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Sustaining growth through diversification of the economy: The media experience

Bayo Onanuga

NAN managing director, Mr Bayo Onanuga

By Bayo Onanuga

 

I stand before you literally wearing two caps. First, I am representing the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. Second, I am also representing the News Agency of Nigeria, your partner in the business of news gathering and dissemination.

The Minister asked me to tender his unreserved apology for his inability to grace this occasion. As I speak now, he is with the Acting President, other ministers and CEOs of government agencies on a retreat to review the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017-2020) officially launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in April.

The ERGP is a child of our recent experience, the economic recession. It is meant to re-engineer the nation’s economy, away from crude export dependence, to one built on agriculture, to ensure food sufficiency, energy, industrialisation, social investment and massive infrastructure, such as roads and railway.

It seeks to achieve 7 per cent growth in the economy by 2020. That I believe, you will agree, is an ambitious programme, if we bear in mind that right now we are billed to see some snail-like growth in the economy, months after we have been declared technically out of recession.

It is a remarkable coincidence that your Guild and the Nigerian Government are focusing on the same issue simultaneously. Your theme here is: Sustaining Growth through the Diversification of the Economy.

This is an issue that we all agree has become the central focus of the Buhari administration, especially having just crept out of the hellhole of recession, the immediate trigger of which was the collapse of oil prices. Our country’s case was worsened by the sharp reduction in oil output, caused by the sabotage of oil installations in Niger Delta, the sharp fall in dollar reserves, and the ensuing panic in the economic policies initially embarked upon by government.

Recessionary economy was not really alien to our country. We experienced it before in 1982-85. And we had some measure of it in the early 1990s, when the government of the day, expressed wonderment about its resilience, with its leader asking famously: why has the economy not collapsed? But this recession was different and President Buhari was on record to have said that it was the worst economic crisis our nation ever experienced. What better ways to underscore its profound uniqueness than the near 60 per cent fall in dollar inflow, the soaring inflation and negative growth and contraction in the economy?

Each time our nation trod this difficult path; we always talked about diversifying our mono-cultural economy. But decades after decades, nothing really changed in our economic profile. We remained addicted to oil, addicted to cheap petro-dollars. We merely paid lip service to diversification.

The Buhari government however is changing the narratives of past inaction, as it works systematically to wean Nigeria from crude oil, the Black Gold from the Niger Delta.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed asked me to inform this forum that Government is resolutely committed to making a paradigm shift in the economic configuration as it pays attention to agriculture and solid mineral development and lay all other blocks to make possible the building of a much better, much stronger economy.

Just like it was in the 60s, agriculture is now being restored to its pride of place. We are exporting yam; the vanished groundnut pyramids of the 60s, have been replaced by rice pyramids, at least in Kebbi State.

Just a few days ago, Kebbi commissioned the largest rice mill in Africa. Lagos, has also signed an agreement in Switzerland to build a mega rice mill in Imota, which will employ close to 150,000 people. The Dangote Group is investing $1.5billion in rice plantation and milling, all with the aim of making Nigeria self-sufficient in the product that we were importing shamelessly from Asia.

In a recent address to Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers in the Commonwealth (CSPOC), Acting President Yemi Osinbajo summed up the effects of the government effort by revealing the sharp rise in rice production. He said importation went down by 80 per cent in 2016.

“In the last two years, Nigeria, which is the largest producer of rice in West Africa and the second largest importer of rice in the world has changed that story.

“Our rice import bill in 2014 was N1billion a month. Today, by a combination of progressive legislative appropriation to agriculture, and providing single digit credit, under our anchor borrowers programme for the purchase of right fertilizer quality and other inputs and credit, many rice farmers moved from getting yields of 3.5 metric tons per hectare to 7.5 mt per hectare,” he said.

The increased focus on solid minerals will also sooner begin yielding fruits.

We also have to mention some other efforts at diversification, largely private sector driven. After decades of importing petroleum products, the Nigerian government is solidly backing the $11billion petrol chemical complex, the largest in the world being built by Aliko Dangote in Lekki. The complex, that will refine 650,000 barrels of crude per day, has other spin-offs, a fertiliser plant and power plant that can add 12,000 megawatts to the grid. And there will be many other products from the petro-chemical complex, which we import today.

There is also the $1.5 billion fertiliser plant built in Port Harcourt by Indorama.

TAX HOLIDAY

To further spur the economy to move away from crude, government recently announced tax holiday for 27 industries, one of which is the creative industry.

