The recently concluded 23rd edition of the annual Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja provided experts and public officers another opportunity to discuss ways to stimulate the economy, reports Chineme Okafor
Conversations at the annual Nigerian Economic Summit (NES) are usually very enriching and thought-provoking.
As an unwritten rule that has lasted for ages, it is at such summits that interactions between government functionaries and business people are open-minded, especially from the side of private sector operators who use the opportunity to tell the government what they feel about the performance of the economy.
Hence, the 2018 edition of the annual NES which had as its theme, ‘Poverty to Prosperity: Making Governance and Institutions Work’, provided stakeholders such good occasion to review and proffer solution on how to move Nigeria’s economy away from its distress spot to a position it can afford citizens some measure of economic prosperity.
Plenaries and exchanges
Primed to last for two days, practical conversations at the NES indeed started out with a presidential dialogue on corruption and rule of law, a dilemma President Muhammadu Buhari, who incidentally the plenary was centred around, described as the greatest form of human rights violation.
Because businesses thrive where laws are well defined and clearly applied, Nigeria has reportedly been unable to create a system that prevents the diversion of public funds, enforce public sector accountability, improve on access to justice, ensure expeditious conclusion of litigations and undertake comprehensive reform of police services, to ensure businesses that find a home in her shores are safeguarded from such irregularities.
Thus, the plenary which had the founding Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government and Professor of Global Economic Governance, University of Oxford, Prof. Ngaire Woods, as its moderator, explored effective methods of overcoming these challenges.
How best to accelerate infrastructure investments; unlock the potential for sub-national economic cooperation; restore the financial viability of the Nigerian electricity supply industry; including mining the innate potential of Nigeria’s 23 million youth to turn the country’s economy around, were some of the other conversations that held at various breakout sessions and plenaries at the NES.
Also, there were conversations in plenaries where stakeholders talked about the need to turn existential risks into opportunities by exploiting the potential of regional and global markets; how the federal government could raise the $245 billion it requires to fund its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) out of which about $196 billion private sector investments are needed; the business potential in optimising Nigeria’s talent economy; as well as how necessary it is for the government to conclude what stakeholders consider unfinished public sector reforms to push the economy forward towards prosperity.
Specifically, the Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Mr. Asue Igholdalo, said despite government’s efforts towards economic recovery and growth, the Nigerian economy had remained vulnerable and needed to be revived.
Igholdalo, who spoke at the same time Buhari, who was represented by Vice President, Prof. yemi Osinbajo, urged Nigerians to find solution to the challenges of corruption in the country, noted that the implementation of several aspects of the ERGP needed to be continued irrespective of the upcoming 2019 general elections.
He added: “There has been positive output growth noticed in five successive quarters since March 2015 as shown by the improvements in key economic indicators, cost of living as measured by headline inflation, which declined steadily for 18 months until the slight upward blip in the last two months.
“Foreign reserves rose to a five year high to about $48 billion.
“Government must be commended for the efforts to provide for the poorest of the poor and some improvements in the country’s business environment and administrative processes resulting in the rise in the World Bank ease of doing business ranking 169 in 2016 to 145 in 2017.
“Despite these efforts, the country remains vulnerable on multiple fronts, namely economic, social and political underscored by negative trends in several socio-economic indicators,” he added.
Igholdalo, equally asked that the government should develop a transparent approach to monitoring and evaluating the ERGP.
He noted that the latest jobs report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) informed that unemployment and under-employment rates rose from 35.2 per cent in Q4 2016 to 40 per cent in Q3 2017.
According to him, this suggested that over four million Nigerians either lost their jobs or entered the labour market and remained unemployed, or were employed in jobs that were inadequate to support them during the period.
Having kept up its about 20-year pact with the NES, the First Bank of Nigeria organised sessions on emerging trends in Nigeria’s banking sector, chief of which was how the synergy between data analytics; artificial intelligence (AI) and big data have contributed to the level of digital revolution Nigeria’s banking industry has recorded so far, especially with regards to the growing demands from customers for improved digital banking services.
At the fintech summit, the focus was on the future of banking and the roles of AI and big data with considerations to how extremely large data sets are computationally analysed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations that relate to human behaviour and interactions.
The session which highlighted the fact that AI has created intelligent machines that work and react like humans, also indicated that banks now leverage the technological options of AI to reinvent their banking processes and gain unprecedented advantages.
Indeed, experts who converged at the event admitted that banks have continued to use AI reinvent their processes in a bid to create a sustainable future.
Such experts which included the Chairman of FBN, Mrs. Ibunkun Awosika, opined that the level of connectivity across the world which enables trades and transactions without stringent barriers, have equally made it necessary for banks in Nigeria to prioritise data acquisition and management.
They further explained that AI would continue to impact on data science application in banking.
“There is need to create a bridge that links what you know and what we know together to create a new door for the future that we are building.
It is about creating the right room where all these things are done by the right generation of people,” said Awosika.
She stressed the need to bridge gaps on data management.
She further stated: “Our digital lab is setup to be the bridge between the people and the knowledge that is emanating daily.
“The digital lab is the place we explore the things we know; with the things you are making up. Statistics globally show that the youthful population is the population right now.
“We should be concerned about how they live, what they do and how they think. We should foresee the future, before they see it.”
Similarly, the FBN’s Managing Director, Dr. Adeshola Adeduntan, in his remarks at the session, stated that banks must be willing and prepared to take advantage of the disruptive changes that the digital demands come with to remain competitive.
Adeduntan, who maintained that technologies like AI and big data would need to become part and parcel of bank’s business models, equally informed that his firm has taken up the challenge and recently invested about N5.2 million in a coding Hackathon competition.
He thus, advised players in the sector against investing in outdated systems at a time their primary stakeholders actively rely on technology to get by. According to him, in line with its corporate strategy to drive transformation through its products, processes and services, the bank would increase its technological support and collaboration with the tech communities to deepen its framework for technological inclusion.
Furthermore, FirstBank noted that the annual NES has positioned it as a front-liner in driving strategic policy influencing initiatives for national economic development, and that the platform has served as a Launchpad for it to pursue business development opportunities through Public-Private Partnerships (PPP).