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#Davos2014: Our solutions must solve local problems

I think it’s fair to say that Nigeria had a good showing in Davos. That our country and President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, is actively participating in the annual meet up of the world’s most influential persons shows that there is yet belief in the potentials of Nigeria’s economy and her future.

It’s good to see that the hard work of readmitting Nigeria into a position of visibility on the international stage, which we made a priority in 1999, is yielding fruit.

However, I must reiterate that the task of turning all that economic potential into reality for our people needs more commitment.

It is undeniably a great objective to prioritise attracting foreign investment to Nigeria. But we should not allow ourselves to get carried away by all that excitement around Nigeria as the ‘next frontier’; or a part of the much-talked about MINT.

It is very important to focus on policies here at home, find a way to convert that exciting economic growth into real value in Lafia and Nnewi and Yenagoa and Birnin-Kebbi and Damaturu and everywhere else across the length and breadth of this country.

Security, infrastructure, and a taming of the red tape that kills so much opportunity should be given priority. Security especially needs more attention – the insurgency in the North, and piracy, oil theft and gas sabotage in the Niger Delta, these are harming our direct and indirect revenues, as well as our attractiveness as an investment location. I am seeing these effects first hand as an investor and business owner in both our North East and Niger Delta regions. The limitations to business are severely hindering our abilities to add more jobs.

The inability of the NNPC to effectively and honestly manage Nigeria’s oil resources gives cause for worry. And it doesn’t help that a key legislation like the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) seems to have died somewhere in the National Assembly.

The opaqueness, and the uncertainties, all of these affect investors’ decisions.

The road to rebuilding the Nigerian economy is littered with unnecessary bottlenecks. We need to support and encourage businesses which are capable of offering jobs to our young people, and provide practical incentives to employers, which would spur them to hire more.

We need to rein in government spending, especially recurrent expenditure, and keep our debt levels – domestic and foreign –in check. I remember in 1999 when I came into government with President Obasanjo, one of my key tasks was debt management and the general economy. It took only a few weeks to realise that we had no records of what the country’s true debt exposure was. After a few months of work with my team, we realised our exposure was so high, no decent investors would want to do businesses with us. Gladly, that economic team was able to find solutions to our debt problem. We do not have to return to those dark days.

The famous debt relief was hard-won, and we should not send ourselves back to the dire circumstances from which we paid a steep price for freedom.

Very importantly too, we need to save money. Our foreign reserves are still what they were in 2007. And the excess crude account, more than $20bn in 2007, is today almost empty. We can’t continue like this.

Finally, we need to ensure that we do not abandon our economic priorities as the politicking of 2015 gains momentum.

Those jobs for our youth can’t wait, those roads can’t, those schools can’t. The last thing we want to do is sacrifice our today in the race to win tomorrow.

That’s the surest way to ensure that in the long run, we’ll all end up losing.

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