Thinking out of the box to salvage Nigeria’s economy by Jide Ayobolu
The Nigeria economy is going through very hard times, in spite of numerous policies put in place to halt the menacing corruption and grow the national economy in such a way as to put smiles on the faces of all Nigerian by the present administration.
The challenges can be categorized into the following segments namely, apparent infrastructural deficits in all areas of the national economy, grinding poverty and ubiquitous unemployment, widespread graft and electoral manipulations, the very high cost of doing business, the very large and unwieldy size of government with several duplications and overlapping duties, very high exchange and interest rates, insecurity and misplacement of key priorities.
It is as a result of the different complains that the government decided to hold an economic retreat presently to address different lapses in the implementation processes, as well as come up with policies that would tremendously improve the overall welfare and wellbeing of the people and the polity.
In his address to the economic retreat President Muhammad Buhari explained that, over the years, there has been a mismatch between planned targets and budgetary outcomes at the National and sectorial levels. The Federal MDAs have not also benefited significantly from working together and building consensus around common national objectives.
This has impeded growth and development of the country. It is in this context that this Retreat has been designed to discuss issues around the State of the Economy and build consensus amongst Cabinet Members and top Government officials. The Retreat will also serve as an opportunity to have a general overview of the economy and discuss the framework for the 2017 Budget, its key priorities and deliverables.
This Retreat is coming at a critical time in our economic history, when the Nigerian economy is in a recession, with significant downturn in performance in various sectors. It is with regard to the importance of this Retreat that I decided to sit through the first part of the session to listen to the views from experienced economists and development experts on how best to implement our plans to rid the country of its oil dependence and to diversify the economy and bring the country out of the current economic recession.
This is in line with our Administration’s determination to lay a solid foundation for growth and development as outlined in the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) of our Change Agenda. Given that this Retreat is a lead-up to the 2017 Budget, my expectation is that we will come out of the these sessions with a determination and common position on how to have improved synergy amongst the various Ministries and Departments for the effective formulation and implementation of the 2017 Budget.
I also trust that the breakout sessions will enable you to discuss extensively amongst yourselves, the details of the four sub-themes and come up with practical solutions on the way forward in order to come out with a set of prioritized projects and programmes that will fit into the 2017 Budget. In this regard, let me inform you that because of the need to focus on our key priorities, some Ministries may get significantly less capital allocation than they received in 2016, while others may get significantly more.
You may notice that some key non-spending agencies, such as the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the National Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and the National Pension Commission (PENCOM), are participants at this Retreat. This deliberate inclusion underscores the commitment of this Administration to leverage on private sector resources, through Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and other arrangements, in order to augment the scarce budgetary resources at our disposal and to accelerate investments in building critical infrastructure.
Indeed, the challenges we face in the current recession require ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, to deploy strategies that involve engaging meaningfully with the private sector, to raise the level of private sector investment in the economy as a whole.
We are confident that the level of private investment will grow as we are determined to make it easier to do business in Nigeria by the reforms we are introducing under the auspices of the Presidential Committee on Ease of Doing Business.
Let me reiterate that this Government will continue to strategize on how we can turn the current challenges into opportunities for our nation and especially for our vibrant youth on whose shoulders lies the future of this nation. This is why we have embarked on measures and actions that will open up the opportunities we have seen in the Power, Housing, Agriculture, Mining, Trade and Investment, Information Communication Technology (ICT) Sectors, Tourism, Transport and other sectors.
I wish to reassure its teeming youth that this Government would remain steadfast in its effort to ensure greater progress and prosperity for you. While Government is taking the lead in the task of repositioning our economy for Change, we cannot achieve this completely by ourselves. We will need, and we ask for the support and cooperation of the private sector’s domestic and foreign investors, the States and Local Governments, the National Assembly and the Judiciary as well as all well-meaning Nigerians in this important task. We are confident that working together, we shall succeed. Finally, I trust that the cabinet members will learn from the experiences of the Resource persons and facilitators to prioritize their sector programmes and projects to bring the country out of the current economic recession and place it on the path of growth and development.
I therefore urge the Honourable Ministers and other senior government officials here present, to actively participate in the Second Technical Session, which I believe will provide you with deeper insight into the complex issues that will open opportunities for you to identify critical priority projects and programmes for the 2017 Budget.
At this juncture, may I formally recognize and acknowledge the presence of the array of experts invited to serve as resource persons and facilitators at this Retreat. I am confident that Ministers and Senior Government officials will benefit immensely from your expertise and wealth of experience.
It is very clear therefore that government is not rest on its oars, but working hard to meet the expectations of the people. Being in government is not a joke, it is about rendering selfless service to the people and country.
