Welcome Statement of NESG Chairman - Asue Ighodalo at the 26th Nigerian Economic Summit,The Nigerian Economic Summit Group, The NESG, think-tank, think, tank, nigeria, policy, nesg, africa, number one think in africa, best think in nigeria, the best think tank in africa, top 10 think tanks in nigeria, think tank nigeria, economy, business, PPD, public, private, dialogue, Nigeria, Nigeria PPD, NIGERIA, PPD, The Nigerian Economic Summit Group
Nov 2020

PROTOCOLS

Good morning, on behalf of the Board of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, I welcome you all to the 26th Nigerian Economic Summit which we hope will not be “yet another” Summit.

The circumstances of the times i.e. the pandemic and its far reaching health and economic consequences; the restiveness of our huge youth population; a population growth rate that exceeds our rate of economic growth and development; the high rates of unemployment and underemployment and the resultant high levels of poverty in our economy dictate that this must be a Summit with a difference. A business as usual summit will simply not do.

The recommendations from this Summit and similar economic interventions should be carefully considered by our Federal and State governments as critical inputs into policies that must be crafted and tailored towards implementing national prescriptions that will result in real, sustainable and inclusive double digit economic growth over the next two decades.

Before we delve into the substance of our hopes and expectations for this Summit, I would like to start by expressing our profound appreciation to His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, ably represented by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN, GCON, for his consistent support to the annual Nigerian Economic Summit since he assumed office in May 2015. We are also extremely grateful to our partners at the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning – in particular the Honourable Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, and the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clement Agba for their dedication, commitment and support in sustaining this collaboration, and their unrelenting hard work in developing the medium and long-term National Economic Development Plan. I also thank all the Honourable Ministers, Heads of MDAs and our partners across all sectors of the Nigerian Economy for their cooperation, as well as their historical and recent support of the pre-NES26 events culminating in today’s summit; we hope that we can continue to count on your engagement as partners in the growth and development of the Nigerian economy for the good people of Nigeria.

I convey our immense gratitude to each of the 36 Governors for their determination to develop their states, and their forthrightness and openness to economic partnership with each other and with the private 3 sector. I thank the Secretariat of the NGF for effectively coordinating our work with the States. I would also like to thank our National Assembly and its leaders for their understanding and cooperation as well as their pledge to work closer with our economic agencies and the private sector to enact laws that would create an enabling environment for businesses and investors alike.

Finally, we must thank our many sponsors, who in appreciating our role in the economy, back us financially and in kind by putting our economy first above all else. The support publicly and privately has been overwhelming.

As I said at the beginning, it is our desire that this will not be “yet another” Nigerian Economic Summit. This is the 26th Summit to be held since the first was convened by Chief Ernest Shonekan, GCFR in February 1993, and the first to be held in a hybrid format. It is my hope, however, that the hosting format will not be the only point of difference at this year’s Summit. I voice this hope on one hand, with a sense of respect for the sustained commitment of both the public and private sectors to critical dialogue and continued progress towards keeping the wheels of our nation’s economy turning in the right direction; and on the other, with a profound sense of exasperation at the missed 4 opportunities, year after year, that are left in the gap between the output of these Summits and the actions we almost habitually fail to take.

This year, we must commit to do more than talk, and then document our deliberations. We MUST commit to act and keep banging on the doors of those statutorily empowered to implement the actions required until they do so. That is why this Summit is about building partnerships. We all can no longer work successfully alone.

In our opening remarks last year, we highlighted some of the positive economic policy decisions that were born out of recommendations initiated at previous Summits through the years. While those remain signposts to be proud of, our reflections would be incomplete and frankly, astigmatic, if we did not also examine the many more policy recommendations that have not been acted upon over the years, and acknowledge the progress lost to inaction.

Last year’s summit, at the cusp of a new decade, was aptly themed “Shifting Gears…” It signaled a determination to pivot and work assiduously to accelerate the country’s progress on the path to development. Unfortunately, there has not been much gear-shifting; at least not in the direction of progress. Worse still, we have experienced a 5 pandemic such as has never been seen in modern times which has further exacerbated our economic frailties.

Figures released by the NBS just last Friday indicate that our economy has slid into a recession. Our GDP, in real terms, is expected to contract to -4% by year end. The oil sector has contracted to -13.89% to date, the non-oil sector, which covers key sub-sectors such as Transportation, Agriculture, Financial Institutions, Information & Communication, Construction, Education, Real Estate and Trade recorded a negative growth of -2.5%.

Data from the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning indicates that actual federal retained revenue realized from January to August 2020, primarily as a consequence of the pandemic, fell by 29% when compared with the pro-rated figure in the revised 2020 budget. Lower government revenue and rising expenditure resulted in a significant increase in the country’s fiscal deficit, which rose beyond the 3 percent stipulated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

In the first half of 2020, Nigeria added N3.6 trillion to its public debt stock, which stood at N31 trillion in June. Public debt is expected to increase further in the year, raising concerns about the country’s fiscal 6 sustainability. We have 14 million of our children who are not in school, about 55% of our employable adults are unemployed or underemployed, over 100m of our people are poor, nearly 10% of all global maternal deaths occur in Nigeria, only Sierra Leone, Chad and South Sudan have more deaths at birth. Our manufacturers are experiencing declining output and cannot readily access foreign exchange for their machinery and materials and our exporters cannot easily access our main ports.

Ordinarily, we would explain away these disappointing indicators by pointing out that the pandemic slowed progress on many fronts, and we would make this the explanation for our failure to achieve traction in the year 2020 and start a reversal of these indicators. But these are not ordinary times. And, as easy as it would be to explain away our continuing decline with the words “global pandemic”, I would challenge us to bear in mind that while the Nigerian economy is expected to contract by nearly 5%, the Chinese economy is on track to grow by over 1%, this year. This is despite China being the epicenter of the pandemic, with almost twice as many cases and four times as many deaths as we experienced. The Chinese economy, in fact, has not contracted since 1976. Its growth streak has lasted for over four decades, through the global financial crisis, trade wars with the United States, and now a pandemic that tore through their country first, before splintering out to others. China has shown us 7 what a serious nation can do when it looks back on its history, resolves “never again” to fail its citizens, and forges forward with a sense of urgency, discipline and purpose. It is essential to note that this comparison with China is not misplaced. In 1983 Nigeria’s per capita income was double that of China, and today, despite its population, China’s per capita income is over five times that of Nigeria.

So while there are many plausible rationalisations for the state of our economy, I would urge us to engage throughout this summit with the example of China etched firmly in our consciousness. They put behind them the failed “Great Leap Forward” policy that caused tens of millions of Chinese deaths and fixed their eyes forward on the task of becoming a global superpower. There was audacity to their vision. It is also time that we put audacity to our vision.

Please note that this is not an argument for us to copy and paste the Chinese model. Far from it, however, we must copy the Chinese spirit. A plan that worked for China four decades ago is unlikely to offer a viable blueprint for our own development today. The world has changed. However, if China can consistently grow and pull millions of Her people out of poverty, why can't we? 8 We must urgently define our own path, galvanise our people, and just work like our lives depend on it. We cannot make this pandemic, or indeed any other hurdles we will encounter, an acceptable explanation for failing to forge forward, not with 200 million lives hanging in the balance and more than half living below the poverty line.

We must give those 200 million Nigerians something to hope, live and work for: We must provide Nigerians with a future to believe in, and we must be in a hurry to make that hope and future a reality - one that can be felt, touched and experienced by everyone, everywhere – from our vibrant urban centres to the very last inch of the last mile of our deep rural communities. There is no better time to commit to this future than now. Year 2020 marks the commencement of the Global Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, with the powerful promise and possibility of leaving no one behind in Nigeria.

This Summit must be different, ladies and gentlemen, it cannot be “yet another”. It must emphasise execution over endless dialogue and results over rhetoric and stress the value of Partnerships at all levels and across the country.

We will discuss and make policy recommendations. And, to be clear, we do not take the view that the NESG’s policy recommendations can or 9 should represent the only way forward, but let us view it as a foundation to be improved upon. They are, as always, policy options presented based on collective thinking. What is important, is that government commits to ensuring that the underlying issues we highlight and seek to address by those recommendations are examined in depth, and promptly and effectively addressed through policy alternatives that are implemented within the year. For these annual meetings to have real meaning and the required momentum, we cannot spend years pondering policy interventions. Government must reposition itself as a proactive and responsive vision custodian and policy driver, coming to the table each year having cleared identified obstacles, and being ready to tackle new ones. Our regulators must play their part and change their mindset. They must act as facilitators and not dampen the enthusiasm of the institutions which are trying to grow the economy. They must create a truly enabling environment.

And we, the NESG and the private sector, must also do more, and do much better. A critical look at recommendations over the years reveals missed opportunities, as much in unaddressed policy needs as in gaps that we also have failed to identify.

How do we ensure we create jobs, good jobs, globally competitive jobs, at a pace that matches our national demand?

How do we attract patient capital into our economy and continue to encourage, plead, cajole and support government to make the correct policy pronouncements?

How do we diversify away from our dependence on dying fossil fuels and extraction, to a productive and climate-resilient, commodity shocksresilient and technology propelled economy?

Where do we find the money to build appropriate infrastructure for a next generation African giant and point government in the right direction?

How do we learn to speak truth to power in the best interest of our country rather than our penchant for seeking personal advantage or our fear of retributions and sanctions?

How do we eliminate private sector corruption and our selective sense of entitlement?

All of us who are players in this economy, the public and private sectors, SMEs, Civil Society and the youth, must learn to love our country with passion, and work to ensure its viability into the future. We must all be dedicated to growing an inclusive 21st century economy in the shortest possible time.

Let this 26th Summit be the one where we collectively resolve to shorn off greed, selfishness, self-absorption, nepotism, tribalism and corruption and stand for what is in the best interest of our country. It is time that we show good example and lead the way to creating a more prosperous nation and be brave in facing our realities with strength, purpose and integrity. A tall order from where we are today, but achievable with the will, vision and capacity to effectively and fairly implement the right policies.

It is impossible to consider our stark statistics, without turning for a moment to the recent #EndSARS protests, the debilitating and damaging riots and all of the issues that emerged on the back of it – including the need to postpone this Summit from its earlier scheduled date. Whether or not we agree with the protests, or are concerned with the method and motives of protesters, it is impossible to ignore the frays in the fabric of our economic, social and political existence, that have caused this rending. How does a society focus its energies on outpacing growth norms, if it cannot confront its challenges without resorting to violence – and I say this without bias to either side of the divide. Neither citizens, nor governments achieve meaningful progress through violence. Conflict, yes… but never a descent to violence.

For a country in desperate need of development momentum and capital, the events of last month were bad for morale, confidence and business. Of the $19 trillion invested in negative yielding assets globally, NONE of it has been invested in Nigeria, regardless of what it can earn, because our investment environment has been tagged “unwelcoming, unsafe, and unpredictable.” At a time when our fiscal space is constrained, by low revenues and high debt, the need to strengthen the attractiveness of the investment climate to encourage local and foreign investments is of utmost importance.

The world does not trust our commitment to the rule of law and the impartiality and efficiency of our dispute resolution processes. Our multiple exchange rates, policy flip flops and perception of how we react to investors, confuses the investing world. These are not labels we can afford particularly now.

The current American theatrics notwithstanding, peace and stability remain key investment indicators, and we are in competition with many developing countries across the globe for patient capital. We cannot undo yesterday, but we most certainly can and should manage the fallout with the wisdom and diplomacy that match this moment in time. Our belief at the NESG is that resolution must come through dialogue, advocacy, disciplined, thoughtful, challenges to the status quo in the interest of our collective progress, as well as sincere and concerted resolve to act decisively to bring about required changes. Time has shown this to be the only way that civilized societies successfully resolve conflict and make traction toward their ideals.

The truth of our national ‘Now’ however is this: as far as we may have come, we have not come far enough. We cannot expect young people to thank us for past sacrifices, while we hand them a nation relegated to watching globalization from the sidelines without partaking of its bounty, whilst sharing only in its pandemics and economic shutdowns.

