Timing matters in everything. Less than twenty-four hours in office, two directives by Nigeria’s newly sworn-in President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, set the tone for emerging change, reverberating across the country and the world. Albeit, initially greeted with consternation and skepticism, steadily and inevitably, the doubt has given way to applause.
On President Tinubu’s first foreign trip, June 20th, 2023 – June 24th, 2023, to attend the Summit on New Global Financing Pact in Paris, France, the two master strokes of removing the age-long fuel subsidy and streamlining the dual exchange rates, paved way for new friendships, partnership deals and an inspirational presence on global stage. The President was attending his first international conference.
The historic decision on May 29th, 2023, to re-align the economy in his inaugural speech, completely altered the trajectory of Nigeria’s financial fortune, redefined trade and diplomatic relations, and showcased the President’s image as a reformist and a listener. Other actions on security, financial regulations, signing of bills, that directly impacted lives, also projected President Tinubu to the world for being a people-first leader.
The two decisions taken on the nation’s economy made President Tinubu a toast of world leaders and financial institutions at the Summit. The ovation by economic and financial experts for the courageous steps revealed more for the future, with the World Bank projecting, after the meeting in Paris, that Nigeria will save about $3.9 trillion in 2023, and N21 trillion between 2023 to 2025.
The seriousness and quick engagement of critical stakeholders in the economy, like trade unions, oil marketers, depot dealers, the NNPC Ltd by the administration was also taken by the foreign institutions as a deliberate attempt, and not political convenience, to take the country to a new height, as well as various initiatives and measures being out on the drawing board to alleviate the impacts.
The two-day Summit, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, was aimed at repositioning the global financial
architecture to reconsider less developed countries, who are dealing with debilitating debt hangovers, struggling through energy transitions, and still reeling from effects of climate change and Covid-19. President Tinubu seized the moment to start a new conversation about Nigeria.
A plethora of sideline meetings were lined before he arrived in Paris, and the President was careful in making the right choices for Nigeria’s economic prosperity. President Tinubu met with French President, Macron at the Elysée, President of Swiss, Alain Berset, at Palais Brongniart, President of Benin Republic, Patrice Talon, Director General of World Trade Organization, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, President of the African Development Bank, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim), Prof. Benedict Oramah and President of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Odile Renaud–Basso.
The President also held meetings with Senior Vice President of Airbus/ATR, Public Affairs, Laurent Rahul Domergue, on aviation matters and a two-hour marathon interaction with the Nigerian community based in France, where he outlined his vision for the economy, starting with a roadmap on palliatives to soothe the burden of subsidy removal. He sought “family” support for more inclusive growth, especially with technical expertise.
Every speaker at the forum thanked the President for taking the bull by the horn, and getting the “elephant’’ out of the way.
“You have shown we have a committed and competent leader. You are the first President of Nigeria, who has no godfather. You are your godfather. We are impressed with the removal of subsidies and streamlining of foreign exchange. We will wait for the palliatives,’’ Prof. Emmanuel Iga, a Nigerian in France, said.
The meeting with the Nigerian community was facilitated by Dele Alake, Special Adviser to the President, Special Duties, Communication and Strategy, who highlighted achievements of the administration within three weeks, assuring of better days for Nigerians.
“We are ready for business, and prepared to welcome investments,’’ President Tinubu said, while receiving the President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of AfreximBank, and President of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
The President assured the delegation of AfreximBank Executives led by Dr Oramah that the Federal Government will continue to stimulate the economy with policies that support investments in areas of Nigeria’s competitive advantage, particularly agriculture.
“We need reforms for national survival,’’ he added, noting that it would take sacrifice and audaciousness to reposition the economy, calling for more collaboration to consolidate and solidify. “We must stimulate recovery for the growth and prosperity of our people, which will not be far away. Nigeria is ready for global business and our reform is total. Nigeria is blessed with human and material resources.’’
The President of AfreximBank commended President Tinubu for the valiant steps in stopping the fuel subsidy and unification of the exchange rate, assuring the Nigerian leader of the full support of the financial and development institution on the ongoing reforms.Oramah said the bank was already building the first African Specialist Hospital in Abuja, and an Energy Bank, pledging to inject more money into the economy to further build confidence of investors. He listed areas of interventions to buoy the economy, like infrastructure, health, energy and agriculture.
An elated investor, Renaud-Basso said it would be a mistake for the development bank not to invest in Nigeria, after considering six potential economies for investment. She explained that the focus of the development bank would be on the private sector, especially Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs).
President Tinubu welcomed an investment of $520 million in specialised agro-processing zones by the African Development Bank (AfDB), praising the leader of the multilateral institution, Dr Adesina, for further opening up the economy for investments that provide job opportunities and reduction in poverty. The Nigerian leader said the agro-industrial project strengthens an area of advantage as he listed the priorities for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), including women and youth empowerment, infrastructure development, with stable electricity.
Dr Adesina thanked President Tinubu for the daring initiatives that had repositioned Nigerian economy in three weeks and stimulated appetite of investors from different parts of the world; removal of fuel subsidy and correcting the distortions of the exchange rate.
“First and foremost, it was a great opportunity for me to see His Excellency to personally commend him for the thoughts and ideas he has brought to the Summit in Paris. We discussed many things and I commended him for his boldness, his vision and determination to having macroeconomic stability in Nigeria.’’
“All these are right signals which the President is sending, which investors and the international community like and will attract investors,’’ Adesina added, “No bird can fly with its wings tied behind.’’
Senior Vice President of Airbus/ATR, Public Affairs, Laurent Rahul Domergue, assured the President that the company was prepared to invest in the aviation sector, particularly in supplying planes, maintenance and training.
President Tinubu and Talon agreed on creating a new platform of joint patrols and surveillance by the Customs, that will check importation of illegal goods into Nigeria, through the neighboring country, and they further reviewed the trade relations that will benefit the West Coast, and Africa. Talon pledged his support, saying “whatever is forbidden in Nigeria is forbidden in Benin.’’
To further demonstrate his seriousness on tightening the borders and controlling smuggling, the President told Talon that he had appointed a new acting Comptroller General for the Nigerian Customs Service, Adewale Bashir Adeniyi.
The Summit, attended by more 50 world leaders, including a rarely seen Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,
Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, was largely participatory, with syndicate sessions, and leaders of the developing countries challenging the host, and the more privileged leaders to “walk the talk.’’
The President’s every hug, and pumping of handshakes with members of the international community in Paris was followed with felicitation on the valorous step of removing the overdue subsidy on fuel, and streamlining of the exchange rate that had enriched a few for many years, enabled smuggling and impoverished majority of Nigerians.
Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance and Economy, Dr Okonjo-Iweala, had over many years called for removal of the subsidy, alongside multilateral institutions, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and economic experts, which cost about $10 billion annually.
Reviewing the outcome of the Summit, she said “there was an unprecedented frank but constructive dialogue between leaders from the south and north leading to a consensus on action against interlinked challenges of poverty, climate and inequality
and an action plan to solve them.”
An elated President Tinubu left Paris after the Summit with a promise to do more, especially in tackling poverty.
Oche Echeija Egwa is an Assistant Director in the Office of the Special Adviser to the President, Special Duties, Communication, and Strategy