The government has been asked to prioritise human development index over gross domestic product growth
Chief economist of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, at the 2019 Vanguard Economic Discourse, raised fundamental issues of strategy as well as global examples of successes that Nigeria can emulate in addressing its Human Development Index challenges.
He stated: “In mainstream economy schools, and economy teachings, 25 years to 30 years ago when some of us were undergraduates, economists did not pay much attention to the human development index, which was being pushed, largely by the United Nations development community, rather we were fixated on growth and it was other developmental social sciences that kept bringing attention that we needed to focus on human development. Therefore, the debate about human development was stratified into two broad directions.
‘’By broadly neo-classical economists – maximise growth; by non-economic development social scientists, a call that there was need to focus on the broader concept of human development. I think that, that we are posing this today actually has shown how far this debate has come over those years. And we need to recognise that.
“We looked clearly at what is development. The development is based on human beings, human welfares. That is why the concept of the human development index; is a more embracing concept that actually captures the welfare development of the human beings. It has become something that we as a nation need to move to the centre stage in terms of policy formulations and planning. Policy formulations and planning “Because you could have a country grow at 10 percent for decades; and yet that country could remain at the bottom of the array of countries in terms of human development index. Nigeria was an example. At a period over a decade in which we were growing an average of 6 percent; we consistently remained one of the least in terms of ranking in human development index.
“I think, therefore, the challenge for policy and for planning cannot be overemphasized. I think in designing our policies and plans, we need to shift away from a fixation on GDP growth. Rather, we should move to the issues of Human development index. For instance, education and health. These are key elements in determining your human development index measure. These are areas where our planning and policy must return to emphasize and prioritize. It is only if we do that in a conscious way that we would be able to actually lift Nigeria from where it is in terms of human development index and ranking and move it up gradually over the years.
“The second major point is that in doing this we need to learn from the examples of nations that we may not regard as rich but has consistently maintained very high positions on the human development ranking. For example, let us look at Cuba as a country. If you look at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) every year and the human development index ranking, you would find out that Cuba ranks above countries whose per capital GDP are way above their own, and they have maintained that.
How have they achieved this? “We need to study such in order to be able to inform the way we make and implement our policies, so that we can also raise our human development index position. The second example, for instance is, we can look at what happened in eight years of Lula in Brazil (Lula da Silva, the 35th President of Brazil, 2003 -2010) and see how that government was able to use policies to remove a quantum, millions from poverty and therefore raise the level of average development in Brazil. These were done by conscious policies.
“I think that the challenge for us is how do we then use policies, use framework of planning to seek and set targets for us, not so much by saying, ‘over the next four years, we want to attain X percent rate of GDP growth’. “Growth is important because growth will also facilitate those other developments, but rather let us couch the targets in terms of human development indexes.
“For example, if we are 132 ranking now; let us set ourselves a target and say how we can use policies over the next five years to move from 132 to 120. And if we do that; we would then be able to look at those sectors that are going to play major roles in human development and human development index uplifting. Hence, plans and resources can then be tailored into those areas. So that at the end of the day, we would have improved our human development index standing.
“This is because, at the end, what we need as a nation. One that enables our citizens to attain a level and quality of life that can be regarded as encompassing development. That is what the human development index actually projects. And not a society in which we would grow so fast but have such a skewed distribution of income; that we can still be touted as the emerging capital of poverty in the world. “We need to challenge ourselves through policy; through progressing critical policy to move the human development index higher; and promote it across the board. This would then boost the economy.”
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