Published On: Thu, Oct 10th, 2013

Policy lessons from the family support programme

With the Fiditi series over, I turn this week to another series on this column – the policy series. In my last policy article, I assayed the ethos and impact of the Better Life Programme, which was instituted by the former First Lady of Nigeria, Maryam Babangida. While its specific legacies – especially with regard to improving women’s self-sufficiency and influence in the family, corporate, and government spheres – are uncertain, the general legacy of improving women’s visibility in the public sphere and in positions of power remains.

With the end of the Babangida Regime and Maryam Babangida’s time in the spotlight came another agenda – the Family Support Programme –which was brought to life by General SaniAbacha and his wife, Maryam Abacha, in 1994. As we have seen from past policies, the tradition in Nigerian policy history is for government officials especially policymakers to begin policy planning anew when they assume office. The blueprint and structures from past eras are discarded and the government comes in with their fresh agenda… or non-agenda. Apart from a few legacies such as privatization, UPE, etc which have lasted long after the government that brought them about, the sad reality in Nigeria is that policies – and change initiatives – are as ephemeral as the terms of presidents and governors that bring them to life. I was recently told the story of a Nigerian governor who would not approve of a certain policy because he was told that the real societal gains would only materialize after he had left office and as he made known to the proponents of the policy, he was not interested in anything that happened after 2015.

Before I return to the agricultural policy under discussion today, let me dwell further on the politics of development in Nigeria. It is no news that many politicians are not drawn to politics because they want to bring about change or take society to a higher level of development. In a materialist-consumerist society like ours, the real pull factor is not rocket science. This is a preliminary discussion but perhaps this is one of the fundamental reasons why development has, more often than not, remained a failed promise in Nigeria. By reinventing the wheel every time instead of continuing to build on the gains of each revolution, we shortchange ourselves. And if we look at countries that have enjoyed high rates of economic growth and human development over the past half century, we would find that their public policy has revolved around permanent agendas and institutions (which sometimes includes development-centered political parties) and not around people – unless those people, like Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew, have remained permanent actors on the development scene. The first step to sustainable development, therefore, is working towards prolonging the shelf life of our development policies and their accompanying institutions.

In the aftermath of the Babangida’s Better Life Programme came Abacha’s Family Support Programme. One merit of the new program is that it took the vision of the BLF – women’s empowerment – and expanded the scope to cover all members of the family. It is not clear whether this was subtly done to dilute the women’s advancement rhetoric but like the policy before it, it saw agricultural development as going hand in hand with youth development, housing, health, and education. But at the same time, a new structure was built altogether with new programs, new agendas, and new officials. One of these programs was the Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP), which was introduced in 1996.

With such a robust agenda, which is in some ways similar to the present Economic Transformation Agenda, what were the impact and legacies of the FSP? The Ministry of Women Affairs is one, and one that we can all agree upon. In other respects, there is no national consensus and given that the Abacha regime was undisputedly corrupt, it is hard to believe that this program was free from that vice.

One analyst argues that the FSP and FEAP improved the lives of “women and the masses” but their long-term impact was sorely undermined by their replacement/demise after the Abacha regime. By contrast, TELL Magazine describes the FSP’s legacy thus: “FSP gulped over N10 billion of taxpayers money at time [when]…Abacha was retrenching hapless civil servants nationwide”. In general, the reports are far from glowing.

It’s 2013, almost 20 years after the FSP was launched. In our country, agriculture and other development issues are still as pressing as before; and with rising unemployment and heightened insecurity, they are even more so now. A key question for our government officials and for all of us is this: in 2033, 20 years from now, will the Transformation Agenda be long forgotten, only to be resurrected in articles such as this one? Or will it assume a permanent and glorious place in our daily lives – as we wake up and go to bed every day, as we seek education and earn a living, as we think of ourselves as Nigerians?

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