FAMAKINWA: To Achieve Its Goals, Southwest Needs Look Beyond Buhari’s Cabinet
Mr. Dipo Famakinwa is the director general of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, a non-partisan group created for the economic sustainability of the Southwest geo-political zone. He told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that not ready to accept injustice in the form of low representation in political appointments while the zone is looking more in the direction of sustainable development.
Looking at expectations of the Southwest in this government, would you say the zone is adequately represented so far?
WE believe that this certainly is an auspicious time to drive a composite regional development strategy capable of putting Western Nigeria on an irreversible pathway to sustainable progress. We also believe that this would require that all critical assets for moving forward be mobilised and all agents of development be called into existence for the good of the region.
Given the prevailing circumstances however, the need for us in the West to reclaim our natural position as the leading light of development actions in the country, compels a reappraisal of the emerging policy space and the necessity for a deliberate, well-planned and well-articulated approach aimed at optimising the space for the sustainable development of the zone and its constituent states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo.
As a body, we are currently refreshing and aligning the Southwest development agenda with current realities. We are also redefining the engagement orientation for projecting our development aspirations and for opening up and optimising the space in a manner that our strategic interests will no longer be reversed, derailed or aborted.
We are also articulating an actionable pathway to sustainable progress and development for Southwest within the emerging policy space and beyond
Indeed, as a people, we have had an enviable development model, almost incomparable to any within Africa, which up till today remains relevant and appropriate for our use. The model was tested and successfully operated during the days of the old Western Region. We had a great start, leading the way, and producing developments on many fronts, with many ‘firsts’ in Africa landmarks dotting the landscape. Most noteworthy is the fact that the people of the region, the Yoruba have the distinct and uncommon providential commonalities of language, custom, culture and heritage.
This forms the core, the superstructure and the driver of our development aspirations from time immemorial, and will not change anytime in the future. We believe that this type of people should have no business with poverty and underdevelopment.
But focusing on present circumstances, what are the specific goals the zone is particular about?
Well, given the current circumstances, while state-level competitiveness is desirable, regional competitiveness has proven to be more effective in achieving social engineering and economic transformation. Walking alone is no longer fashionable. Rather mobilisation of regional endowments and assets is key to unlocking potential and achieving sustainable growth. Scale is where the traction, the big results and sustainability lie. Our region is too interlinked and interwoven to rely on single-state solutions or individual success story. Confronting this reality is the reason why a regional front for optimising the space for development has become a crucial necessity
For example, we have been advocating for regional competitiveness as a Nigerian development strategy. Indeed, Prof Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School, and the world-acclaimed expert on Competitiveness, had on March 21, 2013, at a programme organised by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria in Abuja, argued that regions are the most important economic unit for competitiveness in large countries. He believes that many essential drivers of competitiveness reside at the regional level, as regions specialise in different sets of clusters and cluster strength drives regional performance.
In making the case for regional competitiveness in Nigeria, you would agree with me that no two regions in the country are the same. Indeed, endowments are distinctly regional and, therefore, economic performance varies significantly across sub-national regions (or geo-political zones). Aligning with this is the fact that Nigeria is too big and diverse to be managed with a one-size-fits-all approach.
The challenges facing each region are different. Therefore, the developmental aspirations and priorities are often not the same. For instance, the situation in the Northeast of the country is clearly different from those of other geo-political zones; therefore, the treatment has to be compellingly different. On the other hand, the Niger Delta, i.e. the South-South zone presents its own peculiar challenges, which of course require a different set of approach.
The argument for regional competitiveness is further buttressed by the reality of the near-bankrupt state of many of our states, which recently necessitated what many have referred to as a bail out plan. Indeed, many of the states of the federation, especially given the country’s fiscal structure, are now barely able to pay salaries, and in fact, many are gasping for breath. The country cannot move ahead when its constituent units sweat themselves over routine public expenditure, without the enabling capacity to achieve social and economic sustainability in the longer term.
Organising for effective regional actions, mobilisation of regional endowments and assets, and optimising the space for development through the regions constitute the key to achieving sustainable growth in the country. The best that can happen in our states, even among the most endowed, is sub-optimal performance.
Most often, the government at the center, especially in its recent history, has rather competed with the constituent units, struggling for space with them and attempting to create solutions that are clearly unsuitable for the requirements of the states or even the geo-political zones. This has left the whole of the country in dire straits and things can only change when the Federal Government assumes the role of the enabler of the space for growth and development.
Given that grip at the center, state-level developmental efforts have proven to be ineffective and inefficient, unable to deliver development on a scale that is likely to place the country on an enviable global competitiveness scale, it is clear that the key to energising the country’s development policy, plans and activities, and making them effective, lies in enabling the space for the regions to become strategic anchors of development and empowering them as centres of development activities.
