WHEN TOP NIGERIANS GATHERED TO CHART ROADMAP FOR GREATER NIGERIA
It is not exactly clear if the organisers of the recently concluded 16th Nigerian Economic Summit had intended it to envelope the capacity audience at the prestigious Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, with a sense of foreboding, a feeling that something bad may happen if the nation fails to make a pre-emptive strike.
But in retrospect, that was the feeling the opener, a documentary film on Nigeria's crabby movement as a sovereign state, generated among most of the private sector buffs and top bureaucrats gathered in the hall from as early as 8 a.m., local time, on Tuesday, October 19, 2010.
Packed with tears-inducing details, and anchored by Charles Aniagolu, a former correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, the documentary mirrored the tragic paradox of Nigeria as a country so richly endowed in virtually everything necessary to make a nation truly great, yet so chronically pauperised by an inexplicable leadership failure.
The results? Dismal ratings in the reckonings of the international community arising from the plundering of the nation's wealth and squandering of precious opportunities for greatness; influx of people who cannot rule their spirits but are thrown up as leaders by a terribly inept system; dearth of viable institutions; crippling of the strong to strengthen the weak; near total collapse of public utilities; collapse of virtually all indices necessary to gauge and recalibrate the country's wellness; and application of inappropriate therapies to the myriad malaises-economic, social and political-that have plagued the country over the years.
Many in the audience either shifted restlessly on their seats or sat on the edge as the documentary mirrored the scary consequences that await the nation in the absence of concerted efforts not only to make Nigeria work, but also return her to winning ways.
Even President Goodluck Jonathan, who sat for almost four hours, and had to square up to restless private sector gurus who desperately wanted him to know what it means doing business in Nigeria, was held spellbound by the documentary.
The documentary set the tone for the summit with theme: Nigeria @50: The Challenge of Visionary Leadership and Good Governance. In sync with the celebrations marking the country's golden jubilee, the summit dwelt substantially on the labyrinthine pathways that Nigeria had to navigate in its first 50 years as a sovereign state, the different systems of government it has endured or adopted, a critical appraisal of its development strategies, and the pragmatic ways to make the nation one of the world's 20 emerging economies by the year 2020.
It coasted home with a consensus on how, in the words of the NESG Board, to unravel the country's 'development dilemma through the critical interrogation of the nexus between politics and the economy', and identified the multifarious issues that had obstructed the country's efforts at achieving her 'manifest destiny, as a prosperous and competitive nation.'
The pall of silence that descended on the hall while the documentary ran persisted moments after, before the anchor person tore the silence with the introduction of the Presidential Policy Dialogue. Transmitted live on CNBC Africa television, as well as some local networks, the very engaging session featured, alongside President Jonathan, Dr. Shamusudeen Usman, Minister of National Planning, also the chief host, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, Minister for Finance, Justice Alfa Belgore, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, and Mr. Bello Maccido, managing director of Legacy Pension Funds Limited.
The issues discussed ranged from corruption in the polity to constitutional challenges, energy crisis and hiccups in the education sector, and the increasing army of Nigerians thrown daily into the employment market. It is worthy of special mention that while all the discussants tackled the issues tabled before them from their backgrounds and perspectives, President Jonathan, who sat pensively throughout the duration of the film, adopted a more holistic approach.
Tackling the issues as they were raised, he identified greed as the taproot of all the malaise almost choking life off the country today. 'Our problem in Nigeria is not corruption,' he declared unapologetically. 'Corruption is just a factor of greed. The nature of man is greedy. The nature of man is inherently greedy, hence the urge in some unscrupulous public officials to amass what they don't need.'
Even though the president told the audience categorically that he was not a policeman, he would, however, not throw his hands up either in despair or surrender. Rather, he confidently assured his enraptured audience, comprising captains of industries, top players in the oil and gas and energy sectors, prospective foreign investors, as well as representatives of international agencies, that there were enough institutional and legal instruments to police and check corruption. The system, he further posited, had in-built mechanism to tackle corruption and it was doing so effectively. He, however, agreed that the laws tackling corruption still needed to be strengthened 'since man has refused to fear God and man.'