The industries to enjoy tax breaks and pioneer status are:  Mining and processing of coal; Processing and preservation of meat/poultry and production of meat/poultry products; Manufacture of starches and starch products; Processing of cocoa; Manufacture of animal feeds; Tanning and dressing of Leather; Manufacture of leather footwear, luggage and handbags; Manufacture of household and personal hygiene paper products; Manufacture of paints, vanishes and printing ink; Manufacture of plastic products (builders’ plastic ware) and moulds; Manufacture of batteries and accumulators; Manufacture of steam generators; Manufacture of railway locomotives, wagons and rolling stock, Manufacture of metal-forming machinery and machine tools.

Others are Manufacture of machinery for metallurgy; Manufacture of machinery for food and beverage processing; Manufacture of machinery for textile, apparel and leather production; Manufacture of machinery for paper and paperboard production; Manufacture of plastics and rubber machinery; Waste treatment, disposal and material recovery; E-commerce services; Software development and publishing; Motion picture, video and television programme production, distribution, exhibition and photography; Music production, publishing and distribution; Real estate investment vehicles under the Investments and Securities Act; Mortgage backed securities under the Investments and Securities Act; and, Business process outsourcing.

Please note that all the industries granted pioneer status are those that are adding value to the production chain and the economy, not just those that will export products raw only to allow other economies to reap the benefits of processing and manufacturing in terms of jobs and so on.

The minister of information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on the effect of the tax holiday for the creative industry, said it would transform the sector and really develops it into Nigeria’s creative industry.

“This is a shot in the arm for the creative industry, and it will definitely catalyze investments in the industry. It is also the answer to our quest to spur the establishment of world class studios in Nigeria for production and post-production of movies and music videos,” the Minister said.

I also want to draw our attention to something else that will boost our economy, which the Ministry of Information under Mohammed is pursuing: It is about the change in the National Broadcasting Code that will compel companies fond of splashing profits earned in Nigeria in promoting foreign football leagues. They are now to be compelled to spend 30 per cent of whatever they spend on Manchester United, or Arsenal on Nigerian football. After all, charity begins from home.

The change in the NBC code will also compel TV programme producers to produce programmes meant for Nigerian consumption locally, instead of producing them in Dubai or South Africa. Many of us will remember that the last Reality DSTV programme Big Brother Nigeria was done in South Africa, for all manners of excuses. Some of us with some spirit of patriotism watched with dismay how celebrities and artistes were transported from Nigeria to South Africa to meet Nigerian housemates.  Nigerian housemates in South Africa! This was surely an oddity.

We can only imagine the many gains the localization of production would have brought to our economy.

The media and economic diversification

All the developments in the economy chronicled earlier show an uncommon determination by the present administration to ensure that our economy does not experience the brutal recessionary mill the second time. For the first time in our history, we are really seeing a true march towards diversification of the economy.

Media Business

How does this affect our media business?

It is a truism that whenever any economy is under throes of adjustment, (in our case technological and economic adjustments), the first sector to be affected is the media, in terms of lost advert revenue and copy sales. Conversely, when there is a boom, the media also benefit.

We are all living witnesses to the misfortune of our industry in the last decade, the massive reduction in both copy and advert sales, and how this led to newspaper closures, downsizing, the emergence of bloggers and online newspapers and the explosion in the social media. This is not a development peculiar to our country. It is global.

The collapse of the traditional business model of Newspapers, which started, between 2006 and 2009 in the United Kingdom and the U.S. is truly here with us. The paradigm of news publishing has had a tectonic shift.

As one media book authored by Sunday Dare proclaims: We are all journalists and publishers now, in as much as we have the capacity to load any content on the web or social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and others.

I must commend your efforts in coming together to form an association to share your varied experiences and learn from each other. Do not try to be a trade union. Be a professional union.

One of the areas that you need to seriously compare notes is the explosion of hate speeches, hate-filled stories, outright lies, fake news that we read often online or on social media platforms.

I will cite some examples: One website wrote recently that the IGP was distributing arms to northern youths, at the height of Nnamdi Kanu’s campaign for Biafra Republic and the quit threat to Igbo residents given by some northern youths. The story was a mere fabrication. And its motive is clear: to create more distrust between North and South and set the country ablaze.

Another was the specious announcement that the Oba of Ijebuland, the Awujale had joined his ancestors. Again, there was no iota of truth in the story. And the way the story spread like the wildfire would make us wonder, whether the conveyors ever attended any Journalism School, where we were taught to always authenticate a story before we publish. These days, many bloggers do not really care about affirming the truth of a news story, they just press the ‘publish button’.

