After several years of what seems to be failure on the part of the federal government to implement resolutions of economic summits, states and regions are turning to similar events as a means of economic and social development, but can there be a break from the past?
For the well over 10 years he spent at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, Sam Ohuabunwa, an industrialist and immediate past chairman of the NESG, was involved in making recommendations that were hardly implemented by successive governments. His outburst at the last summit was an eloquent testimony of frustration and disappointment at governments that had for years paid lip service to economic development of the country. At the last count, no fewer than 1,000 recommendations have been made by organisers of the annual summit over a period of 16 years, but the ones implemented by government can easily be counted on fingertips.
To drive home their demand for the implementation of the recommendations of the summit, organisers of the 15th Nigerian Economic Summit, NES, decided to look at the scorecard of Nigeria’s economic progress and how to bridge the implementation gap. That was meant to give government an idea of the growing concern over what seemed to be its nonchalant attitude towards summit resolutions even when its key officials play active roles in organising the summits. The idea was also to identify major causes of government’s unwillingness to implement past summit resolutions. The executive summary of that year’s summit, which was presented to governments at the end of the gathering, pointed out that government’s attitude towards successive summit recommendations had resulted in a situation where stakeholders in the economy had begun to doubt the relevance of an otherwise critical and painstaking process. The report stated thus: “Some had begun to call the summit itself a jamboree, discouraging continued participation and dampening enthusiasm.” That appellation is not only derogatory but also instructive.
Along the same line of thinking, Bisi Ogunjobi, a renowned economist and former vice president of African Development Bank, ADB, recalls that “there is the Nigerian Economic Summit Group that has been organising economic summits annually with little or no tangible results from the various resolutions or decisions of the meetings. There is hardly any follow-up on the outcome of the summits. Their resolutions are at best advisory to the federal government and without any institutional framework of incorporating them into national policies or budgetary considerations. The frustration with the exercise may have partly informed the idea of regional summits. It is hoped or assumed that the less unwieldy and focussed summits are, the higher chances of achieving results and making impact directly on the economy of the region.”
Festus Okuroumu, a Lagos-based economist, shares that view, believing that at present, the federal government is confused on the way forward thereby impeding the pace of development of the constituent parts of the country. For the economist, only vibrant regional groupings can moderate the overbearing disposition of the government at the centre, as there are no actions of development from the centre. He recalls regrettably that experts have made several policies and recommendations over the years at NES and nothing has happened. But where the federal government has failed, states and regions are rising to the occasion by taking appropriate actions. “We can all see developments in Lagos, Rivers, Ondo and Delta states among others. In these states, experts meet with the government to discuss crisis and solutions every quarter or year and actions are taken,” he told this magazine, insisting that the way to go is to concentrate on regional development. “If we can’t solve our infrastructural and security problems as a country, we can solve them individually as states or collectively as regions. Our problem is not resources to solve the problems but good governance. We have coal, gas, solar energy among others but governance at the central has been the problem,” Okuroumu said.
Over the years, mass unemployment, dilapidated infrastructure and worsening living condition held sway in the country. Similarly, the investment climate in the country remains unattractive to prospective local and foreign investors, even where the potential exists. Following that, which appears to be a loss of confidence in summits organised by the federal government and its institutions, states across the country and geopolitical zones have resorted to holding economic summits and investors forums to turn around their economic fortunes. In the last six months, no fewer than five of such gatherings have taken place. No doubt, the most spectacular in recent times were the Lagos State Economic Summit tagged Ehingbeti 2012 held from April 23 to 24, and the South-south Summit, which took place in Asaba, Delta State, between April 25 and 28.
The Lagos summit was carefully designed to tackle the challenges of power supply, agriculture, transportation and housing in the state and also to create awareness in the investment opportunities that exist in the various sectors of the economy in the state. The organisers believed that investing in resources and time in a more aggressive manner would result in economic recovery and poverty eradication. The state’s decision to hold annual economic summits, as explained by Ben Akabueze, commissioner for economic planning and budget, stems from the conviction that such gatherings will provide opportunities for business owners within and outside the country to generate ideas, build relationships and investments to propel the economy of the state and, by extension, Nigeria. Said he: “We believe that it would take ideas, relationships and investment to unlock these potential, and that is why the idea of the summit is bringing out the economic potential of the state.” Interestingly, most of the transformations like the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, scheme and infrastructural upgrade that have taken place in Lagos in the last few years are said to be fallout of previous summits organised by the state.
