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Oyeyinka’s road map to recovery



Ayo Olukotun

“There is an urgent need to implement the 2012 Oronsaye Report. Most agencies exist only as conduits for corruption.”
– Prof Banji Oyeyinka, Senior Special Adviser on Industrialization to the President of the African Development Bank, at a public lecture on Friday, November 11, 2022

Politics and governance are two identical twins which closely resemble each other. However, the underplaying of any one of them can spell doom for any country in the world, developed or developing. For reasons which the columnist may not explore in detail here, Nigeria is adept at politics and political competition, but has given little thought to translating political power into governance consequences. Indeed, the preponderant opinion is that all too often and as Hafsat Abiola-Costello once expressed, politics tends to trump governance. The reason is not hard to find, considering that politics is easy to play whereas governance is the most rugged part of the game and requires expertise, staying at the cutting-edge of knowledge generation and advancement, being intellectually inclined and possessing the ability to monitor structure and processes as they change over time.

Last week’s lecture delivered by Professor Banji Oyeyinka seeks to put the emphasis, not on politics as such, but on governance debilities and decay which according to him, have been the bane of Nigeria’s successive efforts at industrial ascent. He begins his narrative with the collapse of several state-owned companies in Nigeria, including industrial enterprises such as the Jebba Paper Mill, Iwopin Paper and Pulp Company, Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company, Oku-Iboku, Akwa Ibom Statr; a rash of textile firms, Ajaokuta and Alaja Steel complexes, among others. The establishment of these industrial firms signalled the entry of Nigeria into the industrial age. Painfully, however, some of them are either stillborn or have outrightly collapsed, setting in motion a process which economists describe as de-industrialisation. The burden of the lecturer is to provide explanations for the collapse of these companies as well as provide a road map for a reset of an industrialised Nigerian economy.

Obviously, the time lost, not to mention the resources squandered in establishing these failed projects, emphasise the failure to employ time to gain speed as other countries, such as South Korea currently a global steel giant, have done. Citing a government study on abandoned projects in Nigeria which put the number of such projects conservatively at the Federal Government level at 4,000 with an estimated cost of N300bn, it was computed that it would take 30 years at the current state of project implementation to revive those projects. Needless to say that those estimates, in the light of Nigeria’s current realities with howling inflation and the continuous downgrading of the naira, read like child’s play. It would take far more than that number of years and the estimates provided to put any one of such projects back on its feet. This explains the true meaning of the philosopher’s epigram that you cannot cross the same river twice. In other words, we are paying a great deal more than we know for the failures of our anti-heroes past.

Situating his analysis within the context of a state with underdeveloped capacity, lacking in bureaucratic independence, envisaging state resources as a prebend to be disbursed across kith and kin ethnic and religious caucuses, as famously theorised by Professor Richard Joseph, the lecture cites a World Bank study which places Nigeria clearly in the bottom league in terms of state capacity. In this respect, weak or fragile states like Nigeria, the lecturer argues, are afflicted by certain gaps or lags which he described as legitimacy gap, security gap and capacity gap. Legitimacy gap refers to a state lacking or deficient in widespread acceptance of its rule or right to rule by the people it claims to govern; security gap, preeminently Nigerian in these times, speaks to the failure of the state and its institutions to maintain order, as well as the sanctity of human life and property. The last core gap, as the lecture expressed it, describes shortfalls in capacity, which explains in the Nigerian environment the dearth of institutional capacity, sometimes, to astonishing levels.

Looking at it that way, one may well ask the question whether the agenda to re-industrialise Nigeria is not indeed a manifesto to reform the Nigerian state by entirely rebuilding it, strengthening its institutions and getting the elite to agree on core values outside the usual “you-chop-me-self-I-chop” system. This much becomes clearer when the lecture, alluding to the Steve Oronsaye report, which no Nigerian government, including the one that set it up, has had the courage or the political will to implement. Perhaps that is why the lecturer makes the demand, as reflected in the opening quote, for this or the next government to implement as a matter of urgency. That report, from where the lecture quotes copiously, suggests that reforming Nigeria is a matter, not for glib campaigns, but for leadership by example, featuring value-setting practices and introducing vanguards and rearguard actions with clear and definite programmes.

One of the revelations from the Oronsaye document, which runs to 800 pages, concerns the verbosity of establishing government institutions, many of them with no clear programmes and often overlapping perhaps as a way of multiplying the conversion of the state into a resource for feral purposes. That is the only way to understand the duplication by the legislature of many agencies and institutions in the same way as universities are being established for political reasons, a trend once described by Professor Tunji Olaopa as executive irresponsibility.

Interestingly, the example was given of one research agency which spends only 10 per cent of its annual budget on research, and 90 per cent on staff salaries and other emoluments in a typical haemorrhage of state resources. Indeed, a book is waiting to be written on how Nigerian politicians underdeveloped the Nigerian state and impoverished the Nigerian people through an embedded political culture ridden with graft, profligacy and corruption.

After a thorough analysis of the issues, the lecture delves into remedial policies and perspectives that can jump-start our journey from what resembles years of wandering in D. O. Fagunwa’s “Forest of Ghosts.” He calls first for reducing the scope of the state and its many interventions in economic affairs. This is like saying “build a trimmer and more effective state by decongesting it.” It is pertinent to add that this should not be undertaken in a rash manner devoid of a human face.

Another way of regaining lost years in the industrial space, as suggested by the lecture, is to take economic diversification more seriously beyond the slogan-oriented approach which has characterised it for many years. That will not be enough. There is a need, he argues, to put a premium on the security of agricultural and industrial assets, suggesting that the bizarre theft of oil resources has no place in that kind of architecture.

Also, he insists on the building of industrial infrastructure in order to buttress burgeoning enterprises and restart the industrial race in which Nigeria has dropped the ball.

It would be a pity if a document with clear and robust ideas from a global expert on industrialisation is allowed to join the archives of unread and unlearnt papers gestating in an unkempt library.

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