Martins Hile, Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine

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  • Governance
  • SMEs
  • Social Development

Thoughts on future-proofing Nigeria's economy and social welfare from NDFF 2024 Conference 11 Jun 2024

At the Nigeria Development and Finance Forum (NDFF) 2024 Conference last month in Abuja, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, made the point that there has been no consistent ideology underpinning Nigeria's political economy over the last 30 years. According to Agbakoba, who is Senior Partner at Olisa Agbakoba Legal, “what drives economic development is continuity.” But the lack of institutional processes to embed development plans and implement consistent and long-term economic and social policies affected the country's ability to create a more stable and attractive environment for investment and growth.    

The former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) made these remarks while participating on a high-level panel session on “Future-Proofing Nigeria’s Economy and Social Welfare: A Sustainability Approach,” one of the six sessions of the two-day conference, which was themed “The Road to Economic and Social Welfare Transformation.” The goal of this panel session was to ignite a dialogue on future-proofing the Nigerian economy by proffering innovative solutions to address current vulnerabilities and other challenges, enable stakeholders to proactively prepare and adapt to potential problems, and increase the country's chances of long-term prosperity and stability.

Other speakers on the panel were Amina Salihu, Deputy Director at the Africa Office of MacArthur Foundation; Chamberlain Peterside, Chairman/CEO of Xcellon Capital Advisors; Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz, MD/CEO of Transmission Company of Nigeria, represented by Ogwu Benedict; and Jide Akintunde, CEO of Financial Nigeria International, who moderated the session. Emphasising a sustainability approach to making Nigeria's economy and social welfare future-proof, Akintunde observed the need to simultaneously integrate institutional performance, economic resilience, environmental stewardship, and social equity. These are the four mutually dependent sustainability principles advocated by the European Organisation for Sustainable Development (EOSD), which Financial Nigeria represents in Nigeria.

Sustainability or “holistic sustainability” as phrased by the EOSD is an important framework for understanding and navigating the interconnectedness of the institutional, economic, environmental, and social dimensions of the fast-changing world we live in. It ensures there is adequate commitment from organisations across all sectors to deliver long-term economic development, protect the environmental, and make social progress a reality.

Extreme climate events are destroying habitats and disrupting ecosystems that human lives and livelihoods depend on at unprecedented rates. Failure to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and invest in adaptation to boost the resilience to climate change will result in crystallisation of climate disaster risks. The global landscape of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are rapidly advancing and many studies have predicted the likelihood of AI to disrupt the global labour market. Countries that fail to build the infrastructure and train their workforces to adopt new technologies will fall behind in competitiveness and productivity.

Future-proofing through a sustainability approach is, therefore, essential to building resilience and thriving in the face of change. One of the core insights for this approach, as advanced by the speakers at NDFF 2024 Conference, is the need for long-term planning and policy continuity. This entails setting attainable long-term goals supported by short and medium-term objectives and benchmarks, and aligning with global development trends. For instance, by integrating the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into Nigeria's national policies and strategies, the country can have a clearer focus on its sustainable development trajectory.

By virtue of their coverage of areas like poverty eradication, reduction of inequalities, climate action, and economic growth, the SDGs provide a comprehensive framework for future-proofing economies and social welfare systems. They offer tools to inform policy decisions and track progress towards sustainability goals. Indeed, many countries are mainstreaming SDGs in their national strategies. Finland, Italy, China, and Bangladesh, and several other countries have applied the goals to develop National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDS) as a means of harmonising sectoral economic, social, and environmental policies, while strengthening institutional capacities to drive progress towards sustainable development.  

To ensure policy continuity, national development plans that outline Nigeria’s long-term goals and priorities can be developed by an independent body in collaboration with stakeholders from across major political parties. Such plans can then be made into laws by the National Assembly.

Effective governance is also crucial for implementing policies and practices towards achieving a sustainable future. It is a requisite for deepening the institutional processes needed to effect policies, manage human and other resources well, and ensure transparency and accountability. Effective governance culture is important for building public trust and increasing market confidence.

Effective sustainability governance demands that governments, businesses, and other organisations embed environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations in decision-making. This helps in reducing exposures to the full spectrum of ESG risks, while creating and optimising opportunities.

Adopting ESG best practices in the public sector can help in future-proofing Nigeria's economic and social progress by enabling decisionmakers to start viewing the portfolio of institutional, economic, environmental, and social risks as interrelated. This awareness can be used to control, mitigate, or reduce risk exposure. It will also encourage more businesses to adopt ESG criteria, which can drive sustainable practices across industries.

One of the biggest risks Nigeria is beset with is that of climate change, with women and the poorest communities disproportionately exposed to climate change-related environmental and health impacts. A report by UN Women says women are more vulnerable to climate change due to economic, social, and cultural factors.

At the NDFF 2024 Conference, Amina Salihu clearly and forcefully underscored the point that the stereotypes and biases perpetuating the vulnerabilities that women face need to be removed. Salihu said lack of gender sensitivity in development agenda results in "development that is endangered," adding that policies and practices that promote gender equality, increase access to opportunities for women, and foster inclusive workplace cultures should be implemented to achieve economic and social transformation in Nigeria.

A sustainable Nigerian economy must be inclusive, ensuring that all members of society benefit from economic growth. In this sense, an important argument at NDFF 2024 Conference was that a sustainable economy, which Nigerian policymakers should aim for, is not one that is necessarily competitive in size. Peterisde said while the goal of becoming a $1 trillion economy may be desirable, what is more important for Nigeria is achieving shared prosperity, gender equality, and resilience to global economic and climate shocks.

Nigeria's preeminent competitiveness ought to be in the provision of quality education, advancement in technology and innovation, supply of skilled workforce and job opportunities, and food security. Also fundamental to Nigeria's long-term economic and social stability is energy security. Ogwu Benedict spoke on the company's strategic long-term plan to mobilise funding for the expansion of Nigeria's electricity grid network and efforts to increase capacity and efficiency in managing the grid system.

Addressing Nigeria’s energy insecurity requires significantly vast investments, policy coordination efforts, and the political will to diversify energy sources, accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, and promote efficient energy use. The economic and social welfare imperatives of making the transition to sustainable energy security were underlined during the special session on the Nigerian Green Economy, one of the two industry-focused sessions of the conference, the other being the special session on the Nigerian Blue Economy.

Other important areas of competitiveness that Nigeria needs, such as a strong and inclusive healthcare marketplace, access to effective social safety nets and welfare programmes, and stable macroeconomic environment were thoroughly deliberated upon during the other panel sessions of NDFF 2024 Conference. The robust discussions and ideas generated at the conference should be adopted by policymakers in building a country that can effectively address its current pathologies, withstand future challenges, and deliver long-term prosperity for all citizens.

A future-proofed Nigeria will be proactive, forward-thinking, and have embraced sustainability. It will have invested and continue to invest in its people. A Nigerian economy that is competitive on the world stage and is more attractive to investors will have strong institutions and continue to strengthen them, ensuring that governance and regulatory frameworks adhere well to best practices.

Martins Hile is a sustainability strategist and editorial consultant.