OPINION | Budgeting, National Planning and the Road Least Traveled 




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By Sufuyan Ojeifo 

Anyone who sets out on a journey must endeavor to get a faint idea of the trajectory to the destination from his or her starting point. Thus, it is essential to gather all requisite information such as location for boarding a taxi, the approximate distance, condition of the road network, traffic volume on the road and average travel distance.

Without these data, there are many scary possibilities for our uniformed traveler: one, he or she may not get to her or his proposed destination or simply find her or himself in another city. Imagine setting out for Ibadan only to end up in Okitipupa! The second possibility is to get to a proposed destination in days instead of hours.

In any case, if our journeywoman or man is on her or his way to Abuja from Lagos, say by road, she or he can decide to go through Ibadan, Ife, Ilesha, Owo, Okene, Lokoja and then approach Abuja. Alternatively, she or he can choose to travel through Ijebu-Ode, Ore, Benin City, Agbor, Auchi, Okene, Lokoja and then hit Abuja.

Again, she or he can even decide to travel to Abuja from Lagos through Ijebu-Ode, Benin, Onitsha, Enugu, Obolo Afor, Nsukka, Ejule, Ajaokuta, Lokoja. In truth, whichever route our friend chooses, she or he will arrive in Abuja– if she or he does not run into the arms of kidnappers! In reality, again, the travel time for each chosen route varies as it should, even if all the roads are in perfect condition. Now, this is where planning comes in.

If time means anything to our friend, she or he will almost certainly plan to travel via the first route which guarantees the shortest travel time. The last route would only make any sense except our dear friend is on sight-seeing across Nigeria and not interested in when she or he arrives at her or his destination. Sadly, this had partially been our lot in Nigeria because those who had been in the driver’s seat of the nation’s vehicle since independence were not in any hurry to get to the desired destination or, indeed, did not have any destination in mind at all.

In fact, some of our drivers had been driving in the wrong directions with the reverse gear and ended up offloading everyone into the river of hopelessness. “Na back the country dey go before soldiers come put everybody for reverse“, was how the legendary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti captured our plan-less conundrum as a nation.

For the leaders who appeared to be on the right trajectory, either they did not get off the first gear or they were driving with the handbrake on. Really, there had not been any sense of time and urgency with our past leaders in a fast-moving new world of knowledge, technology and unimaginable possibilities.

Yet, in truth, development does not just happen or come upon a nation. It is neither accidental nor a matter of historical chance but the result of deliberate and rational policy choices made by leaders on behalf of citizens at particular intersections. In other words, no nation can develop no matter the amount of resources buried in the womb of its earth without rational plans set out to achieve certain desired objectives and targets.

From 1962-1968, the First National Development Plan was launched. On the heels of the Civil War (from 1970-1974) came the Second National Development Plan; from 1975-1980 came the Third National Development Plan; from 1981-1985, there was the Fourth Development Plan. And from 1986, under General Ibrahim Babangida, there was a two-year period of emergency and Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) after which successive military regimes discarded the five-year plan for rolling plans.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, during his time, resorted to medium-term plans. Perhaps the best way to evaluate the efficacy of those plans is to take a picture of the state of the national economy today. But with the appointment of Mrs. Zainab Ahmed as Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and Prince Clem Ikanade Agba as Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, it is writ-large that President Buhari is ready to tackle headlong our long-unattended issue of national development with planning at the centre of it.

While Ahmed’s proficiency had been tested in the saddle at the Ministries of Budget and National Planning, and Finance in the first tenure of Buhari’s presidency before the merger of both ministries, obviously the foundation and engine room of Nigeria, Agba’s know-how is prepped to be both complementary and salutary in the achievement of the overarching goal of national development. Coming with a rich private sector background (in Chevron), underlined by integrity, frugality and rational decision-making process, et al, encapsulated in the Chevron Way, the new minister is rearing to go.

Significantly, Ahmed had farmed out the schedule of putting together a new National Development Plan to Agba. That is a good team spirit and efficacious working understanding. Agba understands there is no time. He knows that too much time had been lost already doing the wrong things repeatedly over the years. At independence in 1960, Nigeria was at par with and shared similar experiences with countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, India and South Korea for examples. Today, our country has been left behind because of decisions not taken and the roads either least traveled or not at all traveled by the minders of the national economy in the past.

Agba is aware of paucity of information for national planning: what is a fair assessment of the Nigerian population? What are the various characteristics of this population? How can we plan for country without the exact knowledge of the number of young people of working age, how many elderly people, how many children, including those in and out of school, how many women, etc., there are?

Indeed, it is problematic that different figures are being bandied around as the size of Nigeria’s population. The new economic visioning team in the saddle under the leadership of Buhari is working round the clock to come up with an organic National Development Plan that will respond to the deployment of available technology in today’s world in essential updates through the conduct of a credible national census that is devoid of political manipulations and ethnic imprints.

Besides, while it has been a crying shame that after two decades of return to democracy that government still finds it difficult to return to the disciplined January-December budgeting cycle, this government is committed, in its second term, to achieve this. Ahmed and Agba know that time is already ticking and have consistently reassured cynical Nigerians that the 2020 budget would get to the National Assembly at the end of September, 2019. The federal legislature had also assured Nigerians that it would pass the fiscal estimates before the end of December.

If the expeditious passage of the 2020 budget is all the Ahmed-Agba team would achieve this year, on behalf of the administration, it would have started out with the right foot. The credit, overall, will be Buhari’s. Certainly, a disciplined budget process is an integral part of national planning.  It could well mean that the road to a robust national development plan would be well constructed by them.

With Ahmed and Agba, coming from a background of accountability and due process, who were duly searched out by the President for this responsibility, it is not wrong to expect a clean budgetary process, this time round, going forward. Nigerians should, thus, rest assured that the hitherto salacious and mind-boggling stories of illegal insertions into the budget by what were clearly some notorious syndicates in government have become a thing of the past.

 

 

*Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com
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