemiology of AIDS. Yet, he has to be philosopher king. It is his duty to have a grand vision of the dynamics of economy, politics and society. He must have a broad vision of where Nigeria is moving in agriculture, transportation, health education etc. and he must be conscious of the inter-play of forces shaping these various departments of our national life. This is where the big idea comes in.
The administration has the choice of which idea it prefers in its policy process. In making this choice it is certainly going to be influenced by the conflicting class interests in the society. There are losers and gainers in the typical policy choice. For instance, when policies are favourable to importation of fuel rather developing the local refining capacity there are a handful of persons that would profit from it while majority of the people bear the brunt of fuel price hikes resulting from this policy perversion. That is why while fuel importers smile to the banks while workers and their allies go to the streets on strikes. In making policy choices, therefore, the President, who does not have to be an expert in petroleum engineering or energy economics, should have a broad understanding of these contending class interests in taking decisions. He has to deal with thecontradictions.
The broad strategy determines policy preferences and even the programmes to execute the respective policies. Ironically, our neo-liberal technocrats are sometimes not bothered about these fine distinctions in conducting public affairs. In his highly cerebral critique of the NEEDS document, the late radical historian, Dr. Bala Usman, pointed this out clearly. According to him, the categories – vision, strategy, policy, programme and measure – should not be used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing.
What the President promised as a candidate and what was discussed at the retreat for senior members of his administration can only constitute snippets of where he is headed. They don’t make a grand vision. The big idea is still missing.
By the way, we should sympathise with the President on this. After all, by this time last year he was probably not dreaming of being Aso Rock. Political figures elsewhere such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair had years preparing their agenda of what to do with power they earnestly sought. In the process, they even had to re-shape their respective political parties. In the case of Blair, according to one author, he turned the good old Labour Party to Labour Party PLC, which later adopted Thatcherite policies to the chagrin of even the Tories.
It is expected that in the coming months, the true character of the Yar’Adua administration will begin to crystallize. The true colour will begin to emerge ideologically. It is then real assessment will be apposite.
For instance, when you say Nigeria should be one of the 20 biggest economies by 2020, you are probably not saying much. The United States has the biggest economy and the most technologically developed society on earth. Yet, the country has over 50 million of its citizens not covered by health insurance. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. What is the use of the size of American economy to the destitute on the streets of New York and other cities? Is Nigeria aspiring to that size of economy?
On the contrary, the Scandinavian economies may not be as big as that of America, Germany or Japan, but social security is better developed in Sweden and Norway. There are smaller economies with higher Human Development Index than the big economies. These are some of the issues to be considered in determining the vision for a nation.
A President should be fully conscious of the interplay of forces at home and abroad in the choice he is making. That is why some of these fanciful slogans about visioning should be properly scrutinised.
Now that the administration seems to be taking off in full steam, there is need to examine the direction it has chosen rather than waiting for another four years to do a post-mortem.