Buhari’s Economic Diplomacy And National Development, By Kola Oyekunle

MInister of National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma

The launching of the National Economic Diplomacy Initiative by the President Mohammadu Buhari’s government on the 5th of April 2018 is a welcome development. It is in fact overdue in Nigeria’s economic recovery plan over the years, but for the poor vision of past Nigerian leaders.

According to the famous professor of political science, Okwudiba Nnoli; ‘‘Economic development is a progressive increase in the productive forces accompanied by salutary changes in the relations of production’’.

Therefore, economic development is a sine-qua-non for peace in Nigeria and in all societies; because it is the only way the welfare and security of lives and property can be guaranteed. It is essential for the survival of every human society.  Nations pursue their economic development through all aspects of their national life; including through their foreign policy objectives. National economic development is usually the justification for the popularity of economic diplomacy as a foreign policy thrust by nation-states. Thank God, President Buhari has realised the need for this.

Vice-President Yemi Osibajo, in his speech at the occasion said that; the event was of monumental importance to both Nigeria’s diplomacy and the economy. In his words, ‘‘This is the convergence of our global reach and influence with the tremendous opportunities for commerce and industry in Nigeria, a game-changing synergy that has been waiting to happen for years,’’. Economic diplomacy is a foreign policy orientation that emphasises and pursues the economic development aspirations of a sovereign state in the conduct of its diplomacy with other nations, international organisations and all other actors in international relations. Nigeria does not need to be an exception in the management of international affairs in the comity of nations.

Nigeria has played Father Christmas with its national resources for so long! It has always been about playing the ‘’Africa’s big brother’’. Whatever that means in terms of the prosperity of the Nigerian economy and that of the Nigerian people, is yet to be appreciated in concrete terms. Scholars like Attahiru Jega, Okechukwu Ibeanu and many others have questioned the extent the economic objectives of externally oriented diplomatic policies and actions have helped the cause of the Nigerian state and her people.

According to them, how has this form of diplomacy; particularly the quest for foreign investment and search for new export markets and the desire to be recognised as sub-regional and African regional leader been realized?  Certainly this is a topic for vigorous debate and arguments and it is one thing to call oneself a leader and another thing to be seen as such by others. Again, they were of the view that, the ambition of Nigeria to be seen as a leader in Africa has not been converted from perception to reality. This, fifty years after Nigeria’s independence, are issues that should bother Nigeria.

It is important therefore, to implement this new economic diplomatic plan in line with the Lagos Plan of Action and the African Economic Community. This is the reason I share the views of the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the event, Geoffrey Onyeama; who said ‘‘this is why we have participated in African integration processes since the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action and the Treaty of establishing the African Economic Community. It is also why we participated actively in negotiations to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The National Economic Diplomacy Initiative is a very good economic and foreign policy for the country. The difference and challenge now is the mode and pattern of implementation. Therefore; it behoves the Federal Government of Nigeria to implement it with local content in view. By local content, it is a considered opinion that there are fundamental economic policies that Nigeria needs to get right before foreign direct investment and economic partnerships between Nigeria and other countries can yield positive results on our economy; for instance, annual budget implementation.

Nigerian budgetary processes over the years have been in shambles. The executive -legislative bickering has not helped this situation, and the Nigerian economy and the welfare of the ordinary people suffer. It is high time this economic fundamental is corrected, so that the good dividends of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan can be reaped. According to Eze Onyekpere, a budget analyst; the state is under a legal obligation to make a budget which is a statement of income and expenditure and an indication of the state’s expenditure priorities for the year. It is an economic, political and human rights process.

 As an economic process, budgets convert state development plans and priorities into a programme of action. For instance, the provisions of the Nigerian Medium Term Economic Framework (National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy-NEEDS) will need budgetary allocations to function, its mandate to create seven million new jobs and enhanced funding of the social sectors will need direct and indirect budget funding and support.

According to the International Budget Partnership, the budget is the government’s most important economic policy tool. It affects the lives of all people and particularly those of the poor people. Yet traditionally, the budget process has, to a larger extent, been the exclusive preserve of the executive branch of government. External engagement in the budget process by the public- and even by legislatures was seen only as a constitutional requirement. Some even thought such participation might threaten a country’s fiscal stability. Much has changed in the past two decades. It is now widely accepted by donors and civil societies around the world, and increasing number of governments, that the public access to budget information can help to improve accountability, which in turn can help to make poverty reduction initiatives more effective, if the public is given opportunities to advocate for its priorities and monitor policy implementation.

For the National Economic Diplomacy Initiative to enjoy successful implementation and impact on the economy and lives of Nigerians, it is a necessity that relevant budgetary mechanism is designed to accompany it. That way it will no longer be one of the usual Breton Woods imposed programmes on Third World economies.

Oyekunle, an Economist writes in from Kano

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