The South-south Economic Summit equally attracted the attention of many stakeholders in the six states of the region tagged BRACED states, representing Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta. With the strategic importance of the region, which is the source of over 90 per cent of the nation’s oil wealth, leaders of the zone resolved a few years back to face the challenge of economic development of the region. That came after long years of militancy and agitation of the people of that region which suffered unprecedented environmental degradation as a result of oil exploration without adequate compensation and development of social and economic infrastructure in the states.
The South-south leaders spoke with one voice at the end of the Asaba summit, demanding an urgent restructuring and unbundling of the federation and a review of the prevalent revenue allocation formula to give more powers, responsibilities and funding to the states and local governments. As a means of solving the lingering power crisis in the country, the summit also called for a review of current policies and regulations on power and gas to enable states generate, transmit and distribute power in order to complement the efforts of the federal government and facilitate the utilisation of moribund capacity in the region. This, they believe, will promote and accelerate economic development in the South-south region.
The summit also accepted the development of a Niger Delta Energy Corridor, designed to forge a sense of belonging among the people, create linkages among industries and natural resources and create jobs. The leaders resolved to accelerate the implementation of agricultural development initiatives as the region’s priority area. Their projection is that this will complement the federal government’s transformation agenda on agriculture, develop integrated transport facilities in the region through a balanced development of rail, roads, waterways and airport facilities, as well as partner the federal government and the private sector in the development of the Lagos-Calabar rail line project. Among other infrastructure that will encourage the growth of the economy of the region, the summit also called for urgent completion of the East-West Road.
The Lagos and South-south summits were preceded by Edo State Agric Summit. With a clear vision on how to attract investors in the agricultural sector to Edo State, Governor Adams Oshiomhole made a mouth-watering offer to prospective investors at the summit, promising that the state would provide free land for investors in the sector. In what seemed like an instant result to the offer made by the governor, Sani Dangote, managing director, Dansa Foods, who was also a resource person at the summit, disclosed that his company was already considering an investment in the range between N5 billion and N8 billion in the state. He told the magazine that his company would partner the state in palm plantation, pineapple or rice farming. Similarly, Lionel Barre, managing director, Rubber Estates Nigeria Limited, indicated his company’s willingness to acquire land to develop rubber and other plantations. The state government said it decided to focus on agriculture out of the conviction that it is the only way it can create jobs, fight poverty and integrate rural economy. Having put massive infrastructure like roads, schools and hospitals in place, even in the rural areas, the state is still faced with the challenge of creating jobs and how to develop the economy. That made a summit on agriculture a viable homegrown option for the governor, as he could no longer depend on the federal government.
Similarly, between March 19 and 20, Ogun State government held an investors forum to highlight the investment opportunities that abound in the state considered a gateway to Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Africa’s most populous country. The Ibikunle Amosun administration says it anchored its development programme on five cardinal points, with affordable and qualitative education as well as increased agricultural production and industrialisation, as the areas closest to its heart. As he showcased the state as a compelling investment destination, the governor explained that the state has over 16,000 square kilometres of the most ideal topography for agriculture and forestry, underscoring the fact that the climate supports the growth of cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, cotton, cassava, cashew, oil palm and rubber. At the forum, agriculture was again identified as a major catalyst for industrialisation. For prospective investors in agriculture, the state government is offering a discount of 80 per cent on the purchased land. Similarly, investors in the manufacturing sector will get a discount of 60 per cent on land purchase. For investors that wish to acquire land for commercial purposes such as building of tank farms, real estate as well as in logistics, a discount of 40 per cent on land purchase is being offered.
Offers similar to these were in November 2011 made by Governor Chibuike Amaechi at the first Rivers State Investors Forum held in Port Harcourt, where he also unfolded the investment opportunities in the state. Amaechi remarked that Rivers State was the nerve centre of the Nigerian economy, accounting for 10 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product, GDP, according to World Bank statistics. The state accounts for over 40 per cent of crude oil produced onshore in the country and 100 per cent of the liquefied natural gas exports from Nigeria. That was heartwarming for prospective investors. The surprise, however, was that despite its potential it was the first time the state was hosting such an event driven by collaboration between the state government and its private sector stakeholders.
