Why Nigeria’s State Governments Must Rethink their Development Models – Onuoha Frank

Development for most people is what separates a modern society from a primitive one. What then is development? There are myriads of definitive options that exist for our elucidation, they include “the process in which someone or something grows or changes and becomes more advanced.” (Cambridge) Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winning economist asserted that “development must be judged by its impact on people, not only by changes in their income but more generally in terms of their choices, capabilities and freedoms; and we should be concerned about the distribution of these improvements, not just the simple average for a society” (Centre for Global Development). Some experts make a case for lasting change in measuring development.

The debate nonetheless, one thing that is common is there must be noticeable improvement in the well being of the people before development can be affirmed. Development it must be stated from the onset does not – and should not be made to, mean the same thing to any two society. Consider the states of Lagos and Abia for instance.

Many years ago the most parts of the city of Lagos were covered by water, but accelerated developments have ensured the change in the landscape of the city. This development model is also instrumental to its current position as the business capital of not just Nigeria but West Africa as a whole. Skyscrapers now dot its sky; the state is a beehive of various architectural corporate and residential master-class. Being an industrial hub, many businesses now have their headquarters in Lagos. The road networks are elaborate and already the government is working on a speed-train to ease the movement of goods and services. The per capita income of people living in Lagos is significantly high compared to most states in Nigeria and the same can be said of expenditure. The state generates the most revenue of any state and is one of the top receivers of federal government allocation. Clearly the potential for growth is available.

On the other hand is Abia state, created in 1991, an agrarian society with few notable markets like Ariaria and Ekeoha, it generates about 400 million naira annually compared to Lagos that generates about 275 billion naira in a fiscal year, the federal government allocation to the state is barely 2 billion. Considering all indicators the state cannot be compared to Lagos. It therefore should make common sense that the development model chose also be different. The models chosen are anything but.

In the name of bringing ‘development’ to the people, states like Abia will rather embark on over-ambitious physical structures that owe little or no bearing in the life of their citizens. In many cases these supposed “mega projects” are merely drainpipes for corruption. They either get abandoned or are not fully utilized when they are “commissioned”. For instance, what is the fate of the three “mega cities” project promised by the government of Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso to Kano people, which cost the state about N45 billion to execute? Some states, knowing well, they were landlocked, with poor infrastructure and absence of capacity, still embarked on ‘Free Trade Zone’. There are states where a ‘five star’ hotel built by the administration is the biggest achievement of the government. In the south-east alone, it is estimated that there about 300 abandoned projects by the various state governments and many of the projects are paid for.

Equating development with skyscrapers, five or seven star hotels, ‘mega’ estate development projects, long bridges, humongous conglomerates emitting dangerous gasses in the name of industrialization, markets at every corner and turn etc is great but just vain and that includes the mad rush to imitate this paradigm. Kano for instance may have a large population with per capita income close to Lagos. Unlike Lagos, however, its population is largely farmers. Thus, the state government may want to pursue a model that gives her citizens at least comparative advantage economically.

Development for any town and city should be simply making tomorrow better than today for the people living in it. Development should meet with the realities of the people in the city. An industrial policy, for instance, should be able to not only give people jobs with payments that align with present realities but also help them aspire to be entrepreneurs and preserve their environment. Don’t build a skyscraper in an agrarian state like Abia or Benue State in the name of bringing ‘development’ to Abians or Benue people. Development models must be relatable; it should understand and address the challenges at the community level as well as inspire creativity and realization of aspirations.

Development that thrives at the death and knife of the environment will ultimately do harm to the people of that place. In no place is this true than in Lagos where trees and grasses have almost disappeared and are being replaced with synthetic trees and grasses. Ornamental trees are much preferred than fruit-bearing trees. Just fly over Lagos and look down you will think it is one large industry of smoke, skyscrapers and estates, business-crippling traffic situation etc, a picture of the industrial revolution in medieval Europe.

Our states must not be ‘developed’ at an even pace. If you understand that you will understand why any allocation, any allocation at all, a state receives should be enough to carry out development using a different paradigm that recognizes the peculiarities of that state. Development should be all-inclusive; people should be allowed to express their choices based on pressing needs. An administration with a four year mandate has no business making a forty year development plan.

Onuoha Frank is an alumni of Imani Centre for Policy and Education. You can connect with him via twitter @iamfrankelean