By Obadiah Mailafia
According to futurologists, the world of the year 2050 would be very different from everything we know today. Technology, global integration, structural changes, geopolitics and demographics would have been altered beyond our wildest imagination. Global megatrends are as real as the force of gravity. We ignore them at our mortal peril.
Nigeria’s population would have doubled from 206 million to over 400 million by 2050. We are projected to overtake the United States to become the third most populous nation on earth, just behind China and India. Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Kano would have become mega-cities. Public goods such as electricity railways, highways, housing, harbours, sanitation, education and health facilities would have to be quadrupled to meet the needs of a rising, urbanised population.
By 2050, electric cars will predominate, consigning petrol-driven vehicles to the museum of vintage cars. China, India and the Asia Pacific would have overtaken America, Europe and the Atlantic as the centre of world gravity, with all that it means for global geopolitics, world economics and international finance.
It is in light of the above that we welcome the Federal Government’s recent decision to launch a work programme for a long-term development plan for the year 2050. Last week, technical working groups were announced for the development of a Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP 2021-2025) and a long-term development plan is known as Agenda 2050. The Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, who inaugurated the Working Groups revealed that the initiatives are a successor to Vision 2020 and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, both of which come to an end this year.
I have long been a passionate advocate of planning. During his famous 1986 Distinguished Annual Lecture at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, titled, “Sorcerers, Astrologers and Nigerian Economic Recovery”, the late eminent economist, Pius Nwabufo Okigbo, made a number of critical observations. I was among the audience during that steamy summer afternoon in Kuru. His delivery was a tour de force that has remained deeply ingrained in my memory to this day.
Okigbo gave that dramatic title to his lecture to drive home the point about how bereft we are in terms of critical thinking about the economy. Instead of basing economic decision-making on hard-headed analysis, profound historical knowledge, awareness of institutional dynamics, statistical research and data analytics, most of the time, we seem content to hide behind abstract modelling, woolly thinking, guesswork, wishful thinking and a shot in the dark. What was true of the Nigeria of the eighties is, unfortunately, still true of the Nigeria of today.
Some of my readers may also recall the famous essay by the Scottish poet and journalist, Charles MacKay, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. It is a book on the mass psychology and hysteria that can overtake masses of people in the investment world; when emotions such as fear and greed drive them into magic, Babalawos, Mallams, prophecy and voodoo instead of serious logical reasoning.
Whilst it may be true that there aren’t that many sorcerers and astrologers anymore in the economics profession, I daresay that there are still some who suffer from profound popular delusions. These delusions are particularly true regarding the underpinning paradigm that shapes the way we think and acts in economic management. They derive from this false notion that we can easily transpose models that work in Chicago and apply them directly to our situation in Nigeria. While I believe that economics is universal science, I am also of the persuasion that economics research and analysis must be grounded in the unique conditions that we face on our continent. The economists of Africa need to imitate what the economists of Japan and those of France and China are doing. They have developed their own paradigms and intellectual-analytical traditions in conformity with their global worldview and world-historic ambitions. At present, we lack originality. Our feelings of inferiority make us to take refuge on imported paradigms and research agendas that have nothing to do with the real human condition on our continent.
Perhaps, the biggest popular delusion that afflicts us is the belief that development planning is bad and that all we need are the so-called “rolling plans” and mid-term expenditure frameworks.
The history of planning in Nigeria goes back to the British colonial era. Before independence, the departing British brought in economists from the World Bank and the United States to assist in designing Nigeria’s first five-year economic development covering the years 1962-68. The distinguished American economist, Wolfgang Stolper, was one of the architects of our first national plan, about which he wrote with such nostalgia in his memoirs. Nigeria has had altogether four national plans since independence, the other three being: The Second National Development Plan 1970-74; the Third National Development Plan 1975-1980; and the Fourth National Development Plan 1981-85. In addition, there has been the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) and Vision 2020, which, stricto sensu are not economic development plans but long-term strategic visions without rigorous blueprints and road maps for implementation.
During the first two decades of independence, we had a tradition of economic development planning that was relatively successful. Experts will continue to debate which, if any, among those plans was successful. It is generally agreed that the Second National Development Plan was among the most successful. It was successful because it was masterminded and implemented by great men such as Obafemi Awolowo and Professor Adebayo Adedeji, with help of technocrats such as Allison Ayida and Phillip Asiodu who were eminent economists in their own right.
In 1985, the Ibrahim Babangida military regime was persuaded by the Bretton Woods institutions to jettison planning altogether. Many of our so-called economists who bought into the fraud were in no position to know that works such as those by Naomi Caiden and Aaron Wildavsky, Planning and Budgeting in Poor Countries, were really sponsored stratagems to ultimately ridicule planning in developing countries.
We must not by any means idealise planning. It is not a panacea for all economic ills but a discipline and tool for resource and mass mobilisation to position our country for successful economic and social transformation. Economic planning also helps to minimise the rampant policy inconsistencies and instability that accompanies regime changes.
Contrary to what many suppose, the emerging countries that have enjoyed accelerated growth and structural transformation have been precisely those countries that never jettisoned economic development plans. These include: China, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Those countries have persisted with economic development in disregard to pressure from foreign powers. And the results have been salutary.
Many of the megatrends and long-term challenges that we face today are precisely problems that require long-term thinking, not just mid-term expenditure plans. We in Nigeria would be well advised to go back to the traditions of rigorous planning devoid of ideological dogmatism. We should revitalise the National Planning Commission to be an autonomous professional organisation; a centre of excellence attracting the best economists in the country. It is wrong to lump together planning and finance. It leads to a conflict of interest. Regional and urban planning should also be integrated into the new planning framework.
We should plan not only for accelerated macroeconomic growth but also sustainable cities, towns and rural areas while adopting a comprehensive, strategic approach to the overall planning process. We should have a clear vision of what kind of country and economy ours would be by the year 2050. We should aim to be a peaceful, just and prosperous democracy, with a diversified economy that places us among the ranks of advanced nations in the 21st century.