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Date Published: 11/09/09

Vision 2020 and the New Society. By Olisaemeka Akukwe


“For lack of vision, my people perish”, so enthused the Christian holy book. ‘In spite of visions, my people perish’ is the Nigeria reality. Or so it seems. We have had litany of visions in Nigeria wearing different robes. Everybody ‘knew’ there will be “housing for all in the year 2000.” Everyone ‘knew’ there will be “health for all in the year 2000.” It’s 2009 now, I think. And the visions have been fast forwarded to 2020, with the typical panel beating. Top 20 economy in 2020!

Arresting vision. Inspiring. Exhilarating. Intoxicating. If you would come with me a while, I would like us to examine the kind of society Nigeria should be in 2020; assuming we achieve a Top 20 status among economies. Probably we may glimpse the changes we may need to do today; and ask ourselves if we are collectively ready for the challenge.

For Nigeria to be in the top 20 economic chart, her GDP will need to expand from about $214 billion to about $800 billion in 2020. Currently, Sweden, Belgium and Poland are ranked 20 th, 19 th, and 18 th respectively. Poland is the new comer in the top 20, displacing Indonesia that was 20 th in 2007. Achieving a $800 billion economy is not impossible, but improbable in Nigeria, except an annualized GDP growth of 12% is sustained for the next 11 years. This is the crux of the issue! For Nigeria to attain 12% average annual GDP for the next 11 years, she must become a vastly different society! Do the leaders have the intellectual rigour, moral probity, and honest courage to re-invent the society?

On physical infrastructures, we currently have about 200,000km of roads (tarred and untarred). Only about 30,000km of these roads are tarred, a mere 15%. By 2020 we will need about 386,000kms of roads, with about 270,000 kilometers of them (70% of total) tarred, if the vision is on course. We currently have about 70 airports with about 36 of them having paved runways. We will need about 180 airports, with over 100 of them having paved runways by 2020, if the vision is on course. Domestic oil consumption may likely be above 2.0 million b.p.d as against about 300,000 b.p.d today. At the current production rate of about 1.7 million b.p.d, we may become a net importer of oil. This implies the need for production capacity expansion. From the current 2.5 million b.p.d to about 3.5 million b.p.d, if we are to still be a net exporter of oil. By extension, Niger-Delta must become investor and investment friendly; OPEC quotas may have to be abandoned and government dependence on oil revenue must be inevitably depleted. Oil tyranny, which has been the basis for Nigeria government and mis-governance will slow to a crawl. Joint-venture cash call obligations, government – owned NNPC, revenue sharing formulas, oil and resource control laws, etc will all need re0radical appraisals. Factor in also tripling of Filling stations, Tank farms capacities, and you understand the challenges in this sector alone. The 3000km of rail roads we have now, may need to be expanded to about 10,000 km of modern speed rails. The 4 Seaports cannot handle the volume of exports and imports an over $800 billion economy will require, even after doubling their capacities.

It may be obvious to you that the government resources can never handle these challenges, and therefore Public-Private Partnerships, Private finance initiatives, and concessioning must become the real center-piece of planning.

These changes can only work when founded on a nearly convulsive changes in our current legal and judicial system. From land laws, to court efficiencies, to resource laws, to community rights, to civil service rules, to the archaic and embarrassing evidence acts, etc. Intractable judicial procedures and sometimes putting justice up for auction greatly deters investment capital. Mercurial investment laws are plagues to investment. A judiciary that is biased towards order rather than justice cannot co-habit with a dynamic society that should produce over $800 billion. Remember that a $800 billion economy implies individual, corporate, and public transactions that may be about four times what we have today. Yet, our judicial system cannot handle the present challenges we face. Thus most Nigerians go for extra-judicial conflict resolution. This includes surrender of rights in one extreme, and assassinations at the other extreme, and everything in between. Without Legal-Judicial reforms today, either the judicial systems truncates the 2020 Vision or it implodes with scandals, sleaze and learned indifference.

In Real Estate, about 8.4 trillion feet 2  of Residential space will have to be created between today and December 2020. Also about 4.2 trillion feet 2 of commercial and industrial space may be needed. To put this in perspective, we have a cumulative shortfall of about 2.8 trillion feet 2  of residential space now. And we need to create about 600 million feet 2 of residential space annually. If these real estates and infrastructure demands are to be met, over 40 million square meter of arable land will be lost by farming. Now this is not the issue. The issue is the potential for rife land speculation, insider dealing by land officials, militancy of unemployed, under employed, barely educated youths of the communities occupying those lands today that may put a handcuff to these developments. So changes in Community rights and compensation, land use act, land speculation and taxation, etc are even more urgent today than ever. Other reforms in this sector should include Mortgage Finance and Funding; Import regime on some essential but domestically sub-available building materials like cement; dearth of Inter-mediate skills in the housing sector; low capabilities among domestic firms in building technologies for high rise condominiums, etc.

