Nigeria’s former acting High Commissioner to Singapore and former Charge d’ Affairs to Mexico, Ambassador Ogbole Odey, in this interview with INNOCENT ODOH, warns that the country may not benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) if it resources are not harnessed to boost it productive capacity and above all, tackle the menace of insecurity.
How do we engage the ACFTA and what does Nigeria stand to benefit from it?
The AFCTA which puts together the largest free trade area in the world is such that we in Nigeria should have and must have prepared for because the basic tenets of a free trade zone is that it grants access to goods produced within territories of member countries to all other member countries.
If that is the case, the question that readily comes to mind is what do we produce in Nigeria that is capable of being a continental sell? Is it crude oil? I want to say the answer is no. Is it industrial goods? I doubt if we can compete with goods manufactured in South Africa, Egypt, and maybe a few other countries. Is it agricultural produce? Well, we are now facing acute insecurity. Is it agro-allied products? We hardly add value to agricultural products that we have been endowed with in Nigeria.
So, if we cannot answer these questions the way is playing out in my mind, it looks like Nigeria may become a dumping ground for others. Don’t forget Rwanda is coming up with a Volkswagen plant, Toyota recently said they prefer to go to Ghana. So, Nigeria may become a dumping ground for those who have gained the comparative advantage over Nigeria in these specific areas of economic activities be it agriculture, be it manufacturing.
You may say that the global economy has become a knowledge economy. We have multitude of young stars home and abroad, capable of marching toe- to -toe but to what extent have they been organised for us to exploit their knowledge. A few start -ups are making waves but we need more to improve the new start -ups that are Nigerians and based in Nigeria, so that they upgrade in order to strengthen our voice and participation in the ACFTA.
The picture you painted of Nigeria’s participation in the ACFTA is disturbing as there are lapses in the area of coordinated plans to engage the process. Why is it always difficult despite our diplomatic clout to take advantage of even issues on the continent?
The challenge can be attributed to the state of Nigeria as a country. Look at the issue of gold in Zamfara and Osun States. Why can’t we process and mine this gold, add value to it and put it on the international market? A friend told me that a lot of the precious stones that were polished in Thailand were sourced from Nigeria and I can assure you that is going on unofficially. So, we need to look more at especially in agriculture and its value, and mining and its value chain. These two are the low hanging fruits, but we need the political commitment to tap into it and then realise the benefits for our people and our country.
There are a lot of changes in international affairs since Nigeria last had a comprehensive review of its foreign policy in 1986. We now have terrorism, COVID-19, climate change, globalisation. How can we engage these issues in the absence of expansive foreign policy objectives?
International and domestic issues are now very dynamic. Just like the emerging realities you mentioned, such as climate change, emergence of non-state actors and other issues. The fact is that being a dynamic phenomenon, Nigeria constantly needs to be re-inventing, resetting its foreign policy buttons and that could be done from time to time. There should be one especially on a post COVID- 19 about what the international arena will look like and how Nigeria will begin to respond moving forward. All stakeholders- Foreign ministry, industry participants are big players, non-state actors like NGOs, they need to come together and create a forum post- COVID-19. Nigeria needs to leverage on the knowledge and dynamism of all the stakeholders in order to formulate a participation in international relations that will be relevant to our national interest and the rest of the world at the continental and sub continental levels.
The growing insecurity ravaging Nigeria has dented our image at the international arena. What can we really offer the world in terms of investment opportunities?
My last years in the foreign service were very tough ones because when you engage with your diplomatic colleagues at reception or wherever you meet them, they will ask you what is happening in Nigeria and it becomes difficult to defend some of the things happening no matter your sophistry.
The truth of the matter is that we need to summon the political will to put our acts together to tackle the insecurity that still ravages Nigeria. Look at the recent incident in Imo State where rather than investigating the matter, the ruling party and opposition in the state are bandying accusations and counter accusations. I could remember I read somewhere that the US had warned the Nigerian authorities about Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP) trying to penetrate Southern Nigeria. I thought that statement should have been taken seriously by our security agencies to look into it correctly and deal with it. But they have engaged in accusations and counter accusations and nobody has looked into what Americans have said. We need to get serious about security.
On investment, let me assure you that nobody puts his money where there is insecurity. Most of the big players in the Nigerian economy do not have investment that you could call solid capital investment. Most of their plants and equipment are either rented or on lease, so these are hit and run investors. No matter the worth of their investment they are ready to take flight at the slightest threat. So, we need to begin to work to create the necessary conditions to meet the taste of both domestic and foreign investors. For us to be competitive in ACFTA , we have to have the right policies and infrastructure in place as well as make Nigerian goods to be competitive or else , we are wasting our time.