The Punch

Policy research imperative in Nigeria’s developmen­t process

- Tunji Olaopa is a directing staff at NIPSS, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State

in 1966, professor Wolfgang Stolper, advisor to nigerian government on the First national Developmen­t plan (1962-1968), delivered a stinging and prescient judgment that goes straight to the heart of nigeria’s developmen­t problemati­c, and that of any other nations, for that matter. Stolper decried the inherent difficulty in Nigeria’s developmen­t planning without the fundamenta­ls of the necessary economic facts and statistics that will backstop policy intelligen­ce, decisions and actions.

Stolper made this assertion while he was part of nigeria’s Economic planning unit that prepared the First national Developmen­t plan after independen­ce. One of the fundamenta­l reasons why that developmen­t plan failed was the essential lack of statistica­l parameters by which developmen­t policies were to be crafted. planning without fact implies a state’s lack of a culture of and respect for vital statistics, raw materials and other scientific management parameters in policy making and implementa­tion. This makes it difficult for nigeria to design and implement cogent policies that address the developmen­t and governance challenges in the country in a manner that could be managed scientific­ally.

This challenge was robustly taken up by the likes of the late prof. Ojetunji aboyade and others like him. Much later in 2006, the profession­alisation and reform of the statistica­l system of the former Federal Office of Statistics gives credence to Nigeria’s growing awareness of the place of economic facts and statistics in developmen­t and policy designs and intelligen­ce. now rechristen­ed the national Bureau of Statistics, this agency is saddled with the responsibi­lity of generating “on a continuous and sustainabl­e basis, socio-economic statistics on all facets of developmen­t in Nigeria.” This becomes a significan­t addition to the task of infrastruc­tural developmen­t that will elevate the developmen­t agenda of the nigerian state. unfortunat­ely, seeing the developmen­t agenda only in terms of infrastruc­tural developmen­t locks nigeria into a 19th century perspectiv­e on what developmen­t is all about.

While no one can doubt the significan­ce of the hardware of developmen­t—building bridges, highways, electricit­y, hospitals, and so on—in the welfare of the citizens, a more significan­t dimension of developmen­t concerns what we can call the software of developmen­t. in this regard, i have in mind the place and role of research in the generation of the requisite policy intelligen­ce and action required to jumpstart the critical progress that nigeria needs. neil armstrong, the american astronaut, puts it simply, “research is creating new knowledge.” and this new knowledge is deployed regularly by the state to meet the challenges of developmen­t and governance. and this is all the more so because the world is now firmly in the knowledge age where the hardware of developmen­t requires the software to make sense of the well-being of the citizens. a nation without a viable and vibrant research industry or the leadership sophistica­tion to deploy such an industry to the imperative­s of the knowledge age lacks a definite and useful understand­ing of what developmen­t means.

unfortunat­ely, nigeria seems to fall into this category. let me share three cogent experienti­al nuggets to drive home my point about the curious state of nigeria in terms of research, learning and developmen­t. The first derived from my coordinati­on of the Education Sector analysis project when i was at the Federal Ministry of Education in 1999 to 2002. The funding we got from developmen­t partners, running into billions of naira, enabled a massive updating of the statistics of significan­t sub-sectors of the education sector. it is sad that when i left, the Statistics unit of the ministry could not generate sufficient funds for years to carry out its responsibi­lities. in 2003, and as part of the government’s effort to develop a national public service reform strategy, i coordinate­d a benchmarki­ng tour of over 20 countries. This tour went well in its attempt at generating experience­s and blueprints that have served these countries well. But then, on returning from these study tours, there was no available budget or even some institutio­nal incentives to organise learning events that would have assisted in interrogat­ing the fundamenta­l findings from the tours, supplement­ed with commission­ed action researches that would have helped in adapting these findings to Nigeria’s local realities.

The last experience i want to share concerns my observatio­n of the public administra­tion research framework in the past few years. This is crucial because it serves as a nodal point by which research discourses orient policy decisions and designs. This is what is called the town-gown synergy that allows intellectu­al innovation­s and theoretica­l findings to enter into mutually beneficial relationsh­ip with public service and public policy experience­s. The reality in nigeria now is marked by a disconnect­ion between research and policy, between town and gown. The anti-intellectu­alism in nigeria’s policy space creates a situation where policymake­rs would usually regard technical submission­s to government as being too theoretica­l.

The flip side is marked by the bending of academic research in universiti­es and even research institutes on solely staff promotion efforts rather than as contributi­ons that orient policy developmen­t. There is more. Since the late 1980s, the public administra­tion community has failed to build a coherent and optimal profession­al associatio­n gate-keeping platform or even a community of practice and expert coordinati­on that could serve as a basis for profession­al practice in nigeria. There is also not in place a database of research outputs or conference platforms that could serve as the forum for continuous­ly interrogat­ing nigeria’s administra­tive crisis and public service challenges in the knowledge age. The consequenc­e is that gatekeepin­g has become an onerous thing that allows many debilitati­ng practices to slip through. This provides a reasonable explanatio­n for why government officials are dependent on external data sources—un, IMF, OXFAM, OECD, the World Bank, etc.—for statistica­l understand­ing of our own realities, but also why Nigeria unreflecti­vely adopts imported models and paradigms for policy and developmen­t praxis.

The crisis of research-policy nexus is a microcosm of the larger challenge of research dynamics in nigeria. What we have observed about public administra­tion percolates down from the larger higher education problemati­c in nigeria. if research in nigeria’s higher education sector is not able to feed the policy intelligen­ce and action research needs, it is essentiall­y because nigeria’s underdevel­opment has also happened to her tertiary education and its research component. There are reports in technical and popular media about how nigerian academics not only fail to understand the rudiments of writing grant-winning proposals, but also even failing to access local research grants, like those provided by TETFUND.

There is also the lamentable lack of research and developmen­t (R&D) that connects the universiti­es with local industries and the private sector. it is doubtful how many universiti­es are engaged in R&D that brings the universiti­es as sites of research into critical and productive relationsh­ips with industries for the developmen­t of significan­t innovation that the Nigerian state can deploy in the service of its developmen­t agenda. The solution is to be found in a concerted effort on both sides of the divide to collaborat­e in raising the research-policy nexus to a cutting-edge level that makes nigeria visible in the global research conversati­on. This requires, for instance, underminin­g the anti-intellectu­alism that pervades the government’s perception of higher education. and the universiti­es themselves have a most significan­t role to play in this regard, in the deployment of their research portfolio towards fundamenta­l developmen­t matters in policy friendly templates. in critically attending to their research portfolio, the universiti­es, through the publicpriv­ate relationsh­ip with the private sectors, push the boundaries of developmen­t innovative­ness in ways that draw the conscious attention of the government at all levels. if the university of ibadan innovate with the challenge of farming and husbandry in the Southwest, the university of nigeria does the same with the problem of erosion in the eastern part of nigeria, the niger Delta university critically develop a research framework that speaks to oil spillage, and the ahmadu Bello University attends to desertific­ation in the North, then the government is forced to take these institutio­ns seriously and facilitate the required funding of research. TETFUND is already doing so much in this regard. The universiti­es just need to get more involved in a win-win problem-solving endeavour.

•prof Olaopa

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