Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ambassador Sanders' Remarks at the Island Club's Business Luncheon

Remarks of Ambassador Robin Renée Sanders

The Role and the Responsibility of the Nigerian Private Sector in the Current Global Financial Environment

Island Club's Business Luncheon
Lagos, February 24, 2009

  • Chairman, Island Club
  • Former Secretary General of the Commonwealth
  • Chairman, Island Club Board of Trustees
  • Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
  • Ladies and gentlemen of the press
  • All protocols duly observed.

Good afternoon! Let me start by thanking the Island Club for the invitation to be your Guest Speaker this afternoon.

As I looked at what I wanted my topic to be today, for a group of august, current and former business persons and business academics, it was not hard to determine what I wanted my message to be, or what I wanted you to leave here thinking about! We all recognize that we are in a new economic environment where the rules and regulatory frameworks that we all had become so accustom, are being reexamined, reviewed and redressed.

These are tough economic times for both the developed and the developing world and each and every segment of our societies has a responsibility to ensure that they examine what they can do for their nation, and that brings me to you.

As current or retired business people and business academics, you have a responsibility to help your government and help your fellow Nigerians figure out what Nigeria can do to weather this economic and financial storm. You cannot sit back and criticize, be concerned without action, or fail to step up and provide your expertise to policy makers at this time. Nigeria still has – even in these tough economic times – the potential to become a burgeoning emerging market. The question is, whether the global financial crisis is going to further derail this path, or are you going to tread water, or are you going to really survive with a paradigm shift, particularly in development.

As Nigerian business people, I would hope that you would choose the later option – surviving by developing the right macro economic policies that further insulate Nigeria, allowing it to still grow, even in these difficult times. This is where politics and regionalism need to be set aside so that the vast intellectual capacity that I have seen that exists in this country can be used for unity of purpose – unity of better economic management, unity of sacrifice, when sacrifice is needed. Although I am outside of your economic framework we follow the same signs that you do. So what are they for Nigeria: pressure on your currency; trade barriers that need to be revisited and changed; 70 per cent of your population living below poverty; endemic corruption; insufficient energy for your needs; red flags in certain banks; and the need to diversify your economy, particularly toward agriculture – not only so farmers can feed the nation, but so Nigeria can become a net exporter of key commodities. Today you are the second largest importer of foodstuffs.You are far behind this now, but the real kicker is – that with all your wealth, and all your creativity this should not be the case!

Yes, these are worrying signs, signs that have always been there, but become more exacerbated in tougher financial times. You in this room have the answers, even though you many not know it, but I would find that hard to believe. No one says that all the answers rest with policy makers, but the answers to all of these issues do rest with you as Nigerians and you must extend yourself in that direction.

You know, we just had a unique, historic transition of power in the United States of America with the election of the 44th president of the United States, President Barack Obama. His focus for America is on the same issues I have outlined above for Nigeria. President Obama came to office at a time when America as a nation faces enormous economic crises of such scale and magnitude not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. To address our myriad of issues, President Obama has reached out to all in America- political opposition, academics, legislators, and the average American through a website www.recovery.gov- in an effort to have our best and our brightest, our hard working citizens, and their families, our creativity and our values- all helping us to find our way. You may want to do the same for Nigeria, but this is up to you.

As further examples, President Obama moved boldly and forthrightly to address our economic challenges by signing into law a comprehensive economic stimulus package called the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan designed to jumpstart the American economy, address issues in our financial framework, assist homebuyers with their mortgages, and support our banking sector. The Plan also will help save, or create, up to 3.5 million jobs and re-awaken American values on improving human development, taking care of our teachers and taking care of our future. As of yesterday, if you were watching the news as I was, you saw my President lead his first ever White House Fiscal Responsibility Summit with the nation's governors, legislators, and other eminent personalities, with a health care summit next week and a major address to the nation- all to address the issues on the minds of Americans.

In America, as in any democratic society, the people form and shape the fabric of democracy, and the ultimate success, or failure, of an initiative depends on the buy-in of the people. In your case, you must reach out to the Nigerian people to hear their plight and struggles, and then you and you alone are responsible as the private sector to work with your policy makers both in the executive and legislative branches to ensure that what is being done is not only being done in the name of the Nigerian people, but what the Nigerian people have said they want, they need and they desire.

President Obama had instilled a sense of hope in the American people for a better time ahead, and he succeeded in doing so by inspiring us around one goal – a goal for us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, recognize the hard task ahead, and work even harder and longer to get it right, and change the past – all under the umbrella of the commitment to the Rule of Law and transparency. When he talks about transparency he is clear – it is the “end of deceit, and corruption,” and using the public good and wealth for personal gain. He reminds us that America's strength comes not just from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from our enduring values. I know and have seen the enduring values of Nigerians. And I know that these values are shared in so many ways between our two nations.

These are the questions you must answer as the elite of Nigeria. What is your role and what is your responsibility in these troubling financial times? I shared with you today what my President is doing, the outreach of my President across all spectrums of political and religious views.

What is Nigeria going to do? Do you want a Fiscal Responsibility Summit, and Development Summit, a War on Poverty Summit -- or all three? And what about the Niger Delta? What are you going to do for peace, security and development there? It is for you to use your leadership positions as members of the private sector in some way to change or improve Nigeria’s economic, political (especially election reform) and development outlook. We, the U.S. Government, can support your efforts but you must be in the lead on things like anti-corruption, fiscal transparency and an independent electoral commission.

I have been told by Nigerians that Nigeria has a long road to travel on these issues. Democratic institutions need to be strengthened, democratic principles and values need to percolate through every level of government, federal, state, and local. Economic growth, fiscal transparency and pro-human development go in tandem. But there is no real growth, no real change for the Nigerian people that can come at the expense of development for the Nigerian people. As the elite you need to roll up your sleeves and develop ways to reach a hand back and help out in whatever way your expertise will allow. In the end it is about leadership, your role and your responsibility as citizens of Nigeria to ensure, that this wonderful county, on the cusp of being an emerging market, weathers through the financial clouds, and comes through this period with all Nigerians being better off.

As I conclude, I want to go back to something President Obama said recently, invoking the words of another famous American President who himself was seen as a change maker: "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men [and women]. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. [but] Pray for powers equal to your tasks." These words were originally those of President John F. Kennedy but can aptly be applied to both our nations today. Our tasks in today‘s environment, both for the American people and the Nigerian people are great. And it will take all of our powers to ensure that both our countries enter out of the financial storms stronger than ever with a secured future for the next generation. These will be the tasks that your powers will face!

Thank you.