A Senior Economic Adviser for the Open Society Foundation, Dr Oby Ezekwesili and President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Mr Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede have identified the need for “open economy” if the country is to thrive.
Both of them stated this while speaking as panelists during a plenary session of the 2017 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) held in Lagos with the theme, “African Business: Penetrating through Institution Building.”
The session has as its sub-theme: “The Great Debate, We Need Help to Grow,” and was chaired by Mr Bala Sanga who is the Attorney-General of Kebbi State with Gov. Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State and Mr Nika Gilauri, a former Gregorian Prime Minister, as panelists.
Ezekwesili said: “The idea that a country’s economy can be closed is not anything founded on facts, but we, however, have to determine the degree of openness of the economy. It is not possible to completely close an economy to the degree it cannot interact with other countries in the world.
“You cannot discuss openness with an ideology, it is better to use an evidence-based approach. When the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan was announced by this administration, I was of the opinion that you cannot create an economic reform plan that will not totally overhaul the system and the sectors we have in place.”
Ezekwesili, a one-time Minister of Education, said in line with the theme of the conference, the legal profession was duty bound to significantly help the country to grow its economy.
In his contribution, Aig-Imoukhuede said a closed economy would not thrive in a country like Nigeria, noting that internal growth was essential to the success of an open economy.
“In order to grow an economy, you need to find growth, you cannot do solely through internal growth, and no country in the world has been able to do it successfully.
“I am in support of an open approach to the economy; however, we need to note that the fact that we should pursue a totally open economy is worrisome.
Aig-Imoukhuede said there was a worrisome trend in the world where closed economy could be associated with nationalism.
“Looking at sectors of the economy that are opened up to both foreign and African investors, the lead is always taken by Africans, look at industries like construction, cement and manufacturing.
“If Africans spend to make our business environment as attractive for local investors as it is done for foreign investors, we will see a lot of changes. Looking at the quality of governance in African countries, Nigeria being the flag bearer, we have seen an ever worsening government policies. If you think that foreign entrepreneurship will totally transform this country, we will wait a long time,” the NSE president said.
El-Rufai stressed the need to support home-grown businesses in order for the Nigerian economy to experience a surge in growth.
“We need to support our technology, businesses and infrastructure, we need finance and help to support these ventures especially Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). When the administration came on board, we discovered that there were a lot of insecurity and we noticed a link between the insecurity and unemployment.
“If we totally open up our borders, the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) will be affected and there will be a surge in insecurity. We, however, need to strengthen our institutions and we need to do so much to strengthen the judiciary,” said El-Rufai, who was represented by Mr Chris Umar, the State Solicitor-General.
Gilauri, the former Prime Minister of Georgia, noted with satisfaction the establishment of strong trade agreements by Nigeria with foreign partners as well as engage in Public Private Partnerships (PPP).
He said: “Georgian economy was opened because that was the only way to fight corruption. The most closed economy was that of the Soviet Union and we all know what happened to the Soviet Union.
“Georgia was one of the most corrupt countries in the world and in five years, it became one of the least corrupt countries in the world and that was done by getting rid of all protection schemes.
“Good trade agreements with foreign countries as well as PPPs will boost the economy, Nigerian products need to be so good and competitive that Nigerians will start buying Made-in-Nigeria products.”