Therefore, the country’s new growth model should be predicated on regional competitiveness as a national development strategy
At the DAWN, we are of the view that for the country to succeed, the constituent states/geopolitical Zones must first be empowered and enabled to succeed. The Federal Government and the constituents must work complementarily for results.
The Federal Government should avoid a situation where it has taken more than it can shoulder. Rather, it should focus on those areas where it is best suited to function, and that is to become the key enabler of economic growth across the country’s geo- political zones.
Indeed, the Federal Government should play more of a supporting and coordinating role, especially through effective political and economic governance institutions, as well as with programmes, schemes and incentives for socio-economic growth.
In that manner, all the zones will be playing to their strength and the end result will be a country that is economically-transformed, politically-stable, secure, and able to hold her own in the Global Competitiveness Index.
What are the broad ambitions the zone requires under this government?
Southwest development requirements stem from the realisation that radical social engineering and economic transformation can only happen within the zone, for the benefit of the people, when all social actors and development agents, including the government, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, development partners and the civil society work together under a compelling regional agenda for progress.
Infact, our strategy is hinged upon the implementation of a Regional Optimisation Plan that would unlock potential and mobilise the zone’s social assets, as well as leverage her latent capacity and endowments for development.
We have framed our ambitions along effective and result-oriented political and economic institutions for good governance, optimising capacity to achieve food security and revenue for self-sustenance, as well as, secured, law and order zone for safe and decent living and enabling environment for meaningful social and economic engagements, including local and foreign investments.
Our ambitions also include economic competitiveness for jobs, growth and prosperity anchored on entrepreneurship and innovations, fit-for-purpose human capital with access to functional and high-quality education and healthcare services, enabling infrastructure, especially power and energy sufficiency, as well as, integrated/interconnected transportation, including highways, water and rail systems
These are what we hope to push for and pursue under the Buhari administration. To this end, we are currently working on developing a strategic engagement for optimising the space.
The development that we envisage must be constructed on the platform of strong collaborations and partnerships across governmental and non-governmental levels, as well as, with credible institutions and organisations.
The world has entered into the era of collaboration; hence the collaborative space must constantly be expanded for long-lasting strategic advantages. Engaging Abuja, being the seat of the federal administration, including federal institutions and agencies is a strategic necessity. Indeed, this is the most auspicious time for us to develop a strategic partnership with the Federal Government. And we must be able to present a clear and coherent framework for ensuring the fulfillment of the composite regional ambitions of the Southwest. The space to optimise Federal Government schemes, incentives and programmes must be fully explored and engaged. This is part of the irreducible minima for progress.
To what extent are you confident these goals are achievable?
Well, that is where the real work is. Nothing can be taken for granted, and there is nothing yet about that so-called body language that sends any negative signals
The important things is to organise ourselves and ensure that we are clear about what we are pursuing and create linkages and collaborations across the country and beyond to ensure that those goals are realised.
In any case, they are legitimate aspirations and I don’t think that anyone would want to continue to stand in the way.
I must also say that we must also ensure that we fit smugly into the plans and programs of the Federal Government in ways that enable us achieve those goals.
For instance, the President is very clear about the way he wants to achieve his agenda and this he has stated to include corruption, insecurity and unemployment.
Those areas align with our goals and they are strategic to achieving even the bigger ambitions
For instance, we must quickly align with the administration’s plans for growing the agriculture, solid minerals and manufacturing (especially Textiles) sectors.
The work that we have to do remains very much within us. We need to build regional solidarity and stand together, regardless; leverage our distinct regional capabilities and endowments for sustainable development, get support for state-level competitiveness and for our states to “get out of trouble” and be on the pathway to recovery; create a regional bloc of opportunities for investment, development compacts and partnerships; mobilise and call all agents of development into existence towards realising the agenda for progress and identify strategic champions and bridge builders who would make things happen.
The Southwest has always been perceived as champion of the minorities and the stabilising factor in the country. With the zone now in collaboration at center, can it still meet this expectation?
The region is always at the forefront of justice and equity and it doesn’t matter who the injustice is being perpetrated against, we would always show our voice.
Some have tried to explain it away as a weakness of some sort, but hey, can you change a people’s long established worldview at the expense of some temporary gains?
However, I believe that what is important at this point is to be clear about what we are trying to achieve and build the coalition and the alignment to succeed in doing that.
You significantly played down the importance of appointments. Are you saying the zone is ready to sacrifice such gains?
The Southwest is very sensitive to the issue of justice, equity and fairness and would certainly not want to be a victim of such afflictions. We would like to be treated as partners in the journey to Nigeria’s greatness and not an appendage.