In a modern economy that produces over $800 billion of goods and services, knowledge will be a coveted asset. Creativity, specialized skills will be likely champions in the labour market.  Education therefore becomes the workshop of high income and high status. Today in Nigeria, by default of cultural history and ethnic cosmology, the southern part of the nation invests in her human capital by a factor of about 5:1, compared to the north. WAEC enrollment of Imo state alone is higher than the entire northern states. This is despite the fact that public education spending is grossly inadequate in the southern states. However Private (sometimes cut throat) spending in education compensates for this gap. In the north, this culture is peripheral at best. Now this is a crisis for the South and the North. The conventional wisdom is that it is a northern problem. So wrong! If Vision 2020 is achieved, it may produce lots of high paying, high skill jobs which will be filled mainly by southerners. This is a simple extrapolation of current educational aspirations in the country. There will also be plenty low paying, grunt work. These will be filled by the uneducated or poorly educated. If education explosion does not happen in the north, then majority of people filling these ‘grub’ jobs will be northerners- and impoverished immigrants. We do not need a Nostradamus to tell us that the above scenario is a social gun powder. It will only be natural that a poorly educated, ill clad, ill fed, disenchanted gateman from Katsina may see a well groomed, well educated, software programmer from Ogun state, owner of a bungalow in Kaduna, working for a local affiliate of an international firm; as a totem of his oppression. These potentially uneducated and under-employed millions in the north can easily be recruited into an ‘army of hate’ by charlatans acting under the banner of religion. They can easily be persuaded to unleash mayhem on the perceived oppressors, who to them includes anybody who is ‘doing well’. When you live in generational poverty, life seems like a Zero-Sum game. You think you are losing, because the other person is gaining. This implies that ‘religious’ crisis may begin to take much more gory dimensions, because they are really social crisis under religious flags. To nip these dangers in the bud, it should be the responsibility of the North and South in equal measure to ensure an education revolution in the north. This will create a heritage of opportunity that is national, further aiding the achievement of Vision 2020 and fairly distributing the gains. Any of the typical Nigeria solution of either allowing the gains of over $800 billion economy to accrue to one section because they are better prepared, or of using government fiat to transfer the natural gains of a section to another section a la ‘fair and equitable ‘ distribution will create ricocheting chaos. It is now, that we can institute education, training, and skill acquisition policies that can prevent that acrimony.

Public education spending, as a matter of policy and future stability should flow more to the north. Reforms of the existing education channels must however be achieved, before this policy of asymmetrical education funding can work. Naturally, Southern leaders may never see the point of this much higher public education spending in the north. We should remember that every society, like any chain, is as strong as its weakest point.

At current public spending growth pattern, government spending in all tiers will balloon to about $265 billion by 2020 (about N40 trillion). We are aware of the colossal waste and corruption at the current $50 billion of government spending. At $265 billion, your guess is as good as mine. This implies that without a comprehensive and painful civil service reform and re-invention of governance, we will simply have much, much more of the same. A transparent tax regime with coherent theme and Federal, State, Local harmonization must be developed. Its greatest virtue should simplicity. Its ultimate aim – development. Development of the private sector; development of deprived areas; development of accountability. Derivation must play a role in all aspect of tax revenue distribution. Deprivation should also be an important balancing weight. So we must institutionalize DERIVATION and DEPRIVATION FORMULA. I wish to state categorically here, that before legislators, the inland revenue and various executive levels should start a comprehensive tax regime, the oil tyranny and petroleum bureaucracy must end. The oil revenue that government takes and shares is the biggest and most opaque form of taxation any society can ever witness. It explains our amputated dreams since 1970.


What about the family and private challenges? The demands of life in a top 20 economy, cannot be what it is today. Today many women still spend about 90 minutes a day in the kitchen. The challenges we must overcome to produce per capita income of about N4000 dollars (official exchange rate) in 2020 will definitely encroach on such ‘luxuries’. Time spent in the kitchen by women may decline to about 15 minutes a day, with ramifications beyond the kitchen. Ability to cook well, which is in decline, will further fall alarmingly. Consumption of junk foods by everybody will increase. Obesity as a national dilemma will begin to rear its head. This with its hand maidens of diabetes, arthritis, and heart diseases will further increase the pressure on the creaky health systems. Parents ‘face time’ with children will also decline drastically. Teachers, schools, peers and media will become the major influencers of children and teenagers. These are just to mention some general trends.

We should also ask ourselves, are we ready for the migration and immigration pressures in the urban areas? A thriving economy will be a magnet for citizens of impoverished and war torn African countries, especially in West Africa. So a foreign policy that pro-actively promotes stability in West Africa will be a plain necessity. A comprehensive immigration policy and border control may be necessary. Investment in urban areas, especially in urban slums should be a deliberate policy. We must aim to eliminate slums not by demolition. That is after the fact. But by anticipatory development of  potential corridors for low income earners around cities and mega cities. Where slums already exists, innovative developments that will turn the slums into suburbs can always be worked out with the slum dwellers. That urban areas will attract the poor, the young, and the hungry is natural. Our responsibility is not to be surprised by natural developments, as the planners of Abuja and Lagos woefully realized.

We should also be ready for road tolls in urban areas and highways. Most of the investment on roads, if they will come, will come from private funds. So road pricing will become a common way of life in Nigeria from about 2020, if the Vision is on course. Multi-level parking and parking fees will also become common. Car ownership in Nigeria has been growing close to the economic growth rate because of poor public transport system. We may also expect to spend 20% of our working hours in a car or bus. Commuting time can only get longer and more harrowing, expect if imagination and vigour is applied to urban planning and regeneration. Can we reverse this trend? I do not see how ineffectual leadership can grapple with, much less reverse the trend. The entire nation may have to beg Lagos State for inspiration.

We can go on and on. The purpose is however not a monologue, but to raise posers for all of us. Do we believe in this Vision 2020? With the ossified political and leadership culture, can we or should we embark on such grandeur? Should we not change the political and electoral process as a starting point? Have the political and technocratic leaders weighed the multi-faceted changes that should undergird such vision, as this piece have illuminated? Do you see the current leadership in the center and at the states possessing the insights, understanding, and empathy that can make this Vision people friendly? Have there been robust engagements between the political/technocratic leadership and leaderships in the religious, traditional, professional, business, academic, youth, women, and trade strata? Or is this just another people perishing , ‘macro-economic’ vision? These are the questions that are bugging my mind. I wonder if they bother you too?

Olisaemeka Akukwe



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