The Economist 11th Nigeria Summit: A Retrospective
Nigeria’s economic challenges are well known; a falling GDP, a rising inflation rate, a depreciating currency and a sinking oil price, coupled with the country’s wider problems, the 2016 forecast for Africa’s largest economy is not a positive one. However, experts and government officials aren’t worried. In fact, the political and industry leaders, foreign investors and academics who attended the two-day Nigeria Summit are surprisingly upbeat.
“These challenges act as an opportunity for us to diversify the economy,” said Aliko Dangote, CEO of The Dangote Group and Africa’s richest man. “In 1998 the price of oil was $9, lower oil prices don’t necessarily spell doom.” These sentiments were echoed throughout the conference by other industry heavyweights and four State Governors, who agreed that after years of over-dependency on oil, diversification of the economy was no longer a choice, but a necessity. The Buhari government has expressed its commitment to economic diversification in light of the crash in oil prices, and each Governor in attendance reiterated their aim to explore other sectors to bolster internally generated revenue in their state and less reliance on the Federal Government.
There was widespread agreement that although the forecast for this year was gloomy, its effects would be temporary and Nigeria would bounce back. It was also said that challenges facing the country could serve as a prime opportunity for businesses to invest, “Investing in Nigeria now, is investing in a country that will be among the most populated,” said Phillip Walker of The Economist, a notion that was shared by the big companies in attendance. Coca Cola, Intel and Proctor & Gamble all spoke of the importance of Nigeria in the region and said despite the myriad of challenges there were several opportunities for growth and investment given the size and age of the population.
Despite the optimism, it was not all sweetness and light, the lack of youth and SME representation on the various panels was noted with disdain. Frustration was expressed over foreign exchange, with some businesses expressing their difficulties as a result of the Naira depreciation while others bemoaned the scarcity of foreign currency. The uphill battle of SMEs was another sore point, with environmental challenges, particularly power, and interest rates on loans cited as stumbling blocks. Although attendees expressed faith in the new administration and its efforts to steer the economy in the right direction, the need for consistency, transparency and clarity in economic policy was stressed upon.
The collapse of the education system, drew perhaps the most attention, with educational reform cited as a major priority for long-term economic gains. “We have allowed the public school system to collapse,” said Governor Shettima of Borno state. 63% of males and 69% of females in Borno do not have access to education, Governor Shettima pledged to change this, with a heavy focus on women. “We need to invest in education,” he said. “Men are irresponsible with procreation so we are targeting interventions at women.” The other Governors present, El Rufai , Amosun and Obiano all agreed that women play a pivotal role in the long-term success of the country.
Is Nigeria on the verge of a new day as the conference theme suggests? It may be too early to tell, the Nigeria Summit raised pertinent points of discussion, but what the Nigerian economy needs now is action.