Time to keep your eyes on the ball, Nigeria!
By Richard Mammah
I can appreciate the concern of some in Nigeria over what we will describe here as the “Moroccan invasion,’ namely, the recent moves by the Northern African states of Morocco and Tunisia to find a berth within the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.
Though the issues involved in the ‘invasion’ affect two of the five states of North Africa, we will rather focus on Morocco because its application to join the West African Regional Economic Community is somewhat more definitive.
And since there is really no smoke without fire, let the ‘invasion’ be put in proper perspective.
Serious nations the world over put their economic interests on the front burner as per their inter-national relations. And in a precise sense, my suspicion is that Morocco and Tunisia are coming into ECOWAS for this simple reason. As the former American president expressed it in ‘French’ in another context: ‘it is the economy, stupid!’
For me then, the first question to ask is: are these nations wrong in seeking more economic opportunities for their nations outside of their own AU-endorsed Regional Economic Community, REC, the Arab Maghreb Union? If they can go to Asia, North America and Europe in search of economic deals, why not come to West Africa which by the way they had very robustly traded with before the European scramble for, and the partition of Africa? or has someone not read about the multi-centuries old trans-Sahara trade routes?
The second point would be to recall that ECOWAS was established 42 years ago and then go on to ask why Nigeria, the sulking natural giant of the sub-region, has not built its capacity to provide the goods and services that it is now worried that the North Africans – who by the way only became independent four years before it – would now be serving the region with?
And then, our third point: just like had been the case recently with the ECOWAS/EU Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA, which Nigeria literally vetoed several months back, the point has to be raised as to why the rest of West Africa now seems to be looking in places beyond Nigeria for their economic succour! And in my view the obvious answer is that Nigeria has not proved over time, and even now, that it can and will put its money where its size is!
More evidence of this would be seen in the continuing postponement of the date for the commencement of the Common West African Currency, the ECO, simply because, unlike was the case with the EU where the larger economies of Germany and France stood to guarantee the currency at its outset, Nigeria simply cannot play that role today.
And there are equally other issues like ECOWAS going bowl in hand all over the world in search of grants and aid to run its operations and lest we also forget, Nigeria has over the years signed all kinds of agreements to supply, power or gas to countries in the region which it had not fully delivered on. So should these independent West African nations not ‘shine their eyes’ and look for better deals where they can find them? Na geographical proximity dem go chop?
Rather than moan over the North African threat, I think we should look ourselves in the face and deal with our limiting factors. To whom much is given, much is expected. And the fact is that we have really been regional laggards with no real moral plank to undergird our size We have been a not-very-good inspiration for others on account of our many failings. While we continue to nurse our oil price and recession wounds, nimbler performers like Cote d’Ivoire are diversifying their economies, attracting investments from everywhere and growing at 7 percent per annum! While we cannot create jobs and have a debilitating 14.2 percent unemployment rate, our next door neighbour, Republic du Benin has a paltry one percent unemployment rate! But the good news is that all hope is not lost for us. if we adopt the right perspective and work at it assiduously, we can fix many of these challenges in two years flat! And I mean two years flat!
The first reason why our industrial capacity is low is the power challenge. MAN says, our power crisis adds an unnecessary 40 percent to production costs. Revoking licenses of ill-capitalised DISCOs and licensing more expanded captive power providers would bring immense relief here.
Second, we have to deal with issues of access to capital and the cost of money. There are still too many farmers, barbers and traders who need N50,000.00 to run their businesses but cannot find it, and at affordable rates too. We must work on bringing down interest rates to between 5 and 8 percent. And do not tell me it cannot be done! If the CBN can fight the exchange rate rise, why not the interest rate which by the way is even more fundamental!
But then we can decide to continue to play the ostrich, ignore common sense, continue to chase shadows and blaming everyone else – including the North Africans now – as being the cause of our problems. But to put an even firmer check on that lie, we should look into the Agenda 2063 programme of the African Union and the current moves to further open up the African roads and skies through the Common All-Africa Passport Scheme and then the ports and markets through the Expanded African Customs and Common Market Initiatives to know that the Moroccans and Tunisians are only the fore-runners, prompting us to up our game and rise up to the fullness of our possibilities and calling as the real giants of Africa. And giants do not lead from the rear! Sit up Nigeria, the North Africans are not your problem!
Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun