Interview for eBizguides. November 21st, 2003

Can you present us in facts and figures what the trade sector represents in Nigeria?

Nigeria is a very big economy, with more than 125 million people, it represents a huge market. Currently our economy is dependent on oil and gas, 90% of our foreign exchange comes from oil, only this sector of the economy is fully developed, not even our gas sector is properly developed. So when we realized that Nigeria was becoming a mono-economy with all the dangers this implies, we saw the only way we could make our economy move and grow was through the diversification of the economy. The main sectors we have to look at are first of all agriculture, which employs 60 to 70% of our population. The problem with those farmers is that they have just small farms barely producing enough for their own consumption. So the Government is trying to see how they can be empowered through incentives and agricultural inputs like tractors, pesticides, fertilizers, etc… our ambition is to feed ourselves 100% and then still have enough to export. The Government has put emphasis in certain products like rice and cassava. We believe that when the agricultural sector will be developed, we will be truly able to diversify our economy as it is where most of our people are currently working. Our intention is to create wealth for this country and to have more revenue to service other sectors of the economy. We also want to eliminate or reduce poverty as well as creating job opportunities to our people coming from universities. Those are basically our core intentions, create wealth, generate employment and fight poverty. Then we come in because we try to promote trade and investment into Nigeria and enable an environment that can actually attract investors to come to this country. For instance in solid minerals we have over 30 different kinds of minerals, each one of them in quantities enough to start a successful export operation.

Trade and commerce play a vital role in the economy of a country. What are the policies you are implementing to ensure your sector becomes a strong and thriving sector?

I believe in studying my environment before starting to shoot. Once I have started, I don’t stop, but before starting you have to know the environment, you have to plan properly, you must have a focus, you must have a sense of direction and knowing where you are going. I just have set up a committee that will guide me on the vision for this Ministry and the initiatives for trade and commerce in Nigeria. I believe commerce and trade is the backbone of any country, whatever you produce, you want to sell it. That is why we must have a focus and a sense of direction and knowing where we are going. In order to do that I believe we must go into partnership with the private sector. Some of the policies and laws we are preparing cannot be implemented without their support and understanding. This is why it is so important for me to have the private sector as a partner. After studying my Ministry, my parastatals and the international environment, I have decided to set up this technical committee to assess me on my initiatives. We must meet as a Ministry with all our parastatals and have an in-house reassessment. Look at what we have done in the past, what we are doing now and what we will do in the future. Once this is done, we will be able to face the private sector. After that, I am going to organize a national interactive forum for all stakeholders. I want everyone to be involved in the making of the laws and regulations so that we can collectively implement them. We are going to refocus and reposition the Ministry and trade investment in this country. We are going to have a mission statement and an action plan so that we know where we are going and that we are not going alone.

What are the incentives your Ministry is launching to generate more trade?

First of all we are creating free trade zones, we already have one in Calabar. The trade zone will provide all the facilities, infrastructure and everything that will make an investor come to Nigeria and acknowledge all the facilities to produce, process and export are present. It is a country within a country. We are creating two more zones, one in Lagos and another one in Kano, there are plans for a fourth one in Jigawa, but we intend to create more as we see them as a centre for investment attraction towards the country, but Nigeria is so vast that we cannot cover the whole country at the same time. Once installed in a processing zone, the investor will be given land, tax holidays, incentives for export and even the raw materials imported will be tax free. At the same time we are also having various forms of bilateral discussions with our partners and our friends all over the world to see how can we operate within the global economy and compete with other nations. We are also in multilateral negotiations with the WTO, the EPA and the EU in order for us to obtain access to larger markets and promote trade. Those are some of the things we are doing to boost a quantum of trade with us and other countries.

Who are then the main partners and main markets of Nigeria?

The United States and Europe are our main trading partners. Unfortunately, the trade within Africa is very limited. This is basically due to lack of infrastructure, currently it is easier to travel to the US or EU than to another African country and this hinders trade among us. But when it comes to trade partners, we are actually targeting the whole world. We are looking at our competitive advantages and where we can sell. We are indeed looking for new trade partners, so we are looking at Asian markets as well as Eastern European markets and other parts of Africa.


Can you tell us more about the kind of products you are actually considering for trade with those countries?

Agricultural products and solid minerals are our main focus, but we want to ensure that we encourage the export of non-oil products, this is very important for us. We want to increase the capacity of our factories and make them able to compete as well as to produce what we want.

One of the main concerns with trade in Nigeria is smuggling and other malpractices. What are the actions undertaken by your Ministry to eradicate this kind of activities?

There is more going under the ground than on the surface, we export a lot, but most of it goes through illegal channels. One of the ways to solve this problem is the creation of borders free trade zones, this way we can bring this informal sector into those zones so they can carry on with their activities within this specific area. If we succeed at that, we will be able to obtain more revenue for the Government and will then be in the position to know exactly how much we export abroad and import into Nigeria. Due to the informal channel, it is very difficult to have reliable statistics. People tend to go to the informal trade, there are billions of Naira going unnoticed. The free trade areas along the borders and the export production villages will help to solve that problem. The idea of the export production villages is to get several small enterprises together so that we can monitor them and help them export formally. The first two export production villages have been launched in Jos and Lagos in November, but we are planning to launch more in several states of the Federation.

How is Nigeria benefiting from interregional integration efforts like ECOWAS and other international structures or initiatives like AGOA and what are its direct effects on trade?

It is very important to seize every opportunity we get and it is also important to integrate into West Africa; having a common market, common custom union and currency will help us to create economies of scale. We will have a region with over 300 million people, a huge market that will give us a higher bargaining power with our trading partners. This will also allow us a diversification of the economic activities giving us also comparative advantages. The integration will also help us to improve our infrastructure like roads, transportation, communication, power, port facilities, etc… More important, the integration will help us to improve development within the area as well as the lives and the earning capacity of our people. It will help us to fight poverty effectively. This is why integration will bring along several advantages, this is why Nigeria will do everything to encourage it and will go for collective efforts rather than just individual ones.

Our readers want to know more about the man behind the Ministry, could you tell us more about your professional background?

I went to the University in Zaria (ABU) where I did my first degree, after my National Service, I joined the Government as an administrative officer. From there I grew within the ranks of the Government hierarchy. I became a Permanent Secretary and later Commissioner of Finance, Commerce and Industry. In 1993, I retired, one year later I was called upon and elected to go to the National Constitutional Conference. Meanwhile I had other public responsibilities and after retirement I was also involved in the private sector. I have worked directly with nine Governors. I also helped to form our political party, the PDP. After winning the elections, President Obasanjo appointed me to go as Ambassador to Pakistan. After my diplomatic mission, I was appointed as Minister of Commerce, so now I am trying to market our products and services abroad.

What would be your final message to all businessmen willing to start trade activities in Nigeria?

It is very important for us to show some high sense of commitment. We all have a stake in the country called Nigeria. We want to fight poverty and unemployment, achieve industrialization in this country and improve the life of our people, we want to be in the global system and make the 21st century our century. We want to move to the position of a developed country. If we want to achieve all this, everybody must be on board to be able to make it happen. Therefore there is a commitment that all of us must give ourselves to, it is something worth fighting for.

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