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28.09.2005 General News

Ex-Trade Minister lauds Nigeria’s ban

By Statesman
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NIGERIA has shown how a government can put its country first and damn the consequences. In the Federal Government's relentless bid to promote the local economy, it has been accused of 'sinning' against major supranational powers, the WTO, and ECOWAS.

Indeed, after wooing the under-siege white farmers from Zimbabwe to set up commercial farms in Nigeria, President Obasanjo earlier this year ordered his ministers and other top officials to all go into commercial farming. The implied meaning was thus: yes, we went out of our way to welcome Zimbabwean expertise to lead our country into mechanised commercial farming, but we are not going to sit there and let the “foreigners” monopolise this lucrative industry. And this has been the 'Nigeria First' controversial attitude of the Obasanjo administration.

While some doomsday prophets are predicting a trade war between Nigeria and Ghana due to a ban on about 63 Ghanaian goods into the former's market and the expected retaliatory measures by the latter, not every Ghanaian thinks that Nigeria's action is anti- West African integration. A former Trade and Industry Minister in the NDC regime has lauded Nigeria for adopting such a strategic plan that would rather enhance the sub-region's integration. According to the ex-minister, though Nigeria's unilateral action is not “comfortable,” it is imperative to analyse and understand the ban within the wider context of the global trading regime, which even western international Non-governmental Organisations such as Oxfam and Save the Children and some local stakeholders and interest groups have criticised for being unfair to developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.

“I would like to situate what Nigeria has done within the context of what is happening currently as far as the EPA negotiations that are going on. Until 2002 when negotiations started full stream, I think Nigeria kept faith with the original integration agenda of West Africa,” states Dan Abodakpi, Member of Parliament for Ketu and Minority spokesperson for Trade and Industry, in Accra recently.

Abodakpi said with the imposition of certain ideas in the EPA agreement, the European Union section of integration is clearly not in “consonance with what Africa and ECOWAS are trying to pursue.” He contended that the EPA requirement of a free trade zone within West Africa suggests that all the players are equal in economic, political and diplomatic strength to compete in an “open market,” but that suggestion was deceptive.

“I think that Nigeria, in order to safeguard its interests, decided to be tough at certain levels, which will act as a bargaining chip. It seems to me that what Nigeria did is what we all should have done in the first place,” he argued. He said with the introduction of World Trade Organisation rules into the international trading system, developing countries realised that the WTO 'prescriptions' were detrimental to them and protested against them at the successive trade rounds of the organisation.

He espoused his opinion with conviction. “We [developing countries] fought against market access as the developed world was asking for. We fought against liberalisation of procurement because we thought that procurement was an important tool that developing countries can use to develop their economies… Right now, the EU, through the EPA negotiation, has brought out all those things that we fought against within the WTO and brought them as issues that our countries must accede to within the context of EPA.”

He said West African states ought to revise the restrictions in the EPA agreement and rethink the implications “of going along with the EU knowing what any agreement with them will mean.” He opined that with the coming into force of the restrictions, “there is no way our economies are ever going to develop and no way any industry in the country is going to make it.” He urged Ghana to be circumspect with its approach to the ban. “I think we need to engage with Nigeria so that we can develop a common strategy to fight the EU onslaught. Because unless we do that and we go ahead and sign the agreement with the EPA, we have signed [sic] our death warrant.”

Abodakpi said for Ghana to move ahead in development, “we need to put polices in places that we agree are the growth poles within the economy so we can develop allied industry,” adding that “these are the industries that our monitoring and trade policies must help to grow in order to take advantage of whatever benefits.”

It will be recalled that earlier this year, Nigeria slapped a ban against certain commodities from some countries, including Ghana. Industrialists and commercial operators decried the ban and its effects on their businesses and the economy, and called on Government to resolve the problems created as a consequence of the ban. Recent media reports carried statements by the Ministers of Trade and Private Sector Development and PSI that Ghana was not ready for a trade war with Nigeria, and that bilateral negotiations are going on between the two countries to arrive at a compromise. The Statesman of Friday 16 - Sunday 18, September reported that Private Sector Development Minister, Kwamena Bartels, has rejected calls for retaliatory measures to be adopted against Nigeria. “We are not ready for a trade war with our brothers from Nigeria…I'm sure after negotiations, we can reach an agreement on the matter,” the paper reported the Minister as saying.

Some of the products suffering as a result of the ban include live or dead poultry, pork and pork products, eggs, fresh and dried fruits, beer, bagged cement, some categories of medicaments, water, chocolates, and stadium chairs. In January, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria directed all members of the Federal Executive Council to establish farms either in the federal capital where they reside or in their communities. The country's Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who announced the President's directive after the Council meeting, said the instruction to return to the farm was to demonstrate the Federal Government's commitment to achieving food security in the country. El-Rufai said that every Nigerian minister would choose the type of farming he or she would engage in and as a result of the President's initiatives in agriculture, Nigeria had become self-sufficient in poultry production.

Another major decision taken at that FEC meeting announced by the country's Minister of Works, Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, was the approval for the purchase of seven asphalt plants. The new asphalt plants of about 60 to 70 tonnes were to be leased to local engineers and other professionals to assist them in maintaining Nigerian roads as well as providing equipment to train local engineers. He said the decision to purchase the plants was borne out of Obasanjo's conviction that Nigerian engineers were not being encouraged to partake in road maintenance and construction. As in Ghana, because of low capacity, most of the major road projects go to foreign-owned companies. It is this situation the Federal Government seeks to reverse.

Like Ghana, Nigeria's agriculture is based on small farmer holdings, employing up to 70% of the population. Like, Ghana, the Government sees the need to go into large-scale farming. Like Ghana, Nigeria has several presidential initiatives on cassava, rice, vegetables, oil production and fishing. The only difference appears to be in the aggression of Obasanjo and his ministers to make it happen, even if it means breaching ECOWAS protocols.

By the time Obasanjo gave the directive to his ministers to go farming, commercial farmers were migrating in their numbers to relocate in Nigeria. The Federal Government has actively persuaded Zimbabwean farmers to set up farms in the West African country, saying that the nation would benefit tremendously from their efforts to introduce large-scale mechanised farming in Nigeria. Nigeria's Minister of State for Agriculture, Chief Bamidele Dada, is on record as saying that the presence of the farmers who were leaving Zimbabwe because of unfavourable climate there would help Nigeria achieve food security by 2007. But, careful not to see the Zimbabweans controlling all the major commercial farm holdings, Obasanjo is urging his Ministers to go in there, too!

The fertile central state of Kwara, which compares with the majority of Ghana's regions in arability is where the Southern African farmers have settled. For cassava, Nigeria is targeting export revenue of $5 billion. Besides that, they are targeting one million hectares of oil palm production, 5 million metric tonnes of groundnuts, one million metric tonnes of cotton seeds and 625 metric tonnes of soya beans per annum over a five-year period between 2003 and 2007. Here in Ghana, we have also set ourselves targets. For instance, when fully operational, Kufuor's PSI on Garment & Textiles, is expected to provide 70,000 jobs. Mr Bartels, the Minister for Private Sector Development and PSI proudly announced last week that under the PSI, $4 million worth of garments had been manufactured while a centre had also been set up in Accra to train 300 machine operators each month.

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