By GARBA SHEHU

On Thursday last week, the Nigeria International Economic Partnership Forum was held in Manhattan, New York in the middle of the most important international event of the year: the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA. The Forum was enormously popular, attracting some 500 guests and delegates – almost double the expected number. While this resulted in a somewhat chaotic atmosphere at times, the Forum was a resounding success: a clear indication of investor confidence in Nigeria.

Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa and seeks to raise GDP to USD 965 billion-almost a trillion Dollars by 2027.

Under President Muhammadu Buhari, the nation has recorded marked progress in highways construction, bridges, railway, power, electrification and capacity addition in airports and their modernisation.

 As the President spoke, making the determination of his government to open more and more sectors of the economy to the private sector, a particular participant stunned not a few when he announced that he manages pension funds of USD 1.3 trillion, money well in excess Nigeria’s current GDP, five times over.

First, well over a billion dollars’ worth of deals benefitting Nigeria and her partners were signed at the Forum, including a $1.3 billion investment from Sun Africa for a new solar energy project; $70 million ring-fenced by Adryada and Noblesse Green Energy for a new biodiversity project; strategic financing support for a new refinery on the Niger Delta announced by Honeywell UOP; and a major philanthropic investment in data for Nigerian schools announced by Airtel Africa that would be setting up internet connection for 100 schools each year for five years running.

A highlight of the event was the Presidential Luncheon, which saw Guest of Honour President Buhari joined by CEOs and Senior Executives from some of the largest and most prominent American and African companies, including GE, Chevron, Honeywell, Bell Flight, Sun Africa, McGraw Hill, American Tower and many more.

 The full guest list of participants included the American Tower Corporation, Aveva, Big Sun Holdings, Citi, CrossBoundry Group, Cure Violence Global, Entrust, Educational Testing Service, ExxonMobil , GE Healthcare,Gilead Sciences and Hello Tractor.

Also in attendance were Google, McLarty Associates, Medici Land Governance, NBA, Odum Capital, Oracle, Pearson,Rendeavour, Roche,Seed Global Health, Standard Bank,TIAA/Nuveen, UBA America, the AfDB, African EXIM Bank and its US equivalent, Export Import Bank of United States headed by Reta Jo Lewis, the first ever African-American to lead the organisation, and the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, IDB.

We had also in actual participation, the World Food Programme, WFP; the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO; the International Fund for Agriculture, IFAD; and NEPAD agency for Africa.

Of course no one could have overlooked the overarching presence and actual participation of the Corporate Council of Africa whose current President, Florie Liser, addressed the meeting, saying that the organisation is pushing for a private sector roadmap to support investment in several sectors to aid economic growth in Nigeria.

Some of the country’s biggest corporations were also represented at the highest levels, including, but not limited to the great oil behemoth, the NNPC Limited, the Nigerian Ports Authority, the NIPC, NEXIM Bank, Ndimi’s Oriental Energy, First Bank, Airtel, Flour Mills Nigeria, the Fertilizer Producers Association of Nigeria, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and so many others.

Interestingly, there were also in attendance, several young Nigerian entrepreneurs who are continually making their mark on the global business landscape.

After breakfast and the opening session, we had the first plenary on Nigeria’s economic outlook and the second one on high level conversations about scaling up international partnerships for Nigeria on the development drive. Thereafter, eight breakout sessions convened simultaneously for the real business that brought everyone here.

There was a thematic group seeking answers to important questions about growing Nigeria’s agriculture for food security and access to export market. It addressed questions of increased investment in fertilizer and urea, opportunities for Nigeria-EU partnerships in view of the Russia-Ukraine war and such issues as the need for technology support and innovative financing mechanisms for agriculture.

Nigeria’s oil and gas sector came under discussion with a focus on “reforms, results and the road ahead”, where international interest was canvassed for the two pipeline projects taking Nigeria’s gas to Europe through Morocco and Algeria. Awareness was also raised by the NNPC Limited on the dangers of crude oil to Nigeria and the world at large. They called it “blood oil”.

