By Abdulrauf Aliyu
For years, policymakers and leaders in Nigeria have maintained that the country does not suffer from a planning problem but rather an implementation or execution problem. Whenever I hear such statements, I can’t help but chuckle. The issue at hand is not simply a matter of executing plans more efficiently; it’s about our failure to develop a coherent and effective strategy in the first place. In Nigeria, we often rush into planning with ambitious goals that are doomed to fail before they are even concluded. It’s high time we recognized that the thinking and assumptions behind a plan are far more critical than the plan itself. We need to shift our focus from implementation to strategy, and it’s crucial that our leaders and policymakers understand this fundamental distinction.
To understand the difference between development strategy and development plans, let’s delve into each concept with real-world examples.
Development plans are detailed roadmaps that outline specific projects, initiatives, and actions that a government or organization intends to undertake to achieve certain objectives. In the context of Nigeria, development plans are typically formulated on a multi-year basis, such as five-year plans. These plans include specific targets, timelines, and allocations of resources to various sectors such as infrastructure, healthcare, education, and agriculture.
For instance, Nigeria has had a history of development plans, including the First National Development Plan (1962–1968), the Second National Development Plan (1970–1974), and more recently, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) for 2017–2020. These plans have set out ambitious goals and targets, such as achieving double-digit economic growth, improving infrastructure, reducing poverty, and diversifying the economy away from oil dependence.
However, the recurring problem with these plans is not their lack of ambition but their failure to materialize as intended. Implementation challenges, corruption, and changing political administrations often lead to the abandonment or partial execution of these plans. The result is a cycle of unfulfilled promises, leaving Nigerians disillusioned and skeptical about the government’s ability to bring about meaningful change.
On the other hand, development strategy is a broader and more holistic approach to achieving long-term goals and objectives. It involves a deep understanding of a country’s unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as well as a clear vision of where the nation wants to be in the future. Strategy is about making tough choices, prioritizing resources, and adapting to changing circumstances.
Let’s consider an example of a development strategy: Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) Singapore, a small city-state with limited natural resources, faced numerous challenges when it gained independence in 1965. Instead of rushing into ambitious plans, Singapore’s leaders, under the guidance of Dr. Goh Keng Swee, focused on developing a comprehensive strategy.
Singapore’s strategy revolved around several key pillars, including:
Investing in Education: Singapore prioritizes education to build a skilled and adaptable workforce. They invested in high-quality schools, universities, and vocational training programs.
Attracting Foreign Investment: Singapore positioned itself as a global business hub by offering tax incentives, political stability, and world-class infrastructure to attract multinational corporations.
Developing Key Industries: The country identified and supported key industries such as manufacturing, finance, and technology that aligned with its long-term goals.
Infrastructure Development: Singapore invested heavily in infrastructure projects, including the development of a world-class port and airport.
Prudent Financial Management: The government maintained fiscal discipline and saved for future investments.
Singapore’s development strategy was not just about short-term plans; it was a cohesive, long-term vision that guided the country’s policies and decisions over decades. As a result, Singapore transformed from a struggling nation into a global economic powerhouse with one of the highest standards of living in the world.
Now, let’s return to Nigeria. The fundamental problem lies in our tendency to rush into planning without a clear and well-thought-out strategy. We set lofty goals without adequately assessing our capabilities and resources. It’s akin to a ship setting sail without a navigational chart, hoping to reach an unknown destination.
John Lewis Gaddis, a prominent historian of the Cold War era, defines strategy as “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.” What does he mean by this? Simply put, it means that a nation, like Nigeria, may have grand aspirations and goals for development, but these ambitions must be aligned with the real-world constraints of limited resources, political realities, and external factors.
If Nigeria continues to envision ends that exceed its means, sooner or later, it will have to scale back its aspirations to match its capabilities. While expanding our means through economic growth and development is essential, not all ends can be infinite, and means will always have limits. Thus, there must be a tangible connection between our current situation and our desired destination.
In other words, Nigeria lacks a coherent strategy because we have not effectively bridged the gap between our means and ends. We have not made the tough choices and trade-offs required to prioritize and allocate resources wisely. As a result, we are left with a series of well-intentioned but poorly executed plans that fail to deliver the promised results.
To address this issue, Nigeria needs a paradigm shift in its approach to development. Here are some key steps that can help us move from a focus on planning to a focus on strategy:
Define clear objectives: Nigeria must articulate clear, realistic, and long-term objectives for development. These objectives should be based on an understanding of our unique challenges and opportunities.
Assess Capabilities: We must conduct a thorough assessment of our capabilities, including human resources, infrastructure, and financial resources. This assessment should guide our strategic choices.
Prioritize: Not all goals can be achieved simultaneously. Nigeria should prioritize objectives based on their impact on overall development and the feasibility of implementation.
Adaptability: A good strategy is adaptable. Nigeria should be prepared to adjust its strategy in response to changing circumstances and emerging opportunities or challenges.
Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging stakeholders, including citizens, the private sector, and civil society, is crucial for developing a strategy that reflects the diverse needs and aspirations of the population.
Long-Term Vision: Strategy is not a short-term endeavor. Nigeria should develop a long-term vision that spans multiple administrations and political cycles.
Monitoring and Evaluation: Establish mechanisms for monitoring progress and evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy. This allows for course correction as needed.
In conclusion, Nigeria’s development challenges cannot be solved by simply blaming implementation or execution problems. The root of the issue lies in our failure to develop a coherent and effective strategy that aligns our aspirations with our capabilities. It’s time for our leaders and policymakers to recognize that development strategy is not synonymous with development plans. We must prioritize strategic thinking, make tough choices, and chart a clear course for the future. Only then can Nigeria truly connect the dots between its means and ends and embark on a sustainable path to development and prosperity.
An economist and Policy Analyst writes from
45 Ashiru Road, U/Dosa New Extension