The president disagreed vehemently with those who haul all the blames for the nation's woes at the doorsteps of past military regimes that ruled the country for 28 of its 50 years as a sovereign state. He stated unequivocally that civilian leaders were as culpable as their military colleagues, in plundering the nation's resources.
The president himself brought the issue of insecurity in the land to the front burner, even as many in the audience agreed that there can be no tangible progress in an atmosphere of uncertainty and insecurity. The near state of anomie, many in the audience agreed, was engendered, in part, by the continued communal restiveness in the Niger Delta, despite the ongoing amnesty programme of the Federal Government, and the spiraling spates of kidnappings rocking, particularly, the South-South and South-East, as well as pockets of other locations in the country.
Although he admitted that 'security is a challenge to any government,' the president said there was need to separate, and appropriately categorise the two situations for what they were. 'Before now,' he said, 'we never heard of kidnapping. What is happening now is commercial. People now do it (kidnapping) for money, big money.' He, however, assured the audience that his government was determined to put an end to the unfortunate development within the next 12 months.
On the Niger Delta situation, he said the amnesty programme was on course, and despite its imperfections, it was ameliorating the nightmarish situation. 'But what is inexcusable is criminality.' For this reason, the president concluded, the various security agencies were being strengthened to solve the problem. He assured that his vision, as president, was to build a nation with enduring and truly independent institutions, stable polity, sustainable economy, and an atmosphere moderated by the rule of law in which every Nigerian would realise his or her aspiration.
The president also spoke on oil bunkering, another cancer sucking the lifeblood of the Nigerian economy, and through which some unpatriotic individuals, even corporate organisations and groups, have built enormous financial empires. He admitted that 'bunkering is the biggest problem in the Niger Delta,' and informed that while all the relevant security agencies were at alert, and equal to the task, the government had procured a brand new ship for the Nigerian Navy to fight the oil robbers to a standstill, and stop the nation from bleeding through their nefarious activities.
But while that campaign goes on, Dr. Shamusudeen Usman, Minister of National Planning, said there was urgent need to move the economy from a mono-product entity to a multi-product status in order to rescue Nigeria from the crushing complexities of oil. As a starter, he said government had taken a decisive step to, 'once-and-for-all', sanitise the oil industry through the Petroleum Industry Bill now before the National Assembly.
A spin-off of that law when passed, he said, would be the generation of gas to power turbines that would boost subsisting electricity-generating initiatives, which the economy so critically needed.
Furthermore, the National Planning Minister maintained that there was need to 'review the privatisation/commercialisation policy to open up those sectors hitherto considered the exclusive preserve of government, especially in the areas of infrastructure'.
President Jonathan also spoke on another sore point in Nigeria, the embarrassing unemployment situation in the country. He insisted that while government was doing its best to ensure that majority of Nigerians are gainfully employed, the captains of commerce and industries present should complement government's efforts by creating more opportunities that would take more jobless Nigerians off the streets. 'You don't create jobs with a magic wand,' said the president. 'The government alone cannot do it. What is needed is an enabling environment for the private sector to play its designed role, ensure stability in the polity, ensure consistency in policy formulation, planning and implementation.'
Ohuabunwa spoke the minds of the private sector chieftains in the hall when he said much as he agreed with the president that the private sector was key in the efforts to create opportunities, generate employment and create wealth, and was ready to play its role, it was government's responsibility to create the enabling environment for business. Government, the NESG boss further stated, must 'create the incentives that can attract local and foreign investments, motivate investors who will in turn create wealth, grow the economy and generate employment.'
Still on employment generation, Maccido, chairman of Pension Fund Managers Association of Nigeria, revealed that the pension fund had 'created a platform for long-term investment.' As to be expected, and characteristic of finance ministers, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, the incumbent Minister of Finance, bandied figures that showed 'growth' in the economy and the nation's gross domestic product, GDP, but he could not justify why, despite the 'growth', there is so much unemployment in the land. And why businesses continue to die.
