Nigeria Greatest Resource Is Its Human Resources - VP Osinbajo At Diaspora Investment Summit

Nigeria Greatest Resource Is Its Human Resources - VP Osinbajo At Diaspora Investment Summit

It is evident that our country’s greatest resource is not its material resources but its human resources, the abundant talent, ambitions and energy of our people; qualities that we carry about with us everywhere we go in the world.

Practically through the ages, nations and peoples have realised the immense potential and benefits in harnessing and utilizing their diaspora to drive national development.

Yesterday, I attended the Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit.

Considering that Nigeria has one of the most resilient, hardworking, intelligent and resourceful people in the Diaspora, in every field of human endeavour, it would be very tragic if we failed to tap this immense potential. It is in line with this understanding that we therefore unreservedly approved the organisation of this Summit, convened by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President (OSSAP) on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, in collaboration with Nigeria Diaspora Alumni Network (NiDAN), Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and under the auspices of the Diaspora Events International (DEI).

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I think it would be useful for me to begin by setting out a bit of context, about Nigeria’s circumstances in the last few years so that we can better understand the terrain.

Since May 2015, when this administration came into office, we have focused on three key areas: reviving and diversifying the economy, improving security and fighting corruption.

One of our first major economic tasks was the development of the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for the 2016 Budget of Change, as a short-term intervention that provided the basis for the development and implementation of the 2017 – 2020, Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).

You are all aware of how the questionable economic decisions and practices in recent years sowed the seeds of many of the economic troubles that became full-blown shortly after we came to office. We emerged from the biggest oil boom in the history of Nigeria with oil prices from within a $100 - $114 barrels, lasting from 2011 to 2014, but we emerged not just with depleted external reserves, but also no commensurate level of investment in infrastructure or the welfare of the Nigerian people. The economic growth we experienced between 2011 and 2014, averaging between 5 – 6 percent per annum, was driven mainly by high oil prices, which is how our economic growth story has always been because we haven’t always diversified our economy.

Naturally, high oil prices do not necessarily translate into jobs because the oil industry doesn’t employ many people nor does it mean shared prosperity of any kind for the majority of Nigerians, hence the talk, even at such time of ‘jobless’ growth.

It was an oil-fuelled party to which the majority of Nigerians were not invited. Only a small minority enjoyed the dividends, through oil lifting contracts, defence contracts, and generally brazen transfers of wealth from public coffers to private accounts.

It was on account of these ethically and sometimes economically poor decisions, and the monumental corruption that characterized those years, that we articulated our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, and the focus on Infrastructure, Social Investments, Agriculture and Industrialization. As President Buhari put it when we launched the ERGP, “we seek not just to take the Nigerian economy out of recession, but to place it on the path of sustained, inclusive and diversified growth.”

It is important to emphasize that no country in the world can progress with any kind of economic policy if there is the sort of corruption that we had seen in our country in the past few years. We need to deal with the issue of grand corruption. The fight against corruption must be central to our economic policies.

I am pleased to note that we are now out of the recession, and firmly on the path of sustained and diversified growth. In the last three years, we have seen growth in the non-oil sector and an impressive rise in the exports of agriculture products and solid minerals.

We have added 6million new taxpayers since 2015, a 50 percent increase in the taxpayer base as part of efforts at diversifying government revenues. Inflation is down dramatically from 18 percent in 2017 to about 11.1 percent today.  The Nigerian economy has continued to attract significant capital inflows, with a total value of capital importation into Nigeria in excess of $16billion in the first quarter of 2018.

Power generation and transmission are each up by about 40 to 50 percent; we are now doing about 7000MW in terms of power generation. We are diversifying from the National Grid to Off-grid solutions. In many cases, we are encouraging solar power and many other off-grid solutions in order to increase our general output and reception of power across the country.

After the declaration by Ministry of Power that you could have willing buyer and willing seller options, several investments are now coming into the country, looking for those opportunities where you can transmit, generate and distribute power on willing buyer and seller basis to industry and private users.