At this juncture, it is essential to acknowledge, celebrate and thank the Federal Government for the COVID-19 Pandemic Response, through the work of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Control, the Private Sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19, the Subnational Task Forces and broad-based Citizen Response Support mechanisms, that rallied the collective capabilities and will of our people to scale up our resource and capacity development, to meet the crisis head on. To all those who continue to fight to push back the spread and effects of this virus here at home and around the world. We salute you. To our countrymen and friends that have lost their loved ones during the pandemic, please accept our deepest condolences and may all the souls of our dearly departed rest in peace.

Just as the leadership of this country (led by government, and supported by the private sector) stood up to protect our citizens from the scourge of disease, with timely and impressive interventions in the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must rise to deliver an economy that is worthy of our stewardship, and protect our population from the scourge of poverty and exclusion – no ifs or buts.

The restless energy and frustrations of the young people in this country must be constructively engaged, and channeled towards building an economic powerhouse on the African continent that we can all be proud of and, even more importantly, that can support their livelihoods and ambitions. Our role, as the adults in the room, is to create the pathways 15 for them to responsibly fulfill their potential and – with it – our nation’s promise.

The nation belongs to the over 100 million youth of this country. It is in recognition of this reality, and in keeping with the NESG's commitment to constructive engagement as the ultimate path to progress, that we have included: a session in this year's Summit on "Unlocking the Productive Potential of Nigerian Youth,"; and a closing plenary around the unifying theme "Empowering our Youth." This is to ensure that the ambitions and concerns of the younger generations are captured in our deliberations. Theirs are the futures most impacted by how the Nigerian economy develops – and it is as important that their voices are adequately situated in our musings about the country's economic future, as it is that our experience lends perspective to their vision.

Now, perhaps more than at any Summit before, we must treat our time here as “sacrosanct”, recognizing the full gravity of the moment. A dream without a deadline is not a plan; it is a fantasy – and the time for fantasizing must be behind us. This Summit, themed “Building Partnerships for Resilience” is about prompting strategic partnerships between our national and sub national governments, the private sector, civil society and our youth to accelerate our economic growth and development. The Summit will be anchored on three pillars; Collaboration, Execution and Impact and our discussions will be dimensioned across five sub themes – Mapping the Future; New Trends, New Opportunities, New Horizons; Embracing Technology and Innovation; Building Resilience and Charting the Path to Recovery.

I remind us once again that this 26th Summit, must not be “yet another” Summit. We must act now. Our extreme poverty, the insecurity across the country, massive unemployment, our archaic infrastructure, diminished investments, and lack of safety nets for the aged, disadvantaged and poor; all signal a clear and present need to take immediate and urgent action.

This Summit presents us with the opportunity to catalyze, coordinate and sync all of the efforts already being made, throw up additional ideas, and with Government taking the lead, execute and implement all that is set before us, with speed. This year’s NES Greenbook, by our collective resolve, must amount to more than an encyclopedia of dreams to be relegated to the graveyard of ideas.

We don't have much time, and our goal must be to define and build the inclusive 21st Century economy Nigerians deserve. Mr. President, Sir, I beg you to re-energise the steps you have initiated to lift 100 million of our people out of poverty – through labour-intensive job creation in high elasticity sectors that have most significant potential to eradicate multidimensional poverty, ensure that no Nigerian child is out of school, none of our mothers die at childbirth, no citizen lacks social protection, we create an environment that has world-class infrastructure, we have respect for the rule of law, we grow in double digits and our country becomes the number one destination for patient capital flows on the African continent. All investors seek is a level playing field and an environment they can trust.

Yes it is true that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and that most economies across the globe have slowed as a result of it. But let us remember this: the days have not stopped turning, the years have not stopped counting, and there is no stopwatch for the developmental needs of our country. Steady, speedy, and unrelenting traction is our only way forward. We must be in a hurry. All of us, together, as the need for action beyond rhetoric has never been more acute.

In the words of our anthem, our work is indeed to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign, ensuring that the labour of our heroes past shall not have been in vain. And may the God of creation direct our noble cause, guide our leaders right, and help our youth the truth to know. I thank you all for being here, and for the courtesy of listening.