He, however, opined that the spiraling unemployment situation, sad as it was, was not peculiar to Nigeria and that it was a global phenomenon. To properly appreciate that point, Aganga counselled the long-suffering Nigerians to understand the level of poverty and unemployment in the country in the context of incidences of credit booms and bursts in the economy, and juxtaposed them with occurrences in the global economic system to which Nigeria is not immune.
There was no stopping Aganga. Continuing his counsel, he said there was an urgent need for the country to 're-order our education priorities in order to promote entrepreneurship and grow the middle class,' and emphasised the need to appreciate the 'relevance of the banking sector in the process of job creation.' The recent reforms in the sector, he continued with an obvious sense of accomplishment, had introduced good corporate governance in banks as the authorities now had better understanding of the core issues affecting the sector. Aganga, who also posited that there was need to diversify the capital market, described the establishment of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF, as a step in the right direction as it would help conserve some of the country's oil wealth for future generations.
Shamsudeen Usman, Minister of National Planning, blamed the whole gamut of problems confronting the nation on an apparent lack of shared vision, a situation in which, he said, all Nigerians must accept guilt. 'Lack of vision shared by all,' he observed, '(marked) the difference between us and others (especially) the so-called Asian Tigers.' He was, however, optimistic that the VISION 20:2020 policy, if faithfully implemented, would provide the much-needed direction for economic growth and development in all facets of national life. Jonathan agreed with him but added that 'no matter the vision, even if it was put in place by the best brains around, for it to succeed, there must be stability in the system.'
It was not all gloom and doom at the summit. With cautious optimism, the president assured that within the next five years, erratic power supply would be history in Nigeria, because stable power was key to galvanising all the comatose sectors of the economy back to life. He further informed the august gathering that his government had already started stimulating the economy through massive injection of funds into agriculture and the manufacturing sectors. To make assurance doubly sure, he said, 'from next year (2011), the capital budget will be driven by the Ministry of National Planning so that everyone will key into it. The budgetary pattern will follow the VISION 20:2020 document.'
Contributing to the Presidential Policy Dialogue, Justice Alfa Belgore, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, decried the present situation where State Election Tribunals required five judges to adjudicate on petitions. This, he said, was wrong and cumbersome. Consequently, he suggested that one judge per judicial division was enough to handle election petitions. 'The petitions,' Belgore emphasised, 'are not technical but based on facts. Cases lasting for as long three years make a mockery of our judicial system.' He, then, strongly advocated a review of the constitution to create clearly defined roles for the traditional institution in the country.
Justice Belgore was not done yet. He also drew attention to the multifarious problems assailing the education sector, as indicated by massive failures in crucial examinations and production of half-baked graduates by the country's higher institutions of learning, and called for a comprehensive review of the sector. Jonathan concurred, lamenting the level of rot in the system. He identified the challenges facing the sector. Chief among these are lack of dedication on the part of teachers, poor infrastructure, inadequate resources, the limitless liberalisation of the sector, resulting in uncontrolled expansion, and the failure of parents to spend quality time with their children because of the rat race for money.
As a parent and teacher, the president felt pained by the rot in the sector and pledged to arrest it, even as Usman intoned his optimism that VISION 20:2020 would take care of all these problems and usher in a new Nigeria every citizen would be proud of.
Rounding off the Presidential Policy Dialogue, Dr. Jonathan firmly pledged that his government would, among others, pursue policies that would strengthen the country and enable it play its roles effectively in continental and global affairs, build strong institutions that would ensure that citizens conduct their activities within the confines of the law and play by the rules; put in place policies that must endure and stand the test of time; make policy somersaults unattractive; and fine-tune the oil sector.
These, in his words, had become highly necessary in order to restore the confidence of Nigerians, at home and in the diaspora, in their fatherland, and boost their sense of patriotism. The president would not quit without a passing shot on the oil and gas industry. 'It is absurd that we sell our oil as crude and import the refined products. There should be no reason why we should be producing oil and importing refined products. We must be exporting crude and be producing refined products for local consumption and export. We should be selling refined oil to enhance our earnings.'
Drawing from past experiences, and the tenet of democracy that confers power on the people (civil authority), many in the audience had anticipated heavy presence of politicians at the three-day event which ran from Tuesday, October 19 to Thursday, the 21st. They had expected the politicians, especially leaders of the country's forefront political parties, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and the Labour Party, LP, to storm the place for rigorous debates. This is because the implementation or otherwise of the resolutions and policy statements resides squarely with the political authorities.
Sadly, apart from Adams Oshiomhole, the Comrade Governor of Edo State, and Senator Ike Ekwerenmadu, Deputy Senate President, who made a strong appearance, others stayed away. President Jonathan was also somewhat disappointed at the absence of his colleagues (co-presidential aspirants in the 2011 poll) as he observed, while officially declaring the summit open, saying:
'This being an election year, probably it would have been good if all the presidential aspirants were brought here to brainstorm and forge a blueprint for Nigeria's economic development for whoever becomes the president (next year).' Although the absence of heavyweight politicians forced the cancellation of the session for the parties to discuss their manifestoes, it did not diminish the fireworks the third plenary-Legislators Roundtable (VISION 2020 and the Legislature) expectedly generated.
Oshiomhole, who sneaked into the hall at about 3.35 p.m., on Day 1, and promptly took his seat in the back row, so as not to disrupt proceedings, gave everyone present more than enough to chew. His introduction, and subsequent invitation to the centre stage, sent the audience roaring in thunderous applause. His contributions were vintage Oshiomhole. Facing Ekwerenmadu and Shamsudeen Usman, he kick-started his argument with a critical review of the VISION 20:2020 agenda, a policy instrument primarily aimed at positioning Nigeria among the first 20 economies in the world. The radical Edo governor said although the policy looked good on paper, he feared that the same factors that aborted its precursor, VISION 2010, at infancy, may assail it.
Citing corruption, frequent policy somersaults, the usually unwieldy seize of government, the attendant profligacy by public office holders, among others, as the bane of good governance in Nigeria, he said of the policy document: 'Aside government, aside people like you (pointing at his co-debaters), not many people believe in VISON 2020. Eleven years ago, I was here in this same hall when the theme was VISION 2010. But looking back, we are more wasteful than we were 10 years ago. Our appetite for waste is huge.'
Oshiomhole also spoke on what he termed 'the politics of fuel subsidy'. He said, having been involved in the politics of subsidy for a reasonable period of time, especially during his days as president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, he could easily fault the figures bandied by the ministers and other representatives of government at the summit. Pointing to Shamsudeen, he said: 'The minister here has reeled out figures. They (the figures) are true but more than half of them are stolen.'
The governor, like many in the audience, came hard on government for its continuous failure to faithfully implement national budgets, a factor, which he insisted, not only slows down, but sometimes paralyses economic activities in the states. He absolved the National Assembly of any complicity in the malaise, declaring: 'Laws, for me, are useful to the extent that those who should implement (them) are ready to implement. Even at government-to-government level, the constitution is breached with impunity. Their deliberate determination not to implement budgets creates serious instability. In the past, instability in the polity and governance was caused by military coups. Now, it is caused by non-implementation of budgets by the Federal Government.'
Non-implementation of budgets, he continued, often creates ample opportunities for unscrupulous officials to manipulate the system and steal the country blind. Yet, only petty thieves get punished. For instance, he wondered: 'Why should the EFCC be prosecuting a local government who stole N10 million and leave a contractor and a minister who hiked the cost of constructing a two-kilometre runway to N60 billion? When will EFCC probe an ex-president (for his misdemeanour in office)?
When will the EFCC probe an ex-Chief of Army Staff (who misbehaved in office)? For God's sake, this country is for all of us.' Ekwerenmadu supported Oshiomhole's position, declaring that the executive had always observed the September deadline for the submission of the national budget to the National Assembly in the breach. 'That explains why there is delay in implementation,' he further posited. 'All these do not help to ascertain the revenue outlay.'
Although he debunked Oshiomhole's assertion that the Consumer Protection Bill had been lying in the National Assembly for about eight years without any tangible action, the Deputy Senate President agreed with the Edo governor that only 'common people' get punished for breach of the law in the country while big-time criminals walk freely in the streets, flaunt their ill-gotten wealth and even tout influence in hallowed quarters. 'We must get an efficient legal system to punish those who are corrupt and reward the diligent,' Ekwerenmadu said. 'We must get (big-time criminals) people to jail. Only poor people go to jail in this country.'
