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Nigeria has successfully hosted the World Economic Forum for Africa. The event has come and gone and the organisers and the Nigerian authorities are counting their gains and losses.
Many Nigerians were apprehensive of the hosting of the event,believing that with the current insecurity, it was not expedient to host the event in Abuja. The Federal Government was bent on making the point that Nigeria was safe for all. Now that the event has held, what were the issues it threw up? With the benefit of hindsight, both sides have a point.
The Federal Government without thinking of the economic and social cost of the event granted a three-day holiday to Abuja residents.
The city was practically shut down. Businesses and government establishments were closed for the period of the event. Some parts of Abuja city where delegates were lodged were not accessible to motorists. Stern-looking soldiers were posted in the metropolis as if the country was at war.
The security checkpoints were something else. These made the city of Abuja a ghost town. It deprived the visitors the opportunity of seeing the real Nigerians who reside in Abuja. It made it look as if the government was not capable of protecting it citizens and the visitors if activities were in full gear in Abuja.
When I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Japan, US, Singapore, Turkey etc, I and my colleague went to town to feel and see what was happening in those parts of the world. We went by metro, tasted their food and went to see their shopping malls. But this was not the case with the World Economic Forum for Africa in Abuja.
The tight security presented a picture of a nation under siege. The government made it impossible for prospective investors to seek for relevant information on their own from government offices as well as business outfits.
The action of government instead of encouraging investment flow created a picture that may be difficult to erase from the minds of discerning investors. International event of this magnitude serves most of the time as business and pleasure as visitors would out of curiosity visit neighbouring towns, and in some cases, the countryside as tourists.
Nigeria lost the opportunity for the visitors to see the Abuja environs. Instead of putting the nation through this unwholesome experience in the eyes of the international community, the event should have held either in Lagos or Port Harcourt, where the needed security check would not have been so tight.
The Forum has attracted over $68 billion (about N12.9 trillion) in investment to the African continent, Dr. Philipp Rosler, the Managing Director of the Forum, said. He said the funds were in the form of Foreign Direct Investments as well as private and public investments across African countries, which would continue to yield results in the next years.
Rosler said the funds were targeted at investments in beautiful projects that would foster the agriculture sector, improve infrastructure such as roads and railways, hospitals, education, skills development and ICT. “What this means is that it is not just money, but opportunities for Africa and the reason why we are here is to unlock the opportunities for the improvement in the states of Africa,” he said.
These are commitments which have not translated into real time investments for now. How much of these investments will Nigeria be able to actualise to help it reduce the rising unemployment in the country depends on how friendly the business environment is and how those who made these commitments see Nigeria. For the first timers, if they have wrong impression about the country, they may not want to return to fulfill their promises. This is where first impression is so important in an event of this nature.
If the Federal Government had taken this into consideration, it may not have out of panic, declared public holiday in Abuja. African countries are competing for investment with the rest of the world. Investors go to where they feel safe and are sure of the safety of their investment. It would be difficult for the Federal Government to convince Nigerians that the impression that was created during the forum was assuring to foreign investors.
The organisers saw the event as one of the best in recent years. The forum, they argued, had achieved the mission of the organisers, which is “commitment to the growth of the world in three steps.”
The steps, according to Rosler are: “To create community of interest, to create community of purpose and lastly to have community of exchange. The WEFA, Abuja, has been able to achieve these.
For instance, in creating the community of interest, the articles during the event were more than 48,000 articles, which is three times more than that of last year. Millions of people have now realised that Africa is important in global economy. Secondly, we created the community of purpose.
The event won the nation some mileage in the war against terror as the world stood behind the country in denouncing Boko Haram and calling for the return of the girls they abducted. The event had more than 1,000 participants and they were here not withstanding all the reports about security.
They were here because of all the discussions and they send their voices of solidarity with the people of Nigeria. They came up with a common voice that they will never allow the terrorists and violence dictate global agenda and the people’s agenda for the African continent.
Elzie Kanza, the Director and Head of Africa WEF, said since May 2, there were about 50,000 social media items that mentioned WEF (A), Abuja. Kanza said the coverage had a total reach of over 2.1 billion, which is about 30 per cent of world population. This is huge, this has raised global focus on Nigeria and for many years to come those who have not been paying attention to the country will begin to inquire and desire to know more about Nigeria and its people.
The big question now is: Can government tap into these great openings to make the difference? Can this government, following the global goodwill against terror in Nigeria, deliver the crushing blow on Boko Haram? This is the final test for this government’s capacity to act decisively.