‘With Ehingbeti, Lagos has potential to become 3rd largest economy in SSA’

This week, business and political leaders, renowned economists, notable development experts, investors and outstanding scholars will come together for Ehingbeti 2021. BUNMI ONI, former managing director of Cadbury Plc and one of the private sector leaders, who committed themselves to nurturing the Ehingbeti concept, in this interview with HOPE MOSES-ASHIKE speaks on the past achievements and expectations of Ehingbeti. Excerpts:

Can you tell us briefly about Ehingbeti? Ehingbeti is a platform for key public and private sector leaders and stakeholders to brainstorm the socio- economic path for Lagos State in a bipartisan environment, with clear priorities, detailed implementation plan, as well as monitoring and evaluation of the initiatives on a continuous basis. This ensures that the economic agenda is aligned and sustained through succeeding administrations. The key is in the continuity of agenda, and avoidance of disjointed policies with the attendant risk of loss of focus. The principal strength of Ehingbeti are:

The openness in the discussions among key players, the diversity across demographic segments, and comprehensiveness of the agenda – especially economic, climate change, employment, and human development indices (health care, education, social security).

The active participation of the private sector, which must also accept its responsibility in driving positive economic growth through investment, fair labour practices and payment of taxes.

What can you say prompted the initiative?

Lagos State was and still is the fifth largest economy in Africa, the main driver of economic growth in Nigeria, and with an uncommon intrinsic vibrancy that characterises its demographic profile and serious potential. I was then the Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, the public-private policy advocacy platform at the national level, and the natural extension of that initiative was to run a similar exercise in Lagos, with the aim of helping to focus Government agenda and the expectations from the private sector.

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What was the experience as one of the private sector leaders involved in driving the process in the early years?

For such an initiative to succeed, Government buy-in was critical, and this helped in firing the vision. It was particularly instructive that Government was open to a critical examination of existing policies, and showed a readiness to make agreed adjustments. Obviously, some work was needed to bring all stakeholders on board, and to ensure that Ehingbeti was not just a “talk shop” but also an action forum.

The outcome of above is that Ehingbeti was able to record some early ‘wins’ in terms of policies implemented and goals delivered. That success fuelled its momentum and I believe sustains it today, in spite of the period when it did not hold.

Why do you think the private sector embraced Ehingbeti and took ownership of the process?

One of the key motivational factors for the private sector is to have an enabling environment to conduct profitable business and to fulfil its obligations in terms of taxes and corporate social responsibility. The private sector therefore had no inhibitions embracing Ehingbeti, in spite of the (expected) initial hesitancy among a minority group. This soon evaporated especially as more MSME businesses participated and felt they had a voice at the table.

Are there projects you see around Lagos that we can say came out of Ehingbeti?

The systematic and strategic implementation of major infrastructure projects is a glaring testimony. Among the principal ones are – the Free Trade Zone, management of canal network to reduce flooding, waste management, waterways development and ferry service, traffic management, revamp of healthcare and educational facilities, initiatives in power generation, construction of road networks and the light rail project, etc. The level of impact and success has varied, of course, but the impact is not in doubt even to sceptics.

As a socio-economic planning tool, should Ehingbeti model be replicated across the country?

No doubt, it should. Apart from creating a platform for tackling the challenging issues in each State, I believe it will create a healthy competition among the States, which will be for the benefit of both the leaders and the populace. For example, if we take the issue of open grazing and the attendant communal clashes we have seen, a strategic approach would have been for the private sector to set up large ranches so cattle are not driven over hundreds of Kilometres across the country.

By the way, with this practice, the cattle become gaunt and underfed. Setting up ranches will create new businesses and economic empowerment; for example, supplying fodder to the ranches, water systems, meat processing plants, and with it there can be different breeds of cows for meat and for milk. With this, two lucrative business segments are created in a short span of five years, i.e. meat and dairy industries, each with a comprehensive supply chain and linkages.

Other than providing land and perhaps water infrastructure, State Governments should not be seeking to set up ranches as they seem to be currently planning to do. Once successful models are created that employ thousands of people, those who do not see the need to change the nomadic lifestyle will soon find they can make more money by ranching.

It was particularly instructive that Government was open to a critical examination of existing policies, and showed a readiness to make agreed adjustments

The level of impact and success has varied, of course, but the impact is not in doubt even to sceptics

With Ehingbeti sustained, where do you see Lagos State in 20 years?

Lagos State has the potential to rise to the third largest economy in Sub-saharan Africa by GDP, after Nigeria and South Africa.

Are there other thoughts you would like to share?

First, I believe the Ehingbeti platform should become and remain centre-stage platform in strategic planning in Lagos. To make it more manageable, it can be structured in two layers – a high-level pre-ehingbeti summit comprising the cabinet and no more than 10 invited private sector players to map out a rolling five-year strategic plan, which feeds into Ehingbeti for receiving wider input to implementation process. Secondly, I believe the monitoring and evaluation should be stronger, and the results made more open. This makes everyone accountable for what they committed to do.

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