It would be recalled that before now, there was an economic submit, where the president delved on different segment of the economy, he said amongst other thing, During the retreat he focused on four key areas namely, agriculture, power, manufacturing and housing, however, he explained that he deliberately left out education as well as science and technology because these closely intertwined areas required a whole retreat by themselves. On agriculture, he said that it has been neglected over the years, and veritable government intervention is required in the crucial sector, that if carefully managed, can lead to self-sufficiency in food production, solve the problem of mass unemployment, increase the country’s foreign earnings, and grow our per capita income. In his words, he stated that, “for too long government policies on agriculture have been half-hearted, suffering from inconsistencies. Yet our real wealth is in farming, livestock, hatcheries, fishery, horticulture and forestry”.
He further explained the some of the challenges in the sector, such as rising cost of food, lack of agricultural inputs at affordable prices, high cost of fertilizers, pesticides and labour compound the problem of extension services, import of food items that can be easily produced locally, wastages because of the absence of adequate storage facilities as well as lack of feeder rods to transport foods produced in rural areas to urban centres, just to mention but a few of the difficulties encountered in the sector. He also said that, in solving the problem the public must be carried along and educated about the plans of government so that, they can key into it and benefit maximally from it, in addition, he reasoned that, there must be close working relationship between the federal government and the state governments, to really boost agriculture and solve some of the problems in the sector, for example, the massive availability of feeder roads to make transportation of food from the country-sides to the city centers less cumbersome, there should also be the availability of soft loans to farmers with the CBN bearing some of the risk as well as the exigent need intermittent stakeholders meeting on how to move the sector forward. Agriculture in Nigeria is one area that can turn the fortunes, destiny, direction and dynamics of this great country around for the very best with the shortest space of time.
Secondly, President Buhari talked on power, he said in the remain three years of this government the target of ten thousand megawatts distributable power has been set for the administration, in the year 2016 alone, two thousand additional megawatts has been earmarked to be added to the national grid, but with the unreasonable and wanton destruction of gas pipelines by the so-called Niger-Delta avengers, it will be a bit difficult to realize this set goal except this nefarious activities of these gangsters stop immediately.
The president said despite the fact that the sector has been privatized; there has not been any improvement in the quality of service rendered. Some of the complains in the sector area, high electricity bills despite power cuts, constant power cuts destroying economic activity and affecting the quality of life, low supply of gas to power plants due to vandalization by terrorists, obsolete power distribution equipment such as transformers, power fluctuations which damage manufacturing equipment and household appliances and low voltage which cannot run industrial machinery. In solving these problems, the PMB said, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has a vital role to play to ensure that consumers get value for money and overall public interest is safeguarded, also government will fast track the completion of pipelines from gas points to power stations and provide adequate security to protect gas and oil pipelines; and power companies will be encouraged to change obsolete equipment and improve the quality of service and technicians.
On manufacturing, he president observed that, it grieves his heart that today in the country, manufacturing industries are groaning and frustrated because of lack of foreign exchange to import raw materials and spare parts, but he reckon that, it is just a passing phase that will wade away with time. Some of the problems facing the sector are, inadequate infrastructure, power, roads and security leading to increase in the cost of producing made in Nigeria goods than those imported into the country, high cost of borrowing which the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has consistently hammered on, lack of long term funding, underdeveloped science and technology in the area of research, overbearing influence of trade unions in spite of there importance and smuggling.
Some of the solutions identified are that, The Infrastructure Development Fund should be fast-tracked to unlock resources so that the infrastructural gaps can be bridged, provision of more fiscal incentives to Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) and a fresh campaign to patronize made in Nigeria goods.
In the areas of housing, PMB said that, the housing deficit has been estimated to be in the region of about sixteen million housing units, he noted that the three tiers of government in the country cannot provide the required housing needs of the country alone, therefore, both local and foreign investors are welcomed to participate in the provision of affordable housing units for the country. He highlighted the encumbrances in the sector as including, severe shortage of housing, high rents, unaffordable prices for prospective buyers, red-tape, corruption and plain public service inefficiency lead to long delays in obtaining ownership of title documents.
Parts of the solutions are, relevant laws should be reviewed to make the process of acquiring statutory right of occupancy shorter, less cumbersome and less costly; court procedures for mortgages cases should make enforcement more efficient; achieving affordable housing for all Nigerians will require the development of strong and enduring mortgage institutions with transparent processes and procedures; Ministries of Works and Housing should upgrade their computerization of title registration will greater efficiency and Mortgage Re-financing companies should be established to ensure adequate support for mortgage financing.
On the health sector, the president expressly stated that, sound health system is part of the prerequisites for economic development. The sector needs urgent government attention to deal decisively with problems such as; dirty hospitals, inadequate equipment and facilities, poorly trained nursing staff, billions of naira lost in capital fight to medical tourism and litany of other shortcomings. Some of the solutions are, increase funding to the sector and health centres to improve service delivery, World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO) should be persuaded to increase their assistance to the sector, strengthening public enlightenment strategies in the area of public hygiene, environmental sanitation, stop smoking, better dieting and exercising as well as secondary prevention, that is, screening and early diagnosis of diseases, NAFDAC should intensify efforts to eradicate fake drugs, ministries of health with NMA should deal with the issue of quakes.
