One of the most consequential events that has helped to shape the state of the world within the last half-century largely went unnoticed. Apart from the country where this event took place, at the time it happened, it never got the sort of global attention that the fall of the Berlin Wall had for instance, even though it has just as much impact on the world today, some would argue even more.
Its effects are unprecedented and the numbers speak for themselves. It ended decades-long multi-dimensional suffering and deaths. It heralded what has since been described as a period of unprecedented economic and social advancement in human history. This event led to a 25-fold increase in per capita income of the people — imagine the average Nigerian earning 25 times more than they do now — and helped to lift about one billion people out of poverty. It accounted for some 70 percent of the world’s total poverty reduction at some point. If the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had a trophy for a single winner a la the World Cup, China would have been the undisputed champion.
On the 18th of December, 1978 on the back of the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, China’s new leader, Deng Xiaoping oversaw the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This meeting started the Chinese revolution from a closed, poor country into a pragmatic and practical one. “Reform and opening” became the overriding mantra of its economic development and advancement. The vehicle for the China you see today started on land that day. It has since gone beyond stratospheric. Think of that however you will, because it applies connotatively and denotatively.
China under President Xi Jinping has since deviated from some of the principles espoused by Deng Xiaoping, but certain elements remain from that meeting 47 years ago. Deng’s legacy helped to remake the world in ways one cannot begin to appreciate over a single article. To have an appreciation for his vision, it might be easier to imagine a world without the China he helped to create.
It is often easy to compare countries, what is harder is the humility to understand that no two countries, no matter how geographically, historically, culturally or politically close are ever the same. It is why people who compare the consequences of oil in Qatar versus its effects in Nigeria miss the point. You can start with two samples, the population of each country versus the volume of production per day. That said, countries can learn from one another.
Nigeria can afford to make its own mistakes as a country, however, it cannot afford to make the ones some other countries have already proven to be mistakes. it becomes a form of premeditated failure when you know a course of action cannot advance progress yet choose to embark on it.
Irrespective of the spending choices of its leaders, Nigeria is indeed a poor country. Whilst its economic poverty is apparent to anyone who understands the essence of per capita distribution of wealth, its ultimate poverty lies in the absence of a national vision. One of the major contradictions of Nigeria’s democracy is that, 24 years into its latest democratic journey, the country’s most popular and most debated national vision agenda remains the one crafted by the military, ‘Vision 2010’. Note that this is not to say whether it is the best national development plan or not, it is to say it is the one development plan that attracted the attention of most Nigerians much more than the efforts made for the succeeding plans.
This could be because it was a plan with a year in mind, 2010. The point is, there was a year in mind by which certain things were intended to be achieved. Yar’ Adua’s ‘Vision 2020’ barely lasted on the shelf. Obasanjo’s NEEDS and the subnational SEEDS appeared to be more an administrative framework for development than a long-term national vision. There is currently no time-bound national plan that Nigerians are generally aware of at this time. What do we have today for what ‘Vision 2010’ was?
This is where President Bola Ahmed Tinubu comes in. He has a ‘Renewed Hope’ agenda which is intended to guide his policies and plans for Nigeria and its people between 2023 and 2027. It is not and cannot replace a national vision. Nigeria must now advance a national development agenda built on robust planning that’d show its people the destination the country expects to be in say 2040? 2050? Whatever it is, it cannot be so far into the future to appear like we simply decided to kick our development into the long grass.
Just this week, Saudi Arabia landed one of the biggest rewards of its Vision 2030, what could turn out to be the pièce de résistance of its soft power agenda — the hosting rights to the 2034 FIFA World Cup. It is a culmination of one of the major aspects of its development agenda that has seen the PIF — Public Investment Fund — expend about $1.5b on major sporting events and brands.
We must now begin to put the foundational elements of our own vision together. That must also include a world where government intuitively knows that you cannot advance austerity measures for the poor whilst the Navy intends to purchase a “Presidential Yacht”, just short of N5.1b. I have seen some arguments suggesting that it is ‘presidential’ doesn’t mean it belongs to the President. That could be true. However, with government, what you do or intend to do is just as important as its perception. Perception, especially in politics and governance, is reality.
We cannot craft a national vision without a commitment to this overriding principle; the people must always come first. I believe that President Tinubu believes this too. He just now has to advance a government whose ethos reflects it at all times. A lot of that will take keeping his word on easing out those who do not fit into his administration’s vision for Nigeria.
Also published in the THISDAY Newspaper, Friday 3rd, November