Daily Trust - A global agenda beckons the NESG (I)
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A global agenda beckons the NESG (I)

When Klaus Schwab established the European Management Forum (EMF) in January 1971, his dream was only about Europe.

The Management Professor was spurred on by his deep knowledge of contemporary management issues and with a large Filofax to boot, he invited 444 business executives to the first European Management Symposium at which all matters European were discussed. By 1971 President Richard Nixon was already toying with the idea of exiting the ‘new Gold Standard’ that required every other major country to keep their reserves in the US Dollar, which in turn was benchmarked – or backed – with Gold, at $37 an ounce. The production of gold could hardly keep up with the amount of reserves pouring into the US Dollar since 1945 when the Bretton Woods, New Hampshire agreement was reached. So, by 1973, the Gold Standard was dead and currency management became a free-for-all. Countries had to figure out how to respond to the new regime. This was the first time Schwab thought of inviting other stakeholders from far and near. In 1974, political leaders were invited for the first time. However, it wasn’t until 1987, 16 years after its establishment that the EMF changed its name to World Economic Forum (WEF). By then the body had extended its remit into global macroeconomic issues, multilateralism and international conflict resolution, prompting the WEF to invite leaders from all over the world; leaders who in turn saw the platform as a great global opportunity to project themselves and their countries, and to garner deals were possible.

I was actually surprised the day I found out that the WEF is not only a private initiative, but in fact, one man’s concept. With the profile that the forum now commands, it has become arguably the most-respected policy institution in the world; a must-visit for every serious world leader in the biting winter of Davos, Switzerland every other January. It doesn’t matter how big or small the country is, or who is a superpower and who isn’t, everyone wants to get involved and be seen. The example of the WEF is a great example in seizing initiative and being consistent. However, it is never easy to grow so large and become so strategically important, such as to be able to pull the most powerful people on earth. Back in the day I could have sworn that the WEF was a subsidiary of say the World Bank, or perhaps United Nations. The success of this organization reminds us that there are always windows of opportunity in any society or economy or indeed the world, waiting to be exploited and filled. In Nigeria today, in this age of social media, there are a few platforms that professionals have created on WhatsApp and elsewhere. Some have been able to remain alive and I belong to a few, such as AfricaThink, Professionals Discourse, Dukes Summit, Policy and Prosperity Panel, Oil, Gas and Power Forum, Keynesian Economics, among others. The story of WEF confirms to us, that indeed as Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher stated, “the bold, shall rule the world”. Any of these online forums mentioned above could dust themselves up, and through the power of vision and commitment, become overnight policy linchpins and boiling pots for Nigeria and beyond. Courage.

Before the era of social media Nigeria has also seen a few instances where professionals came together for the sake of saving the nation, or trying to set political and/or economic agenda. I recall The Patriots, Concerned Professionals, G34 and so on, who occupied mostly the political space and some of whom wrestled the military alongside their political counterparts.  Today, there are even more platforms on social media, hoping to fuse into political parties at some point.

The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) happens to be the most prominent of the economic coalitions of professionals as it has survived for 26 years presently. Founded in 1993, the NESG has an advantage over WEF in that it has never been a one-man show. A broad coalition of Nigeria’s top professionals and public policymakers came together to express great foresight, promote free-market economy, encourage private sector investment and to try and establish an economic foundation for democracy. It was Chief Ernest Shonekan, (who would later become the Head of Nigeria’s Interim Government), who pulled together financial and economic, and bureaucratic juggernauts like Pascal Dozie, Dick Kramer, Shamsudeen Usman, Felix Ohiwerei, Ahmed Joda, Kalu Idika Kalu, Bunmi Oni, Mohammed Hayatudeen, Philip Asiodu, Joseph Sanusi and others, to form a solid intellectual foundation for this initiative. It was just as well, for only such a broad coalition of accomplished people could be sustained in our fragile environment.

The World Economic Forum, under the leadership of Klaus Schwab, has been around for 49 years, but as famous as the institution is, and with the global reach, it has not escaped scathing criticisms.  The WEF has been accused of taking undemocratic decisions, of being a one-man show, of financial opacity, gender imbalance and of course that its ideology promotes global inequality. For sure, any successful organization cannot but attract scrutiny and criticisms, and so off the cuff, the NESG in Nigeria has been accused of not adequately impacting Nigeria’s economic policies, being aloof from the common man, not engaging attendees enough and transforming into a mere annual talkshop. The NESG rejects these accusations and recently put out a compendium of its achievements, some of which I will consider below. I think we need to think deeper about issues such as this. I have attended a few NESG gigs myself and I realise that because of the growing crowd of attendees, many delegates end up not being directly engaged in any of the subcommittees and being left to be mere sitting spectators. For people who are mostly in their middle-aged, sitting for long is even a health issue. How can the NESG continue to transform itself? If successive Nigerian governments do not pay heed to economic thinktanks (even though top government officials declare summits open and send delegates to attend plenaries), what can the summit do to drag them in, kicking and screaming?  How much can be achieved by direct confrontation in the pages of the newspapers? Or does the NESG limit itself to just being a networking field for the private sector?

We saw how the present government in Nigeria delayed the formation of an economic advisory team for years. Perhaps in the eyes of many politicians, economic thought is so esoteric as not to make much meaning. Chances are also that economists easily lose their audience in the maze of theories, highfalutin jargon, and imported postulations. There is also the problem with ideology. I align with Lee Kuan Yew, the legendary benevolent dictator of Singapore, whose MPH principle, according to Kishore Mahbubani, stood for Meritocracy, Pragmatism and Honesty. The pragmatist ideology led Singapore to look out for that which is good in Capitalism and Socialism and any other isms, so long as such policies work best for Singaporeans. Do economic forums like NESG box themselves into a corner and raise suspicion from often left-leaning politicians because they step out waving the liberalism flag? Are there any good ideas that can be rescued from the other side that have instead been alienated by NESG?

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A global agenda beckons the NESG (I)

When Klaus Schwab established the European Management Forum (EMF) in January 1971, his dream was only about Europe.

The Management Professor was spurred on by his deep knowledge of contemporary management issues and with a large Filofax to boot, he invited 444 business executives to the first European Management Symposium at which all matters European were discussed. By 1971 President Richard Nixon was already toying with the idea of exiting the ‘new Gold Standard’ that required every other major country to keep their reserves in the US Dollar, which in turn was benchmarked – or backed – with Gold, at $37 an ounce. The production of gold could hardly keep up with the amount of reserves pouring into the US Dollar since 1945 when the Bretton Woods, New Hampshire agreement was reached. So, by 1973, the Gold Standard was dead and currency management became a free-for-all. Countries had to figure out how to respond to the new regime. This was the first time Schwab thought of inviting other stakeholders from far and near. In 1974, political leaders were invited for the first time. However, it wasn’t until 1987, 16 years after its establishment that the EMF changed its name to World Economic Forum (WEF). By then the body had extended its remit into global macroeconomic issues, multilateralism and international conflict resolution, prompting the WEF to invite leaders from all over the world; leaders who in turn saw the platform as a great global opportunity to project themselves and their countries, and to garner deals were possible.

I was actually surprised the day I found out that the WEF is not only a private initiative, but in fact, one man’s concept. With the profile that the forum now commands, it has become arguably the most-respected policy institution in the world; a must-visit for every serious world leader in the biting winter of Davos, Switzerland every other January. It doesn’t matter how big or small the country is, or who is a superpower and who isn’t, everyone wants to get involved and be seen. The example of the WEF is a great example in seizing initiative and being consistent. However, it is never easy to grow so large and become so strategically important, such as to be able to pull the most powerful people on earth. Back in the day I could have sworn that the WEF was a subsidiary of say the World Bank, or perhaps United Nations. The success of this organization reminds us that there are always windows of opportunity in any society or economy or indeed the world, waiting to be exploited and filled. In Nigeria today, in this age of social media, there are a few platforms that professionals have created on WhatsApp and elsewhere. Some have been able to remain alive and I belong to a few, such as AfricaThink, Professionals Discourse, Dukes Summit, Policy and Prosperity Panel, Oil, Gas and Power Forum, Keynesian Economics, among others. The story of WEF confirms to us, that indeed as Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher stated, “the bold, shall rule the world”. Any of these online forums mentioned above could dust themselves up, and through the power of vision and commitment, become overnight policy linchpins and boiling pots for Nigeria and beyond. Courage.

