Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the 2019 Nigeria Economic Outlook Conference (NEOC). The NEOC is designed as an agenda-setting conference that seeks to bring together the finest business and economic minds to discuss issues relating to Nigeria’s long-term growth, trade, investment and productivity.
The NEOC, rather than take a narrow view of providing some sort of forecast or mere outlook for the year, is a platform for the building of a coalition of ideas towards Nigeria’s long-term prosperity. Therefore, it seeks to provide continuous understanding of Nigeria, Africa and global economic progress, and what these mean for growth and jobs in the country.
This year’s theme “Reforms, Investments, Jobs” is both a recognition and urgent cry that the current legal and economic policy architecture is not likely to deliver prosperity for majority of Nigerians in the medium to long term. In this context, therefore, there is no better time to discuss reforms than now. Policy reforms are powerful for economic progress and prosperity. The sum of the world’s progress is the cumulative economic policies implemented. It’s the same in the advanced countries of the world, and China and India provides the most recent examples of the potency of sets of economic reforms towards lowering the rate of poverty, raising standard of living, and driving innovation.
In Nigeria as well, there is evidence that economic reforms can drive progress and reduce economic distortion. The Pension Acts is a good example of this. Indeed, between 2003 and 2007, economic reforms that include the fiscal oil price rule, establishment of the independence of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and the improvements in the country’s debt management process through the Debt Management Office (DMO) have all contributed to Nigeria’s economic stability and budgetary planning and execution. However, as a whole, our reform efforts tend to be weak and half-baked, late, inconsistently implemented, and few and far in between. We must therefore master how to conduct reforms, and provide a continuous mechanism for doing so.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, this year and the next few years are very pivotal ones for Nigeria. There are three key socio economic data of 2018 that suggest they are.
First, In June 2018, a Brookings report found that Nigeria has overtaken India to become the country with the largest population of people living in extreme poverty. The report claims that Nigeria has 87 million people in extreme poverty category and that this number is increasing by 6 people every minute. The report concluded that the rise in Nigeria’s poverty is driven by three parameters – low economic growth, high inequality, and population growth.
Second, in November, also in 2018, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released the latest available report on Nigeria’s unemployment. The report showed two staggering conclusions. One is that unemployment increased from 18.8% in Q3 2017 to 23.1% in Q3 2018, up by 5 percentage points just in a year. The second is that the labour force expanded by about 15 million in three years between 2015 and 2018. For instance, the labour force increased from 75.9 million in Q3 2015 to 90.5 million in Q3 2018.
Third, the 2018 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Nigerian government report also show that the population of out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million. As we deliberate here today, I leave you something to ponder on. While Nigeria sometimes spends up to N1.5 trillion Naira on fuel subsidies, it also spends about 6% of its annual budget on education.
Now, in the start of this speech, I mentioned that the NEOC is a platform for the coalition of ideas for Nigeria’s economic prosperity. Let me add that this will not be possible without a conference of partnerships. NEOC 2019 is enjoying unprecedented collaboration. Our speakers are very generous with their time, despite that we have paid no fees, nor given honorarium to them. We also have a number of thought and media partners that have helped in very incredible ways to get us to this point. They include Proshare, BusinessDay, Peter Bauer and Asoko Insight. Finally, we have partners that have put down their resources. I would like to thank United Capital for their immense support, and a number of friends that do not want their names mentioned who have supported this conference. Your support reinforces our belief that ultimate success is built on strong and enduring partnerships.
In conclusion, it is my hope that the conversations we will have here today will deepen the discussion of economic issues in Nigeria and serve as a call to action to kick start sustainable long-term economic growth in the country.
- Note: This is a modified version of the opening remarks made at the Nigeria Economic Outlook Conference (NEOC) 2019 held last week Tuesday 15th January 2019 at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos.