The 24th edition of the world economic forum on Africa holds in Nigeria despite pervading security fears that Boko Haram insurgents could strike at the venue of the event. Nigeria used the forum as a platform to showcase its economic power house
| By Vincent Nzemeke | May 19, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
DESPITE pervading security fears, the 24th edition of the world economic forum on Africa, WEF, opened in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital on Wednesday May 7, 2014. Participants consisting of heads of governments, statesmen, international business captains and technocrats from over 80 countries were present. For the first time, the forum is holding in West Africa and taking place in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, with the theme, ‘Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs’.
Before the forum, there were concerns about the state of insecurity in Nigeria, especially with the recent bombings in Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja where the event was billed to hold. The Nigerian government had the onerous task of assuring participants that adequate security would be provided in and around the venue of the forum. Preparations reached top gear a week before the event when the government directed that schools and government offices in the city to close throughout the duration of the forum.
To further assure intending visitors of their safety, Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan, during his media chat on Sunday May 5, 2014, reiterated that the government had put adequate security measures in place for the forum.
A day before the forum opened officially, security operatives were deployed to major roads and entry points in the city. On the same day, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s minister of finance, during a pre-event press briefing, said that the theme of the forum was apt, considering Nigeria’s need to grow its economy with a vision of being among the top 20 economies of the world by 2020. She also said that the Nigerian government intended to use the forum to seek ways of imparting the needed skills in the unemployed youths to make them employable.
Okonjo-Iweala said the decision to make Nigeria host the 24th edition of the forum was as a result of the efforts of Nigerian firms such as the Dangote Group, the First Bank Group, Oando and the Nigerian Stock Exchange who are increasingly active in the World Economic Forum and the recent engagement of the organisation by the Federal Government of Nigeria and its economic team. Okonjo-Iweala, said Nigeria would benefit a lot from hosting the forum. “Nigeria has 70 per cent of the ECOWAS economy, 30 per cent of the economy of sub-Saharan Africa and 21 per cent of Africa’s economy; this is a substantial chunk. So, our hosting of the meeting is meaningful, while the focus of the meeting is in line with our efforts to ensure that we have inclusive growth in the country,’’ she said.
She stressed that the forum would dwell on issues that would facilitate efforts to create jobs and reduce inequality in Africa. She said that the meeting would also address plans to create skills and improve the service delivery of public workers. The minister said that civil society groups, religious groups and private sector organisations would participate in the forum and recommend how the government could structure its policies to foster positive change in the region.
Going from general to the specifics, Okonjo-Iweala said that the Nigerian economy would benefit a lot from various initiatives that would be introduced by the forum.\ “There are specific things that will be of benefit to us as Nigeria for the forum being held here. The first is that there are several initiatives we have such as the `Grow Africa Initiative’ which is for funding of agriculture in the continent.
“They have been able to raise about N7 billion investments and about half of it will be coming to Nigeria; there is the healthcare initiative designed to strengthen people’s access to healthcare services. A skills initiative is being launched by the WEF and within that, we are going to see a new initiative of `Safe Schools’ being launched by the private sector in Nigeria,” the minister said.
On the opening day of the forum, African leaders expressed their commitment to increase investments in agriculture. The African leaders who are also partners of the Grow Africa initiative doubled their commitments in agricultural investment to $7.2 billion out of which $970 million had already been invested.
Speaking about the renewed commitment, President Goodluck Jonathan said it would guarantee food security in the continent. “There are huge opportunities in agriculture. This will create jobs and achieve food security. The key thing is not just producing enough food for local consumption, but also creating jobs along the value chain,” Jonathan said.
The opening day of the forum also featured the launch of safe school initiative, a new scheme aimed at protecting young people’s right to education in Nigeria by business leaders around the world.
The session was moderated by Adrian Monck, managing director, head of public engagement, world economic forum. Participants at the session included, Gordon Brown, former British prime minister, Aliko Dangote, president and chief executive officer, Dangote Group, Nigeria, Jim Ovia, former managing director/ chief executive officer, Zenith Bank, Nigeria, Nduka Obaigbena, chairman and editor-in-chief, Thisday Newspapers, Nigeria and Saadia Zahidi, head of gender parity and skills initiatives, world economic forum.
Brown said the initiative was borne out of a desperate need to reassure Nigerians and the world that school children in the northern part of the country are safe to acquire education. He added that the world could not stand by and watch thousands of girls afraid of going to school. “First of all, all our thoughts and our prayers are with the families of the 270 girls who were abducted and kidnapped nearly four weeks ago, and who have been held in captivity.
“I worry about their safety; our thoughts are about their families, and our worries about their future are at the epicentre of our attention. The pains, sorrows of parents, the harrowing nightmare of the parents and the young ones themselves have touched the conscience of the whole world.”
In his remarks on the initiative, Obaigbena, said: “We are all stunned by recent events in our country and their impact as well. At the same time, we could lose a generation of students if nothing is done urgently to address the situation which is fast threatening education in that part of the country.”
He said the coalition of business leaders across board met and decided to step in to halt the drift, noting that for some other reasons, many of the business leaders and Brown might not be visible, but would support the initiative.
Obaigbena also said the group was working and collaborating with the United Nations to put in place a structured response, noting that the pilot scheme would involve 500 schools in the first instance.
“It will involve Nigerians coming together to put resources on the table to work with communities, work with students, teachers at all levels to provide security and infrastructure for our schools. Inclusive growth means building for the future. The Safe Schools Initiative is a public-private partnership that will help protect our greatest asset, our young people, by giving them a safe environment where they can acquire the skills they need to realise their full potentials,” he said.
The second day of the forum opened with a special address by Goodluck Jonathan, president of Nigeria and Li Keqiang, premier of the People’s Republic of China. The session was chaired by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the world economic forum.
Jonathan, in his address, said the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram could be a turning point in the battle against insurgency in the country. “I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria,” Jonathan said. The Nigerian president thanked the delegates for their decision to attend the forum despite the security challenges in the country. Jonathan’s speech, focused on Nigeria and Africa’s promise of economic growth and development. He explained that his administration has put in place policies that would sustain the country’s growth.
On his part, Li, said China intends to continue its large investments in and aid to Africa, with a focus on helping to develop the continent’s infrastructure, from aviation to power generation to telecommunications. ”No political strings” will be attached, he added.