Before the era of social media Nigeria has also seen a few instances where professionals came together for the sake of saving the nation, or trying to set political and/or economic agenda. I recall The Patriots, Concerned Professionals, G34 and so on, who occupied mostly the political space and some of whom wrestled the military alongside their political counterparts.  Today, there are even more platforms on social media, hoping to fuse into political parties at some point.

The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) happens to be the most prominent of the economic coalitions of professionals as it has survived for 26 years presently. Founded in 1993, the NESG has an advantage over WEF in that it has never been a one-man show. A broad coalition of Nigeria’s top professionals and public policymakers came together to express great foresight, promote free-market economy, encourage private sector investment and to try and establish an economic foundation for democracy. It was Chief Ernest Shonekan, (who would later become the Head of Nigeria’s Interim Government), who pulled together financial and economic, and bureaucratic juggernauts like Pascal Dozie, Dick Kramer, Shamsudeen Usman, Felix Ohiwerei, Ahmed Joda, Kalu Idika Kalu, Bunmi Oni, Mohammed Hayatudeen, Philip Asiodu, Joseph Sanusi and others, to form a solid intellectual foundation for this initiative. It was just as well, for only such a broad coalition of accomplished people could be sustained in our fragile environment.

The World Economic Forum, under the leadership of Klaus Schwab, has been around for 49 years, but as famous as the institution is, and with the global reach, it has not escaped scathing criticisms.  The WEF has been accused of taking undemocratic decisions, of being a one-man show, of financial opacity, gender imbalance and of course that its ideology promotes global inequality. For sure, any successful organization cannot but attract scrutiny and criticisms, and so off the cuff, the NESG in Nigeria has been accused of not adequately impacting Nigeria’s economic policies, being aloof from the common man, not engaging attendees enough and transforming into a mere annual talkshop. The NESG rejects these accusations and recently put out a compendium of its achievements, some of which I will consider below. I think we need to think deeper about issues such as this. I have attended a few NESG gigs myself and I realise that because of the growing crowd of attendees, many delegates end up not being directly engaged in any of the subcommittees and being left to be mere sitting spectators. For people who are mostly in their middle-aged, sitting for long is even a health issue. How can the NESG continue to transform itself? If successive Nigerian governments do not pay heed to economic thinktanks (even though top government officials declare summits open and send delegates to attend plenaries), what can the summit do to drag them in, kicking and screaming?  How much can be achieved by direct confrontation in the pages of the newspapers? Or does the NESG limit itself to just being a networking field for the private sector?

We saw how the present government in Nigeria delayed the formation of an economic advisory team for years. Perhaps in the eyes of many politicians, economic thought is so esoteric as not to make much meaning. Chances are also that economists easily lose their audience in the maze of theories, highfalutin jargon, and imported postulations. There is also the problem with ideology. I align with Lee Kuan Yew, the legendary benevolent dictator of Singapore, whose MPH principle, according to Kishore Mahbubani, stood for Meritocracy, Pragmatism and Honesty. The pragmatist ideology led Singapore to look out for that which is good in Capitalism and Socialism and any other isms, so long as such policies work best for Singaporeans. Do economic forums like NESG box themselves into a corner and raise suspicion from often left-leaning politicians because they step out waving the liberalism flag? Are there any good ideas that can be rescued from the other side that have instead been alienated by NESG?

More Stories