6 March 2016

Nigeria: Eight Issues That Buhari's Economic Summit Must Address

Photo: Afromusing/Flickr
Abuja

Economists, private sector players, labour leaders, policy analysts and all Nigerians who are concerned about the parlous state of the Nigerian economy are eagerly awaiting federal government's announcement of dates and modalities for a summit on the economy, which the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has agreed to convene.

Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka had mid last month, while paying a courtesy call on the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed in Abuja, urged President Buhari to convene an emergency economic conference to enable experts brainstorm on how to turn the economy around.

A week later, the media widely reported a top government official saying the president had approved the convening of an economic summit for this week Thursday March 10 and Friday March 11.

Uncertainty, however, surrounded the summit holding on the given dates as the Presidency was, by yesterday, yet to issue modalities for the talkshop. The dates have not been confirmed, nor were names of participants announced.

This has, however, not dampened the enthusiasm that the summit possibility has set, as some economic experts and leading players in the private sector have been speaking with the Daily Trust on Sunday on the vital areas that should engage the concentration of participants at the summit.

The Daily Trust on Sunday aggregates the analyses of these experts to set an agenda for the proposed summit.

Diversifying the economy:

The consensus is that the summit should discuss extensively feasible ways of diversifying the country's economic base away from its monocultural crude source with a view to enabling effective budget implementation, now and in the future.

The president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Dr. Frank Jacobs, told our correspondent that this will not only help in transforming the economy into a robust one, it will go a long way in addressing the economic challenges facing Nigeria.

To Professor Muhammad Munzali Jibril, a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management and former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, the major issue should be how to diversify the economy. "It is gladdening that the government knows it is too risky to continue to rely on oil. We have to diversify into sectors such as solid minerals," Prof Jibril said.

Reforming the oil sector:

Oil business has been the mainstay of Nigeria's economy for decades, but it has actually been oily business, with reports of large scale corruption and crippling inefficiencies hampering results that should have strengthened the economy and produce visible development.

The Buhari administration says it has been reforming the sector, with one report last week that the behemoth Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will be unbundled into 30 companies to enhance better results and good governance.

Experts said participants need to examine government's ongoing reform of the oil sector so the federal government can benefit from informed independent suggestions and advice to accelerate results.

Boosting power supply:

The huge shortfall in electricity supply has been a major contribution to the deplorable situation in Nigeria's real sector, in both manufacturing and agriculture, and consequently, in economic growth.

The issue of power supply ranks high for discussion at the conference. Participants will brainstorm on how Nigeria can boost its power generation within the short-to-medium term and on how that can be well transmitted and distributed so the result can drive the economy faster.

Reviving manufacturing:

One leg of the real sector that drives the economy of any nation, the country's manufacturing sector has been limping for decades. With the industrial/manufacturing base seriously weak, virtually producing nothing for local consumption, and for export to boost dollar earnings, the run on the foreign currencies that the only major export, oil, generates can't but be high, with its debilitating multiplier effects. Then, there is the high unemployment rate the sorry situation wreaks.

So much mouth service has been paid to boosting manufacturing, especially in providing the enabling environment and funds that are vital to make easy manufacturing possible. The summit will have to critically discuss why previous policies could not produce the desired results, and proffer feasible solutions that will be useful for the Buhari administration in solving the manufacturing riddle.

Doing value-added agriculture:

The other leg of the real sector that has also suffered from mere mouth service from previous administrations. Experts advised that participants must, however, not stop at formulating suggestions on how to achieve successful farming, they must link their effort to industrialization to make farming have any meaning in economic development.

An economist, who spoke with our correspondent in Abuja but wouldn't give his name, explained, "When you talk of diversification into agriculture, it is not for production per se but for the agricultural chain value, which is processing."

The economist mentioned Ghana as an example that is into agriculture and mining, being producers of cocoa and gold, but have not really benefited from revenues because it lacks the more rewarding value-added processing end.

"Hence, no nation should depend on production alone; by-passing manufacturing which involves adding value to raw materials is dangerous," he stressed.

Exploiting and processing solid minerals

The Buhari administration has been reiterating its commitment to exploring non-oil sectors to generate revenue as oil cash dwindles.

The Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr Muda Yussuf, considered the summit as an opportunity to deliberate on the solid minerals sector in the effort to diversify the economy.

But as the economist who spoke with our correspondents pointed out, exploiting Nigeria's vast solid minerals for production without beginning to put in place the processing mechanism towards industrialization, revenue generation and employment opportunities will be fruitless. So participants at the summit will need to brainstorm on both production and processing.

The Naira - Devalue or not?

Financial analysts are not agreed on the best way to handle the naira as its value plunges in the parallel market due to scarcity of the dollar to prop it up. President Buhari has repeated at many fora he is averse to devaluing the currency officially.

The summit will have an interesting session deliberating on the Naira value, with the participants disagreeing and agreeing. Positions that will help in determining how to handle the naira are expected at the end of the day.

"Participants will have to take a hard look at the value of the currency," Dr. Abdul-Alimi Bello, President of the Kaduna Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (KADCCIMA) posited.

Boosting IGR - Taxes, etc

Participants have been advised to spend time on areas that will help President Buhari in generating revenue to implement the 2016 budget, as well as build infrastructure, especially in power, roads and rail beyond 2016.

The president has been particularly advised to include experts from the private sector on taxes. Some who spoke with the Daily Trust on Sunday argued that the president needs private sector contributions on how he can widen the tax net so much so it can provide funds to entirely implement the budget - and more - every year.

Victoria Onehi, Simon Echewofun Sunday, Francis Arinze Iloani, Kayode Ogunwale and Mohammed Shosanya

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