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EPA - Reasons why Nigeria is a sitting ’elephant’

Leadership (Abuja) | 18 November 2007

Nigeria: EPA - Reasons Why Nigeria is a Sitting ’Elephant’

The European Union Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Peter Mandelson was quoted recently as saying that Nigeria is "sitting like an elephant in the middle of the road."

This is with respect to the Nigeria’s position on the ongoing negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) Mandelson was actually commenting on the role of Nigeria in the negotiations with the ECOWAS sub-region. The National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) has reviewed this statement and seeks to address it in view of the weight it carries on the relationship between Nigeria and Europe. What we intend to do is to use the metaphor of the elephant or what we refer to as ’the elephant phenomenon’ to give a brief rejoinder to Mandelson’s, and indeed the European Union’s position on the EPA subject matter.

First, the ’elephant phenomenon’ is a popular motif in African folklore evoking both positive and negative attributes depending on which of the tales it appears; but, we shall leave it to Mandelson which attribute his usage connotes. On a lighter note, somebody has pointed out that elephants are not found anywhere in Europe.

But, how does the ’elephant phenomenon’ relate to the position of Nigeria in the ongoing EPA process? The elephant indeed is a prestigious animal at least, for its size and gait, but more importantly for the ornamental value of the tusk. Whether it is walking, standing, or sitting, one fact is clear - it cannot be moved easily from one position to another against its will. This indeed is Nigeria’s position as far as the EPA is concerned. Nigeria appears to be the only country within the ACP bloc that can sit and stand tall before any other (colonial headmasters inclusive) or even withstand any form of ferocious pressure from any kind of oppressor in the face of negotiations. While this may sound pompous, it is however important for the powers that be to recognize that the era of servant-master relationship and if you like, slavery has gradually been overtaken by expression of fundamental human rights. The rights to protect Nigerians from squalor and degradation, from slavery of any kind and under any kind of pretext expressed by ’cooperation’; - all squarely lie on the shoulders of the Nigerian government.

To express the fact, it would not be surprising but regrettable to see Mandelson trying to resort to cheap blackmail or bullying to calm the ACPs, especially Nigeria into submission. Yet, according to the EC, ’there is no hidden agenda other than the development of the ACP’ - and I ask, if there is no hidden agenda, and if the EPA is not profitable to the EU, why the pressure and why the bullying? You want to be benevolent and philanthropic to someone and he is refusing your gift, why must you subdue and oppress him to submission if you have nothing to gain? Sadly, this is not the first time these oppressive instruments have been employed. It would be recalled that several times within the lifespan of the EPA negotiations, the duo of Mandelson and Louis Michele have continued to treat even the ACP Ministers as if they were offending school children who were inviting the long stick of their masters. During the 7th Joint Ministerial Council meeting which held in Brussels, michele was only short of laying the ACP Ministers face down and giving them some 24 slashes of the cane. The only offence they committed was asking for clarifications on how much was set aside by the EC for the EPA adjustment and development fund. It took the bold intervention of the Nigerian Permanent Secretary in-charge of Trade who bitterly called for Michele’s apology before the meeting could continue.

Later in the year, precisely in Petersbourg, Bonn (Germany), while the ACP-EU ministers met on the invitation of the German Minister for Development Cooperation, Mandelson allowed his emotion go before him and was almost casting aspersions on Nigeria. The only crime Nigeria committed was that the then Nigeria’s Minister of Trade (Dr. Aliyu Modibbo) in his statement made on behalf of the ACP Ministers, noted that an extension of the deadline for conclusion of the negotiations was required if the EPA is to translate into development and poverty reduction. However, in the characteristic elephant attitude, the Nigerian Minister quickly pointed out to the meeting that such bullying should be stopped at the gate of some small islands as Nigeria is sure bigger than all such countries whose population is counted in some hundreds of thousands or fewer millions. An observer has rightly noted that with a population of about 150 million people, if Nigeria doesn’t act like an elephant, then something is absolutely wrong. As a matter of fact, what Mandelson and his EC colleagues need to realize is that it is impossible and unfair to compare Nigeria with or treat her like one of those countries whose budgets are dependent on the EC’s ODA. This is the quality which no doubt places Nigeria in the category of ’an elephant’ which other animals ought to accord respect. Nigeria will continually resist such undue pressure and treatment.

