Uncertainty over economic summit

In fact, what has been thought of as a plan for an all-inclusive emergency economic summit by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government could after all be an extended discussion on the economy by state governors and officials of the Federal Government such as ministers at a yet-to-be-determined meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC).

The Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) had reportedly applauded the Federal Government’s decision to organise an emergency economic summit, describing it as a major step in salvaging the nation’s economy. Media reports at the weekend quoted a statement by the President of the chamber, Mr. Tony Ejinkeonye, in Abuja as saying that it was important for government to craft well-articulated terms of reference for the summit, given the state of the economy.

Notwithstanding, Nigerians yesterday expressed support for an immediate action, with a cross section of the business sector and the socio-political class calling for an inclusive but measured dialogue on the economy to stem the existing hardship. Such discussion, they say, should, however, take cognisance of previous economic conferences and recommendations, including relevant contents of the Vision 20: 2020, and the 2014 National Conference organised by the immediate past administration.

Contrary to the expectation of an expansive conference, sources within the presidency told The Guardian that the economic summit reportedly scheduled to hold between March 10 and 11 would have officials of federal and state governments iron out knotty issues in the economy, especially as they affect oil prices, foreign exchange and states’ inability to pay salaries.

But the Rivers State government on Sunday said it had no plans for an economic summit. The Commissioner for Information, Dr. Tams George, was quoted as saying that the state has a competent and proactive economic team that gives a weekly briefing to Governor Nyesom Wike on new revenue sources and economic management strategies.

According to George in an interview with The Guardian, the key priority of the state government is the prudent management of state finances. He said this was because no amount of money would ever be enough for a wasteful and reckless government. Thus, prudent management forms the centerpiece of the governor’s approach. “The cost of governance is also drastically low in the state,’’ he said.

A cross section of the business sector, socio-political class and the academia yesterday attempted to suggest a framework for what they thought was a much-needed economic summit.

Former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, Director-General, of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, President of the Aka Ikenga, Goddy Uwazurike, and Dean of Postgraduate Studies at the Bells University, Ota-Ogun State, Prof. Olugbenga Ogunmoyela, provided what should be a template for an economic summit:

Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had during a recent visit to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, urged President Buhari to convene an emergency economic summit.

Soyinka had said: “The economic condition of a nation and of a people does not deteriorate overnight. Something came before that deterioration. Recovery is going to take quite a while. The president should call an emergency economic conference, with experts to be invited — consumers, producers, labour unions, university experts, professors.

“I think we really need an emergency economic conference, a rescue operation bringing as many heads as possible together to plot the way forward.”

The Nobel laureate did not blaze the trail; many Nigerians had, since last year intensified calls for an economic conference.

For instance, in the wake of obvious lack of capacity by states to pay salaries Olatunbosun Oyintiloye, a member of the Osun State House of Assembly representing Obokun Constituency last year advocated the convening of a national stakeholders’ economic summit that would permanently address the dilemma surrounding the inability of several states to pay salaries and other economic issues. He also requested the Federal Government to bail out the states that were battling with unpaid salaries as part of intervention to stabilise the economy.

No presidential source could confirm that the Federal Government would still go ahead with the economic summit. Mr. Festus Akanbi, the media aide to Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, in a telephone interview with The Guardian, said there was no plan for an economic summit outside of government’s conventional meetings, especially as the Finance Ministry was yet to be briefed on the matter. “There is no way the Federal Government will do that kind of retreat without the (Finance) Ministry being aware. It could be that somebody is just trying to set an agenda,” said Akanbi.

While presidential spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Shehu Garba, could not confirm the details as requested in a text message sent by The Guardian Sunday night, a top-level official at Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s office stated that there was no plan for a full-blown economic summit.

According to him, what is being planned instead is an economic retreat ‘‘by the first or second week of March,’’ where members of the National Economic Council (NEC), including all the governors, would hold an extended debate on the economy.

Stressing that no date has been confirmed for the meeting, the official recalled that the state governors had during the NEC’s January 28, 2016 meeting canvassed a retreat between them and the Federal Government to extend the debate on the economy. “The governors said it would be good if their members could have an extended debate on the economy; it is the same National Economic Council that will meet to extend the discussion, and no date was set for any conference,” he said.

Those who are averse to an all-out economic summit have argued that implementing the yearly recommendations from the Nigeria Economic Summit (NES), now in its 22nd edition, would suffice to address Nigeria’s perennial economic challenges.

The NES is organised by the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), in partnership with the Federal Government. It is a non-partisan, private sector-led economic think-tank and advocacy group founded in 1993 by Nigeria’s business leaders representing key sectors of the economy. It has a core mandate of providing a platform for private and public sectors to dialogue about the growth and development of the country on a sustainable and continuous basis.

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