Nze Sylva’s Corner: Planning for the long term

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A close look at our governments, at all levels, will reveal a sadly evident level of complete directionlessness which is both pathetic and shameful. Last week the internet was awash with statements credited to former CBN Governor, Charles Soludo, which in part, addressed the fact that one cannot evidently point to any difference between all the states run by the three different political parties, APC, PDP and APGA. Critically, the parties have no unique plans or implementable manifestos or where one exists, it is simply a fancy document to be used in sloganeering to win votes. When they finally come to the office, they all simply do the same things. One can hardly point to any government that is consciously implementing a long term economic development plan with sustainable benefits for the people. Planning for the long term is just an echo word here.

The fact is that our political office holders do not think beyond the next election, in this case four years. So they are obsessed with the things they can do within four years in order to have something to brag about during the next campaigns, something that will be attributed to them as some kind of legacy. Some even actually paint these projects in ‘their’ colours and have their names and faces splashed all over them so much so you will be forgiven if you thought they did it with their personal funds. And the people accustomed to expecting very little from their leaders, sing their praises for these blocks of class rooms and bore holes and few kilometers of road, like they’ve been done a huge favour.

This ad-hoc approach to development is like turning and turning in the widening gyre. It is taking us all nowhere. We are just marking time. One government comes and builds classrooms. In four years another government comes to renovate the classroom his predecessor built. One government comes in and starts to build a housing estate. Another comes and abandons it because it is not ‘his’ project. This learned incapacity for long term thinking and an aversion for continuity is perhaps our biggest undoing in this country.

The truth is that if we ever plan to get off our backsides and drag this country out of its protracted state of backwardness, then our leaders must begin to plan for the long term, looking into the future and putting in place building blocks today that will only reap fruits in the years to come through sustainable implementation of a clearly defined plan.

Planning for the long-term is essential for economic sustainability, providing a consistent level of public services, and protecting our people from the consistent volatility in international crude oil prices. In short, long-term planning helps elected officials not only guard the public purse, but also make the best use of available scarce resources for the protection of tomorrow.

Planning for the long term establishes a firm basis for government budgets and developmental policies. When coupled with a realistic mission or vision, it provides a framework for effective decision making and efficient allocation of financial and human resources. Call it having a ‘method’ to the ‘madness’.

APlanning for the long term should be thought of as a road map; it is a guide to an end, but it is not cast in rock. It is something that keeps getting refined as situations demand. The approach to implementation can even change as leadership changes but the core of the thinking behind it does not change.

One must also note that long-term economic development plans do not take place in isolation. Rather, it is closely linked with other planning processes such as strategic, land-use, asset management and business planning, as well as budgeting. Essentially it has to be an integration of various other plans and linked to an even bigger plan or goals.

A relatable example so close to us here is what former Governor Peter Obi accomplished in Anambra state through his ANIDS (Anambra Integrated Development Strategy) initiative.

ANIDS was a long term multi-sectoral development model predicated on the internationally-acclaimed Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, of eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, gender equality and women empowerment, reduction of child mortality, boost to maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, environmental sustainability and global partnership in development.

The achievements of this initiative over just eight years will be spoken about for a long time. Whether his successor is implementing the same plan is a different matter altogether, but imagine the incremental gains that will accrue to the state if that initiative enjoys some continuity.

Just like Obi keyed into the MDGs, today leaders have the SDGs to serve as a benchmark to guide long term planning. The global sustainable goals pretty much covers everything aspect of human development. The question is, what are our leaders doing about the SDGs, almost two years on? Like I had written here in the past, about the National SDG conference back in November and a few days ago the acting president inaugurated the SGDs Private Sector Advisory Group. But that like crawling when others are already running.

Last October China released its national plan for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which translates each target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into “action plans” for China. The national implementation plan reviews China’s experience and achievements in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); notes opportunities and challenges that it faces in implementing the 2030 Agenda; provides guiding thoughts and general principles for implementation; and indicates overall approaches.

That is a country that knows the importance of planning and takes the future very seriously. It must be understood that a plan’s importance lies not in its ability to predict the future with perfect foresight, but rather in establishing a secure and logical position from which to confront that future. We need to start doing a lot of that here.

Fiction writer, op-ed columnist, social commentator. Sylva lives in Lagos Nigeria

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