Like most of the things the Mohammadu Buhari’s administration has done concerning the dwindling economy, which has for all intent and purpose, entered recession, the recently concluded economic retreat, held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, has also failed to provide a suitable landmark or roadmap to fashion a resuscitating formula for the ailing Nigerian economy.
According to an economic expert, “the outcome of the retreat by President Muhammadu Buhari, his ministers and financial experts on during the week showed that the government was still clueless on how to get the economy out of the woods.”
At the meeting, where it was expected that the President would marshal out plans to deal with the economic, he turned around to call on his cabinet minister to ‘put on their thinking caps’ and think out of the box to develop the most effective strategies for pulling the nation out of its current economic slump.
He said: “Indeed, the challenges we face in the current recession require out-of-the-box thinking, to deploy strategies that involve engaging meaningfully with the private sector, to raise the level of private sector investments in the economy as a whole,” the president said at the opening of a ministerial retreat tagged: “Building Inter-ministerial Synergy for Effective Planning and Budgeting in Nigeria.”
He charged participants to design how best to implement his administration’s plans to rid the country of its dependence on oil, diversify the economy and bring the country out of recession.
Buhari-led administration’s handling of the nation’s economy has come under serious attacks by notable public figures as well as the ordinary man on the streets in the last few days, with many asking him to hasten up and deliver on the change he had promised the nation during his electioneering last year. Even with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) calling for his resignation.
Some of the critics in the last one-week include the Emir of Kano and former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Alhaji Mohammed Sanusi II; President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki; the Archbishop of Sokoto Dioceses, Hassan Kukah and another former Governor of the Central Bank, Prof. Charles Soludo.
Apart from calling on the President to be more rigorous in thinking through economic policies, seeking help from experts and private sector players to show him the way out of the woods, Kuka particularly asked the president to stop blaming the past governments and get down to business and move the country forward.
But the way things appear, Buhari seems to be sensitive to these criticisms when he gathered his ministers and told them to explore more coordinated approach to the formulation and implementation of the policies of government.
This leaves many wondering what the ministers who have watched the economy go into recession could do when they have been condemned in the past by experts that they lack thinking capacity.
A political critic Ekene Nwokoma, was livid with the outcome of the retreat, saying that he, as many other Nigerians had thought the coming together of the ‘so called’ men of timbre and caliber was to brainstorm on the possible solution to the economic quagmire the nation has sunk into, but the unfortunate became the case as it turned out to be another jamboree.
“Honestly, at the assemblage of these so called men of timbre and caliber, we had had high expectation of positive discussion, but the unfortunate thing is it turned out to be another jamboree; an exercise in futility. It further that the administration is further delving into cluelessness,” he said.
Buhari had told his congregation that there had been mismatch between government planned targets and budgetary outcomes at the national and sectoral levels in the past years, suggesting that this might have occurred because the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) had not been working together and building consensus around common national objectives.
This, he stated may have impeded growth and development of the country, explaining that the retreat was apt and timely, especially coming at a time when the process for the 2017 budget was in the offing and meant to correct this anomaly.
“It is in this context that this retreat has been designed to discuss issues around the state of the economy and build consensus amongst cabinet members and top government officials,” Buhari said, adding that the retreat would also serve as an opportunity to have a general overview of the economy and discuss the framework for the 2017 budget, its key priorities and deliverables.
The President’s assertion made stakeholders begin to wonder what basic economic blue print the administration had been working on in the past 16 months it took over the reins of power.
The Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) expressed disappointment with the outcome of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Economic Retreat in Abuja, saying it failed to address fundamental issues.
The chamber, which is the umbrella body of all manufacturers and industrialists in the Federal Capital Territory, said what transpired at the retreat did not meet the expectations of Nigerians who advocated it, alleging also that the Organised Private Sector (OPS) was not carried along in the organisation of the summit.
President of ACCI, Mr. Tony Ejinkeonye, said: “We had expected the National Economic Council to discuss possible ways of dragging out the Nigerian economy from the present recession.
“We expected to witness a conference where economic experts and stakeholders would join hands on approaches that would be geared towards rejuvenating the economy of our dear nation.”
Buhari, who sat through the first session, said he was ready to listen to the views of experienced economists and development experts on how best to implement his plans to rid the country of its oil dependence, diversify the economy and bring the country out of the current economic collapse.
“It is obvious that the retreat was just about speeches and stories; nobody can point at anything as being the tangible outcome of the meet,” said Barr. Leke Owoyemi.
The President looked ahead the future, saying that given that the retreat would background the 2017 budget, he expected that his ministers would come out with a determination and common position on how to have improved synergy amongst the various ministries and departments for the effective formulation and implementation of the upcoming budget.
Buhari expressed the commitment of his administration to leverage on private sector resources, through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and other arrangements, in order to augment the scarce budgetary resources at government’s disposal and accelerate investments in building critical infrastructure.
He said it was for this reason that some key non-spending agencies, such as the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the National Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) were invited to participate in the retreat.
“We are confident that the level of private investment will grow as we are determined to make it easier to do business in Nigeria by the reforms we are introducing under the auspices of the Presidential Committee on Ease of Doing Business.”
In his reaction, a PDP chieftain in Lagos, Joseph Nwali, said that for a long time now, the administration has been feeding the country with only rhetoric, complaints and accusations without anytime to suggest determination.
“The Nigerian people are dying by installment, and all we get is rhetoric, complaints and blames, passing bulk as if that is the reason they were elected. If you look closely, you will find that there is no iota of determination in the administration,” he said.
Buhari disclosed that government would continue to strategise on how it could turn the current challenges into opportunities for the nation, particularly the vibrant youth on whose shoulders laid the future of the country.
“This is why we have embarked on measures and actions that will open up the opportunities we have seen in the power, housing, agriculture, mining, trade and investment, Information Communication Technology (ICT) sectors, tourism, transport and other sectors,” he said, assuring the youth that government would remain steadfast in its effort to ensure greater progress and prosperity for them.
He further asked for the support and cooperation of the private sector’s domestic and foreign investors, the state and local governments, the National Assembly and the judiciary as well as all well-meaning Nigerians.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, in a private interface with newsmen later, declared that part of the government’s strategies to get the country out of recession was to invest in infrastructure.
While sympathising with the suffering masses, Adeosun said the government was aware that the nation was really heading into a difficult period. She nevertheless assured Nigerians that plans were on to turn things around for good.
Mr. Bismarck Rewane, Mr. Obadiah Mailafia, Mr. Bode Augusto and Dr. Ayo Teriba delivered papers at the one-day talk shop.
“What baffles me is the fact that these people keep telling us about our problems; no one has been able to chipped in solution or ordinary palliatives,” said an economic expert, who simply wished to be identified as Kachi.