Even before this, false stories about the Nigerian leader being on ICU, committing suicide, dying several times, were published by some of your members.

Going into the future, your Guild needs to set rules of engagement for bloggers and online publishers, you need to establish a code of conduct, the way it was done for publishers and journalists by NUJ, Guild of Editors and NPAN decades ago. We must endeavour to protect the integrity of the cyberspace.

I urge your Guild to also focus on building capacity for members by organising seminars and workshops to teach the relevant skills to equip members with the necessary tools and ideas for the practice of Online Journalism.

Online journalism in my view is more exacting than newspaper or magazine publishing, in the kind of demands it makes on our skills, our time, and creativity. Many of us who migrated to online publishing, would have found that it demands more than just writing one story or two stories per day. I was told that to make any serious impact and to be able to attract a good traffic, a website must be able to publish a minimum of 200 stories per day, not just in text, but also in multimedia formats. This is the challenge of Internet publishing, where we now have at least 3.5 billion people connected globally.

I always compare the Internet to a notice board, this time a global notice board, as big as the Planet Earth, where trillions of materials are uploaded every day, where if we want to get noticed, we must offer extra-ordinary stuffs.

Some statistics will demonstrate the googol-size of things we upload daily online. Googol in Mathematics is the large number 10, raised to power 100. That is one and then you add 100 zeroes. The Internet world is crazy!

Take Flickr, where photographs are uploaded. Statistics showed that between 2004 when it was founded and 2016, about 6 billion photos were uploaded. In 2016, an average of 1.68million photos were uploaded daily, 51 million per month and 612 million a year,

Jeff Schultz, writing for blog.microfocus.com gave the following statistics about what comes onto the Internet every second, every minute, every day.

·       Since 2013, the number of Twitter posts increased 25% to more than 350,000 Tweets PER MINUTE!

·       YouTube usage has more than tripled in the last two years, with users uploading 400 hours of new video each minute of every day!

·       Instagram users like 2.5 Million posts every minute!

·       Since 2013, the number of Facebook Posts shared each minute has increased 22%, from 2.5 Million to 3 Million posts per minute. This number has increased more than 300 percent, from around 650,000 posts per minute in 2011!

·       Facebook users also click the like button on more than 4 Million posts every minute! That is nearly 6 BILLION Facebook posts liked each day!

·       Around 4 Million Google searches are conducted worldwide each minute of everyday.

·       Finally, 4 Million Text messages are sent each minute in the US alone!

Schultz said further that if we do some quick calculations, we could see the amount of data created on the Internet each day. There are 1440 minutes per day…so that means there are approximately:

·       500 Million Tweets sent each day!

·       More than 4 Million Hours of content uploaded to YouTube every day!

·       3.6 Billion Instagram Likes each day.

·       4.3 BILLION Facebook messages posted daily!

·       5.75 BILLION Facebook likes every day.

·       40 Million Tweets shared each day!

·       6 BILLION daily Google Searches!

According to The Radacati Group, 205 BILLION EMAILS are sent each day in 2015, and by 2019 that number will increase to 20% to 246 Billion emails each day!

WWW.webpagefx.com also presents graphically what happens online in real time. The amount of data uploaded in a single second is a staggering 24,000 gigabytes, it says.  Facebook reports between 20 and 24 million posts per second and a similar figure of likes. These statistics should not be surprising as Facebook now has over 2 billion users.

I have dredged out these figures to show that we need to create compelling content on our sites to get noticed and to attract the traffic we need to make our online occupation profitable and worthwhile.

I must admit it is not an easy task. On Wednesday, I did a check of Alexa ranking and found that only very few newspapers are among   the first 50 of most popular sites or blogs in Nigeria. Our spaces have been taken by betting companies, banks, online retailers and the kingpins of cyberspace, Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia etc.

We need to do more to break into the front row, for that is where we are supposed to be to earn big bucks form Google and the advertisers, who are now rushing to the Internet.

I will suggest that members of the association should explore collaboration, mergers and other strategies to strengthen content and offer a variety of menus, that will include not just text, but also video, infographics and so on.

As your partner, we are also trying to assist you with this content that you need as we are expanding our omnimedia, multimedia team and the news that they are able to produce. Because we know that the future of online publishing is text. The future is video, infographics and digital offering.

I wish you all well and I thank you for listening.

Being a paper presented by Mr. Bayo Onanuga, the Managing Director, News Agency of Nigeria, as Guest Speaker at the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers Conference in Lagos on August 10, 2017

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