The Nigeria at 50 summit taking place in London is generating ripples at home with the Organised Labour, opposition political parties and politicians querying the rationale behind it.
THISDAY learnt the summit is a business and investment forum. President Goodluck Jonathan had been expected to lead dozens of ministers, state governors and government officials to the conference, where they were due to address issues from bank and power sector reforms to eradicating counterfeit drugs.
But the President and most of the delegation pulled out amid criticism of profligacy over the planned trip, which would have come days after he returned from a G20 summit in Toronto
The Nigerian Labour Cong-ress (NLC) condenmed the two-day conference, saying the summit is irrational and unnecessary.
Elder statesman Alhaji Tanko Yakassai and the Action Congress (AC) also described it as a waste of scarce national resources.
NLC President Comrade Adbulwaheed Omar in a statement lamented that huge resources at both federal and state levels have been wasted on travel expenses for a project that has no relation to transforming the nation’s economy.
Omar who reiterated labour’s opposition to the idea of independence anniversary celebration, urged President Jonathan to discourage every act of frivolity and use the resources to fund people-centred projects and policies.
“Is the two-day event sponsored by the United Kingdom on the condition that it must hold in London? Are travel expenses and logistics of the event part of the N10 billion anniversary jamboree? Are issues expected to be discussed at the conference, such as power, infrastructure, corruption, health, education and agriculture so exclusively sacrosanct that they could not be debated here in Nigeria? These and many more urgently beg for answers.
“We wish to restate here our earlier opposition to the whole idea of celebrating in a prodigal manner our country’s 50 years of independence and urge President Goodluck Jonathan to instead use this moment to concretely deepen our democracy by discouraging acts of frivolity that this London Summit represents. It is clearly a meaningless summit at the expense of dearly needed resources that should instead be used to fund people-centred projects and policies,” Omar said.
Yakassai said the London confab is unnecessary adding that “If the meeting has any value… (it) ought to have taken place in Nigeria.”
He described the agenda as suspicious and a waste of scarce resources.
“The agenda of the meeting is suspicious laden with political motives. What is the need of having such a meeting when it can take place in Nigeria; this is sheer waste of public funds when the people are poor,” he said.
National Publicity Secretary of AC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a statement, said the conference is an insult to millions of Nigerians who are daily struggling to make ends meet.
He said it also highlights the insensitivity of those at the helm of affairs in Nigeria, especially coming on the heels of reports, though denied by the government, that N10 billion has been earmarked for the celebration of the country’s Golden Jubilee.
The opposition party wondered why a conference meant to mark the independence anniversary of Nigeria is being held in London, thousands of kilometres away.
“Who is behind this conference? What informed the choice of London for a conference on Nigeria that is expected to be attended by state and federal government officials as well as ruling party members? Who will pay the expenses to be incurred by the slew of officials attending the conference? Of what benefit is this conference to Nigerians that it will cost them so much? And how does this advance our democracy?” the party queried.
According to the AC, “The times we are in are very tough, and even richer nations are cutting costs in all areas. Nigeria cannot be an exception. We must find a way to slash the cost of running governments at all levels, so that we can channel our scarce resources into improving the living standards of our long-suffering people. This is the essence of governance.”
]It said all those who embarked on the “London Jamboree” must be made to either pay their own expenses or refund such to the coffers if they have been bankrolled from the public treasury.
But Nigeria’s last-minute decision to scale down a massive delegation due at the summit and the absence of President Jonathan may have appeased some critics at home it, however, left foreign investors less than delighted, Reuters reported.
“The president was in Canada and he was supposed to come to London on the 30th and meet the Prime Minister (David Cameron) on the 1st (of July), but that meeting was resolved in Canada so there was no need to come here,” said Works and Housing Minister Sanusi Daggash.
Some investors who attended the event, billed as Nigeria ‘s Golden Jubilee Summit to mark 50 years of independence from Britain , were unimpressed.
“It’s a massive disappointment,” said one European investment banker, who asked not to be named.
“They’ve got to realise that they’re not the only boys on the block. This week I’ll hear from Turkey , Indonesia all competing for money and it’s only the ones who do the very best who win the prizes,” he said.
Jonathan had been billed as the keynote speaker. Petroleum Resources Minister Diezani Allison-Madueke had been due to speak on the outlook for Nigeria’s mainstay oil and gas industry.
“It’s pretty embarrassing for the Nigerians that no one has come,” said an independent Middle Eastern investor.
Presidential Adviser and Head of Presidential Task Force on Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji who was the most outstanding public officer to attend, outlined plans to improve regulation of the domestic power sector while credit ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch gave their views on the outlook for the banking sector.
“Nigeria has to compete with other markets to source their capital. Legal certainty, policy certainty, communication is critical in attracting international capital,” said Mark Young, Managing Director of Financial Institutions at Fitch.
Speaking at the conference, Nnaji promised faster reforms in the power sector to effect a quick turn-around in the dilapidated sector. This according to him, entails encouraging foreign investors to take part in a planned privatisation programme.
Nnaji, who was appointed by President Jonathan a week ago to lead a task force on boosting power supply said government alone could not invest enough to meet its energy needs.
Under-investment and mismanagement have left the power sector unable to meet demand, leaving businesses and individuals who can afford it reliant on diesel-powered generators.
“Access to supply is 40 percent of the population. It should be growing at 6 per cent per annum if we want to achieve our objective,” Nnaji told the conference.