President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the convocation of a national economic conference aimed at rallying the country together to offer solutions to the current economic challenges facing Nigeria.
A top government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, disclosed this to a group of journalists in Abuja on Thursday.
The approval came barely a week after Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, called on the President to summon an emergency economic meeting to recommend specific solutions to the nation’s prevailing economic challenges to save the country’s economy from further drift.
The nation’s currency has slumped drastically against the dollar in recent months due largely to the scarcity of the foreign currency and the tough regulations of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
This appeared to have led to spiralling inflation in the country as most products are produced abroad, putting the nation’s foreign reserves and currency under intense pressure.
The price of crude oil in the international market has continued to fall since November 2014, threatening to frustrate the provisions of the nation’s N6.07tn 2016 budget.
Soyinka, who made the call when he visited the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in Abuja last Thursday, had said experts and consumers should be invited to the meeting.
“The President should call an emergency economic conference with experts to be invited – consumers, producers, labour unions, university experts, professors, etc. I think we really need an emergency economic conference, a rescue operation, bringing as many heads as possible together to plan the way forward,” Soyinka had said.
But the government source said the idea of the economic conference, which had tentatively been fixed for March 10 and 11, was first discussed at the 65th National Economic Council meeting held on January 28.
The council, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had all the state governors and the Central Bank Nigeria Governor, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and some ministers as members.
It has a constitutional role of advising the President on economic matters.
The source said the NEC members had in their deliberations called for a major conference, where the current economic situation of the country could be thoroughly discussed by all the states and the Federal Government.
He added that in approving the idea, the President himself would declare the conference open and participate fully in order to demonstrate his personal commitment to the idea.
He said the views of the private sector and non-state actors would also be sought at the conference.
The source explained that well-respected global experts were expected at the conference to aggregate the views of other governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental institutions.
The government official stated, “The NEC retreat, as is being called by the Federal Government and the states, becomes imperative amid dwindling oil prices with a direct and significant impact on the money now available for federal allocation and sharing between the FG, states and local government councils.
“For instance, the FG states and local governments shared a sum of N370.4bn a few days ago for the month of January 2016, which is a drop of more than N17bn from the N387.8bn shared the previous month of December last year.
“That could be compared for instance with what was shared in January 2014, which was N629bn and N503.6bn the previous December, both higher significantly than the present situation.
“Another concern of the FG and the states necessitating the economic conference is the drop in foreign reserves of the country, which is now already below $30bn and compelling the CBN to adopt tough forex measures, including the ban on certain items from forex funding and rationing.
“The depreciation of the value of naira has also become an attendant impact of the foreign exchange scarcity.”
He added that it was the President’s expectation that the conference would be solution-centered and also create an opportunity to rally the nation, the FG, states and private sector together for a clear and mutually beneficial economic direction.
“It is interesting that a respectable Nigerian (Soyinka) recently raised the idea of a national economic conference earlier this month, the same idea that had been decided by members of NEC at their January meeting. It shows there is indeed a wide consensus on the idea,” he said.
He explained that although government was not calling the conference an emergency one, it was clear that both federal and state governments agreed on the need to discuss frankly and develop innovative ways to take the country out of the economic challenges of the day.
The source explained that while the FG was clear on what direction it intended to drive the country economically, there was the need to rally the entire nation.
He said there was the need to call on the government and the people to tighten their belts and prepare for sacrifice.
“The President has already set the tone for frugality in spending by cutting off routine security votes among other cost-cutting measures.
“Besides, the idea of a Zero-Based Budgeting and Treasury Single Account are parts of the attempt by the Federal Government to tighten public revenues and finance,” he added.