Politicians talk of consensus-building as part of their political calculuses. Those who are able to forge a consensus in sharing positions are said to be smarter than those who fight a war of attrition on who becomes what in the system. Beyond partisan politics, patriots with a broader view of nation-building also seek a consensus on the basis of integration.
Little attention is, however, paid to the crucial consensus on the concept of development. The lack of this socio-economic consensus is at the heart of the crisis of governance and underdevelopment bedevilling this nation. Poverty, inequality and insecurity are the most manifest symptoms of this crisis. Without rationalising criminality in any way, a nexus has been drawn by experts between the exacerbation of physical insecurity and the abysmal lack of social security. This could be understood within the context of the problem with the official concept of development.
The matter is made worse by the fact that in an electoral season, such as the approaching one, there is hardly any serious debate about development options and direction. That’s why it is difficult to locate any difference in development policies when the various political quarrels in the land are examined. For instance, in the jostling for the tickets of political parties for the Anambra governorship election, the acrimonious party primaries are not defined by sharp policy disagreements on the part of the aspirants. Those who go to Nigeria’s border with Niger to seek court injunctions are not doing so because of a passion to promote any policy of their party for the development of Anambra state.
To justify their stay in power, politicians are wont to count the number of projects executed and legislations enacted to back up their policies. Cheery statistics are periodically released on the state of things in the socio-economic realm. These figures are often advertised, with a measure of justification, as success stories. In most cases you can hardly fault this quantitative approach to governance on empirical grounds. Some state governments have constructed roads and they have built schools and health facilities. Some state governors are actively implementing projects aimed at achieving food security.
It would be difficult for even the harshest critics to deny that the federal government has completed some railway projects begun by previous administrations. The fact that these projects are financed with enormous foreign loans doesn’t detract from the merit of the policy in the rail sector. Questions have also been raised about the cost-effectiveness of some of the projects. The important thing, however, is that there is at least something concrete to show for the accumulated debts. After all, the historic debt payment by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo could have been less controversial if his government had pointed to some visible projects tied to the loans incurred by the previous administrations that executed the projects. Undeniably, the Buhari administration is also building roads and bridges in every zone of the country. Dams have been constructed in parts of the country among other items of infrastructure being built around the country. Hundreds of billions of naira are being spent on social investment programmes. Agricultural programmes have been initiated and actively funded by the Central bank of Nigeria.
Legislations are being put in place for strategic socio-economic purposes. As they say, things are wrong in Nigeria not so much for the absence of laws. The problem is always with the non-enforcement of the laws including those ones meant to advance socio-economic development.
However, there is a dissonance between these counts of projects and laws by successive administrations and the quality of the lives of the poor majority.
For instance, when the Power Sector Reform Act came into existence in 2005, it was hailed as a developmental leap given the centrality of electricity to social life and economic activities. The optimism heightened eight years later when the reform was put into effect by the privatisation exercise that took place in the sector. Now the output from that important sector remains largely unsatisfactory. If you asked 10 economic experts why the power situation remained dark, you would likely get 10 different answers laden with technical jargons. Hardly would you get an answer to the simple question: why is that after 16 years of power sector reform domestic consumers cannot have their homes lit while industrial consumers still power their factories and offices with diesel and generating sets? Yet, as the Yoruba would say, ti a bi f’ogun odun pinle were, odun melo gan la fe fi siwin na (if it takes 20 years to rehearse madness, how many years will it take to practise the real act)? It didn’t take the colonialists 16 years of contemplation to introduce electricity in Nigeria (albeit on a limited scale).
Ask a liberal member of the elite about development in the health sector, you would be reminded of the National Health Insurance Scheme introduced in 2005. He would also mention the National Health Act of 2014 as well as its offshoot, the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF). So, while empirically, no one can deny efforts at reform in the health sector, the sad truth is that millions of poor Nigerians are yet to be beneficiaries of a universal healthcare coverage. The members of the elite have no confidence in the poorly equipped public hospitals with a demoralised staff. The poor majority cannot afford the huge expenses of private hospitals at home and abroad, an option which we members of the elite could consider. Even with the building of the physical facilities and embrace of technology in the health sector, the development indices in the sector cannot be positive until the condition of the workforce running the system is tremendously improved upon. At the heart of the needed investment in the sector should be a conscious improvement in the conditions of service of the labour force in the sector. After weeks of doctors’ strike, other categories of health personnel are gearing up for another strike that could cause further disruptions in the bedevilled sector. The series of strikes do not evoke an atmosphere of public emergency anymore because the members of the elite who have a voice are not affected by the disruptions. The quality of healthcare delivery is important in defining the concept of development. This is because basic healthcare is one of the areas in which policies could make direct impacts on millions of people.
