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Promoting Free Trade In West Africa

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Advocates of increased trade among West African countries always stress the need to put in place reliable international transport systems to facilitate the movement of goods and services in particular.

In the commercial city of Aba, for instance, many traders emphasise the need for alternative means of transportation to ferry their products from the city to different locations in West African countries.

They argue that road transportation cannot support the growing volume of trade with their business partners in these countries.

“If we have alternative means of transporting our goods, it will go a long way in aiding our goods to get into the markets of many countries,’’ says Chidi Umeafor, a shoe manufacturer at Ariara market in Aba.

Umeafor is one of several young Nigerian manufacturers who are desirous of attaining a smooth flow of business transactions within the West African sub-region.

Economic experts, however, note that the economies of most African countries are growing steadily in spite of the current global crisis which has negatively affected the economies of many developed countries.

The experts argue that the effective collaboration of every sector of the national economies of African nations is, nonetheless, required to reposition the economies to engender any meaningful national development.

They, nonetheless, note that international trade in the West African sub-region has been fraught with various challenges, thereby stunting the countries’ economic development.

However, several efforts have been initiated to facilitate and deepen intra-regional trade within West Africa, in line with the ECOWAS Protocols on Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services.

As part of these efforts, the Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM) recently initiated a sea-link project to boost trade within West Africa, while deepening payment systems and improving the access of traders and exporters to credit facilities.

Mr Roberts Orya, Managing Director of NEXIM, says that the bank embarked on the project to deepen trade within the West African sub-region, in particular.

“The project is geared towards setting up a maritime shipping company that would link seaports on the West African coast in order to facilitate trade and ensure smooth transportation of goods among ECOWAS member states,” he says.

Mr Traore Tidiane, the Project Consultant, argues that maritime trade within the sub-region has been largely dominated by inadequate, unsafe and old vessels, without due regard for passenger safety.

He says that that the sea-link initiative is designed to offer a safe, secure and modern fleet with experienced international management, adding that shipping service will also have the capacity to compete effectively with the fleets in other regions.

“The service will offer a combination of passenger and cargo services that are attractive to traders,” he says, adding: “The capital outlay for the project is around 61.5 million dollars and the funds will be raised through 60 per cent equity and 40 per cent debt.”

Orya explains the rationale behind the project succinctly, saying: “The primary objective of the NEXIM project is to deepen trade among West African states, while reducing the current high costs of shipping goods along the West African and Central African coastlines.”

He adds: ‘“This is because movement of goods between West African destinations are often carried out through Europe or South Africa due to the non-existence of direct coastal sea links in West Africa.”

Orya stresses that the project initially involves the setting up of Sea-link Promotional Company Ltd., a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) created to promote the establishment of a maritime shipping service that would connect West African coastal ports, including those of Central Africa, to boost trade within the region.

He says that the project will later involve the process of raising equity, adding that at that stage, the private sector will come in and buy shares.

“We have identified that one of the barriers to deepening trade within the ECOWAS sub-region is how to move goods within the region; if we have to increase the flow of trade in the region, we have to set up a vehicle to drive this,” Orya says.

“That explains the raison d’être behind our initiative. We need to have an efficient transportation system for the movement of goods from one country to another, while creating jobs for the teeming youths,” he adds.

In spite of the fact that NEXIM initiated the sea-link initiative, it is, nonetheless, collaborating with the ECOWAS Commission, the Federation of West African Chamber of Commerce and the region’s private sector.

Orya says that the hub of the sea-link project is in Nigeria, reiterating that the project was initiated to scale down the hurdles associated with the transportation of goods within the West African sub-region.

Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Bashir Wali, NEXIM’s Director of Corporate Services, stresses that the initiative will particularly facilitate the growth of trade in West Africa.

He says that the project will also promote the fulfilment of ECOWAS integration schemes, as it is aimed at ensuring the free flow of trade within the West African sub-region.

Experts are of the view that the sea-link project will aid the efforts of Nigerian manufacturers and exporters to have a structured access to the West African and Central African markets.

This is because most of the consumer products and raw materials in the ECOWAS markets originate from Nigeria, some of the experts say.

The initiative is, therefore, expected to boost efforts to actualise the aspirations of Nigerian traders and manufacturers to gain access to regional markets, thereby boosting manufacturing, foreign exchange earnings and job creation in the country.

Prof. Wilson Attah, the former President of Ghana National Chamber of Commerce, says that the initiative will promote regional integration and bring about economic development.

He notes that the West Africa has been losing about 45 per cent of its cargoes to European shipping lines because of poor maritime services in the sub-region.

“Apart from the fact that shipping of goods is going to be cheap in the region, the introduction of the initiative will also boost the development of the region’s tourism sector.

“We are grateful to NEXIM for the initiative and the major role it is playing in the project,” he says.

The President of ECOWAS Commission, Mr James Gbeho, says that the sea-link initiative is laudable, pledging the Commission’s support for the project that is aimed at boosting trade within the sub-region.