Tempers, naturally, spiked during discussion on the financial sector, especially the banking and stockbrokerage sub-sectors, with many fingering lack of transparency, under-the-table deals and sharp practices as some of those factors that sent the market crashing, and caused many investors to suffer stroke, heart attack and even death.
Michael Itegboje, president of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, CSI, and an elder of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria, rose in stout defence of its constituency and its professional members and rubbished the notion that imputes lack of transparency in the way some of his members transact business. (See Box 3). Although he agreed with President Goodluck Jonathan's assertion, during the Presidential Policy Dialogue, that lack of transparency in government business was the bane of development worldwide, Itegboje insisted that while 'it is true that we had cases of what people termed 'price manipulation', …the system is so transparent that no single individual can manipulate the prices and get away with it.
'You have no demand and you have no supply. The market is such that in a day, there are hundreds of price variations between the opening price and the closing price. And one thing is very clear; it is a computer-based system such that if you enter your price, you don't know what the other guy is going to enter. Allotment of shares is done on the basis of the highest price offered.
Not only that, if two prices entered at the same time, the system would check which entered first. And then if a price is at variance with the entire market system, that person may not even get any share. In terms of trading, there is transparency. But when it comes to the public offers, public issue, that is where you could say prices are manipulated to deceive or entice the public to take part. And that is outside the control of the stockbrokers. It is outside the control of the public.'
NES AND ITS TRAJECTORY
Since it was established in 1993 by the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan, the Nigerian Economic Summit has become a melting pot of sort for both public and private sectors of the economy to discuss the country's social and economic developments, and make recommendations on how to sustain the economy on the path of growth. Its activities are driven by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, a non-partisan private sector-led economic think-tank and advocacy group, currently headed by Mazi Ohuabunwa.
To achieve its mandate, the summit has, over the years, targeted four impact areas, namely: citizens' impact, economic impact, institutional impact, policy and regulation. While the first goal aims at achieving 'an increase in the earning power, security of lives and property, improved basic amenities, human rights, justice, fairness and equity', the second impact area is designed to 'achieve improved standard of living, contribution to GDP, monetary policy, industrialisation and national employment index.' The institutional impact focus of the summit targets the achievement of 'infrastructure development, skill acquisition and development, institutional reform and access to basic education.' Lastly, the fourth impact area aims to 'achieve policy implementation and formulation, enactment of an act and acceptance.'
At the 15th edition of the Nigerian Economic Summit, there was a consensus among delegates that globally acceptable benchmarks should be adopted to measure the progress made by the country in her economic development efforts. Not only that, such scorecards must be tallied against the framework of the Global Competitiveness Index, GCI, 'in order to hold stakeholders, particularly MDAs accountable on an ongoing basis in our march towards NV: 20: 2020.'
The objectives for this year's summit were encapsulated in five distinct focal areas. These include, one: 'to identify factors that have constrained the realisation of Nigeria's manifest destiny as a strong, prosperous and competitive nation through critical examination of the nexus between politics and the economy;' two: to 'encourage debate on Nigeria's leadership challenge and set an agenda for the transformational leadership required to mobilise, inspire and lead the needed change;' and third: to 'develop strategies for the attainment of the attributes of successful countries in furtherance of our ambition to become one of the 20 largest economies by 2020.'
The fourth goal was to 'awaken critical consciousness of citizens to their responsibilities to choose the path of social accountability synonymous with good leadership;' while the fifth was to 'sustain public-private sector dialogue and collaborative process in a democratic setting and obtain commitment of all stakeholders to the actions required to achieve the strategies developed at the summit.'
COUNTING THE GAINS
Such lofty objectives. But the big question is: Did the 16th Nigerian Economic Summit achieve these set objectives? Although those who spoke to us on the final day believed it was too early in the day to do any serious policy impact assessment of the summit, two men, understandably, walked tallest and were in obvious expansive mood as the summit coasted home after three days of frank and fruitful deliberations. They are Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, chairman/chief executive officer, CEO, of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc, also chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, and Mr. Frank Nweke Jnr., the unassuming and hard-working former Minister of Information, and NESG's Director General/Chief Executive Officer.
The two gentlemen had every cause to feel elated. Apart from the record crowd of private sector czars and top bureaucrats that daily converged on the Congress Hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, to cross-fertilise ideas and build networks, observers were optimistic that the well-organised summit would yield a strong policy document that, if faithfully implemented, should position Nigeria in the elite club of respected economies, not only in Africa but also across the globe.
Perhaps, some of the most important positions pushed powerfully by delegates to the summit may bear repetition here. One of them is for the country to build enduring institutions, tighten its systemic controls to plug avenues for profligacy. Another significant one is that all barriers should be removed to increase productivity, improve the power situation, restore dilapidated infrastructure, improve security and create a generally clement atmosphere for foreign investment and foreign investors to do fruitful business.
Of course, delegates were also strong on manpower development, and called for a comprehensive overhaul of the education system such that students would study courses that would help them become employers of labour, teachers would be more dedicated to their jobs, and parents would take sufficient interest in their children.
For the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, another icing on the cake of this year's National Economic Summit, is the fact that it was the first time in the 16-year history of the high profile programme that a sitting president, President Goodluck Jonathan, would sit for close to four hours, not just feeding the audience with the clichÃ© of how government has moved or is moving the nation forward, but frankly admitting the failings of government in critical areas of national life. He not only fielded questions from
the audience (and some of the questions were caustic), he, with uncommon patience, answered everyone, making frank commitments on returning Nigeria to work in no distant period. Before the summit broke into technical session (Sectoral Policy Dialogues) as the second day rolled into dusk, the Daily Sun team asked Ohuabunwa to appraise the proceedings so far.
He responded with cautious optimism, tracing the summit's genesis to 1993, that paradoxically tragic period in Nigeria's history when the country was dangerously roiling in an avoidable political crisis that threatened its very existence as an indivisible entity, through 1994 to 1995 when the international community began to view Nigeria as a pariah state.
But the summit rose from that gloom-doom situation to identify the problems stifling the nation's economy and national development, and decided that the way out of the doldrums was to fly on the wing of globalisation. '…When we were almost becoming a pariah state (from 1993 through 1995),' Ohuabunwa noted during the exclusive interview (see Box 2), 'the summit began to preach openness. We began to say that this was not the season that we should isolate ourselves. That isolation would not help us.
'There are people who can isolate themselves but they have the basic internal competences that can make them survive, like the Chinese did, and even like the Indians did. By the time they were opening up, that was when the wind of globalisation was blowing and they could not, in globalisation period, begin to work against the wind. They would not have succeeded. So, we felt that the best thing was to preach liberalisation, deregulation, privatisation, good governance, responsible governance, accountability, anti-corruption, and so on.'
Although the packages were meant for the wellness of the economy, and by implication better life for the populace, they came with some pills that the citizens, more often than not, found too bitter to swallow. But the good news, according to the chairman, is the summit has, over the years, gone beyond being a mere annual ritual to become a melting pot for both the public and private sectors to engage each other on how to make the nation work.
His words again: 'I think that by and large, what is significant is that this Nigerian Economic Summit has created a veritable platform for a responsible engagement between the private and public sectors of the economy. It has enabled the public sector to appreciate that the private sector has a significant role to play in the economy. And also that we, largely, have been able to get government to broaden their scope of appreciation of the economic issues.'
We took the ball back to Michael Itegboje, president of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, CSI, and asked him what he was taking away from the three-day summit. His reply was short and sharp. 'One,' he began, 'I saw, first-hand, a president who understands the issues and has a plan to deal and solve the issues. He seems to have a vision that he wants to implement in achieving VISION 2020. Second, I also see a desire in the hearts of people to see change happen in the right direction and the issues that Nigeria face are such that there are solutions and people are willing to proffer solutions.
