As the curtains rose on a bright morning in Abuja, Nigeria, I found myself seated among a panel of distinguished individuals, all gathered to discuss the intricate web of challenges that plagued our nation’s economy and society. Dr. Tope Fasua, the recently appointed Special Adviser on Economic Matters to the President, had convened this event on September 28, 2023. The room buzzed with anticipation, and as I looked around, I couldn’t help but sense the gravity of the topics that lay before us. My role as a panelist was to provide insights into Nigeria’s economic challenges, and I had a specific perspective to share—one that sought to redefine our approach to development.
As the discussion unfolded, a member of the audience voiced a viewpoint that had echoed through Nigeria’s policymaking corridors for years: “Nigeria has an implementation problem,” they said, “our plans are well-crafted, but the issue lies in their execution.” It was a sentiment I had heard countless times before, but today, I was here to challenge it. In my view, Nigeria’s struggles extended beyond mere implementation issues or planning deficiencies; our nation faced a more profound problem—a lack of coherent strategy.
The conversation took flight as I delved into the heart of the matter. I began by distinguishing between development strategy and development plans, using Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 as compelling examples of the contrasting approaches.
In Nigeria, I explained, our development plans have often been meticulous in detailing what to do and how to do it, much like the ERGP. Yet, the missing link has been the overarching strategy—the “why” behind the “what” and “how.” Our plans have been input-driven, preoccupied with the mechanics of development without a clear strategic vision.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, provided a striking contrast with its Vision 2030. This was not merely a plan; it was a strategy—a vision of the future Saudi Arabia aspired to. It was outcome-driven, with a keen focus on what they wanted to achieve, not just how to get there. The Saudi Arabian strategy was working because it had a clear sense of purpose and direction.
To drive home the point, I turned our attention to the agriculture sector, an area Nigeria has consistently identified as worthy of promotion. However, I argued, we had failed to define what “winning” meant for Nigeria in this sector. We lacked a clear understanding of why we wanted to play in this field and how we intended to win.
In Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, they had made it abundantly clear why they were promoting certain sectors. They were not merely playing; they were strategically positioning themselves to win. This clarity of purpose informed every decision they made and every resource they allocated.
Continuing with the agricultural sector as an example, I emphasized that Nigeria had not adequately addressed the critical question of what capabilities needed to be put in place. Saudi Arabia, with its strategy, had identified the essential capabilities required to succeed in their chosen sectors. They were investing in education, research, technology, and infrastructure to build those capabilities.
Furthermore, I pointed out that Nigeria had overlooked the crucial aspect of the management system required to drive these capabilities toward success. Saudi Arabia, with its Vision 2030, had a well-defined system of governance, policies, and regulatory frameworks that supported and facilitated the execution of their strategy.
The room fell into a contemplative silence as the panel and the audience absorbed the significance of these distinctions. It became clear that Nigeria’s struggles were not merely about planning and implementation; they were rooted in the absence of a coherent national strategy—a grand vision that would guide our actions, prioritize our efforts, and align our aspirations with our capabilities.
I concluded my remarks by echoing the words of John Lewis Gaddis, who succinctly defined strategy as “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.” Nigeria, I argued, must find this alignment. We must bridge the gap between what we aspire to achieve and what we realistically can. It was time for our leaders and policymakers to shift their focus from the blame game of implementation to the strategic thinking that would drive our nation forward.
The former minister on the panel nodded in agreement, recognizing the validity of the argument. The former national legislator, known for his pragmatism, voiced his support for a more strategic approach to governance. The entrepreneur on the panel shared stories of his struggles in navigating the labyrinth of Nigeria’s economic landscape, underscoring the need for a clear national strategy that would provide a roadmap for businesses.
The university professor, an authority on the capital market, chimed in, highlighting the importance of investor confidence, which could only be bolstered by a coherent and consistent national strategy. Finally, the SME consultant, who had worked closely with small and medium-sized enterprises, stressed the need for clarity and stability in policies, both of which a well-defined strategy could provide.
As the discussion continued, the room came alive with ideas and enthusiasm. It was evident that the concept of a national strategy had struck a chord with the audience. I hope Dr. Tope Fasua, our host and the Special Adviser on Economic Matters to the President, will recognize that this perspective could be a catalyst for change.
In the end, our gathering had evolved into more than just a panel discussion; it had become a call to action. It was a call to transform Nigeria’s approach to development, to replace the fragmented plans with a unifying strategy, and to chart a course toward a future where our aspirations were not limited by our capabilities but guided by them.
As I left the event, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hope. We had taken a step in the right direction—a step toward a Nigeria with a clear strategy, where we played to win, and where the nation’s aspirations were not mere dreams but achievable realities. It was a vision worth pursuing, and I was optimistic that, with the right strategic thinking, Nigeria could indeed rise to its full potential.