The Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, says investment in infrastructure and human capital development are indispensable to economic growth.
Fayemi made the statement in Lagos on Thursday, while delivering the Freedom Online Second Annual Lecture.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the theme of the lecture, organised by Swaaya Limited, publishers of the online medium, was: “Fixing the Economy: Less Politics More Substance.”
Fayemi, represented by Akin Oyebode, his Special Adviser on Trade and Investment, said no country attained sustainable development without adequate investment in these two areas.
He said the country’s economy had witnessed many challenges over the past years due to little attention to infrastructure and human capital development by successive governments.
Fayemi said though the country once had a healthy economy with high agricultural and industrial productivity, lack of infrastructure and people with the right skills robbed the economy of the desired growth.
He said the recent recession witnessed by the country happened not only because of the crash in oil prices, but because of the long years of neglect of education and infrastructure.
He said: “There is the need to visit the history of the Nigerian economy from independence.
“According to a 1955 report published by the World Bank, then known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Nigeria had a population of 32 million people, with most of its people engaged in agricultural activity.
“Even at that time, Nigeria had a thriving export led by cocoa, oil palm, palm kernels, groundnut and cotton.
“The industrial sector was active, led by the biggest establishment at that time, the sawmill and plywood factory at Sapele, that employed over 3,000 people.
“In addition to that plant, there were textile mills, rubber factories, bottling companies and other industrial establishments.
“Even at that time, most of the people lived in rural communities; Nigeria had 18 towns with a population of over 50,000 inhabitants, led by Ibadan with 460,000 people.
“The points are important because it tells you Nigeria had some of the competitive advantages for industrialisation; a large population and a large number of cities.
“However, literacy levels were low at 10 per cent and our per capital income was one-tenth of the income levels in Europe.
“So, while the economy was healthy, there was the need to spend at least two decades growing human capital and infrastructure, principles espoused and implemented by the Western Region led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
“However, with a general lack of investment in long term human capital and infrastructural development, by the 21st century, the economy was tethering on the brink, although the seriousness of the situation was masked by rising oil prices.
“So, it was not surprising that when oil prices crashed, our economy contracted by 1.5 per cent in 2016.”
Fayemi said he was glad that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari had placed importance on the need to develop infrastructure and human capital for economic growth.
He said the massive investment in rail and road infrastructure by the Buhari administration had helped the economy out of recession and had placed it on the path of progress.
The governor said education had received the desired attention under Buhari, and the diversification of economy to boost, particularly agricultural sector, had impacted positively on the economy.
Fayemi said he was Minister of Solid Minerals before he became governor and could say the sector had witnessed growth under the present administration.
He said the Federal Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan had impacted on the critical sectors of the economy for accelerated economic growth.
Fayemi said since he became governor of Ekiti in 2018, he had focussed on infrastructural development, human capital development and economic diversification for growth.
He said his administration had also done a lot in the area of social welfare and creation of job opportunities for the people of the state .
The governor said though there were still some challenges in the economy, he had no doubt that the Buhari government was committed to tackling the problems.
On his part, Special Adviser to the President on Media, Femi Adesina, said the present administration spent huge funds on infrastructure.
He said the huge spending showed the commitment of the Federal Government to use infrastructure to grow economy.
Adesina said the agricultural revolution of the Federal Government had led to increased productivity in rice production and other agricultural products.
He said the country had also improved fertiliser production under the present government, to boost agricultural productivity.
Adesina said the government was working round the clock to further grow all sectors of the economy.
The Publisher of Freedom Online, Gabriel Akinadewo, said the online news platform organised the programme to stimulate conversations on the way forward for the Nigerian economy.
Akinadewo said if the Netherlands, a country of less than 25 million people, could develop the agricultural sector of its economy to the level it had attained, Nigeria could also do the same.
Akinadewo said the economic miracles of the United States was possible in Nigeria with the right focus and commitment.
He commended Fayemi for his strides in Ekiti, especially his welfare for the aged.
According to him, the governor was selected to share his ideas based on what he was doing in the state.
NAN reports that a former of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, and a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, were among dignitaries at the programme.
The lecture also attracted notable personalities in the media, including the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Funke Egbemode, and Gbenga Adefaye of Vanguard Newspapers.