While assuring the stakeholders of government’s commitment to reap from the forum, Amaechi also pledged that Rivers State would be the first state in the country that would have 24-hour power supply. While lamenting the cost of doing business in Nigeria, which he described as quite prohibitive, the governor explained that “what we want to do is to cut the cost of doing business in Rivers State so that any investor who comes will have enough profits to take to the bank.”
The last edition of the South-east Economic Summit, which took place in September 2011, challenged the federal government and called to question the continued dependence on it for economic development of the states and regions. Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, who is also chairman of the South-east Governors’ Forum, had remarked that “the benefits of the summit may not be obvious to the ordinary person but entrepreneurs and stakeholders in the South-east would have a new business horizon that heralds a better future for the political economy of the zone.” At the end of the regional summit, stakeholders noted the efforts of the Africa Institute for Applied Economics, AIAE, to establish the South-east Nigeria Economic Commission, SENEC, and commended the governors for supporting the commission. The success story of the Songhai Farm model of agriculture adopted at the summit was received with great enthusiasm, especially as it is already being practised in Enugu State. In the light of that, other states in the geopolitical zone – Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi and Abia – were requested to adopt the Songhai concept of development of agri-business. The aim was to use the model as a sustainable means of job creation for the pool of unemployed graduates in the region.
The summit noted the need for increased private sector participation in agriculture through farming, commodity trading, food storage and preservation, and encouraged the various state governments to provide political leadership, infrastructure and other support services to drive the idea. The South-east Economic Summit Group was mandated to push for a local content bill in their various state Houses of Assembly to support the production and marketing as well as consumption of agro-based products in the zone. Among other resolutions, stakeholders in the region agreed that as a way of keying into the great opportunities that steady power supply promises, governors of the states in the zone should ensure active participation in the equity of Enugu Electricity Company Limited. The various state governments also agreed to set in motion a process of establishing a regional bank.
Like the South-east, the 19 northern states and Abuja also had an economic summit last year with the aim of finding ways to rebuild the region, restore its economic fortunes, alleviate poverty and improve its human capital development. The summit also sought to use agriculture to reposition the region. Besides what seemed to be opposition from some quarters, Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, lamented the lip service paid to issues of economic development in the country. Sanusi condemned in strong terms a situation where element of growth like infrastructure are in ruins. With states like Niger, Kwara, Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba having huge potential for generating hydro-electricity in mind, Sanusi explained that the northern region has a unique topography, with elevation ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level that naturally confers on it a great potential for generating power, particularly through hydro. Again, that is a pointer to the neglect of recommendations made over the years at economic summits.
As the states and regions brace themselves for the challenge of development, what is paramount in the minds of stakeholders is how to break away from the past. The challenge, they say, is not in organising the summits but implementing resolutions that come from them. A major floor that has long been observed in the summit with federal government input is the fact that experts in various sectors of the economy usually come up with brilliant ideas but government often fails to implement their recommendations. With the growing interest in similar gatherings at state and regional levels, experts believe that results are more likely to be achieved. Okuroumu is of the opinion that the resolutions made at these summits will be implemented without any difficulties but could hit a brick wall if they clashed with federal government policies.
A case for states and regional summits is given an impetus by Ogunjobi who believes that the six geo-political zones, trying to form regional economic groupings, are homogeneous and face similar challenges. Their economic integration and transformation can therefore facilitate infrastructure development. They can also benefit from coordinated planning and economies of scale. “They can develop into regional markets to absolve bigger industries and products as well as attract more investors and investments. Cross-border security issues can be better addressed within the framework of such a national challenge,” said Ogunjobi. It is hoped that individual states with focused development plans like Lagos would achieve desired results with their summits, even as several others are confronted with the challenge of properly organising the summits and getting appropriate results from them.
Additional reports by Adekunbi Ero, Raymond Mordi, Stella Sawyyer, Ayodeji Adeyemi and Abiola Odutola