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As Nigeria hosts the World Economic Forum on Africa, Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, told Kunle Aderinokun that the forum will translate to additional investments in the country
What does Nigeria bring to the table at this edition of the World Economic Forum on Africa?
The World Economic Forum is a very prestigious conference. Countries compete to host. South Africa has hosted the regional conference for many years now, 17 times in fact. Nigeria’s hosting is a true recognition of the progress we have made in the last decade on the back of painful but beneficial economic reforms. Nigeria is seen as an economy great potential in many sectors: agriculture, petrochemicals, manufacturing, solid minerals, creative industries and tourism. People are interested in all these. And they can see, they know that Nigeria is moving beyond potential as it is evident that Nigerian and foreign investors are making very successful investments in Nigeria. It’s beyond our natural advantages – size, population, mineral wealth; it is the reforms that are creating economic opportunities that make everyone want to be a player in our economy. The government is determined to press on with these reforms; it’s the only way we can create jobs for our people and also increase the quality of life.
How do you intend to use WEF to promote non-oil sector in Nigeria?
That is why international investors are much more interested in Nigeria. That is the big opportunity they see. Nigeria will reform its oil sector and make it contribute much more to inclusive growth, delivery of infrastructure, better education and healthcare. But we realise that non-oil sectors including manufacturing, real estate, mining and others, will deliver more in terms of jobs and even economic growth. The private sector entities that are successfully investing in these sectors are the best demonstration of the opportunities in Nigeria outside the oil sector. Many manufacturers making consumer goods are investing a lot in the latest production technologies and expanding the range of goods they are making in Nigeria. The Federal Government will continue to improve on everything that makes it easy for them to invest in Nigeria and that promotes the growth of consumer purchasing power-controlling inflation, greater investment in infrastructure etc.
How ready is Nigeria to host the World?
We just showed through the hosting of African Finance Ministers’ Conference that we can successfully host big events. We had only six months to prepare for that but we have been preparing to host WEF for over a year now. We have Frank Nweke Jr, the Director General of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), leading the secretariat of the Local Organising Committee. We have the Chief Economic Adviser and myself as co-chairs of the Steering Committee established by Mr. President. We have various sub committees that are working assiduously to make it happen. We are very ready. We showed in Davos early this year that we are ready. The WEF itself is impressed with our preparations.
How does the annual meeting in Davos compare to the regional meeting in Africa?
The World Economic Forum on Africa is one of the regional versions of the World Economic Forum. Other regional events in East Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and North America. Davos is the most popular since the Word Economic Forum itself is based in Switzerland.
The meeting in Africa draws big investors, development experts and other participants from all over the world. For instance, attendance in Abuja will be from over 70 countries. It is also attracting a lot of side meetings, some not related to WEF- that is, companies and organisations are hosting meetings on power, finance and other themes to take advantage of the congregation of such a large number of international investors in Nigeria for the World Economic Forum on Africa. So, the regional meetings are not much different from that of Davos except its scale. And of course, there is a far more attention on regional issues and also the host country compared to Davos which tends to focus on a global agenda.
Do you foresee investment to Nigeria rising as a result of hosting WEF Africa?
Yes. But we also have to understand it’s a gradual process. First you attract people, they see the opportunities and eventually, will attract incremental business. They will find in Nigeria that they have ready partners. We fully expect that it will result in additional business down the line as they find they can do business here. It is a very good opportunity to attract investment.
Is WEF on Africa the main government strategy for economic diplomacy in 2014?
WEF on Africa is just one aspect of our efforts at economic diplomacy. We have national commissions chaired by the Vice President Namadi Sambo with other countries such as Turkey. We have bilateral treaties. The minister of Trade & Investment hold meetings all over the world attracting businesses to Nigeria, WEF is just one.
What are the assurances on security?
I think the people coming to Nigeria are sophisticated people. If we have a serious problem, you would not have seen over 1,800 people during the Africa Finance Ministers meeting. They do due diligence through their embassies.
They do their research and know that Nigeria is safe enough to come. Personal safety is a personal thing and feeling can sometimes be different in the same circumstances. That said, unprecedented attention is being given to security.