On Friday, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) proposed a six-point agenda to nudge Nigeria’s prospective political actors towards actualising the immediate yearnings of Nigerians and effecting sustainable economic change.
Held in Abuja, the Group’s National Economic Dialogue was attended by high-profile political leaders, private and public sector stakeholders, civil society and academia.
The NESG’s six-point agenda urges government to rethink what socio-economic development outcomes mean for an average Nigerian, rethink the role of market and the private sector and deepen sectoral reforms to support broad-based growth and competitiveness. Other points of the agenda urge the nation’s leadership to facilitate integrated national and sub-national approach to economic inclusion and development, pragmatic and actionable social sector reforms and develop workable and inclusive national security strategy in all dimensions.
In his keynote speech, Asue Ighodalo, Chairman, NESG, emphasised that the process by which parties select their candidates during the primaries and the characteristics and capacity of persons chosen were crucial to the Nigerian dream. He said: “The Nigerian government has a pivotal role in addressing, with utmost urgency, six critical challenges causing economic dysfunction. These challenges are non-inclusive economic growth, macroeconomic stability, infrastructure deficit, human capital deficit and skills gap, national insecurity and weak economic competitiveness.
“We, the citizens, need to pay attention to the quality of our political system, processes, institutions and economic reforms. Our collective responsibility is to deliver a first-world country with happy and safe citizens. This is a call to national service. We must all be more involved, more selfless and tolerant, acting in the national interest.”
Professor Osita Ogbu, Director, Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, said: “Enough emphasis is not placed on inequality. Inequality undermines the trust, solidarity, and mutuality on which good citizenship is based. Once you have a non-inclusive growth economy, it’s a recipe for what we are already observing in this country. Poverty is pervasive; inequality is pervasive. It is not just a simple matter: there are few rich people and many poor people. It’s a matter of citizenship. It’s a matter of how can you expect people who do not have a stake in the country to regard themselves as citizens of this country? When people ask, what do we do to fix the economy, I always say fix the politics first. If you fix the politics, that’s a major step towards fixing the economy because major economic decisions are made by politicians.”
According to the NESG, the government needs partnership with the private sector to effect positive socio-economic outcomes. This demands a free-market orientation to support growth and inclusion, ensure appropriate pricing, and unlock private capital for economic development.
Meanwhile, external imbalances occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war provide compelling reasons for countries to look inwards and support domestic value-chain development. The NESG emphasised that this is applicable to the Nigerian situation. The government needs to prioritise value-added exports for commodities - particularly agricultural products and oil – to address cross-sectoral value chain constraints and drive economic growth.
Reinforcing the urgency of adopting this strategy, Mr Ari Aisen, Resident Representative, International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Nigeria, said: “The global economy has been hit by the second shock of the Russia-Ukraine war. This puts the economy in a difficult situation. Allowing food production to satisfy the citizenry takes precedence over other priorities. Food security is a big objective, and attention must be paid to this sector so it can provide enough food to keep Nigerians from suffering from the shock disproportionately.”
“When bad leadership ceases to have an effect, then the effect of bad leadership will cease,” said Dr Olisa Agbakoba, Senior Partner, Olisa Agbakoba Legal. “Why is it that from 1960 till date, barring one example or two, we have failed in leadership? If the head cannot absorb what is being said, nothing will happen…. There can be no Nigerian dream without a visionary president.”
Currently, most states in the Federation experience internally generated revenue constraints and, as a result, live off the monthly subventions from the federation account. This, the NESG argued, demands an integrated national and sub-national approach to foster economic cooperation between subnational governments, boost intra-regional wealth transfer, and check socio-economic polarisation and inter/intraregional divides. It cited the rice milling partnership between the governments of Lagos and Kebbi as one example of such successful projects that should be encouraged in Nigeria.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks Nigeria’s healthcare system 178th out of 192 countries. Medical tourism and brain drain among health practitioners have also taken a huge toll on the sector, even as Nigeria also accounts for 20% of the global out-of-school children. The NESG said a functioning and efficient social sector is critical to developing a resilient economy, and therefore advocated for pragmatic and actionable social sector reforms, particularly in education and health.
Dr Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, CARE International Nigeria, said: “As a country, we are experiencing a huge social development crisis. The crisis in the university reflects the larger crisis in the education sector….The level of investment in healthcare is extremely poor. Seventy-seven percent of health service delivery in this country is out of pocket. This is how health service is being financed in this country, and it does not work anywhere. It means our health insurance system is not working. It only captures a few civil servants, and the poor are not getting good services.”
Mrs Tosin Faniro-Dada, Managing Director/CEO, Endeavour Nigeria, emphasised the importance of the digital economy and providing support for Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to scale with adequate infrastructure, power supply and skills development.
Nigeria continues to grapple with food, community and political insecurity. In a recent report, the Food and Agriculture Organisation projected that between June and August 2022, 19.4 million Nigerians risk severe food crisis fuelled by the economic downturn, inflation and insurgency if stakeholders do not take concerted actions. The NESG urged the government to develop a practical and inclusive national security strategy across all spheres which alone would create a peaceful environment, setting the stage for cohesive economic prosperity.
Mr Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA Africa, who was also a panellist at the Dialogue, said: “If you have a political process that is highly commercialised, plays with a deficit of ideas competition, and is exclusionary of the vast majority of people, what you have at the end of the day is a ruling and political class disconnected from reality. The conception of public leadership needs to be reviewed, revisited and redesigned. We need a new political mobilisation strategy to sensitise Nigerians on why it is crucial to elect good leaders. We need to amplify the need for us to register and cast our votes. Voters in 2023 need to be informed voters who understand the issues.”