Abia and Edo States have emerged winners in the maiden edition of a long-term development plan pitching competition organised as part of events at the 7th Niger Delta Development Forum (NDDF) after defeating six other states in the region.
The forum which was held on Tuesday and Thursday, in Edo and Rivers states respectively, is a project of the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), supported by a range of other development partners.
According to the organisers, the competition was introduced to serve as a window for the nine states of the Niger Delta to share their expectations and plans for long-term developmental planning processes led by the state governments and for them to get expert recommendation on policy actions and strategies.
“The winning states will be offered technical assistance and capacity support towards ensuring their aspirations are brought to reality,” the organisers said at the commencement of the event on Tuesday.
Top government officials were invited to eloquently present their states’ economic roadmaps and development strategies, as well as how they intend to fund and implement the stated plans. They were also engaged by a panel of judges who provided feedback and quizzed them based on observations.
Commenting on the performances, Joe Abah, DAI Nigeria Country Director and the lead judge at the event, said they did well in covering their respective development needs and presenting plans on how they hope to further develop.
He said the key qualities that determined how well they performed included the workability of their proposals, likelihood of being able to resource plans, capacity to deliver results, the extent to which there is an implementation plan, and how they have been to involve a variety of stakeholders.
“I believe by going through the exercise itself will be of benefit to them; and so whether or not a state emerges tops at the end of the exercise, we should have given them something with which to do more work,” he observed.
Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye, Country Director of Water Aid and one of the judges at the event, congratulated all participants and said all the presentations were impressive and well-researched. She advised the various governments to prioritise their policies wisely, while also paying attention to how the civil service and civil society may help in executing noted plans.
“It’s important that the states pay attention to their comparative advantage,” she said. “I know that, if you are a state government, there are so many competing interests. Ask yourself what are the three things that if you do, you will be able to catalyse development; for instance, electricity.
“A lot of the plans we heard were really quite external; they were not looking internally. We should ask: How do restructure the civil service to be able to deliver on the plans because part of the reasons our plans have not worked so far is because the structure to deliver them are very weak.”
Other judges at the event were Toyosi Akerele, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rise Networks; Seun Akinsanya, Lagos State Director of Economic Planning; Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye, Country Director of Water Aid; Abel Akeni, Head of Innovation at BudgIT; and Seun Ojo, Head of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group’s Public Policy Intelligence and Reform Management Unit.
In his welcome address, Dara Akala, PIND’s Executive Director, thanked the foundation’s development partners, and allies from the civil society sector and media for their support.
He also explained that the 2018 edition of the forum is focusing on development planning as a way of consolidating on the resolutions reached in the previous year.
“The purpose really is for us to harmonise and discuss key development issues, and what we are always trying to achieve is to influence government policies of the region, to foster partnerships through this forum, and to attract investment into the region,” he said.
“We do know that there is a school of thought that believes that we don’t need plans, that it is not plan that is our problem, it is execution. But we simply defer from that. We need execution no doubt; but we also need very clear, comprehensive and coherent plans that will underpin development efforts at the sub national level In Nigeria and, in particular, in the Niger Delta region.
“There are several kinds of agenda in the states, but what is often missing is that long-term strategic plan that will transcend the life of any administration. That is where we want to get the states to be,” Dr. Akala said.
The Niger Delta Development Forum is an annual event organised by PIND and supported by other organisations such as Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), the European Union, Department for International Development (DFID), Faculty for Oil Sector Transformation (FOSTER), and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI).