Mr. Kyari Abba Buka is the Chairman, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, NESG. In this interview with Vanguard, he spoke on some issues bedevilling the Nigerian economy, way forward, and activities of the forthcoming 21st summit slated for Abuja from October 13-15, 2015.



What is the objective of this 21ST summit?

The objective or rather let
me start with the theme of the 21st summit.  In Nigeria, we’ve been having the summit every year for the last 21 years since the Nigerian Economy Summit, Group was founded. This year’s theme is basically achieving competitiveness, inclusive growth and sustainability.

In economy such as ours, government especially with this new dispensation may indeed make tough choices because the things about the execution of strategy for an enterprise or for a country is that one must have the discipline and determination to say that these are the most important things that we need to pay attention to and we need to execute them. And for Nigeria, we have to be in a hurry to fix some of these issues; we have to be competitive or to be globally competitive and we cannot exonerate ourselves from the rest of the world. We have to pay attention to our infrastructure problem, and when people talk about the infrastructure and investment in infrastructure, it is of course to us the rail , roads, the water , our airport  etc.

The infrastructure is all the basic ingredients, that if they are in good running condition, the economy would continue to grow at a faster rate. Now, that of course, requires a lot of money and time to achieve.  However, the discussion to be expected in the summit is to pay attention to those aspects of the economy that would be fixing them and will basically catalyse to growth.  We have reported that in the past 10 years or so that Nigeria had grown at the average of 7 percent and so on and so forth. But these in my own personal views were not all that inclusive growth.  Nobody has kept statistics of that growth whether that growth is commensurate with employment growth, and how it affects the basic lives of the average citizens.

Now for us as a nation, one basic investment is the investment in human capital, whether it is health care or education these are very solid investment.Now inclusive growth basically means that small medium enterprises must be there and also social safety net must be included.

This is one of the things I like about this administration which they have outlined and we in the NESG commend this administration for some of the moves they are taken and discussion  going on in ensuring the availability of social net for the indigent citizens. And naturally when you are having growth, either economic growth or economic development one also most pay attention to sustainability and so the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs which is the sustainability development goals of the United Nations, we have to be cognisant of that and ensure that our growth is a sustainable one rather than a destructive one. So the theme basically encapsulate what I believe is what we want to put forth in the forthcoming summit.

The summit is the platform for public private sector dialogue and this is what the Nigeria economic summit had always been. It is a forum where the private sector and the public sector come in and discuss, debate, dialogue and at the end of the 3 day event we will now put together what we call a green book which will be the recommendations that come out from those discussions to share with the Federal Executive Council, FEC with the President being the head of the council.

Can you tell us briefly what has been the achievement of this Group since it was established?

If you can recollect the Nigeria Economic Summit Group was the vehicle that some 21 years ago recommended to government the policy of privatisation, So I remember for some people that could actually recollect most of the things that used to be run by government were not run efficiently and am not putting down our government counterpart but naturally  governments are not disposed to run businesses because governments are suppose to be the engine room of what  I called delivering social benefit . Basically there are more into social development rather than profit making of businesses.

The other side where we make policy recommendation for government whether it is in the area of foreign exchange or in the area of the banking reforms, oil and gas etc.  If you look at the green books of NESG from year to year you will see various policy recommendations that we have made. Starting from the very first one year of NESG, you would see how forward looking the Group have been the ship in Nigeria’s economic development and economic policies

The NESG is having a new leadership which you are heading. What do you hope to achieve under your leadership?

I came in as the Chairman of NESG this year replacing Mr. Folunsho Philips whose tenor had been quite fantastic and of course the C.E.O or the Chief Executive, Jayeola Laoye also came in at about the same time or a little bit later than me. In general terms some of the things we normally do we will continue to do them. However, we would also put a lot of emphasis on what we call fact based or evidence based research and issuing out papers so that the policies of government would be guided by data and the analysis of those data.

So that whatever that comes out of any NESG summit in terms of papers will be policy trust and would all be evidence base. The other thing that we will do is we are also looking at sustainability and in that regard is not just sustainability but succession planning so that the young ones would have role to play. We do believe very strongly in succession planning.  Some of us started working in NESG from inception. For me it goes back to 13 or 14years when I came back from the US some of the members like Jayeola, it was much earlier than that but then we were younger and we are the ones doing the rapperteur jobs, running around at night, burning the candles to meet deadlines and so on.

We need to bring in the young ones so that they also can  see the benefit of selfless service because this is one organisation that I would characterise to be very demanding . Some of the CEOs of major companies you see, the board and the members of the NESG reach out to them when we have issues to tackle.  We reach out to CEOs of oil and gas companies, if it is telecoms , we reach out  to CEO’s of those firms and they are always willing to support and help. And this is a group that literary people are paying to serve and there is no better national service than entity where not only are you serving but helping them financially to make sure that  policy  issue is not swept aside rather we want to make it  a primary or central conversation in Nigeria.

You mentioned that President Buhari will be one of the special guests. Beside the President, what other personalities are expected in the summit?

The President will be the chief guest, we would be having him at the opening and closing ceremonies and the Vice President as the special guest at the gala night and also there would be a plenary session where he would give key notes address and we are inviting the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. So basically, the legislative arm of government would be invited and all the thirty six governors through the governors’ forum.

We had invited those governors for our forthcoming discussions because when you are talking about national competitiveness or achieving competitiveness, the nation is made up of part, those part or component are the states. So, if Nigeria is to be competitive, our states must also be competitive so there should be an internal competition going on amongst the 36 states to see who is delivering one sort of service or the other. Whatever, it is that a state is doing well as a result of competitive advantage they need to push hard and stand out and if all 36 states are running and facing the same direction, then when you sum that up the nation will be extremely competitive so that is basically the thinking behind having the governors who will represent the six geo political areas of the country.

What are the criteria for participation beside the public sector and is the summit made for the general public?

The summit has a registration fee so people can actually go on line and register and pay their fees, and anybody who has paid its fee will actually attend. So the summit is for both the private and public sectors.  The attendance is also by virtual of membership, if somebody is a member of the Group or a company is a member of the Group, then their representatives will attend.

There are requirements for registration and the registration fee because a dialogue of this nature or composition of this kind of summit is very expensive and we are having it at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja and these kind of occasions you will see requires some level of cost and we have to under-write those cost by offsetting it with the registration and sponsorship if there are companies out there that are willing to sponsor. Such companies can approach the Nigerian Economic Summit Group secretariat so that we can take it.

What has been the relationship between the Government and NESG in the last couple of years?

The anchor counterpart to NESG has always been the National Planning Commission, NPC and the relationship has been very cordial and it has been very supportive and we basically work hand in hand.  If you can recollect last briefing session that took place which is called the joint planning committee, the committee which is made up of people from the public sector which is primarily driven and spare headed by the NPC and NESG. And so, our gateway to Nigerian government is through the NPC. We are getting excellent cooperation from the NPC as our counterpart and because it’s such a long time sustainable relationship it is the same set of individuals on both side that has been talking to each other and therefore that makes it fairly easier.

So I would encourage a better participation of the public sector in the Policy Commissions because remember the Policy Commissions are 10 in numbers and there are various different categories depending on which categories which maybe a department or ministry that is responsible for that category that will be involved in the Policy Commission discussion and seminar and workshops and something like that. So more robust to better participation is what we are expecting to see it happen from the public sector.

Can you briefly tell us some of the challenges faced by NESG over the past 21 years of its existence in terms of participation and organisation?

The number of participation had been drawn in terms of the attendance over the period of time. This year particularly we are concerned, nervous and I shouldn’t be sharing my concern publicly but we understand the economic difficulty that we are facing as a nation, however we are still pushing and encouraging our members to come and support this laudable summit. It is by so doing even in a period of hardship that we know that we had a sustainable institution or sustainable organisation like the NESG. People should go on line to the NESG website to register and attend the summit and it is going to be interesting discussion.

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