When the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) was inaugurated couple of years ago, it was received with excitement by those who believed our nation’s problems can be solved using a regional approach. The DAWN commission was presented as an institutional framework that will ensure the western region of Nigeria move together along common lines, more like a “No State Left Behind” framework.
I monitored the inauguration and listened to some pronouncements as well as interviews by the major stakeholders and as one who is very interested in the development of Odu’a land, I was elated about the development. The reality is that the western region has not tapped into its potential to become a strong regional player in the country and globally. The statistics alone speak volumes to why this is an idea whose time has come.
The region comprising Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun Ondo and Ekiti states covers an area of approximately 86,000 km2 which represents about 10% of the total area of Nigeria. Its size makes it bigger than Austria, Ireland and many African countries.
According to a report; “Nigeria Unveiling: Thirty six shades of Nigeria” prepared by Renaissance capital, the GDP for the region pre- rebasing was $69 billion. Lagos GDP alone pre- rebasing was $31billion; the report estimated that post rebase GDP will make Lagos the 13th largest economy in Africa at $45billion which is equivalent to that of Ghana.
The region’s estimated GDP pre-rebasing represents about 25% of the total country’s GDP before it was rebased. The GDP makes the region bigger than most countries in Africa except Egypt, Angola, Algeria South Africa, Morocco and of course Nigeria. The region’s population based on the 2006 census is about 28million, representing 21% of the country’s population. The population makes it bigger than Portugal and Romania put together, bigger than Netherlands, Ghana, Cameroun and many African countries.
The UN Global multidimensional poverty index out the average poverty index for the region at 19.3%, the lowest of all the regions, North West at 80.9%, North Central 45.7%, South South 25.2%, South East 27.3% North East 76.8% with the National average at 46%.The region also has the highest average regional literacy rate in the country at 87.6%.
Regional collaboration in any form or framework has been used by various entities and governments to develop their economies and tap into the synergy that such collaboration offers. A typical example is the New West Partnership Trade Agreement (NWPTA) that creates a single economic region whose implementation offers a great opportunity for continued economic growth for the partners, eliminating obstacles to trade, investment and labour mobility. The agreement is between the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan creating a market value of almost 9million people and a GDP of more than $651 billion. Some of the benefits of the agreement are creating Canada’s most open and competitive economy, labour mobility, streamlined regulations, enhanced competiveness and best value for public spending. The framework of the NWTPA may be different from that of DAWN but the goal remains the same.
There is also the Northern Dimension (ND), a joint policy between four equal, partners – the European Union, Russia, Norway and Iceland. The joint policy covers several key priority areas for dialogue on co-operation such as economy, business and Infrastructure, Human resources, Education, Culture, scientific research, health and many more.
DAWN represents a positive platform for developmental collaboration for the southwest region of Nigeria and its high time state government to begin to commit more to it. It provides a forum in which government can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to their common problems.
In my interaction with Mr.Dipo Famakinwa a development expert and the Director General of the DAWN commission I discovered state governments have different level of commitment to the activities of the commission. He pointed out that a committed and passionate buy- in was required from the states to enable the commission work better. According to him, it is about bringing strengths together, it is about each of the states recognising its own competitive or comparative advantages and see how the advantages could be harnessed within a regional framework. He has a strong conviction that the problems facing the country are regional and so are our endowments and solutions. He believes regional optimisation is the way out and I agree with him.
One of the impediments to the commitment of some states is the perception that the Afenifere Renewal group (ARG) birthed DAWN and since they do not all align with ARG they do not see reason to align with DAWN. The fact is ARG put together the strategy framework for DAWN and as soon as the south west governors came on board it became a commission of the region and the governors should begin to see it that way. Such petty politics should be taken off the platform that guarantees the region’s development and progress.
I have read the strategy framework, it’s detailed and all-encompassing and I see no reason why any state governor regardless of political alignment will not buy into it. The strategy framework contains strategies and processes for regional integration, cross boundary development as well as economic development. I am aware of the great job that the commission is currently doing and this article does not in any way try to diminish their work but to emphasise what they already know, the great importance of DAWN to the region. DAWN can bring about a new dawn in the region and we better act fast.
The commission should start asserting itself as a policy research organisation with a mandate to further economic progress in the region and build synergies among its stakeholders to strengthen the region’s position in a rapidly changing world. DAWN should work specifically toward making states work together to enhance sustainable development, increased internally generated revenue, consumer protection, tourism development, environmental protection, health and safety standards and labour standards.
Independency is paramount to the commission’s success. It should work towards becoming an independent, non-governmental organisation that will be supported by its partners and guided by board of directors from across the region. For independency to be achieved, funding sources must not be tied solely to the state governments. The commission should start looking at having its own revenue streams like consulting for individuals, business and local governments in the region in the areas of research, training and business development. Funding can also be sourced from international development institutions.
The commission can expand its reach by extending its services to the region’s entrepreneurs. The commission can assist entrepreneurs in local communities by helping them start and grow their businesses. They can also help them access capital and ensure they are able to access all the various funding available.
DAWN should set up a business development and innovation unit or reposition the Yoruba Academy to encourage partnerships among private sector firms, universities, colleges and other research institutions to develop and commercialize new or improved products and services. This unit will help set up, expand or modernized businesses across the region. It can also be a resource centre for source of funds and developing business plans.
A 2014 World Bank /IFC report on ease of starting business does not look good for some of the states in the region. The report puts Lagos in the 4th position, the best in the region, Ondo 36th position, Osun 33rd position Ogun 5th position, Oyo 24th and Ekiti 17th. This is an impediment to business and entrepreneurial development and the commission can help in reversing this trend.
It should put in motion for the establishment of a regional chamber of commerce that will be a strong credible and unified voice for businesses in the region and foster ongoing economic development. A functional chamber of commerce will act as a catalyst to influence, educate and advocate policy related issues to support business and promote initiatives that will contribute to sustainable economic growth in the region.
No economy will develop without innovation. DAWN can strengthen the region’s economy by helping business become more innovative, productive and competitive. Entrepreneurial success and innovation are paramount to the region’s economic development.
DAWN can become a household name in the region; it can become a resource and policy powerhouse for state governments, local governments and businesses across the region. The framework already prescribes a buy-in by all sectors of the society. Mr. Wale Oshun, ARG chairman in his foreword to the framework posits that the “process includes marketing the framework to all segments of the society and securing their commitment and buy-in”. DAWN needs to do more in marketing itself to the people of the region. It needs to do more until its name becomes synonymous with development in the Odu’a land.
Time is running out. The commission’s mission is to ensure the region record the highest annual average rate of growth in GDP and HDI in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2012 and 2020. For this to be achieved more work needs to be done.