Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
It should not be surprising that the parlous state of Nigeria’s economy is already being felt around the African continent. The world’s most populous black nation, home to one in every five black persons, endowed with uncommon human and material resources can only be prostrate to the detriment of the Black world. So, all Africans and, indeed, citizens of the world should genuinely be concerned about Nigeria’s progress or lack of it.
When Beninoise President Patrick Talon, who visited Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari the other day in Abuja, lamented that the downturn in the Nigerian economy had begun to affect his and other African countries adversely, he was not only stating the obvious, he voiced out a cry from the heart of all Africans. For, with all of her endowment, Nigeria not only has no business with hardship, the giant of Africa should be the lifter of its brethren.
Benin is Nigeria’s nearest neighbour and Talon, once described his country as Nigeria’s 37th state. He also appropriately called Nigeria “the engine room of West Africa.” President Talon did not stop at decrying the headache being spread by Nigeria’s economic challenges, he urged the big brother to explore its non-oil sectors to increase its revenue profile which has reduced by falling oil prices in the international market.
The President of Benin Republic also wondered, like all patriots, why Nigeria had relied for too long on crude oil revenue to the detriment of other sectors, a development that is responsible for the current economic mess.
No doubt, Talon could not have said more if he were a Nigerian. And his words, laden with so much emotion, should be weighed with more than a little seriousness.
But, it must be said that, he too, like all African leaders, has his work cut out: serve the people truthfully and totally.
It is important that Nigeria and Benin work together to smoothen some rough edges of illegal trade between them. Unscrupulous characters who run trade relations between the two countries should not be spared, in the circumstance. And Talon was candid enough. “There is illegal trade between the two countries, which is creating difficulties between us.”
The two leaders can also intensify efforts by such joint commissions as the Lake Chad Basin Commission to address insurgency and trans-border crimes that have also affected revenue from trade in the two countries. For example, joint commissions in the West African sub-region, if well managed, can make tremendous contribution in military terms to deal ruthlessly with the common enemy, Boko Haram terrorists.
This is an action that should not be delayed. Also, as Nigeria’s Customs Service has always drawn attention to potential trade benefits between the countries, especially now that oil and gas revenue has proved inadequate for Nigeria.
Besides, one other business line that will enhance trade in West Africa is Nigeria’s commitment to making the West Africa Gas pipeline more efficient. And Nigeria’s pledged support for Benin in energy development should not just be an exercise in rhetoric.
Economic cooperation in West Africa can ensure that the West African Gas Pipeline is made much more efficient.
The Nigerian leader was indeed right to have told his Beninoise counterpart that his government was making efforts to stabilise the situation.
According to him, “the resources are there, and the world knows Nigeria has plenty of gas reserve”. What needs to be done is to stabilise the environment so the gas can be regularly pumped to the sub-region through the infrastructure in place. There has been undue procrastination, in this connection too and the time for action is now if economic cooperation as the reason for ECOWAS formation would be meaningful. The time has ,therefore, come for Nigeria to lead in making trade agreements functional and beneficial to ECOWAS members and other African countries.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) at this juncture has to live up to its responsibilities, especially in working with bodies that are trade-related to enhance Nigeria’s export potential in West Africa. Most Nigeria’s border management and ports authorities should be reformed to make trade in the region more operationally efficient. There have been too many white papers on port and border reforms but efficiency in these economic vital posts have remained a mirage. Despite recession in the country, Nigeria’s economy and its huge market remains vital to the prosperity of Africa. But the only way African brothers and sisters will have comfort, in this connection, is when efforts are being made by the governments at all levels to grow their economies.
Nigerian leaders, on their part, should know that all eyes are on them, should stop looking for alibi and shun being hostages to vested interests. For Africans to retain their pride in Nigeria, the leadership should be creative, bold and transparent in managing the nation’s economy and international business co-operations.