PRESIDENT JONATHAN'S REMARKS AT THE WEFA OPENING PLENARY SESSION
1. As this is the first plenary session of this Conference, let me use this opportunity to welcome you all to Abuja for this gathering of the World Economic Forum. Nigeria is proud to host this event, the first time the Forum is coming to West Africa. We wish you a fruitful conference and a productive stay in our beautiful capital, Abuja.
2. Let me thank all of you for coming to Nigeria at this trying time when we are facing terrorist attacks. Your coming here to support us is a blow on the terrorists. Let me also thank all the countries that have expressed commitment to help us rescue the abducted girls. Prime Minister David Cameron and President Francois Hollande and other world leaders have spoken with me; we appreciate their commitment to help us put an end to the crisis.
3. Let me also use this opportunity to thank the organizers â€' especially the Nigerian Inter-Governmental Committee as well as the World Economic Forum in Geneva â€' for all their hard work in convening this event. Looking around the room, I see my fellow Heads of State and Government, elder statesmen from around the world, heads of international organizations, and business leaders from across the globe. This is a distinguished gathering, and I am confident that we will have very fruitful and productive conversations over the next few days.
4. I want to thank Premier Li Keqiang for his great speech and use this occasion to welcome him to Abuja, on his very first visit to Nigeria. Africans are quite happy with China because you have shown commitment in helping Africa in many ways. China and Africa have forged strong ties over the years. Ties which are mutually beneficial to us in trade and investments, in agriculture, in education, and in cultural exchange. We hope to continue on this path.
5. The theme of our conference is on Creating Jobs and Forging Inclusive Growth. So let me use this occasion to make a few remarks which will help set the stage for our discussions.
6. First, the need to create jobs is a global problem. The International Labour Organization estimates that in 2013 over 200 million people were unemployed around the world; and this included about 75 million young people between the ages of 15-24. Practically all countries around the world are concerned about job creation. The developed economies, such as the United States of America, the UK and the Eurozone countries are all monitoring their employment numbers very closely to see if their economies are recovering from the recent global recession. In southern European countries such as Spain and Portugal, unemployment rates have remained high in recent years at above 20 percent.
7. In fact, there have been many reported cases of reverse migration of young graduates from Portugal and Spain, who are now moving back to their former colonies such as Angola, Brazil and Mozambique to seek jobs! In Africa, we also have our employment challenges. The unemployment rates today are over 20 percent in many of our countries â€' Nigeria at about 24%, South Africa at 25%.
8. The second point I want to make is that in Africa, the unemployment problem is compounded by our youthful population and pending demographic transition. As you know Africa's population is very young. Other continents are 'aging', but Africa's population of young people is growing. African leaders therefore face special challenges. We have the challenge to provide jobs, housing and healthcare.
9. If you walk down the streets in Europe, the median age of the person you see is about 40 years. In Asia, the median age of the person on the street is 29 years. In Africa, this median age is only 20 years, so it means that about half of the population in Africa today is under the age of 20 years.
10. Demographers are also predicting that this youth population is going to grow even further. McKinsey, the consulting firm, has calculated that an additional 122 million workers will enter Africa's labor force by 2020. And that, by 2035, the combined size of the African labor force would be greater than that of the most heavily populated countries in the world, including China. This is daunting, and should be a wake-up call to all of us in Africa to work harder on job creation with a great sense of urgency. We have a lot of young people who are unemployed but who also do not necessarily have the required competencies or skills, even if the jobs are available and that again, is a major challenge.
11. So that leads me to my third point: what can we do to create more jobs, and how are we addressing this problem in Nigeria? For us in Nigeria, job creation has been the main focus of our ongoing Transformation Agenda â€' which is our program to modernize and diversify the Nigerian economy. Job creation is one of the concerns that keeps me up at night, and it has been the main theme of our Federal Government Budget in recent years. We recognize that the private sector will be the engine of growth and job-creation. And we are putting in place the necessary conditions to support this private sector growth, such as: ensuring a stable macroeconomic environment (low inflation, stable exchange rates and so on), investing in critical infrastructure (roads, railways, power etc.), and investing in the development of skills of our people.
12. Nigeria has grown rapidly over the past decade â€' at about 7 percent per annum. Of course we are now also the largest economy on the continent and the 26th largest in the world. After our GDP rebasing exercise, our GDP for 2013 is now estimated at about 510 billion US Dollars. Yet, the quality of our growth has been less than desirable in the sense that we are not creating as many decent jobs as we need to.
13. That is why we have focused on a number of priority sectors which have high job-creating potential, such as agriculture, manufacturing, housing & construction, and the services sectors. And in each of these sectors, we are working to unlock the various obstacles faced by businesses so they create jobs. We are learning from the example of other countries â€' such as China â€' to see what they have done in this regard to create jobs for their citizens.
14. Our recent GDP rebasing exercise shows that the Services sector now accounts for about 51 percent of our economy, up from 26 percent previously. And so we are introducing targeted measures to further harness this sector by supporting the development of our SMEs. For example, we are working to develop our housing and construction sector, given its potential to create jobs for our craftsmen and artisans. We also recently launched our National Industrial Revolution Plan which will further invigorate our manufacturing sector.
15. In addition, in the short-term, we have also introduced special, government initiatives such as a business plan competition for young entrepreneurs (called YouWiN) which provides grants of between $10,000-$90,000 equivalent to the best business plans. This program has thus far supported more than 2,400 young entrepreneurs who have created more than 26,000 jobs.
16. We also have a Graduate Internship Scheme which places recent graduates in private sector jobs. Also, a public works program as part of our Subsidy Re-investment Program (SURE-P) which has created about 120,000 jobs. Overall, the National Bureau of Statistics estimates that 1.6 million jobs were created across the country in the past 12 months, but my Administration is not relenting because we are aware that even more jobs are needed to support our growing youth population.
17. Finally, as we continue our discussions today, let us also remember the challenge of tackling inequality. Today, we all know that the African continent is rising: our economic growth is strong, our social indicators are improving, and our middle class is expanding.
18. However, we must ensure that the poorer and vulnerable members of our societies are also carried along. We need economic growth â€' but we must work to ensure that this growth is inclusive. In Africa, most of our countries must begin to think about introducing social protection measures building on the strong traditions we already have of caring for one another.
19. Our friends in Latin America have more knowledge in this area and can share some of their experiences with us. We are looking for example at President Lula's work where he created the Bolsa Familia â€' which is a conditional cash transfer program to support low-income families and lift them up from the bottom of the ladder. It has been a successful program, and we can learn from his example.
20. Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen â€' Africa faces difficult challenges in the years ahead to provide adequate infrastructure, to create jobs, and to develop the skills of its young population. But the continent is also confronted by tremendous opportunity to harness its young population in a manner than can provide unique dividends to its people.
21. As we debate these issues in the next two days, let us raise our sights, let us think big and bold, and let us think for the long-term. And together, let us work to realize the potential of this great continent. I believe that collectively, with the calibre of men and women we have here, and the institutions they represent, and given the fact that democracy has come to stay in Africa, and with the political will and commitment of African leaders, we will take decisions and the right steps, to take Africa to greater heights.
22. Thank you very much.