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Challenging Opportunity for our Trade Minister

Dear Otunba Adebayo

I think you should know that just last week, during an event organised by an international organisation for Trade and African Development, we naturally had reasons to discuss Nigeria and my take was that you and your colleague at the foreign affairs ministry, Geoffrey Onyeama not only share the same birth month but you are also two people dealt with bad cards and a narrow table to play on. We are still in February so happy birthday to you and your colleague.

The bad card and narrow table.

For over two decades, Nigeria has demonstrated two peculiar features that are uncharacteristic of a country that on paper professes to practice liberal democracy: her ministries of trade and investment and that of international affairs have not played major roles in her trajectory. Secondly trade organisations and experts of international affairs are not palpably leading voices and influential factors in the affairs of the country.

It is important that we underline these peculiarities as it will help greatly in separating theory from practice, proclamations from actions and desires from reality. A key feature of modern liberal democracies is the substitution of war for trade and diplomacy in the quest for peace and prosperity. Another key feature of modern liberal democracies is position of the state and private sectors in the matters of country. In these countries, the private sector configured as trade organisations lead the conversation based on their experience and expertise, and they speak through the voice of experts.

In such scenario, the State, represented by the Government, uses its authority and influence to promote and protect interests defined by the private sector as worthy. That is why it might seem to many that the embassies of the Netherlands and indeed her whole government seems to be working for Shell and Heineken and sometimes you hear the British and USA Prime Minister and President talk about their businesses abroad and read scripts that seem to be written by CEOs of these businesses.

The two first point of contact for trade organisations and professionals in a modern democracy are the ministries of trade and that of foreign affairs. They are the ones that from their privileged positions of being a call away from the private sector then go on to shape the position of government using inputs and insights they get from practitioners mixed with their own personal political philosophy.

Alas, things are far from such in Nigeria, here it appears that it is the private sector and professionals that have to conform to the whims of government and in this society, elected and appointed public officials command more respect and have more influence than those who conceive productive ideas, risk their savings, take on debts to create jobs and wealth for all. This is an unsavoury and unproductive situation that has been going for decades.

Business Development

Dear Otunba Adebayo, you did not create this situation and it is a challenge for you but you have a chance, a golden opportunity to turn things around and by so doing become the Minister that gave the productive sector of Nigeria its place of honour. What a legacy it would be for you if you can turn this unsavoury and unproductive situation into a challenging opportunity by reviewing how your ministry works and what it aims to achieve.

The legacy Ministry of Trade and Investment will be there to facilitate trade within and beyond Nigeria and it will strive to promote Nigerian enterprises inside and outside the shores of Nigeria. For this reason, your ministry should, as from today, be talking to the world bank and all the agencies involved in managing the just approved $2.2bn project fund for Nigeria to make sure that Nigerian companies and professionals are used in the project. This will be done, not by using diktat on anyone but by understanding what it takes to get Nigerian companies and professionals involved in the designated projects and making sure the most suitable are equipped to participate.

Here is another thing Otunba, communication is crucial for trade and investment, you need to be clear when you talk and swift when you are spoken to. In 2020, the most efficient way to see what are have to offer and require as well liaise with you generally is your website, as at the time of writing this missive, your website is less than average.

Please take these challenging opportunities and create legacy ministry.

Join me if you can @anthonykila to continue these conversations.

Prof Anthony Kila is Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos.

*First Published in Thisday Friday 21 Feburary 2020

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