The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) meeting of October 7 and 8, 2019 was a massive gathering of key economic stakeholders from within and outside Nigeria. The event was attended by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, the DG Budget, Mr. Ben Akabueze, the governors of Ekiti, Ogun and Imo states.
The summit had the theme: “Nigeria 2050 shifting gears”. As the theme suggests, the conference focused on defining a roadmap for Nigeria’s economy to 2050 as vision 2020 and the economic recovery and group plan (ERGP) elapses next year. The 31-year-old vision or economic rejuvenation plan will focus on several sectors. Specific cases were made for education, small businesses, the agric sector and some others.
Key prepositions where also advanced at the summit. Though the recommendations of the conference haven’t been concluded, there were strong key points that the communique would naturally capture.
Key among the critical sectors to retool as Nigeria strives to compete with global giants in 2050 was education. Most speakers agreed that Nigeria’s current education system can’t produce the right skills and competencies required to function in this technology-driven world.
Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, the chairman of First Bank, said young people in Nigeria were receiving education in areas they do not need.
Awosika said there was need to declare a state of emergency in Nigeria’s education sector, a call even the president agreed was necessary.
“We need an emergency in the education sector. We can achieve what we want to when we identify where we want to go. We must redefine the education we are delivering to our children,” she said.
“We send children to school to study anything. They are not studying what they want. Nigerian graduates are wrongly trained in what they do not need,” she noted.
Mrs. Awoshika advised on the need to re-train graduates to channel human resources in the sectors they are needed most.
According to Awosika, Nigeria needs to identify where it wants to be to compete with top economies across the world.
Concerns around population growth were raised. Most speakers agreed that population could be an asset but right now Nigeria’s it is a burden because a significant number of the population is without proper formal education, thus largely unproductive. This concern was waved into rising cases of terrorism, banditory and kidnappings.
The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi who also spoke on the rising population of Nigeria projected to reach 400 million in 2050, said the population can also be turned into an asset.
Sanusi said all the issues Nigeria is facing, from Boko Haram, herdsmen, drug addiction, out of school children are all tied to the high population.
He said the population challenge is the most important demographic challenge being faced because as long as women are seen as baby factories, the population growth would increase.
Also speaking, the founder, Kukah Centre, Bishop Mathew Kukah, decried a situation where everything that provides opportunity for the country turns into a liability. He said the population should be a huge manpower base for the country to capitalize on, rather than being a liability.
Discusions also took place on entrepreneurship and youth empowerment. Participants agreed that more young people should take on the driver’s seat to drive the ecomomy towards realising the 2050 target.
A strong case was made to support young entrepreneurs in terms of access to capital and building capacity.
On the call for the private sector to invest in the economy as opposed to goverment investments, participants tasked the government to de-risk the investment space so that private capital will be comfortable to come in.
A strong voice on this was from the chairman, Economic Advisory Council, Dr Doyin Salami.
During plennary, he told the federal government to get out of business and allow the private sector to the driver’s seat.
Salami also told the government that since it’s wooing the private sector to take risks and invest in the economy, it must be willing to mitigate the risks businesses face.
He also said until federal and state governments put forward a unified front and take bold steps, it may find it challenging competing with the economic giants.
The point on the government synergizing with the states to drive one common economy as the nation matches to 2050 resonated well with other speakers.
The speakers also called for definite measures to be put in place so that various regime changes cannot affect the development plan towards 2050.
Issues around artificial intelligence and technology were also in core discussions. A strong case was made for investments in research and technology to drive the right kinds of innovations Nigeria needs to compete.
On the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, discussions were held around how Nigeria can benefit from the vast market the opportunity provides.
Ecobank Nigeria Managing Director /CEO, Mr. Patrick Akinwuntan, who led discussions on it, said Nigeria must adopt global standards in doing business and infrastructure development to benefit from the advantages.
He said Nigeria must take deliberate efforts to make it’s business environment competitive, adding that Nigerians would have to develop the right skills else skills movement across the continent would be a disadvantage for Nigeria.
The high point of the conference was an award to four entrepreneurs who won the pitching contest. The grand prize was N5m and the fourth prize was N1m. It was sponsored by Sterling Bank.