As I attended the 22nd Nigeria Economic Summit better known as NES in Abuja last week, I couldn’t help but notice the gloom in the air as participants settled in the hall to await the opening ceremony of the 3-day fiesta. For those not familiar with the NESG; it is a private sector led initiative that seeks to articulate the private sector thinking with respect to the critical sectors of the economy as it takes cognizance of the public sector thinking and plans.
It is usually organized in conjunction with the former National Planning Commission now renamed Ministry of Budget and Planning. At the end of the intensive summit, a report is presented to the government for implementation.
This has been the norm since the former head of the interim government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, presided over the inaugural edition in 1993.
The theme for this year was ‘Made In Nigeria’ obviously underscoring the need for us to diversify the economy and move away from the dependence on oil as the sole revenue earner and foreign exchange provider as well as embrace self-sufficiency as a viable alternative to improve the economy . I am not going to bore you with the whole sequence of events at the summit as there were many interventions via plenary sessions and thematic groups that spoke to the issues and the overall theme.
The chairman of the board of NESG; Bukar Kyari, in keeping with the theme of the summit which was about Made In Nigeria stressed that our products must be competitive and hold their own against imports. In other words due to World Trade Organisation (WTO) protocols signed by the country, we cannot completely shut off imports but our products must be qualitative enough in order to compete.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his opening speech harped on the need to no longer depend on a mono product – oil; he stressed the need to diversify, to eat what we produce, to wear our textile products whilst also supporting the burgeoning youth population in the area of technology.
The Minister of budget and planning; Udoma Udo Udoma, on his part noted that the Federal government recognizes the private sector as the anchor of the country’s economic growth and is willing to support and encourage it further.
The submission that was most defining for me both in its content and delivery was the keynote speech by Dr Doyin Salami; Associate Professor at Lagos Business School and Chairman NESG Committee on Research and Publication. He painted a gloomy picture of the economy which we all know is in recession, he catalogued how much it had shrunk in size by about 1.5 per cent, the lack of capital flows and that the bulk of inflows were diaspora transfers with about $23 billion yearly and the impact of oil prices (stating that only about 40 billion dollars might come in this year down from over 90 billion in 2013) and its attendant effect on revenues and the exchange rate. In front of a capacity audience that included President Buhari who was seen taking copious notes, he queried why we did not have a long term economic framework that captured our essence and potential and with which investors and players could plan. He reiterated that the Federal government and the sub-nationals (the states) can and should do more in the area of Agriculture, ICT and real estate amongst others. Another vital component of his allocution was on the ease of doing business and by extension Nigeria’s position on the global Competitive index which has been sliding for a while and does not look likely to improve in the short term. He painted a picture of a seeming lack of urgency on the part of government and dissonance on the part of the economic managers. He opined that if we continue with this knee jerk approach, the large number of under-employed and unemployed as well as the lack of internal coherence and inclusiveness will continue unabated.
On the Made In Nigeria theme, he called for walking the talk by creating the enabling environment for local businesses to thrive and states this can only be achieved by building on our comparative advantage which will in turn make us competitive. His submission was direct, hard and timely. I trust a lot of Nigerians will say we have heard this before but at this critical juncture we need to heed his advice as the economy has indeed tanked.
The Federal Government through the Ministry of Budget and planning must in earnest consider the recommendations of the summit and accept that the private sector is indeed the engine of growth and as such a lot of policy enunciations on the part of government must have the inputs and imprimatur of the private sector who are the key drivers and are the ones to reinvigorate the economy. Monetary and Fiscal policy alignment is a sine qua non for reflating the economy especially with the current double digit inflation.