Foreign reserves are up to $42billion, from $29 billion in May 2015. We have a Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) that has been funded with $650million to focus on critical road projects in various parts of the country, including the long overdue Second Niger Bridge. We have completed so far, two of the railway projects we inherited, the Abuja light rail, the Abuja-Kaduna and we are close to finishing a third, the Warri-Aladja (which has been there for almost 30 years). We also started the Hydro-Mambilla Project and other projects on the table for close to 40 years. We are about to complete the first phase of a fourth, the Lagos-Kano rail, we are about to complete the Lagos-Ibadan end of it and we hope to complete that by January 2019.

Apart from the dismal state of the national infrastructure over the years, Nigeria’s challenging business environment had substantially raised the cost of doing business, which discouraged both domestic and foreign investors. Our administration’s Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) was established in 2016 with the target of attaining at least, the first 100 ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index by 2020. In 2017, Nigeria rose on the ranking by 24 places, our best performance ever.

We remain optimistic that as we intensify activities in implementing the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the economy will maintain a sustainable growth momentum, and although there’s still some way to go in achieving the target growth rates, the signs are strong that we are moving in the right direction. Let me at this point, reiterate that the Diaspora which you represent, is central to the implementation of the ERGP.

We recognize that government’s role in the 21st century must change from being any kind of sole provider or sole driver of the economy, to becoming an enabler of the necessary environment to drive private-sector-led innovation and market-based solutions.

In the area of security, which remains a major concern, we have made progress in the fight against terrorism, even with some recent setbacks; this has raised our resolve to completely neutralize the terrorist threat that Boko Haram represents.

Between 2016 and 2017, the Global Terrorism Index indicated that the number of deaths caused by Boko Haram in Nigeria dropped by 80 percent. In 2015, over 17 local governments in the Northeast were under the occupation of Boko Haram, and many forget also that Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, were under threat by the frequent incursions of Boko Haram. Today, none of that is in existence. Today, no local government is under the occupation of Boko Haram.

More than a million displaced persons have returned to their communities since we took office, and thousands of abducted persons have been freed. We remain committed to ensuring that those who are held in captivity, especially some of the Chibok girls that are left and all of the others held in captivity, are all freed. We are working on that on a daily basis, negotiating where it is possible, and looking for options to free these girls and other individuals wherever that is possible.

Roads, schools, hospitals and airports that have been shut for years in the Northeast have reopened, and we also averted, through our efforts and with the support of the international community, a looming spectre of mass starvation in a region that prior to Boko Haram was one of Nigeria’s major food producing areas.

In the Northcentral, we have also seen de-escalation in banditry and violence. In the hotspots of Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, Plateau, Zamfara and Kaduna, we have rolled out one of the most intensive multi-agency security operations in recent history. It is starting to bear fruit, with the dismantling of several criminal networks that had been terrorizing these areas in the past few years.

Our New Vision for the Niger Delta, focused on attaining holistic security, as a foundation for investment and economic prosperity, has produced dividends that strongly indicate that we are on the right path. Oil production has risen from dismal levels in 2016 (at some point, we were producing less than a million barrels a day) to an average of about 2 million barrels per day in 2018. The first set of privately-owned Modular Refineries being developed as part of the private-sector component of the vision, are currently being completed in Delta and Rivers States. One of them is a Brownfield Project that is being expanded from 1,000 barrels per day capacity to 10,000 barrels per day, while the other is a Greenfield Investment. As at yesterday, another of such modular refinery was coming on stream.

For those who may recall some of the engagements we had with the Niger Delta, we promised that we would ensure that we are able to put in place, some of the modular refineries that are actively engaged with the local communities. In each of the efforts, the communities are equity holders and stakeholders in the modular refineries. This for us is important in ensuring the communities are economic stakeholders in the development and economic opportunities in the Niger Delta.

In the implementation of the New Vision for the Niger Delta, we are seeing added evidence of the critical nexus between security on the one hand, and jobs and economic prosperity on the other.

