Nigeria’s Economic Sustainability and Presidential Quarterly Business Forum

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By Chukwuemeka Uwanaka

The Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) of the federal government recently submitted the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP). The ESC was established by President Muhammadu Buhari on March 30, 2020, due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the crashing of oil prices in the international market, as both events were bound to have significant effects on the Nigerian economy. With Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as chairman, the Committee had a mandate to develop with clarity, an economic sustainability plan that will identify fiscal and monetary measures to enhance oil and non-oil revenues in order to fund the plan. Also to be developed by the committee is a stimulus package, as well as measures that will not only keep existing jobs, but also create more jobs.

The NESP which was developed in consultation with Cabinet Ministers, Heads of Federal Agencies, the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC), State Governors and the National Assembly, was submitted on June 11, 2019. The plan has local content and self-reliance; economic stimulation; job preservation and creation; and pro-poor focus as its main principles. Some of the key interventions contained in the plan are a Mass Agricultural Programme (MAP), which intends to ensure the cultivation of between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmland in every state; an infrastructure programme for extensive public works and road construction programme, mass housing programme, installation of solar home systems and investment in healthcare infrastructure; informal sector support through low-interest loans, and the easing of procedures for registration, licensing, obtaining permits; and business support for MSMEs. Other major interventions under the plan are technology expansion for digital identification and broadband connectivity; expansions of the National Social Investment Programmes; reducing non-essential spending through rationalization of government agencies; and support for state governments.

The NESP has since been approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on June 24, 2020, and it can therefore be said to be awaiting implementation. A large part of its recommendations dwelt on policies and plans that will provide jobs and opportunities for economic sustainability, given that the global health pandemic could lead to the loss of 39.4 million jobs in Nigeria. The COVID-19 pandemic has by some estimates, caused more global economic harm than the Great Depression of 1929.

One of the lessons drawn from countries that have better managed this pandemic is the need for close interaction between government and the private sector, as a means of ensuring that policies of government are best suited for private sector recovery and sustainability. Such interaction will allow for periodic comparing of notes and assessment of policies to ensure that desired outcomes are met. With this in mind, as well as an understanding of the attitude of government to sometimes poorly implement well developed policy plans, the question then arises – “what approaches can be adopted to enhance the chances of successfully implementing the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan?”

In attempting an answer to this question, the Presidential Quarterly Business Forum (PQBF) readily comes to mind. As the ‘quarterly’ in the name implies, the PQBF was conceived by the current administration as an avenue for public-private sector interactions towards speedy attainment of the economic goals of government, with a lot of bias for economic stability through the promotion of the non-oil sector.

Following complaints by the private sector about gaps in policy making that do not allow for economic optimisation, the PQBF has provided a periodic opportunity for government and private sector to interact, allow for complaints and feedback, as well as enable input for economic development, especially in the real sector of the economy. As economic stimulation and job creation in the private sector are at the core of the NESP, the PQBF on the face of it should provide the federal government with the required platform to periodically assess the outcomes of the plan, as a means of ensuring its successful implementation. Economic plans are usually informed by projections, and the quarterly forum is well suited for periodic analysis of outcomes, as a means of making required amendments- where required.

Nine quarterly business fora have taken place since its commencement in 2016. The first forum, which took place on September 19, 2016, had an “Overview of the Nigerian Economy” as its topic. While the second forum on January 23, 2017 had “Interaction by OPS and Government on the state of the Economy” as its topic, the third in the series was captioned “The Creative Sector and the Digital Economy”, and took place on May 8, 2017.

“The Power Sector and Public Revenue Generation” on July 11, 2017 was the theme of the fourth forum, with “The Enabling Business Environment and Regulatory Frameworks” held on September 11, 2017 and “Agric Sector Export Incentives” held on November 27, 2017 constituting the fifth and sixth in the series.

March 19, 2018 was the date for the seventh forum themed “Revenue Collection Initiatives ERGP, EoDB, Industrial and Competitiveness Council Update”, while “Trade and Investment” on July 16, 2018 and “Job Creation” on October 8, 2018 made up the eighth and ninth fora.

These fora which normally consists of the Vice President, federal ministers and heads of MDAs on the part of government; and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) members of different chambers of commerce, industrialists, MSME operators and the Organised Private Sector (OPS) on the part of the private sector; may have contributed to Nigeria coming out of recession quickly in 2017, as well as the improvement in the country’s business environment, evidenced by progress from 169 out of 190 countries in 2016, to 131 in 2019 on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index.

The fragility of the Nigerian economy, especially with the effect of COVID-19 requires that all efforts that can enable the resurgence of the Nigerian economy be made. Clearly, the PQBF, which has not taken place since 2018, needs to be reconvened. The forum will go a long way in complementing the implementation of the NESP of the federal government as chaired by Vice President Osinbajo.

Given the ambitious nature of the plan, a resumption of the PQBF will contribute in ensuring that the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan does not end up being either poorly implemented or non-implemented, as has been the case with many plans and policies of government. The key interventions and principles of the plan are in themselves, topics for different quarterly fora.

Perhaps, it is worth reiterating that periodic assessment and evaluation is an integral part of successful strategic plan implementation, and controlling for the need to avoid creating new or overlapping governance avenues, the PQBF is perhaps one of the more efficient governance approaches for evaluation and assessment towards the successful implementation of the NESP.

As the ESC is expected to monitor implementation of the plan while the Vice President will regularly brief President Buhari on progress made, the PQBF when reconvened, will provide the opportunity for objective assessment, as well as preventing the critical stakeholders of government and the private sector from working at cross-purposes. The task of making the economy of Nigeria’s 200 million people resilient is a task that must be done.
Uwanaka, a policy analyst, writes through chukweks@yahoo.com