Equally true and important is the fact that the elephant has many sides to it and one’s position determines what one sees. Hence, the case of the five proverbial blind men who went to see the elephant comes to play. Since they were limited by their lack of sight they would only feel the elephant with their hands and each returned with a verdict based on what part he touched. Obviously, whatever Mandelson sees Nigeria to be in the entire EPA process could be interpreted in the light of the elephant phenomenon as espoused by the blind men’s expedition above. Importantly however, the position of Nigeria in the sub-region perhaps best describes her elephant role in the current EPA negotiations. With a population of over 150 million people, Nigeria accounts for more than half of the population of the entire sub-region, with about 72 per cent of the trade volume and about 60 per cent of the GDP of the sub-region. Nigeria indeed walks, stands, or sits depending on how you see it as the elephant in the sub-region.

By implication, status connotes that no form of regional agenda can ever succeed without Nigeria’s involvement - this is a statement of fact not merely an ego massage. Indeed, Nigeria has found herself in a position of responsibility where she has to spearhead issues raging from peace and security to political and economic integration in the sub-region. Whether it is crises in Liberia or Sierra Leone, Guinea or Cote d’ivorie, Nigeria carries the burden and shoulders the responsibility of financing and foot soldiering for peace especially towards ensuring that the escalation of crises does not ruin the volatile region and ultimately destroy years of protection facilitated by Nigeria. It is therefore obvious that any agreement signed on the sub-regional level will have more impact on Nigeria than any other country in the sub-region.

In this dimension therefore, Mandelson is absolutely right in describing Nigeria as an elephant in the sub-region. Nonetheless, what Mandelson ought to have tried to know is the reason why the elephant called Nigeria has decided to sit on the middle of the road in the ongoing EPA negotiations. Perhaps, Mandelson ought to have long discovered and ought to be worried that even though the negotiations are undertaken on the sub-regional (ECOWAS) level and by a team, Nigeria, despite her market size in the region is not known to have representation in the team. This may not be of any fault of Mandelson though, but again, his next point of concern should have been to consider the political economy of the sub-region. In that context, his greatest worry ought to have been the rationale behind having two drivers in one vehicle which finds expression in having two regional institutions (ECOWAS and UEMOA) negotiating on behalf of one region - a unique but challenging case among all ACP configuration. This has serious implication on the regional integration which Mandelson and the EPA professes to come about.

Unfortunately, this does not strike the attention of the EC - that whereas the eight members of the UEMOA are all members of the 16 member ECOWAS Commission, yet, they have continued to exist thereby making a mockery of regional integration, and further promoting the divide and rule tactics of the powerful. Does it not disturb the EC and in particular, Mandelson that even if the EPA eventually comes on stream, the protracted politics of anglo-franco divide in West Africa could hamper the successful implementation of the agreement? And more frankly, what are the practical strategies on ground to ensure that EPA delivers poverty reduction to the people of West Africa, nay, citizens of Nigeria? These are more serious pertinent issues than obtaining a microscope to watch and discover those who are sitting, how they lie, in front, by the side or in the middle of the road.

Two: From all indications, it must be understood that regional integration which Nigeria has been funding and facilitating towards boosting intra-regional trade has not yet materialized. Whereas the ACP- EU’s Partnership Agreement boldly places regional integration as one of its cardinal objectives, the negotiations of EPA has not stated in clear terms how this objective is to be realized in practical terms. Thus, Nigeria rightly becomes scared that what she has been working for all the years could be destabilized and washed down the drains by an external agreement which promises seem to be glossy and shadowy and cannot be felt. Why wouldn’t Nigeria sit like an elephant in the middle of the road, of course, to guard what she has sweated for, for many decades now?