ACCORDING to Adam Smith in 1776, “no society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which by far the greater part of the members are poor and miserable”
In the same vein, according to Pope John Paul II, a society that is not socially just and does not intend to be, puts its own future generation in danger”.
Furthermore, the United Nations World Summit for Social Development 1995 observed that the unfinished business of the 21st century is the eradication of poverty. Despite significant improvements over the past half century, extreme poverty remains widespread in developing world, including Nigeria.
Thus, Nigeria adopted several economic development policies to achieve her desired objectives. These policies, measures and strategies adopted by the various administrations were mainly to suit the period, as there were no rolling plans to sustain such policies.
It could be recalled that the policies adopted by the federal government during the first national development plan meant to run from 1962 to 1968 were as a result of socio-economic predicament of the time when the colonial government left Nigeria after independence with no concrete economic sustainability such as basic industries, basic industrial environment, sustainable financial based education institutions for manpower training.
Out of necessity, Nigeria introduced two policies at the same time which included Open Door and Industrialization Policies in 1962.
Interestingly, the logic behind these policies were open invitation given to foreign investors to come and invest their capital in Nigeria which economy at the time was a primitive agrarian and foreign consumer oriented type, specializing in the production of primary products such as groundnut, palm kernel, palm oil, cocoa, hides and skin, other solid minerals.
However, attracting foreign investors may not be easy without granting foreign investors special attractive incentives, which include tax concession, meaning that such investors were not to pay tax for a period of three or more years for pioneer industries.
They were given the right to repatriate their net profit 100 per cent back to their home country and right not to disclose their balance sheet to the federal government.
Unfortunately, these policies plunged the nation to become economically dependent on foreign economy though Nigeria had gained her independent in 1960.
According to Prof. A.C. Eyiuche in his book titled, ‘Economic Problems and Development Programmes and Policies of Nigeria, “However, these attractive incentives became counterproductive because it resulted in neo-colonialism in which the country became economically dependent on foreign economy even though Nigeria had gained her political freedom.
This continued until the military interception in the country in 1966, which enacted the registration of companies and Regulation Decree 51 of 1968, which exposed the economic dependence of the country on foreign nations”.
Continuing, Eyiuche said, “the decree normalised the economic anomalies and enabled Nigeria take the census of all existing investment in Nigeria and the result was construction of the first oil refinery at Eleme in Rivers State in 1965, the Nigerian Security Minting Plant, Lagos, in 1962, the Nigerian Paper Mill at Jebba, the Sugar Mill at Bacita, the Kainji Dam at Kainji, the Niger Bridge, Onitsha, in 1965 and extention of sea port facilities (Apapa, Koko, Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar).
There was another programme introduced in 1972 by General Gowon’s administration known as The National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), designed to boost food production in the country.
According to an economist, government launched the programme in a bid to avert food disaster in Nigeria, to accelerate the production of major staple crops and it had three major components of research, extension and agro service.
It used improved technology in place of traditional techniques of farming. The programme concentrated on the distribution of farming materials to improve the production of wheat, sorghum, millet, maize, rice, cassava, groundnuts.
In a bid to improve the economy through this policy, government provided storage and processing facilities such as credit to farmers, marketing of the products. Agro services centres were set up to ensure that farmers were able to use the packages to ensure abundant and accelerated food production and to avert scarcity and inflation in the country.
However, according to sources, the programme collapsed because government ceased to contribute adequate funds and the objective was not achieved.
When NAFPP policy failed, Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) was launched in Nigeria to boost food production, to curtail huge sum of money spent for payment of importation of finished products into the country aiming to be self sufficient in food production by subsidising supplies of fertilizers, seed and seedlings, pesticides.
The media was used extensively to urge everybody to cultivate his or her back yard, to grow crops, vegetables and to keep poultry chickens, eggs.
It is sad to note that though much money was spent but ill prepared university graduates were used to teach the rural farmers how to farm.
The government was equally ill-prepared for the OFN and it did not achieve the desired goal of poverty alleviation.
Since it is common with every administration to introduce its own policy, Obasanjo, as a military man in 1978, introduced ‘the land use decree of 1978’ to provide large areas of land for agricultural and non-agricultural purposes. By the decree, all lands in the country now belonged to the federal and state government.
Obasanjo was able to secure his Otta farm under this policy. In 1979, during the Shagari Administration, the decree became Land Use Act of 1979. The Land Use Decree, though still obtains in Nigeria, yet many youths are still unemployed and poverty lingers.
As years go by, former President Shehu Shagari, after he was sworn in as the first executive President of Nigeria in 1979, introduced “The Green Revolution of 1979 and it was officially launched in April 14, 1980.
The objectives were to make Nigeria self reliant in food production for her teeming population and to diversify the country’s foreign exchange resources. The objectives were not achieved for some reasons.
Other policies included ‘indigenisation, which is an evolutionary process by which the natives of a country are empowered to acquire ownership, control and management of the economy of their country. This actually involved the reduction of foreign ownership, control and management of Nigeria’s economy.
According to economists, the policy really achieved the objective of transferring ownership and control of enterprises to Nigerians. The policy became counterproductive because the increase in ownership took place essentially among the rich and well to do Nigerians, increasing poverty, hunger and vicious circles of poverty among the poor.
Then the introduction of ‘National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS, SEED, LEED) came on board in 2004, which has the objective of enabling Nigeria to achieve a turn around, grow a broad based market oriented economy that is private sector-led,
in which people can be empowered so that they can as a minimum, afford the basic needs of life and NEEEDS was expected to have certain goals which include wealth creation, employment generation, poverty reduction and value orientation. The programme is yet to achieve the desired objectives.
In the succeeding years, programmes to enrich Nigerians were introduced by past administrators and their first ladies. While Babangida was creating MAMSER in 1987, aimed at orienting the people, Prof. Eyiuche in his write up said “MAMSER turned to be avenue of exploitation because the huge funds voted for the programme were siphoned without any concrete achievement.”
The wife to the former President introduced Better Life for Rural Women. An economist noted that “Better Life was mainly misappropriated to enriching the late Mariam Babangida and her state governors’ wives who made billions out of the programme, it made the rural women poorer”.
During the tenure of Abacha, First Lady Mariam Abacha came up with Family Support Programme which did not go down well with Nigerians because only a few benefitted.
For failure of all these policies, certain economist commented on polices introduced in Nigeria. Contributing, Prof. A.C. Eyiuche wrote, “so many programmes and policies introduced to effectively improve productivity and living standard of Nigeria became counterproductive because our leaders are greedy and insensitive to the peoples’ suffering”.
Noting as an economist, Olehi N. wrote in his book titled , ‘Prosperity in Spite of Poverty’ and said: “Not withstanding these orchestrated mitigating and lineup of agencies, the poverty problem remains intractable and resilient.”
Lecturers in Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Ifionu, E.P. and Obi Kenneth noted that “there is therefore the need for a concerted effort on the part of the government and economic institutions to forestall economic prosperity through policy implementations.”