If you spend a few hours driving around the streets of Abuja, you immediately get used to the several uncompleted buildings that litter the nation's capital. This incompetency in the housing sector perfectly captures the 'bit by bit' nature of Nigeria's policy sphere.
Nigeria faces several hindrances in achieving its economic and developmental goals. But, one of the most profound is policy inconsistency and discontinuity. The National Council on Development Planning (NCDP) recognised the lack of stability and continuity in programmes by succeeding governments as the bane of Nigeria's stunted growth and development. Very few policies have stood the test of time.
Out with the old, in with the new
Most politicians are entirely focused on getting re-elected rather than enforcing feasible and viable policies that actually drive long-term growth. As a result, the frequent change of government after elections often leads to a complete or partial disruption of the policies enacted by the previous administration (whether good or bad). While it is understandable that the incoming administration might have an alternative vision and might want to gain legitimacy by introducing new policies, the intent behind their actions is not always patriotic. Politicians have a sense of "my policy." The Abuja- Kaduna railway is a typical example; where supporters of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan did not let Nigerians forget that "Jonathan began it and Buhari finished it".
Before the discovery of oil, the agriculture sector was the bedrock of Nigeria's economy. However, the lack of policy cohesion and sustainability has prevented the sector from growing to its full potential. The issue of discontinuity was rooted in the military era, and since then subsequent governments have adopted the same attitude towards policy. For instance, in 1975, General Yakubu Gowon introduced the National Accelerated Food Production Program Policy (NAFPP). This was followed by the popular Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) Policy introduced by the Obasanjo regime in 1976. Obasanjo's successor, President Shagari, abandoned the OFN policy and started the Green Revolution campaign, and when his successor, the then General Buhari came into power in 1983, he abandoned both schemes started by his predecessors. And, the cycle continues up until today. In 2018, farmers and those invested in the agriculture sector are still feeling the impact of the inability of the Nigerian government to see one policy through. "Policy inconsistency is ruining our business", they expressed.
The Cost of Discontinuity
The uncertainty and irregularity of government policies also pose a problem for the macroeconomy. Foreign investors are not flooding into Nigeria regardless of the numerous opportunities in the country. Many investors have identified the lack of predictable policymaking as one of the reasons for keeping their distance. But, investors are not the only ones concerned. Nigerians themselves do not trust the system and are reluctant to buy into national government agendas because of the long history of patchiness in government policy. An example is the mixed reactions that came with the unveiling of the national carrier "Nigeria Air" in July - while many received it with excitement, the majority believed that it would be subjected to a similar fate like the previous airlines. The scepticism has now been justified as the government recently announced its plan to suspend the project, barely two months after it was unveiled.
Interestingly, the current administration has already tarnished its credibility in enforcing policy within the government. This signals that the popular proposal of adopting a single six-year term to improve the ability of the government to sustain policies, might not be effective in our case.
The erratic nature of policy is also a financial sinkhole in the economy and leads to high costs, which can't be recovered regardless of the outcome of the investment. Imagine all the money the Nigerian government has poured into policies and projects that were never fully actualised - think of examples like the Ajaokuta steel factory; 39 years and $8 billion later, the factory has failed to produce any steel. It is a colossal waste for a nation that is regarded as the poverty capital of the world.
Addressing the "White Elephant" in the Room
The lack of cohesion and common purpose among elected officials is holding Nigeria back. In countries like South Korea, the government adopted a consistent and harmonious approach towards an industrial policy for over five decades; enabling them to achieve a level of growth that is often cited as "miraculous".There is no doubt that the Nigerian government is capable of formulating sound policies, but implementation still remains the Achilles heel of the country.
Moving forward, if Nigeria is to witness any form of advancement in growth, there must be political will among public servants to maintain the policies put in place by their predecessors; except when it becomes necessary to make amendments. Civic society and institutions also need to install stronger accountability and transparency mechanisms to monitor, regulate and appraise the activities of the government. Most importantly, policymakers need to learn that you "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater".