Abuja’s “Secretive” World Economic Forum, By Garba Shehu

Garba Shehu

With or without the World Economic Forum here, it is of paramount importance to bring a semblance of order to government finances.

As Nigeria gears up to host the World Economic Summit for Africa May 7-9 2014, civil servants and business conglomerates will be busy evolving ideas about how to cash on it to grow or advance government and individual agenda. But why is government keeping quiet about this very important event? Why is there no publicity, no mobilization of our countrymen and women for it?

The 24th Forum, holding in Nigeria for the first time, has as its theme, “Forging inclusive growth, creating jobs.” The government has a proposal to spend N11 billion, as proposed in this year’s budget, to host this event. The World Economic Forum, of which the Africa event is an off-shoot, says regional and global leaders would converge on the Nigerian capital to discuss “innovative structural reforms and investments that can sustain the continent’s growth while creating jobs and prosperity for all citizens.”

Forbes magazine, which published a profile of the Nigerian event, projects Africa’s population at 2billion by 2050 and says the continent would, sooner than later, have the largest workforce as projected by Harvard Business Review. The report puts African economy at two trillion US Dollars, indicating that a third of the countries on the continent enjoy growth rates exceeding six percent. Of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies, six are in Africa.

I am concerned, as are many citizens, that there is no awareness creation or mobilization at all going on to sensitize the citizens about this important upcoming event. With barely two months to go, government appears to be uninterested in engaging the stakeholders in relevant areas such as industry, agriculture, environment and the women and youth groups in the country, who suffer the most from joblessness.

What is extraordinary about the planning (or lack of it), for the WEF on Africa is that while there are clear guidelines posted online for TV and other forms of coverage of the Summit, there is no practical advocacy anywhere using pre-conference events, talk shows on radio, TV, newspapers or billboard advertising mobilizing Nigerians for participation or support for the program. How many Nigerians know that this big, continental event is coming to their country?

Don’t get me wrong. There are Nigerians — people like Aliko Dangote, the continent’s richest man; Michael Otedola, Otunba Mike Adenuga and the likes of them — who, even if this event is holding in the moon, they will know about it and can fly themselves to be in attendance. The question is: if this one is about “inclusive growth”, as it is, how much mobilization is going for the entire population with a view to sensitizing the local populace to appreciate and participate in that “inclusive growth”?

From the secrecy surrounding the build-up to the Abuja event, assumptions are already being made that government, which has lately been creating more scams than jobs, merely accepted to host the forum as a distraction from problems at home, such as corruption, which is the root problem of Nigeria. The culture of corruption alone dissuades large-scale investments. Even where administrative hurdles are overcome, prospective investors have to sometimes contend with political hurdles. Kano State recently won a battle against a vindictive Aviation Minister who would rather have foreign airlines use the airport in her home region instead of the Aminu Kano International Airport, their preferred destination.

Coupled with this is the concentration of wealth in a few hands and regions, to the exclusion of others, to the point, as you have in the North-East, that poverty and joblessness provide a fertile ground for recruitment into religious violence and insurgency against the state. Without jobs, Nigeria’s growth dividend means nothing. Unemployment is rising as more and more people get educated and would continue to do so as long as government continues to ignore the manufacturing sector and agriculture, carrying on as if they are only interested in dishing out scandalous duty waivers and concession to questionable importers. The situation of agriculture and industry will continue to dwindle. Our women and youths, the hardest hit by joblessness, will continue to be left behind. As a consequence, even the rural poor may continue to leave agriculture by migrating to low-productivity employment.

At a time when the energy sector, the mainstay of our economy is showing signs of unreliability and clear threats facing it from the shale gas revolution in the United States as well as the recent discoveries by Australia, estimated to rival the quantum of black gold in Saudi Arabia, our government should closely watch how Ghana, Angola, Kenya, Rwanda among others are taking advantage of rising wages in China to become alternative centres for global manufacturing.

With or without the World Economic Forum here, it is of paramount importance to bring a semblance of order to government finances. You don’t sack an activist Central Bank Governor for pointing out revenue leakages. With the WEF in view, a properly mobilized citizenry can be sensitized to appreciate the need for discipline in the government. Projects don’t get finished in Nigeria. The Enugu-Port-Harcourt expressway has been work-in-progress for more than a decade. So are the Abuja-Kubwa-Zuba and the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua expressways leading into and out of the Federal Capital City. When the late President issued the contracts, a timeline of 20 months was given for the completion of each of the projects. Seven years since the commencement of the ongoing work, contractors on the projects have practically stopped working, leaving road users to suffer inconvenience created by roadblocks, diversion and needless accidents. The tragic situation reminds many of the workers of the now dissolved Soviet Union who once joked among themselves that “as long as they pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.”

Without knowledge, public enlightenment and mobilization, it is hard to imagine what “Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs” would mean to a population sidelined completely in the planning, strategizing and hosting of this important continental summit, the World Economic Forum for Africa.


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