Similarly, the Universal Basic Education Act was enacted in 2004. In the spirit of this pro-people legislation the federal government is expected to support state and local governments in providing qualitative education for all. It is the duty of the parent or whoever has the custody to ensure that the child acquires basic education. Basic education in this context is defined as the education up to the Junior Secondary School (JSS). In fact, by virtue of this law, the transition from primary school to the JSS ought to be automatic as emphasis is to be put on continuous assessment. Now, 16 years after that noble legislation became part of the nation’s laws more than 10 million children in the streets are left behind in the race for basic education. By some estimates, Nigeria has the largest number of children out school in the world. The sordid situation in the education sector is now compounded by the disruptions caused by insecurity in the northern part of Nigeria. The basic education of a whole generation is put in jeopardy. Another huge deficit is that the provision of qualitative in public schools education is hampered by the poor conditions of service of teachers and other members of the labour force at all levels in the sector. Strikes in the education sector are hardly worth headline news anymore. The government and the public seem to have lost a sense of outrage at the fact that classrooms are shut for months. Yet the hope for the millions that are out of school lies in getting them enrolled in public schools where quality education should be made available. These millions are from poor homes. The option of the few private schools providing quality education is not open to this class of Nigerians. A narrow concept of development which focuses on huge contracts awarded in the sector may not capture these deficits.
In the same tone, despite the commissioning of water projects (ranging from boreholes to waterworks) potable water still remains a luxury for millions of the poor majority of Nigerians. Open defaecation is still a big issue of development in Nigeria in 2021. Poor sanitation in some parts of the country has reached a crisis point.
Cholera and other water-borne diseases still plague this major petroleum-exporting country.
Despite the hundreds of billions of naira in social investments, Nigeria is not yet on the path of social protection. Tens of millions are still waiting to be lifted out of poverty.
The few sectors mentioned in the foregoing – health, education, social protection, water supply and sanitation – are just samples of the mega issues of development in Nigeria.
From China in the east to Canada in the west, tackling these issues is an important aspect of governance whether the government is elected in liberal democratic tradition or selected by other means. The idea of governance in this context goes beyond random awards of contracts for projects without an integrated concept of development. After all, the constitutional job of a governor is more than that of a project manager. As the recent of experience Nigeria has shown, some items of infrastructure could be built by the private sector. But every serious government regardless of the system operated takes responsibility for designing the concept of the development in the interest of the majority of the people. It is not an accident that on the major issues of development facing humanity – climate change, inequality, pandemics, insecurity etc. people turn to their governments for solutions. The trend is the same in capitalist America and communist China.
That’s the justification for insisting that governments in Nigeria should be pressurised to make the key issues of development a priority. A consensus should, therefore, be forged on this idea itself.
It is in the determination of the priority that the lack of a consensus on the concept of development becomes conspicuous. Some members of the elite in and out of government simply ignore an inclusive concept of development as they romanticise grandiose projects which are more often than not abandoned.
For clarity, there is no illusion whatsoever here about the fact that a concept of development is primarily determined by class interests: the needs of the people are basic; but the elite are sometimes enamoured of the outlandish and fanciful projects. Here lies the contradiction. This contradiction has to be resolved in the interest of the poor majority.
As proved bitterly by the climate of insecurity enveloping the country, the failure to reach a consensus about a people-centred concept of development ultimately makes everybody endangered
It takes the practice of the politics of development for the consensus on the welfare of the people to be generated. For the advancement of human progress in Nigeria, the narrow concept of development should change. You cannot be talking of development with increasing inequality. Without a conscious effort at social inclusion, genuine development would remain a mirage. Only yesterday, the conservative government of the United Kingdom came up with a policy of taxing the rich in order to fund the social care of the poor. In fact, those with assets lower than £20,000 are excluded from the taxation. That’s a tendency towards inclusivity by a conservative government of a nation that is a member of the G7. Little surprise that British Prime Minster Boris Johnson could be treated for Covid-19 in the same National Health Service (NHS) hospital which any other citizen on NHS could access. This should be instructive to those who talk of development in terms of random execution of projects and in purely exclusionary manner. Nigeria would be making a developmental giant stride towards human progress the day the President or a governor could receive quality medical care in a public hospital to which other citizens equally have access. That would be in the spirit of social justice.
President Muhammadu Buhari still has an opportunity of the next 21 months to give leadership in this direction by a rethink of policy conception and execution for development.