Nigerian Economic Summit: 21 years of more talk, less action
The 21st Nigerian Economic Summit (NES) ended last Thursday with the body releasing a 100-page document that embodies deliberations at the talkshop, and more importantly, its recommendations, to the federal government for expected implementation.
The NESG collaborated with the National Planning Commission (NPC) in compiling the recommendations.
Key issues that dominated discussions at the 21st economic summit included endemic corruption in the public sector, overlapping functions in the civil service, the zero-budgeting system and difficulty in doing business in the country.
Participants and panelists also discussed what can be done for the All Progressive Congress to achieve its N60 trillion ($300 billion) total cost of projects.
The Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, revealed that the federal government has begun the process of overhauling the public sector by realigning federal government ministries, department and agencies (MDAs) for effective service delivery.
"We found out that many MDAs are executing the same projects and programmes and sometimes achieving similar results without necessarily talking to each other at all. That, we believe, is a waste of resources,” he declared.
Decrying difficulty in doing business in Nigeria, the former Prime Minister of Georgia, Mr. Nika Gilauri, said his country was at a point in its history experiencing similar huge cost of doing business, as Nigeria is currently going through.
Gilauri narrated how it took certain conscious efforts of enthroning reforms, which now ranks Goergia ahead of Nigeria in terms of ease of doing business.
He told the summit that it takes about 77 days to register a business in Nigeria, while it takes just a day to do same business registration in Georgia, a country of about four million people.
"This is the right time for the country to take the path of reforms and transformation, when there is significant economic downturn, when you have lower oil price," he advised.
Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili challenged the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to decisively identify causes of corruption and deal with them “if the economy must grow.”
The problems analysed at the 21st Summit had been captured in the recommendations submitted to the federal government and Nigerians now await the force of their implementation.
The NESG was formed in 1996 as a platform for public-private sector cooperation on Nigeria's economic development and was an offshoot of a federal government economic summit initiated in 1993 by the Chief Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government. Its recommendations are aimed at assisting government in policy formulation and implementation for the nation to achieve competitiveness, inclusive growth and sustainability.
The summit has held annually since then but there are concerns that every edition has been more talk and less action.
Analyses by both the Daily Trust and economic experts of government’s implementation of the Group’s recommendations over the last 20 years give little cheer.
For instance, two years after the 19th summit focused on “Growing Agriculture as a Business to Diversify Nigeria’s Economy,” 55 per cent of Nigerians are still dissatisfied with the rate of food security in Nigeria.
A survey conducted on the quality of life in Nigeria by Philips Consulting Limited published in April this year indicated that the issues which topped the recommendations of the 19th summit are still mentioned by Nigerians as reasons they are dissatisfied with food security in the country.
The report revealed that 56 per cent of Nigerians who participated in the survey indicated that low income contributed to food insecurity, while 50 per cent blamed the poor use of technological advancement to boost crop production for the problem.
As a way out of the low income constraint impeding agriculture, the 19th summit, attended by former President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, recommended, among others, the reservation of a portion of state agricultural funding for Nagropreneurs (Nigerian agricultural entrepreneurs), and especially women, tapping capital markets for long-term funding and securitizing agricultural risks.
The summit further recommended that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development be renamed the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Agribusiness, as well as the expansion of the capacity of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate commodities exchanges.
In addition, the Summit recommended the establishment of Staple Processing Zones close to farms to reduce the need for long distance transportation.
Two years later, these recommendations have not been implemented, even as two more editions of the summit have been held.
Recently, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Commodity Exchange (NCX), Zaheera Baba-Ari, lamented that farmers cannot access single-digit loans from banks, an issue that was extensively addressed during the summit and on which experts proffered recommendations on how to address it.
In 2011, the 17th Summit focused on “Attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) through Global Partnerships”, but four years later, Nigeria's annual FDI is in deficit of N1.39 trillion of the value required to meet her annual economic agenda.
Speaking during the inaugural session of the Inter-Ministerial Strategic Business Committee held in Abuja recently, the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Uju Aisha Hassan Baba, represented by the Commission's Director of National Competiveness and Policy Advocy, Mr. James Ebuetse, revealed that economic agenda demands an annual minimum private capital inflow of about N2.59trn ($13bn), out of which Nigeria currently attracts only N1.19trn ($6bn).
The concern here is: What happened to the recommendations of the 17th Nigeria Economic Summit on how to attract FDI into the country through global partnership?
More worrisome is the fact that the then President Goodluck Jonathan attended the Summit and promised to implement the outcome.
The President also told participants at the Summit that in order to facilitate the formulation and implementation of the NESG annual recommendations, Policy Commissions were established through which technical inputs received by the federal government could play a critical role in the emergence of a number of government policies and reform measures.
Despite the fact that FEC adopted the recommendations on how to improve leadership and governance, the 2015 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) indicated that over the last four years, governance progress in Nigeria has stalled.
The report also raised questions on it was whether the FEC adopted the recommendations and failed to implement them or the recommendations simply did not work for Nigeria.
Last year, the summit focused on education and ordinarily, it is expected that the federal government would have adopted and implemented the recommendations of the summit to improve the standard of education in Nigeria.
One year later, the Quality of Life Survey Report by Philips Consulting Limited revealed that 75 per cent of Nigerians polled were dissatisfied with the education sector, even as 78 per cent believed that inadequate facilities and poor infrastructure are major stumbling blocks in this area.
Experts at this years’ summit wondered why government has not implemented the recommendations on how to revamp the education sector, as proposed by the 20th summit.
On how NESG recommendations can really start impacting on the nation’s economy, the Chief Executive Officer of Moon Global Business Venture, Gabriel Offiong, advocated for an implementation monitoring mechanism to be led by the NESG.
Offiong said the mechanism should be anchored by an Implementation SubCommittee which will constantly engage and lobby the federal government on the implementation of the recommendations.
He recommended that the NESG should liase with the National Assembly on how to integrate some of the recommendations into existing laws, or possibly come up with new bills for passage into law.
"It is not enough to submit the outcomes to the federal government. If you fold your hands, they won't act on them. There has to be a way to make them act," he said.
From left: Governors Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, Willie Obiano of Anambra, the Moderator Mr. Frank Aigbogun, Governors Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun, Rauf Aregbesola of Osun and Adams Oshiomhole of Edo, during a ‘conversation with state Governors at the 21st Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja on Wednesday