Driving investments through ERPG Focus Labs

With just six weeks of the ERGP Focus Lab yielding N22.5 billion investments, analysts say consistency in implementation is the key to success. However, will the labs not be caught in the old web of will power to follow up on implementation? BENJAMIN UMUTEME writes.

When the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERPG) was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari, its overall objective was to restore growth and provide strategic economic direction for the country over the medium term, 2017 to 2020, with a target of 7 per cent growth rate by 2020 and 15 million jobs over the plan period. According to President Buhari at the launch: “We need to diversify the economy so that we can never again rely on one single commodity to survive as a country.

So that we can produce the food we eat, make our own textile, and produce most of the things we use. We need to create an environment for our young people to innovate and create jobs through technology.”

Noticeably, the firming up of oil prices and the ERGP implementation has helped the country to quickly recover from its oil induced recession into a positive position leading to improvement in key economic indicators. In order to consolidate on this gain, the federal government decided to conduct sector specific labs as part of the implementation of the ERGP.

The ERGP Focus Labs The Focus Labs which is a novel idea in Nigeria are expected to serve as a platform for not only solving problems but also attracting investments. The Focus labs are designed to tackle complex challenges by bringing together all stakeholders to identify the root causes of the challenges, and generate ideas and resources to solve them.

The labs were expected to focus on the following areas namely: Agriculture and Transportation; Manufacturing and Processing; and Power and Gas specifically to identify projects that will drive catalytic growth and impact; and that have the capacity to contribute by increasing private investments and creating new jobs for Nigerians; unlock private investments that are stranded/stalled due to red tape and bureaucracy; breakdown ‘silos’ to harness private to public partnerships; and develop clear down to earth implementation plans for each Entry Point Project (EPP), with identified budgets, key individuals responsible for these activities and accountable lead ministries, along with key performance indicators (KPIs). After six weeks and 67,200 manhours which involved 300participants from 180 organizations leading to 20 syndicated meeting, the target of unlocking at least $25 billion was from the private sector was almost achieved.

Outcomes On the whole, the labs were able to identify 164 projects spread out over all the 6 geopolitical zones of the country with a total potential investment worth $22.5 billion expected to provide 513,981 jobs by 2020. Out of this amount, $10.9 billion worth of private investment are ‘most ready’ to go.

“$4.73 billion worth of investment have been identified in the Agriculture and Transport labs, with a potential to create 129,000 jobs; $9.25 billion investment s, with a potential to create 378,00 new jobs was identified in the Manufacturing and Processing Labs, whilst $8.57 billion worth of investments will come from Power and Gas with potential of creating up to 7,000 jobs”, enthused the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma, at the Open Day of the Focus labs in Abuja last week. It is projected that the cumulative investments could rise to $39.12 billion by 2025 creating about 716, 079 jobs in the process.

Quick–wins An elated Sen. Udoma reeled out some of the quick results from the Focus Labs to include: Senga Farms networking with Autodax was able to able to gain access to supply local tractors hence eliminating the need to import and request for duty exemption; Mohtabe Holding got a land allocation from Sokoto State Government to establish its business; a company called Our Collective was able to obtain LOI from the Ministry of Transport to access foreign exchange funding of $500 million within the 5th week of the Labs. Also, through syndicated meeting with the federal ministry of Mines and Steel Development Kebara Mining long=standing request for renewal of exploration license was fi nalized; and the Lab expedited Poliguard Investment Co. access to quickly receive ‘Letter of Intent’ from SMDF in favour of UK Export Finance Agency.

“These are encouraging initial outcomes but more work is required to ensure that these potential investments unlocked in the Labs are fully realized,” he stressed. Implementation challenge While many have hailed the labs as a novel idea that further drive government’s resolve to provide a conducive environment for businesses to thrive, other are however skeptical that the antics of a corrupt civil may be the albatross of the Labs. According to public affairs analyst, Mr. Friday Efi h, red tape associated with get things done by the civil servants will rubbish any immediate gains that may be seen at the moment. He noted: why does it have to take the intervention of the Labs before the ‘long standing request’ a mining company be finalized.

This is one out of the many hurdles public servants place on the part of potential investors whether local or foreign.” But Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo speaking at the Open day of the Focus Labs asserted that Labs will change the regulatory and business environment in the country, even as he added that it would also address the challenges confronting the private sector. Prof. Osinbajo noted that the Focus Labs is a platform for the private sector to participate in the implementation of government policy. But is it really possible for the private sector to participate in the implementation of government policy? For presidential aspirant, Jaye Gaskia, “the governments claims it is in discussion with the private sector but most of its decisions do not in any way reflect it had any discussion with the private sector.”

The Budget and National Planning Minister, while noting that lack of implementation by past administrations led to the failure of previous programmes. He insisted that the Open Day was not the end of the process of integrating the private sector in driving the economy, “but rather the beginning of a new chapter in our development trajectory.

We will not rest until we deliver. There is no doubt that by tackling the constraints to growth; by leveraging on the power of the private sector and by allowing markets to function, we are placing Nigeria fi rmly on the path of diversifi ed, inclusive and sustainable growth.” This is the path that the ERGP Focus Labs is set to take.

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