It is clear therefore that the president government has a focus of where it wants to take the country to; it has an overview of the general problems and how to pragmatically solve them within a specified time frame. Also from all that the government has done in the past one year, a number of policy directions can be extracted, some of these are,
(1)It is very clear that the government is bent on diversifying the economy of the country, however, this should be predicated on the needs of each of the geo-political zones and attention must be given to areas where they have comparative advantage.
(2)Over the past one year some have that pace of the president, but it is better to be slow and steady; and achieve results than to be fast and make repeated mistakes, resulting in policy somersault and policy reversal.
(3)The government is committed to job creation for the mass of the unemployed youths in the country, especially in agriculture, construction and ICT, this will generate a lot of employment and employment opportunities, poverty reduction, wealth creation and increase the per capita income of the country as well as capacity utilization of industry.
(4)The government has equally demonstrated the capacity to fight corruption in all ramifications, away from the ways the businesses of government were done in the country in the past, the fight should be all-encompassing, as this will reduce poverty, gender development and improve the quality of life of people in the country.
(5)The Federal Government has shown that it is ready to block all the leakages and loopholes in the system, this should be extended to the other tiers of government, spending must be project-specific and people-oriented; not spent on conspicuous consumption and frivolities of any sorts.
(6)This government has also shown that, it is ready to judiciously manage the resources from oil to develop and expand the scope oil sector, especially gas as well as petrochemical and allied industry; indeed all other viable sectors including the SME’s.
(7)This government has through the 2016 budget indicated that, it is ready to fix the widespread and deep-seated infrastructural deficit in the country, to this end therefore, it should closely monitor the implementation of the budget and projects, to adequately oil the engine of growth and development.
(8)The Aviation ministry is working on the modalities to concession major airports in the country to bring then to internationally acceptable standards and to increase the volume of aviation traffic in and out of the country, it should be done with world renowned aviation companies, in the area of international airport management, this will also boost the revenue profile of the country.
(9)This government is ready to use taxation as a viable option to development the country, to this end, all areas in taxations will be covered, also big and foreign companies will be made to pay tax as and at when due, and the funds realized will be carefully deployed to critical sectors of the economy.
(10)Tourism has also been mentioned by this government as a money-spinner, as well as an avenue to gainfully employ a lot of people, but government should create an enabling environment, while it will largely be private sector driven.
(11)The government is also committed to the accelerated growth of SME’s, with funding from the CBN and BOI, thereby create employment, generate wealth and make the economy function optimally.
(12)Over three trillion naira has so far been recovered by the EFCC from stolen funds stashed away in different parts of the globe and more funds are still coming in, which is kept with the CBN, but the government is determined to spend judiciously in revamping different sectors of the economy.
(13)This present government wants to ensure that, there is a link positive link between economic policies as well as political practices and social conducts; it is this link that will enable the policy direction to have a bearing on the lives and wellbeing of the people on one hand; and form the basis for institutional frameworks and perspicacious organization of the country on the other.
(14)This government has also demonstrated that it wants to further reduce the number of ministries, agencies, parastatals and boards, in doing this, the government should also review security votes and ecological funds to the state governors, as well as monthly allocations to the local governments through the state governments, in the same token, the country at this time of severe economic hardship, can ill-afford continue to pay the national parliamentarians the immoral salaries, allowances, entitlements, emoluments and other benefits they are collecting at the present, they are Nigerians serving on behalf of the people, therefore, they must also make genuine sacrifices, beyond mere rhetoric. Furthermore, the question must be asked, if indeed, the bicameral legislature is still desirable and sustainable at this point of our national history and development? As a result of the prevailing economic crunch, it is not better to have a unicameral legislature that should be reconstituted on a part-time and members should be paid per sitting, this is perhaps one of the ways the country can progressively move forward.
No matter how good and well-intentioned or properly put together an economic policy is, if there is no political will to push it through or translate it into reality, it is as good as not having an economic policy at all.
Economic policy enunciation is meretricious without proper implementation. Therefore, the government must have a tracking/monitoring unit, to ensure systematic supervision and coordination of all policies of the government to be well implemented and to be in sync with the expectations and aspirations of Nigerians, thereby taking the country to greater heights of glory amongst the comity of nation within the shortest time possible. The PMB led government has started well and it should not rest on its oars, it should, rather it should continue the rebuilding process, so that, in the not too distant future the country can witness socio-economic and political milestones, the task before this government is to bring the country out of the prevailing economic quagmire, stabilize the economy and the polity, while consolidate on the gains recorded; for Nigeria the most populous black on planet earth, this should not be a too difficult task to accomplish, once, we get the target right, we as a people should collectively work towards it.
Ayobolu, a public affairs analyst contributed this piece from Lagos State.
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