Over the years, we blamed ourselves, we proffered solutions and at the end nothing was done. The difference this year is that people are insisting that 'look, we have these solutions, let us implement them'. For me, if we take that away, with that energy and truly apply our mind and intellect to implement them, I'm sure we will be better off. And then, one other thing is that we now have a yardstick for measuring progress each year based on the WEF World Competitive Index. With that, we would be able to come next year and say, 'how far have we gone? Did we improve on 2010 or are we worse off?' This will help the leadership at all levels now to say 'what we did well or what we did wrong'.'
Although they too were elated at the very high standard of discourse during the three days of frank deliberations, some CEOs, however, expressed an old fear. They worried about implementation of the document that the summit would eventually yield. They feared that government might not have enough political will to implement most of the salient recommendations by the delegates. Even if it does, they are still worried about what one of them described as 'the apparent lack of a solid guarantee that a new government would ensure continuity just in case the Jonathan Government fails to regain power in 2011.'
'While I agree with the president that his vision is a national vision and should be the vision of every Nigerian, what happens if he doesn't win re-election next year?' asked Wale Akinwande, the Chief Executive Officer of HAZONWAO Group in Lagos, who said he came to the summit to 'observe and feel the pulse of those who formulate policies that rule our businesses, and our life. 'Are we going to start all over again?'
Not necessarily, Dr. Usman responded, informing everyone that a bill, the Development Planning and Project Continuity Bill 2010 was being fine-tuned preparatory to its transmission to the National Assembly for consideration and subsequent enactment into law. Ekwerenmadu, the Deputy Senate President, confirmed, and assured that the National Assembly would expedite action on the bill whenever it was finally tabled.
When it becomes law, it will not only ensure full implementation of the VISION 20:2020 policy by successive governments, it will also forestall the usual practice whereby a new government comes in and throws its predecessor's policies and programmes to the trash can without proper evaluation, without weighing its merits, stage of implementation and quantum of investment already sunk into it.
'This has been the bane of economic development programmes in Nigeria,' a recently retired federal permanent secretary told Daily Sun after the closing ceremony. 'I was in federal civil service for close to 30 years and I spent the last 10 of these at the topmost level of the service. During my 30 years in service, I saw the urgency with which new governments demonised their predecessors and destroyed great programmes as if they were creations of some numskulls. It is not good for our country. It encourages waste and fuels corruption.
I'm happy that this government has taken a concrete step to stop the nonsense.'
Also speaking to the Daily Sun team, Ben Akabueze, Lagos State Commissioner for Finance, blamed the media and the civil society for not doing enough in exposing government antics in not faithfully implementing budgetary provisions. Rather than screaming each time the federal or any state government fails to abide by the law as regards budget implementation, he challenged the media and civil society organisations to carry out pain-staking investigations into the level of compliance, and apply the principle of exposure as to punish and expose such defaulting government or chief executive.
'If I refer to other climes,' Akabueze said, 'you see how far the press goes to keep people on their toes in terms of budgetary applications. For some years now, they have been publishing the monthly allocations right down to local governments. Which media organisation has taken it upon itself, which civil society organisation has actually sat down to say, 'this is the total you have been getting from the public treasury, show us what you did with it'?
'Budgets in Nigeria have been traditionally cast in monetary terms. They announce that they are going to spend N100 million on education. It is our duty to take them on and say, 'this N100 million, what does it translate to in practical terms?' Don't tell us how much you will spend on education, tell us how many classrooms you will build. How many desks you will construct, how many teachers you will employ so that at the end of the year we can go and check. Because if you say you are going to spend N100 million, you can spend the amount easily for no value.'
As we made to leave the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, that cool evening of Thursday, October 21, a CEO who had listened to our conversation with Akabueze walked up to us and echoed the Lagos State Finance Commissioner's challenge. He said as the NESG begins to condense the beautiful suggestions made by participants at the summit into a policy paper (and possibly begin preparations for the 17th edition), it might just be as well that the media and the civil society consider rising up to the commissioner's challenge.
He said if we do, it might just help in pinning President Jonathan and his men down to all those beautiful commitments they made during the event. And the commitments might just translate into action. And if this happens, the CEO lowered his voice, 'it may yet be dawn on creation day for Nigeria.'
And he left, smiling and swinging his coat as he walked towards his waiting car.