Written by Tayo Oke
The year 2020 is verily upon us. This is the year that the entire fabric of the country was mobilised to become the top 20th economy in the world. The drumbeat of this audacious goal had entertained and grabbed public imagination for the last 10 years, but has quietened down in the last two, because of the realisation that the goal would not be met. Why? And what went wrong? The entire government of Nigeria embarked upon the ambition to “position Nigeria to become one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020, by linking the objectives of the National Economic and Empowerment Development Strategy programme (2004-2007), the NEEDS 2 programme, and the Seven-Point Agenda”.
The Nigerian government and key Vision 2020 stakeholder groups took concrete steps towards the development of the vision such as: budget allocation, development of sectoral strategies by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the Central Bank of Nigeria Financial Sector Strategy 2020, Federal Inland Revenue 2020 Strategy, constitution and inauguration of the Business Support Group intended to engender private sector support for the vision under the auspices of the National Steering Committee. In addition, the National Planning Commission and the Vision 2020 Secretariat, which houses the steering committee were mandated by the Federal Executive Council to produce the Vision 2020 plan for launching by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by October 1, 2009. All of that was put in place and much more.
An institutional framework was established to oversee the country’s arrival at the top table of the 20 largest economies in the world by this same year 2020. The National Council on Vision 2020, National Steering Committee, Project Steering Committee, National Technical Working Groups, Business Support Groups, Programme Coordination Office, Vision 2020 Stakeholder Development Committee, state governments, MDAs, Special Interest Groups, etc., all co-opted into this humongous of a vision expected to touch on the key parameters of: quality education, which provides “the opportunity for maximum potential, adequate and competent manpower”; infrastructure to “support the full mobilisation of all economic sectors”; manufacturing to deliver a “vibrant and globally competitive manufacturing sector that contributes significantly to GDP with a manufacturing value added of not less than 40%”; health sector that “supports and sustains life expectancy of not less than 70 years and reduces to the barest minimum the burden of infectious and other debilitating diseases”, and last but not least, “a modern technologically enabled agricultural sector that fully exploits the vast agricultural resources of the country, ensures national food security and contributes to foreign exchange earnings”. All of the above to be achieved, according to the blueprint, in a “peaceful, harmonious and a stable democracy”.
We do not have the exact financial cost of this welcome party, but it is safe to assume that it is in billions of naira, involving the recruitment of experts, domestic and international consultants, thousands of support staff up and down the country. Never has so much resources been committed by so many to such a scanty outcome. As of today, Nigeria is the 27th largest economy in the world by GDP of under $500. It will take another 20 years, at least, to attain the position of the 20th largest economy in the world if at all.
Meanwhile, income inequality has widened since the vision was launched, human development index has fallen, at 0.534 as of 2018, putting the country in one of the lowest categories in the world; 158th out of 189 countries and territories, according to the UNDP. The economy which grew at close to 8% in 2009 has since contracted (i.e. shrunk) to less than two per cent, and future prognosis is even more depressing to contemplate.
This piece is not offering a comprehensive review of the Vision 2020 project; sector by sector analysis and all that. We are interested in the grand aim, which has spectacularly fallen out of reach, leading any rational observer to call the whole vision into question. Just like a top flight football manager, an ambitious target is set by the club and the manager is judged by results. Was the ambition too high for Nigeria in the first place? Or, was there not enough commitment to back it up?
To be fair, Nigeria is not alone in declaring audacious ambitions. China’s “Great Leap Forward” campaign in 1958 under Chairman Mao Zedong was an attempt to transform the country from an agrarian to a communist nirvana by organising society into “communes” in an effort to increase yield production and eradicate the urban-rural divide across the nation. Far from the increase surplus envisaged by the goal, agricultural production declined significantly, leading to mass starvation. In short, the “Great Leap Forward” turned into the “Great Chinese Famine” before long. The “Bolshevik Revolution” in Russia in 1917. They wanted to transform society into a utopian communist El dorado. The revolutionaries transformed into the communist party several years later, culminating in the eventual formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922.
The aim was first, to “catch up” with the West, and overtake it in human, technological and scientific development. The USSR survived for over 70 years before collapsing under the weight of its internal contradictions in 1989 without ever achieving any of its lofty aims. Japan was an imperial power destroyed by America’s dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 in 1947 at the height of the Second World War. It led to Japan’s surrender on the promise to the Americans never to be a military threat again. Without further ado, the country with little or no resources, quietly went underground, rebuilding their society along education and technology with no grandiose “visions” to boast of. It has since risen to be the third largest economy in the world. There is no household in the world without at least one electronic item made in Japan.
Germany under Adolf Hitler went through a similar scenario following defeat after World War II. No ambitious economic plans or dreams of surpassing anyone on the technological front, only a desire to rebuild a war-ravaged economy. Germany has since also risen to become the biggest economy in Europe and fourth largest in the world. Malaysia and Singapore went through a period of colonial repression under the British, got their independence in 1957 and 1963 respectively. The two countries once tried to merge into one entity, but went about their separate ways to become the leading lights in the creation of the so-called “Asian Tiger economies” almost literally from the ashes, and without grandiose visions beyond hard work, dedication and forthrightness.
What do these analogies from the outside world tell us here in Nigeria? That you can have big dreams on paper and indeed by intention such as the old USSR and China, but without the backing and collective will of the people, it is doomed to failure as it did for those two countries. On the other hand, you can nurse big dreams to become successful as indeed happened in the cases of Japan, Germany, Singapore and Malaysia, if the people plug into the same aspiration as the government pushing it. Nigeria’s “Vision 20:2020” was long on ambition, but short on commitment of the people. It fell short because it failed to carry the people along. Any such vision in the future must be anchored in a belief in “project Nigeria” first. It is the basic minimum, and by far the hardest to achieve, but without which no foundation for a successful nation can exist.