Nigeria has been a mono-economy for many years, relying solely on crude oil as her major source of revenue. Before now, agriculture and mining were the primary drivers of Nigeria's economy, but these have been abandoned since the 70's as a result of the discovery of oil. The resultant effect has been a decline in the nation's economy leading to a recession that has left so many unemployed and living in abject poverty.
"Nigeria has run a mono-product economy for too long," the ED/CEO of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Mr. Olusegun Awolowo said.
"We have been left vulnerable to oil price shocks, the latest of which we are seeing now with the outbreak of corona virus. Despite academics and policymakers alike knowing that economic, and in particular export diversification, is crucial to our sustainability, true diversification has alluded us," he added.
Diversification of Nigeria's economy is believed to be the only viable way to survive the current environment of global economic uncertainty with the volatility of oil price. It certainly presents the most competitive and strategic option for Nigeria in light of her current developmental challenges.
"We must diversify our economy now! And Non-oil Export is one major way to do so," Awolowo stressed at the non-oil export conference and awards (NECA) organised by Policy Development Facility (PDF II), to mark her closing out after five years of providing targeted assistance to support Nigeria's champions of change across the federal government to implement economic and social reforms.
The Chair, House Committee on Commerce and Investment, Hon. Olufemi Fakeye, who was also at the event, reiterated the importance of diversification, saying, "If our economy is not export-driven, then we are going to be in trouble!"
This consensus that Nigeria needs to diversify its exports away from crude oil in relation to its reality and the best way to achieve it, however, has remained a topic of hot debate.
Recommendations from the Overseas Development Institute's (ODI) work: 'Supporting Economic Transformation in Nigeria,' suggests that using non-oil exports in a few selected sectors could have significant impact on economic growth.
MSMEs account for majority of firms and businesses in most countries, and for majority of jobs, yet most MSMEs (amongst which there are many potential exporters) are unable to participate competitively in the global trade value chain due to stifling challenges in the business environment. In addition, they are usually conspicuously missing in trade related policy debates despite their significant role in formal and informal cross-border trade, particularly non-oil export.
To effectively position Nigeria's MSMEs for the global market, policy must address some 'before the border' and 'beyond the border' issues. However, the political economy of trade policy remains challenging with certain groups dominating the policy discourse and many other local voices unrepresented.
This is why PDF ll launched the Network of Practicing Non-oil Exporters of Nigeria (NPNEN) at its NECA event.
"NPNEN is a body set-up to ensure that the voices of non-oil exporters would continue to be heard in a sustainable manner," the PDF II Programme Manager, Dr. Titilola Akindeinde said.
Furthermore, Awolowo referred to NPNEN as, "A powerful advocacy group that will help NEPC itself make demands to government on what we can do to help increase exports all over Nigeria."
He added that NPNEN is "an extremely laudable initiative and I firmly support this private sector led platform to ensure there is a voice of the Nigerian exporter".
During the Non-Oil Export Conference and Awards (NECA) event, government institutions, organised private sector, and relevant development partners were engaged in a non-oil exporters' dialogues. These dialogues were engaged in two plenty sessions, where key strategies on growing non-oil Export business in Nigeria were thoroughly discussed.
The first plenary session was anchored by Bamidele, the Lead Consultant at 3T Impex Trade Academy, and focused on 2 major areas of intervention: Access to Finance and Access to Markets; while the second session discussed Trade Policy reforms.
This session was inchored by Nancy Illoh-Nnaji, the Executive Producer of 'Moneyline with Nancy', and headed by Fakeye,
Commenting on the viable dialogue, Fakeye said, "It would be nice to have a communique out of today's discussions which can be developed into policies. The various stakeholders here can play different roles to make that happen." Hon. Olufemi Fakaye believes that this will ensure that private sector voices which have hitherto been under-represented (especially the MSMEs) become effectively engaged and contribute to economic policies.
Awolowo, thanked PDF ll and DFID for supporting the initiative to launch NPNEN. According to him, "We cannot have enough bodies in exporting, because it is key to diversifying Nigeria's economy. My call is for increased productivity and production all across the sectors of Nigeria so we can really become an export-led economy."
The event was concluded with an awards ceremony which was presented in 2 categories:
1. PDF II award for program support
2. PDF II award to outstanding Exporters and Export supporting institutions from 2016-2019 - SME (product), SME (Services), Government institutions, Financial institutions, Trade Academy, Export Marketing, Trade Associations.
The awardees were well congratulated by Akindeinde, who stressed that the awards are a representation of their exemplary work and ultimately to encourage them to do more, "recognising that the growth of Nigeria rests squarely on our shoulders." she said.
It is hoped that the private sector organisations, relevant government agencies, trade associations, development partners, senate and national assembly, embassies and diplomatic community, along with other actors in the non-oil export value chain who attended the event and eagerly participated in the discourse will all play their critical roles of making change happen in their Non-oil Export space to ensure improved ease of doing business for MSMEs in global trade.
"Exporting and diversification away from oil has become not just a government agenda, but a priority and an imperative for this economy!" Akindeinde added.
And with more MSMEs participating in export, it is certain that more jobs will be created, and livelihoods improved.