In the fight against corruption, we have seen a huge clampdown on the grand corruption that robbed us of billions of dollars in military spending and oil contracts. We have scaled up the implementation of inherited policies like the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Bank Verification Number (BVN), which we have used effectively to cut down not just ghost workers, but also to track illegal movements of money. We introduced new policies like the Whistle Blowing Policy and the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit, to clean up the Civil Service Salary and Pension Payrolls. We have also made significant asset recoveries and our cash asset recovery now form a revenue item in our budgets. We think it is important that when we recover these items, there is a transparent process in disbursement of the items, which is why it is in the budget as a line and comes in as one of the revenue streams. We have also increased additions to landed property and other assets.

Increased cooperation with foreign governments has resulted in the signing of agreements aimed at plugging the loopholes through which public funds have been siphoned abroad. The result is that more of our commonwealth is staying behind in Nigeria to develop the country. That is why despite earning 60% less than in the previous 5 years, we are spending almost 5 times more in terms of investment in capital expenditure and infrastructure. In the past two budget cycles, we spent N2.7trillion on capital alone which is the highest spend in the history of Nigeria.

As we continue to make progress along these fronts, we strongly seek the cooperation and continued engagement of the Nigerian Diaspora. The ERGP outlines options for the Diaspora to invest in Nigeria through such mechanisms as our National Social Housing Programme, and our Foreign Currency Bonds.

In 2017, we launched Nigeria’s first-ever Diaspora Bond which was over-subscribed. We also launched our first-ever Sukuk and Green Bonds, we were the first country in Africa to launch a Green Bond, all of which are investment opportunities we think can be of advantage to those in the Diaspora. We will shortly be issuing a second Diaspora bond.

The ERGP also outlines a plan for a ‘Diaspora Medical Assistance Programme’ that will encourage Nigerian medical professionals abroad to provide volunteer health services here in Nigeria. These initiatives and many more, will be driven to implementation by the newly established Diaspora Commission, working hand-in-hand with other government agencies, the private sector and the diaspora community.

As a government, we will support whatever will facilitate the mobilization of investment and talent into Nigeria.

Nigeria today, is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of diaspora remittances. Every year, Nigerians abroad send back the equivalent of about $20billion home, almost the equivalent of our federal budget. Even as Foreign Investments have ebbed and flowed over the years, these remittance flows, a large percentage of which is informal, have mostly remained stable. Our diaspora community is an important resource in terms of revenue for Nigeria.

The Nigerian diaspora, like most Africa diaspora, have an emotional connection with their homeland that has impelled them to maintain contact with their home countries. The Internet and Social Media have of course, made it a lot easier for you to stay connected with home. You can read news online, contact family and friends cheaply on instant messaging apps, and generally stay informed on events and happenings as they unfold. And on top of this, you have a personal stake in the future of what you will always consider to be your home country.

Foresighted nations therefore, have the unique opportunity to take advantage of this attachment to encourage and indeed leverage their financial resources, experiences and expertise of the Diasporas in building their national economies. There is no doubt that many of you here have invested in some way or the other in Nigeria, in businesses, property or savings.

What we want to do as a country is to help create the environment that allows your investments to be made in a structured manner that brings maximum benefit to the Nigerian economy. We realize that it is also important for you to be able to have confidence that your investments are secure and protected.

This is what the policies being put in place by this administration seek to achieve, through the ERGP, PEBEC, the Executive Orders signed so far, and other initiatives. There are 9 Executive Orders, 5 of them are devoted to protecting investments in one way or the other and in promoting Ease of Doing Business in one way or the other.

Our focus on the diaspora is clearly evident from the fact that we are the first administration to appoint a Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, which has finally led to the establishment of the Diaspora Commission, headed by one of Nigeria’s most fervent champions of the diaspora cause, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

This inaugural Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit is a further demonstration of our seriousness about the role of the Nigerian diaspora in building our country. We want to partner with you and listen to you and implement your advice and insights.

I wish you enthusiastic and successful deliberations at this Summit. I am told that there will be Business-to-Business (B2B) engagements, as well as deliberations on the launch of a private-sector led Diaspora Fund that will safely, efficiently and effectively channel diaspora investments into the formal productive economy.

I urge you all to take full advantage of the various opportunities that are offered at this Summit. I encourage you all to seriously consider expanding your footprints in the country; visit often, be on the lookout for investment opportunities, and stay abreast of news and happenings.

Source: VP Osinbajo

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