NESG Asks FG to Leverage on Technology, Agriculture to Boost Economy

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Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie

The President of Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Mr. Laoye Jaiyeola, has called on the federal government to identify key sectors of the economy, especially Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and the agricultural sectors and empower them in order to sustain the economy during the post-COVID-19 era.

Jaiyeola, while fielding questions yesterday when he appeared on a programme on Arise Television, a sister broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, said he was concerned about the state of the Nigerian economy in the post-COVID-19 era, which would usher in a new normal for Nigeria to deal with.

He advised the federal government to invest in agriculture and leverage technology in empowering states and small businesses like the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), to enable them to become innovative and more productive in sustaining the economy during the post-pandemic era.

He described the Economic Sustainability Committee, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo, which was set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to address the economy in the post-pandemic era, as a good initiative, but advised that government must focus on key sectors of the economy and leverage technology to achieve the committee’s objectives.

He said: “After COVID-19, global economies are expected to have a decline in GDP because of the adverse effect of COVID-19 on economies, and Nigeria’s GDP is expected to contract by three per cent this year. As a country, we need to diversify and government needs to pump more money into the economy. “Government also needs to identify some key priority areas like agriculture and technology that will add significant value to the Nigerian economy. Government must create the enabling environment for MSMEs to thrive in the post-COVID-19 era.

“Beyond what the federal government is doing, the state governments must think of new ways to generate money and depend less on federal allocations. State governments must be innovative to empower small businesses in their states, which will improve the volume of taxes generated by states. If we can leverage technology to deal with agriculture, we will have sufficient food supply in the country that can feed our citizens.”

Speaking on the impact of the lockdown, Jaiyeola, who is a financial expert, said those calling for the suspension of the lockdown have their reasons because most Nigerians live on daily and weekly wages to feed their families. “Such people need to go out on a daily basis to work and have money to take care of family needs or else they will be hit by hunger in the inside and the virus on the outside,” he added.

He, however, called on the federal government to roll out more testing centres and testing kits to address the rising cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

He also urged the federal government to list farmers among those on essential duties during the lockdown period in order to avert a food crisis.

Explaining the different measures that state governments could take to become economically viable, Jaiyeola said: “Every state in the country has the potential to be economically viable, but because the state governors are used to collecting monthly federal allocations, some are no longer innovative and they are not generating enough revenue for the state. “State governments should be able to attract foreign investors to their states, but the foreign investors are not motivated to come and invest in Nigeria because our ‘Ease of Doing Business’ is still poor.
“Oil prices have crashed and agriculture is the next alternative for the federal government to accept and promote. We need more research in agriculture to boost food production. “Agriculture in Nigeria accounts for 22-25 per cent of the country’s GDP, but this could be improved if priority is given to agriculture.”

Both the public and private sectors, he added, must come together to implement policies that would turn around the economy.

Jaiyeola who raised concern that the effects of COVID-19 may lead to job loss in the post-pandemic era, said: “MSMEs are the largest employers of labour in Nigeria because of their large population, accounting for about 85 per cent of Nigeria labour force.

“If MSMEs are empowered, there will be multiplicity of taxes and this will boost the country’s revenue. It is far better to give money to MSMEs than give money to households in the name of empowerment. This is because the MSMEs will invest the money in their small business and nurture the business to a successful growth level.”

He added that if MSMEs are empowered it would cushion the effect of job loss in the post-COVID-19 era.