By Garba Shehu, Abuja
On Thursday last week, the Nigeria International Economic Partnership Forum was held in Manhattan, New York, in the middle of the most important international event of the year: the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The Forum was enormously popular, attracting some 500 guests and delegates – almost double the expected number. While this resulted in a somewhat chaotic atmosphere at times, the Forum was a resounding success: a clear indication of investor confidence in Nigeria.
Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa and seeks to raise GDP to USD 965 billion-almost a trillion dollars by 2027.
Under President Muhammadu Buhari, the nation has recorded marked progress in highways construction, bridges, railway, power, electrification and capacity addition in airports and their modernization.
As the President spoke, making the determination of his government to open more and more sectors of the economy to the private sector, a particular participant stunned not a few when he announced that he manages pension funds of USD1.3 trillion, money well in excess Nigeria’s current GDP, five times over.
First, well over a billion dollars’ worth of deals benefitting Nigeria and her partners were signed at the Forum, including a $1.3 billion investment from Sun Africa for a new solar energy project; $70 million ring-fenced by Adryada and Noblesse Green Energy for a new biodiversity project; strategic financing support for a new refinery on the Niger Delta announced by Honeywell UOP; and a major philanthropic investment in data for Nigerian schools announced by Airtel Africa that would be setting up Internet connection for 100 schools each year for five years running.
A highlight of the event was the Presidential Luncheon, which saw Guest of Honour President Buhari joined by CEOs and senior executives from some of the largest and most prominent American and African companies, including GE, Chevron, Honeywell, Bell Flight, Sun Africa, McGraw Hill, American Tower and many more.
The full guest list of participants included the American Tower Corporation, Aveva, Big Sun Holdings, Citi, CrossBoundry Group, Cure Violence Global, Entrust, Educational Testing Service, ExxonMobil , GE Healthcare, Gilead Sciences and Hello Tractor.
Also in attendance were Google, McLarty Associates, Medici Land Governance, NBA, Odum Capital, Oracle, Pearson, Rendeavour, Roche, Seed Global Health, Standard Bank, TIAA/Nuveen, UBA America, the AfDB, African EXIM Bank and its US equivalent, Export Import Bank of United States, headed by Reta Jo Lewis, the first ever African-American to lead the organization, and the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, IDB.
We had also in actual participation the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agriculture and NEPAD agency for Africa.
Of course, no one could have overlooked the overarching presence and actual participation of the Corporate Council of Africa whose current president, Florie Liser, addressed the meeting, saying that the organization is pushing for a private sector road map to support investment in several sectors to aid economic growth in Nigeria.
Some of the this country’s biggest corporations were also represented at the highest levels, including, but not limited to, the great oil behemoth, the NNPC Limited, the Nigerian Ports Authority, the NIPC, NEXIM Bank, Ndimi’s Oriental Energy, First Bank, Airtel, Flour Mills Nigeria, the Fertilizer Producers Association of Nigeria, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and so many others.
Interestingly, there were also in attendance several young Nigerian entrepreneurs who are continually making their mark on the global business landscape.
After breakfast and the opening session, we had the first plenary on Nigeria’s economic outlook and the second one on high-level conversations about scaling up international partnerships for Nigeria on the development drive. Thereafter, eight breakout sessions convened simultaneously for the real business that brought everyone here.
There was a thematic group seeking answers to important questions about growing Nigeria’s agriculture for food security and access to export market. It addressed questions of increased investment in fertilizer and urea, opportunities for Nigeria-EU partnerships in view of the Russia-Ukraine war and such issues as the need for technology support and innovative financing mechanisms for agriculture.
Nigeria’s oil and gas sector came under discussion with a focus on “reforms, results and the road ahead,” where international interest was canvassed for the two pipeline projects taking Nigeria’s gas to Europe through Morocco and Algeria. Awareness was also raised by the NNPC Limited on the dangers of crude oil to Nigeria and the world at large. They called it “blood oil.”
The investment climate in Nigeria, including systemic risk issues and the vistas of the African Continental Trade Agreement, were also brought under focus.
Infrastructure opportunities in power, clean energy, transportation and water came under discussion, as did the ways and means of increasing capital flows into Nigeria, industrial financing, international development financing and the road to greater financial inclusion.
Nigeria also brought for international discussion at this forum the quest for scaling up international resources for financing education in the continent as well the need for innovative deal-making mechanisms to link government, deal sponsors and international pools capital in the health sector.
There was also a very comprehensive discussion on the next steps for technology development: emerging technologies, satellite technology, digital communication, financing clean industries and the use of technology to combat insecurity.
There have been some of criticisms about the size of the venue and the number of guests; it can only be said that those making those criticisms have never experienced New York during UNGA – one of the world’s busiest and most important international events attended yearly by world leaders from around the globe.
The President himself pointed to the significance of the representation at the forum when he said “the beauty of this forum is that the ministers responsible for all of these sectors are here today, as are some of Nigeria’s premier business leaders who are already excelling in these spaces.”
There were some who criticized the quality of speakers at the Forum. With a lineup that included the President himself, the country’s most senior ministers and the most senior executives from those prominent companies already mentioned, these claims can only be described as inaccurate. As for those bandying around other names of supposed speakers who did not attend, they are merely misinformed, and taking their information from a dated, draft list of potential invitees – not from the final list.
Sadly, there are those who will always seek to criticize Nigeria for their own political gain and put her down even in moments of her greatest success. The resoundingly successful Nigeria International Economic Partnership Forum is a clear example. We look forward to an equally successful repeat next year.
Nigeria has everyone to thank for this successful programme, and not least in this category is the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, a veteran of the UN and global systems who was the linchpin of the entire event.
•Shehu is Senior Special Adviser to the President, media and publicity