The investment climate in Nigeria including systemic risk issues and the vistas of the African Continental Trade Agreement were also brought under focus.

Infrastructure opportunities in power, clean energy, transportation and water came under discussion, as did the ways and means of increasing capital flows into Nigeria, industrial financing, international development financing and the road to greater financial inclusion.

Nigeria also brought for international discussion at this forum, the quest for scaling up international resources for financing education in the continent as well the need for innovative deal-making mechanisms to link government, deal sponsors and international pools capital in the health sector.

There was also a very comprehensive discussion on the next steps for technology development: emerging technologies, satellite technology, digital communication, financing clean industries and the use of technology to combat insecurity.

There have been some of criticisms about the size of the venue and the number of guests; it can only be said that those making those criticisms have never experienced New York during UNGA – one of the world’s busiest and most important international events attended yearly by world leaders from around the globe.

 The President himself pointed to the significance of the representation at the forum when he said: “The beauty of this forum is that the Ministers responsible for all of these sectors are here today, as are some of Nigeria’s premier business leaders who are already excelling in these spaces.”

There were some who criticized the quality of speakers at the Forum. With a lineup that included the President himself, the country’s most senior ministers and the most senior executives from those prominent companies already mentioned, these claims can only be described as inaccurate. As for those bandying around other names of supposed speakers who did not attend, they are merely misinformed, and taking their information from a dated, draft list of potential invitees – not from the final list.

 Sadly, there are those who will always seek to criticize Nigeria for their own political gain and put her down even in moments of her greatest success. The resoundingly successful Nigeria International Economic Partnership Forum is a clear example. We look forward to an equally successful repeat next year.

Nigeria has everyone to thank for this successful programme, and not least in this category is the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, a veteran of the UN and global systems who was the linchpin of the entire event.

People may never come to Africa, but because giraffes are in zoos outside of Africa, they get to see them. The Olympics are taken around the world, yet we all know it is Greek. In the same vein, instead of the bronzes returning to Benin where even people from Ekpoma are unlikely to see, their value deteriorates and at the risk of being stolen, we can bargain with the foreign authorities that are currently in possession of them that certain financial percentages be repatriated to Nigeria. That way, the millions that get to see them abroad would not only know and appreciate its origins and the people that made them, they would also pay us for it.

In other words, any probe must be a piggyback on the ongoing reforms in the NSITF. The current management of the fund which is a year old has demonstrated it has all it takes to reposition the parastatal with over 5000 workers.

It is clearly a new day at the NSITF where the trail of the past is being effectively laid to rest under strategic reforms, building a wall to yesterday. With the approval by the Federal Executive Council for the digitisation of the operations of the fund, promoting accountability and transparency already buoyed by critical evaluation and right-placement of staff of the fund will take a notch higher. Unique, is that the current management team rather than being politicians, are technocrats who graduated up the ranks, without the political encumbrances associated with predecessors . Already, the time frame between complaints and compensation has been shut down from eternity it was, to 14 days and now 10 days! It even promises to narrow it the more with the introduction of a toll-free call centre within the next few months. How then does one further measure success than through the extent the fund has delivered on its core mandate – paying a total of 23,615 claims and compensation, worth N1.17b between June 2021 and June 2022. A giant step compared to the past! This, broken down comprises medical expenses, loss of productivity to employers, death and disability benefits, retirement benefits to disabled employees, among others.

Knowing full well that the primary focus of the agency is not just payment of compensation, rather prevention of work place mishaps- a healthy work place that enhances productivity, the fund has in one year given training to over 200 companies on occupational safety and health through support programmes across the six geo-political zones . It has further trained and certified over 60 of its staff members fund-wide on national examination aimed at making safety and health a culture in the world of work.

 The move into the informal sector where over 70 per cent of the Nigerian workers make daily livelihood is daring but remarkable. With a new department to formalise these regular workers and avail them the multiple benefits of the employee compensation, the NSITF is bound for upward swing.

*Shehu,SSAP, Media and Publicity, wrote from Abuja.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.