The Resource Centre for Human Rights&Civic Education (CHRICED) has closely studied the speech of Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, Hon. Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning outlining the Federal Government’s fiscal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In her speech, Nigerians were informed about the approval by the Buhari administration to engage 774,000 Nigerians (1,000 per Local Government Area, LGA) on Special Public Works programme in the country to cushion the effect of COVID-19 pandemic. For us, while this step might be an emergency measure aimed at putting money in the pockets of people, it falls short of the strategic, clear-headed, and sustainable intervention needed to turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity for the diversification of the nation’s economy. With N600 billion set aside for the programme, Nigeria leveraging on the energy, creativity and ingenuity of its people, can start the journey towards industrial revolution targeting key areas of comparative advantage across the 774 LGAs.
Nigeria can do better than the current trend where humongous funds are borrowed and shared out as handouts between political patrons and their network of clients. There should be clarity as to what the immediate, medium and long term impacts of such interventions would be. As we have seen with the litany of controversies surrounding the laudable intentions of providing palliatives to poor and vulnerable, big money spending in the name of the poor, without clear programme design and oversight is like being on the proverbial road to the grave, which is littered with good intentions.Therefore, while CHRICED is fully in support of stimulus measures that would empower the people of this country, especially using the LGAs as the basis, we insist that these public funds should be governed by a clear set of principles. These rafts of spending should derive from clear objectives, which should include an all-out war against poverty, the diversification of our current oil dependent economy, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and ensuring distributive justice.
It is therefore not enough to announce grand interventions without making a proper case by highlighting key areas like sustainability, transparency and accountability. From the way the proposed intervention by the Federal Government is sounding, this could end up as another drain pipe, which would gulp scarce public resources even when the desired impact on ordinary citizens is not realised. The Federal Government should pick some valuable lessons from programmes like the N-Power, and other public employment schemes, which in many cases have been riddled with corruption, absenteeism, and impersonation.
Our position is that any intervention on this scale, given the quantum of resources, and the fact that a lot of public debt is being incurred in these kinds of spending, should be driven by real value addition on the ground. This is why CHRICED has over the years been in the fore front of calls for the 774 Local Government Areas to be used as the basis and template for well-thought out economic policies, to evenly spread impactful and sustainable development across the country. As a matter of fact, CHRICED has severally suggested some clear-headed policies, which we believe if adopted, will return our teeming population of unemployed to work, and serve as a basis for the rapid industrial development of our country. One of such recommended approach is for the government to site an industry worth One Billion Naira in each of the 774 LGAs based on the peculiarity of the area and the economic activities in which the LGA has comparative advantage. We believe this approach will create competition among the LGAs in the country, and will influence Nigeria’s energetic citizens to create clusters of industrial development. Through production, retail, consumption, taxation and the multi-faceted economic activities, which would happen in these industrial clusters based in the LGAs, the monies invested by the government can be easily and speedily recovered. Also, a far higher number of Nigerians will be directly and indirectly employed as a result of the multiplier effects of the industrial clusters. Diversification of the economy of Nigeria, which has been so hopelessly dependent on the sale of crude oil, would begin to happen. And then the monster of unemployment, which is the foundational cause of much of the upheavals and violent criminality Nigeria has become so synonymous, would be tackled.
In the end, we believe this approach is likely to benefit the country in the long run, than the hasty approach of putting money in the pockets of less than a million people in the name of a public works programme, which the government may not have the capacity to implement given its antecedents. In fact, the bureaucracy to implement a public works programme of such scale would gulp a huge chunk of the resources provided with outcomes which may not be commensurate. The risk of corruption, and feelings of alienation by citizens who do not benefit from such handout programmes could be further recipe for conflicts in an already tension-soaked country, where geo-ethnic sentiments quickly become the basis to undermine the credibility of the State. Given these considerations, our admonition to the government is that it should adopt a much more sustainable model to reach out to the people, especially bearing in mind that a lot of the monies for these interventions would end up as part of the public debt profile.
Dr. Zikirullahi is Executive Director of the Resource Centre for Human Rights&Civic Education