Friday, 11 November 2011

Panic at economic summit as outage sparks terror fear

IT was a clear demonstration of how edgy the whole nation has become following recent spate of high-profile bombings claimed by the outlawed Boko Haram sect.

The smooth conduct of the 17th Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) in Abuja was yesterday disrupted for more than 30 minutes following power outage at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel plant, which sparked a melee as the audience thought a terror attack was under way.
The development forced some dignitaries, including the United States (U.S.) Envoy to Nigeria, Ambassador Terence P. McCulley, to hurriedly flee the hotel despite being scheduled to address the media at the end of the session, which was cut short by the power outage.
President Goodluck Jonathan had declared the summit open with a speech and had left the venue before the power cut.
However, the hotel’s Public Relations Manager, Sola Adeyemo, attributed the outage to “a very high voltage” from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) forcing the hotel’s power generator to switch off.
Adeyemo said: “There was a very high voltage supply from PHCN which triggered our plant to turn off because it is fluctuation sensitive. But as we speak, PHCN workers are here with us fixing the problem. I assure you in less than 10 minutes’ time, normalcy will return.’’
But by the time power was restored some dignitaries, including the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Lamido Sanusi, who were discussants at the interrupted session were gone.
The discussions however resumed after much persuasion of delegates who later gained their composure and used the blackout period to help themselves to snacks and tea served at the fountain arena outside the congress hall.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government and state governors may have settled their rift over the operation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) at long last.
President Jonathan dropped this hint yesterday in Abuja at the NESG event.
The President said the governors had eventually given their nods to the fund.
President Jonathan, who took time off at the summit to speak with chief executive officers of multinationals, assured the latter that their investments in Nigeria were safe despite the spate of bomb blasts in parts of the country, stressing that the nation’s current security challenges were “temporary.”
The President also spoke of plans to restructure pension fund administration in the country, disclosing that the pension law would soon be amended to allow Pension Funds Administrators (PFAs) lend out funds to people with bankable projects.
Meanwhile, President Jonathan has sent the Develop Planning and Project Continuity Bill to the National Assembly.
The bill, a core backbone to the success of the nation’s economic blueprint, Vision 20: 2020, aims to commit governments at all levels to projects and policies initiated by their predecessors.
The governors of the 36 states have also agreed to forward replica bills to their state assemblies. The bill is designed to ensure consistency in the implementation of policies, projects and programmes.
Minister of National Planning, Shamsudeen Usman, who disclosed this at the summit, stressed that government was concerned about ensuring that the Vision 20: 2020 did not go the way of other policies of its kind.
Speaking before a large audience, which had most governors in attendance, President Jonathan reiterated the importance of the SWF to his administration’s Transformational Agenda.
He said: “I am happy with the cooperation given by the state governors. Without their cooperation, we won’t go far. I thank the governors for their cooperation on the SWF. SWF is a constitutional provision. The money that is there belongs to the federal, state and local governments in a ratio spelt out by our laws. Nobody can touch the money. So, I am happy that the governors have eventually agreed with us on the fund.”
The President also commended security agencies for their efforts in curbing the Boko Haram menace and noted that government was investing in new technologies to assist the country to tackle terrorism and associated crimes.
The security concerns, he stressed, were temporary, as security agencies were “on top of the issue.”
President Jonathan said: “Terrorism is not a new phenomenon in the world. Most parts of the world have had one security issue or the other. What is important is putting strategies in place to check such.
“With the limited technologies we have, the Nigerian security agencies have done remarkably well. Look at the UN bombing, for instance. They moved fast and arrested most of the suspects. Protection of lives and property is the task of government. We are working around it. The security issues are temporary.

“The security issues will soon pass. People even invest in countries in civil war. Anybody who doesn’t want to invest now will regret it later. Even America is investing every day to fight terrorism. We are combating the issue with technologies.”

The President charged all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to be more creative in the way they handle investors’ interest, stressing that a new investors’ visa issuance regime would soon be available.
His words: “I asked all the ministers to be creative in carrying out their duties, especially in handling investors’ inquiry. I have also directed the Minister of Interior to come up with visa policies that help address some of the challenges that investors face coming into the country. We want a situation where serious investors coming into the country can quickly get short visas at the point of entry, while known investors who do business regularly in Nigeria should be given longer visa.”
President Jonathan stressed that government was vigorously pursuing the Transformation Agenda, which he noted would be driven by the private sector.
He said: “I call on them to come on board and join in the new Nigeria agenda. That things are not manifesting immediately does not mean that we are not doing anything. We are doing a lot.
“I have heard that some people are taking their businesses away from Nigeria. They will come back in no distant time. I hope that there will be space for them when they return. Nothing good comes easy.”

The President also used the opportunity of the summit to speak on the fuel subsidy plan, calling on all stakeholders to join hands with the Federal Government to pull the policy through.

He said: “We need to support government on subsidy. Unfortunately, so many people are playing politics with it. Some tell you things at the back, but say another thing in public. People like Gen. Muhammadu Buhari who have said subsidy is a fraud should be commended.

“If you don’t deregulate in Nigeria now, in 10 years, Nigeria might be importing petroleum from Ghana and some of these African countries that have discovered oil. People know the truth…

“The same thing applies to deregulation. Deregulation is a goldmine for investment. We have more gas than PMS. We can convert our cars to gas-powered automobiles. The technologies are available. By now, 50 per cent of our cars should have been using gas. Gas is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. We need people to come in and invest in this area to help us.”

The NESG Director-General, Mr. Frank Nweke (Jnr.) expressed satisfaction over the large turn-out of foreign investors at the summit.
He argued that the seeming security threat in Nigeria was not enough to deter serious investors from coming to the country, as the development was not unique to Nigeria.
His words: “People have not stopped flying to New York because of the 9/11 terror attacks. People have not stopped going to Mexico because of gang attacks and other places like that. The truth is that investors waiting for security threats to end may just find out that the train had left the station when they get here.”

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