The seventh anniversary of Realnews magazine witnessed the investiture of John Mahama, ex-president of Ghana, Mansur Muhtar, former Nigerian finance Minister, and four others into the Realnews Hall of Fame in appreciation for their support to the news organization in its quest to build a reputable and world class media institution whose watchword is professionalism and integrity
By Anayo Ezugwu
THE atmosphere at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, was electrified on Tuesday, November 19, when Nigerians from all walks of life assembled at the Realnews seventh anniversary lecture and investiture into the Realnews Hall of Fame. It was indeed a gathering of technocrats, academics, captains of industries, bankers, politicians, civil society groups and media practitioners, who converged to exchange ideas on how to move Nigeria and West Africa forward.
With former President John Mahama of Ghana, as the guest speaker and other renowned technocrats as discussants, the hall was filled with guests, who had anxiously come to hear the perspective of Ghanaians on the closure of Nigerian borders by the government since August this year.
Maureen Chigbo, publisher and editor of Realnews, set the pace for the day when she said that the lecture was one of the ways the magazine is contributing to the development of the nation by providing a forum for frank discussions by technocrats and influential personalities on the way forward for Nigeria as the hope for Africa.
She said the topic of the lecture, “Beyond Politics: An Economic Narrative for West Africa,” was informed by the need to escalate and broaden the conversation on the economic challenges facing the region with Nigeria as the regional economic powerhouse. This, she said, is against the background of the recently endorsed Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, ACFTA. “More countries in the West Coast are discovering oil, which is a finite resource. How about the danger of over-dependence on oil revenue and the unending call for economic diversification?”
In his opening remarks, Mansur Muhtar, vice president, Islamic Development Bank, IDB and former minister of finance in Nigeria, said despite the decline in oil revenue, oil will remain important in the medium-term for Nigeria. He said that Nigeria would continue to be a big player in the international oil and gas market. He urged the Nigerian government to address the security and stability challenges to optimise the production capacity and diversify the economy to reduce oil dependence.
“Nigeria is still a big player in the international oil market and largest oil producer in Africa, ranked 12th in the world; second largest amount of proved crude oil reserves in Africa; largest natural gas reserves on the continent and domestic production below potential, due to supply disruptions and low investment; global: Oil prices are likely to remain low due to large supply and stagnating demand,” he said.
Delivering the lecture, Mahama called on the Nigerian government to reopen its borders. He said the unilateral closure of the borders since August by Nigeria was a worrying development for the growth of free trade in the ECOWAS sub-region. He said it was unfair that the sub-regional economic activity and trade should suffer because of domestic institutional weaknesses in Nigeria.
He urged Nigeria to invest in strengthening its institutions and systems that are responsible for preventing the importation of illegal or prohibited goods. Mahama said he understood the harmful effects of unbridled smuggling of goods on the growth of local production in Nigeria. “The total closure of, especially, the Benin border is having a significant toll on many small and medium businesses, especially in Togo, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire that rely on this inter-country trade.”
Alex Okoh, director general, Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE and Margaret Olele, chief executive officer, American Business Council took turns to make their contributions as discussants.
Okoh, who was represented by Nurain Hassan Ibrahim, his technical adviser, said Africa should focus on what comes after oil. He said the sub-region needed to diversify into other aspects of the economy. According to him, the idea of the end of oil or beyond oil is something that is currently playing out not only in Nigeria but in other parts of the world.
“I think it is important when you look at the issues and understand why we must diversify. We have to look at the key areas that we can focus on, mainly when you look at the services that have been mentioned. Statistics has showed that 56 percent of the GDP comes from the services sector, which indicates that there are a lot of potentials for the non-oil sector.
“Also, Mansur said mentioned something while discussing looking beyond oil; he talked about inclusive and sustainable economic growth, which I think is very important. Government needs to encourage entrepreneurs and create incentives for them because government alone cannot generate all the jobs that are required,” he said.
On her part, Margaret Olele, chief executive officer, American Business Council, said West Africa needed to build infrastructure to support growth and development. She said it was one thing to have democracy and the next thing was to make it work for the people. “I would like to look at the politics in West Africa and to mention that both Mr. Chairman and His Excellency have mentioned political maturity, which is really very heartwarming because it really shows that African democracy was maturing.
“The American Business Council represents American businesses in Nigeria. Surely the issue about democracy in Africa is maturing and we want to see it improve the economy of West Africa. I would like to say that US government has a long standing trade partnership with West Africa. There are also funds coming in from the US to support trade in West Africa.
“Issues around infrastructure need to improve and I know that US companies are very keen towards this in West Africa. They also need to improve issues of governance in terms of business and how we can grow. On the issues of improving government institutions, we have capacity building programmes. These are areas I know we have experts. I’m talking about Nigeria specifically,” she said.