Experts in Nigeria’s private sector have tasked President Muhammadu Buhari to not only listen but also implement recommendations of the newly formed Economic Advisory Council (EAC) in order to avoid the lacklustre performance of the country’s economy recorded in the last four years.
President Buhari on Monday constituted an Economic Advisory Council, headed by a renowned economist, Doyin Salami, to replace the existing Economic Management Team (EMT).
The new council, which will report directly to the president, is saddled with the responsibility of advising the president on economic policy matters, including fiscal analysis, economic growth and a range of internal and global economic issues working with the relevant cabinet members and heads of monetary and fiscal agencies.
But development experts and captains of industry who spoke with BusinessDay on Monday, while commending President Buhari for constituting the EAC, advised him not to treat the council, which is made up of respected economists, as a thing of decoration or as an image-laundering tool.
For s start, they urged President Buhari to act on some of the tough recommendations which some members of the council have spoken about in the past, such as reduction of government recurrent expenditure, increase in budget transparency, support for growth of export sector, accelerating public-private partnership for critical infrastructure that will invite private capital, eradication of fuel subsidies, among others. Muda Yusuf, director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), said the decision to set up an Economic Advisory Council was a step in the right direction.
He, however, hopes the government would also be bold enough not only listen but also follow their recommendations as well. “The newly-constituted economic advisory council is fully loaded with respected economists who will give dispassionate advice unlike politicians. Let’s hope the president will also listen to them,” Yusuf said.
Andrew Nevin, chief economist at PwC, said the establishment of the Economic Advisory Council was a very positive step as the Federal Government has promised to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. He, however, said this would only be possible with a private sector that is 10-15 times larger than today.
“The members of EAC are all outstanding thinkers and economists and the chairman Doyin Salami will undoubtedly provide excellent leadership. We are sure if the FG accepts the economic guidance of the EAC, Nigeria will prosper,” Nevin told BusinessDay by mail.
Ayo Akinwunmi of FSDH Merchant Bank said the Economic Advisory Council would set direction for the economy but added that the council is only working in advisory capacity and not economic management team. This, he said, implies the president can either take or ignore their recommendations.
“The more we have intelligent economists engaging or advising the government, the better for the economy. Due to the high calibre of the economic team, if some of the members feel they are just trumpeting, they may want to quit,” Akinwunmi told BusinessDay.
Other stakeholders said the immediate task before the EAC is to solve dwindling government finances which have taken a toll on public infrastructure and economic growth as government has failed to meet revenue projections for the past three years and there are no signs the trend will reverse this year.
In the first six months of 2019, the government raised N2.0 trillion, 30 percent off the mark of projected revenues of N2.9 trillion for that period, and N6.9 trillion for the full-year, according to data by the Ministry of Finance.
The EAC, according to a statement by Femi Adesina, presidential spokesman, will have monthly technical sessions as well as scheduled quarterly meetings with the president.
The chairman may, however, request for unscheduled meetings if the need arises. Other members of the council include Mohammed Sagagi, who will serve as vice-chairman; Ode Ojowu, member, and Shehu Yahaya, member.
Others are Iyabo Masha, Chukwuma Soludo, Bismark Rewane and Mohammed Salisu, who will serve as secretary (senior special assistant to the president, development policy). Salami, chairman of the council, was born in 1963.
He left the Central Bank of Nigeria in November 2017, after a stint as member of the CBN’s Monetary Policy Committee. He is a Senior Fellow/ Associate Professor and fulltime member of the faculty at the Lagos Business School (LBS), Pan-Atlantic University.