By Emma Emeozor, [email protected]
Driven by the desire to support and assist Nigeria to address its socio-political and economic challenges, Germany, through two of its notable agencies, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and the Delegation der Deutschen Wirtschaft in Nigeria (AHK), last week, assembled experts in Lagos to identify key national problems needing urgent solutions. It is instructive that the forum held a week to the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari for his second and final term in office. Buhari will be sworn in on Wednesday.
But more importantly, it is an indication that it is not only Nigerians that are eagerly looking forward to seeing a government that will assiduously work to fix the economy and make life meaningful for its citizens. Foreign experts and organisations are also expressing high hopes.
This explains the choice of the theme of the forum: ‘Road to Economic Development: Challenges and Opportunities.” Participants were drawn from the government, industries, diplomatic community, civil society organisationa and the media. According to KAS and AHK, the event was the first of series of economic forums to be organised in 2019.
In his opening remarks, the German Consul General in Lagos, Dr Stefan Traumann expressed satisfaction over Nigeria-German friendship, noting that the two countries have sustained the ties for about 160 years. He was quick to recall the two countries’ partnership in the energy sector some years past.
While explaining that the forum was part of efforts at demonstrating his country’s continued interest in Nigeria, he cautioned that if all issues were discussed without concrete solutions proffered, the exercise would end in futility. He was particular about Nigeria’s population growth, which he described as a major challenge. He called for suggestions on how to assist and support Nigeria’s young generation to progress.
But what were the issues discussed at the forum? Chief Economist at Macroafricaintel, Dr Rafiq Raji delivered the keynote address entitled: ‘2019 General Election and Economic Development in Nigeria.’ He identified some of the challenges facing Nigeria. They include lack of infrastructures, unemployment, population growth, energy, agriculture, security, local and foreign investments, low productivity by existing companies and poor revenue.
Raji believes that the government can stimulate development through aggressive infrastructural development. According to him, the country’s poor infrastructures do not inspire local and foreign investors. He may be right. The role of investors is crucial to the development and growth of any nation. In recent years, some foreign investors have migrated to other countries within and outside the West Africa sub-region due to the poor state of infrastructures and the harsh economy. For example, poor transportation system and epileptic electricity supply have made production and sale difficult for manufacturers.
Raji may have tacitly drawn attention to the gloom in the face of hungry Nigerians seen daily in the streets when he discussed how to create happy people. This, he said, can be achieved through investments, job creation, development of infrastructures and assured security across the country.
He said fulfilling these goals would however depend on the capacity of the state (Nigeria) to promote good governance. Over the years, experts have blamed poor management for the dwindling economic fortunes of the country. Raji also identified the availability of revenue as key to the successful implementation of good development policies.
He was emphatic when he said “the government needs revenue, Nigeria needs local and foreign investments . . . private sector-led development.” According to him, 60 percent of Nigeria’s revenue was being used to service debts, a development he described as worrisome.
Also, Raji highlighted corruption and politics as twin problem plaguing the country. Explaining how the game of politics adversely affect the process of development in Nigeria, Raji cited the manner development commissions are established in the geo-political zones only in time of crisis.
The Niger Delta Development Commission was established to address the problem of resource control agitators, North East Development Commission was established to address the problem of Islamist and the problem of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the region and currently, the bill for the establishment of the South East Development Commission is being considered by the National Assembly.
All the commissions were established following intense campaigns. Raji rhetorically said he hope South West Development Commission would be considered soon just as he frowned at the practice of waiting for crisis to brew to the level of anarchy before the importance of development commissions is realised.
It was instructive when Raji said culture was a major constraint to the advancement of Nigeria. His words: “Culture is responsible for some of the anomalies in Nigeria. It is reason private actors don’t want to invest in infrastructures.” That is because the private sector in Nigeria believes that the development of infrastructures is the sole responsibility of the government, be it at the federal, state or local government levels.
Consequently, members of the private sector neglect their social responsibility to the communities where they do business. Ironically, some private-owned foreign companies doing business in the country do rise up to their social responsibility in the communities where they operate.
The highlight of the event was the discussion by a panel of seasoned experts: Former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Obadiah Mailafia, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer Siemens Limited Ms Onyeche Tifase, Senior Representative, Commerzbank Representative Office (Nigeria) Limited Lagos, Olaf Schemuser and Raji (who had earlier delivered the keynote lecture).
The panelists noted that Nigeria has been at crossroads in the past couple of years just as they expressed optimism over the future of the country. They identified the following as major challenges currently facing Nigeria: How to empower Nigerians to be independent and reduce their reliance on the government and foreign countries, how to get Nigerians to drive the economy and become self-sufficient, how to halt the system that enables the ruling class to exploit the vulnerability of the people (ordinary Nigerians) to their advantage, making Nigeria a digital economy and the inability of Nigerians to have access to digital and Diaspora finance.
Other areas they identified as needing urgent solutions include the education sector. It was noted that the education sector was in decay and there was need to revise the trend. The importance of advancing formal education was stressed.
The panelists urged the government to take serious the development of infrastructures, healthcare, transportation across the country and creation of an enabling environment that will make it easy for Nigerians involve in local manufacturing to access the international market.
President Buhari’s new cabinet came to the fore during the discussion. The president was advised to appoint qualified persons who can perform and not just on the basis of party membership. The thinking among the panelists was that technocrats could help the president to revamp the economy.
It was observed that the government has not done enough in the area of national security. Of concern to the discussants was what they described as the politicisation of the nation’s security. They pointed to the ease with which Islamists, kidnappers, armed herdsmen, cultists, armed robbers, human traffickers and Niger Delta agitators, operate in their respective zones. They wondered how long it will take the government to return normalcy to the various troubled regions, stressing that the number one duty of any government is the security of its citizens.
Also, they charged the incoming government to pursue an aggressive policy on electrification. Noting that Nigeria remains dependent on oil, the discussants canvassed for a plan for a post-oil economy as well as an aggressive policy on agriculture.
It was suggested that the government should remove oil subsidy which was described as a big scam and waste of money. Some members of the panel believe oil subsidy was a tunnel for massive corruption. On the banking sector, it was suggested that the government unify the exchange rate. It was observed that the activities of the nation’s apex bank were shrouded in too much secrecy and there was need for transparency.
The country’s porous borders came under scrutiny. As a measure to check the activities of illegal migrants, it was suggested that the government intensify its effort at issuing Nigerians with national identity cards. Besides helping the government to check trans-border crimes, the measure will help the authorities in national planning.
Long –term funding, the ease of doing business in Nigeria and the problem of taxation were analysed and an appeal made to the government to take concrete measures to address problems arising from these areas.
The re-appointment of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele was considered a positive action as it was a demonstration of consistency in government. On the other hand, the government was asked to improve public facilities that showcase the image of the country. The Murtala Mohammed International Airport was cited as an example of a public facility that needs improvement to give the country a befitting image.