He particularly pledges the support of ECOWAS Commission for the company that was set up to oversee the sea-link project.

“We will support the company not only because it is an indigenous West African company but also because the initiative’s objectives are aimed at facilitating transportation of persons and goods within West Africa, which falls within the ECOWAS vision for the region,” he says. “It is also in line with our integration efforts,” he adds.

Gbeho stresses that ECOWAS has shifted its focus from its member states to the people since 2007 so as to speed up efforts to integrate the economies and infrastructure of West African countries, while initiating people-oriented development plans.

“Unless we are able to reach that point, we are not going to develop fast enough and we need to develop the continent.

“Since NEXIM’s vision conforms to our own vision in ECOWAS, there is nothing we can do than to support the initiative,” he adds.

Gbeho emphasises that the maritime industry in West Africa is one of the sectors which could meaningfully promote ECOWAS integration aspirations.

Apart from the myriad economic benefits of the sea-link project, maritime experts believe that the initiative will also improve the capacity of West Africa’s maritime industry, while providing alternative sea transport routes for modern and multi-purpose vessels.

Besides, the project will foster inter-regional maritime passenger and freight services, while serving as a catalyst to trade development in and between Africa’s sub-regions.

“The sea-link project will certainly stimulate the economic growth of West African countries,” some of the experts say.

Nnaji writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.

 

Edith Nnaji

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Rivers NUJ 2022: The Storm, The Calm, The Expectations

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After several months of tension and uncertainties, journalists in Rivers State peacefully elected on Wednesday a new state executive to run the affairs of their union for the next three years.
The aphorism, ‘All is
well that ends well,’ best describes the outcome of the just concluded election of the Rivers State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), which last Wednesday returned Comrade Stanley Job as the State Chairman and Comrade Ike Wigodo as Secretary for a second term and the election of five other officers under a peaceful and friendly atmosphere to run the affairs of the council for the next three years.
The backslapping and hugs that greeted the declaration of the results were in sharp contrast to what many feared would happen at the election, which had suffered several postponements amidst tension and threats by opposing factions that emerged in the run-up to the election. On one of the days, specifically on August 12, 2021, when the election failed to hold, tables were overturned, bottles broken and blows were exchanged. It took the intervention of security agents at the event to get people out of the election hall and out of Ernest Ikoli Press Centre to bring peace to the premises. For several weeks, journalist lost the use of the press centre as the police cordoned off the place until a rapprochement was reached with the main contending factions of the council.
The August 12 fight had started just as the then national Vice-Chairman, Edward Ogude, got set to conduct the election as part of the triennial congress formalities. A faction of members in the hall called to question the credibility of the list of voters about to be used to conduct the election because the credentials committee, set up to conduct the election did not display the list of voters for claims and objections.
After the August 12 fiasco, a new election date of January 13, 2022 date was finally approved by the National Secretariat. But the election suffered further shift following objections to the list of members to vote at the election. January 18 was finally approved after the issues arising from the voters’ register were resolved.
If bottles were broken and tables thrown at members in the failed August 2021 date, not a few expected that the January 18 rescheduled event would be any peaceful. If anything, people feared the worst. The weather did not help matters. Very early on Tuesday morning, the sky had darkened, very unusual of an early January weather. The day looked unpredictable as people argued whether it was going to rain or whether it was just another display in the sky what they had become used to as the Port Harcourt soot.
But rather than find people with weapons and unusual faces of suspected troublemaker hirelings lurking about, the premises of Ernest Ikoli Press Centre was full of excited and convivial journalists hugging themselves, throwing banters and holding hands. The press centre had never had that kind of happy crowd for many years or even decades. Curiously, people coming into the centre were not frisked by security agents. And if there were security agents around, their presence did not quite manifest.
Colleagues that had not met themselves for a long time seized the advantage of the sort of reunion and treated themselves to throwbacks as they caught up with lost time and shared memories. The large open space in front of Ernest Ikoli could hardly contain the crowd of journalists. Even as people looked for space to fill up, the elements felt the distances between them were not close enough. Without warning, the heavens opened up and the rains sent everyone hoarded into the bush bar and reception of the main building to create closer body contacts.
The election soon got underway as voters were called in to vote according to their chapels. Many chapels had voted and their members had gone home. Things were moving smoothly though slowly until something caught the attention of one eagle-eyed voter. Voters were being given eight ballot papers instead of seven, a situation that could make people vote double. The discovery was enough to get tempers flying. And they fly. The parties took it up and talked it over with the election committee.
If things were going to get out of control, they were settled with the prompt arrival of the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, who after consultations, got the process cancelled and called in members still around to inform them of what had happened. If the commissioner expected his explanation to calm the audience, he didn’t quite read them well. There was unease. Who is responsible? After all these postponements, who wants to rubbish the efforts again? Tempers flared and murmurs greeted the Commissioner’s revelation.
“We have to come back tomorrow to vote again,” Nsirim’s voice cut through the bedlam, as he insisted that the voting could no longer stand. “Once there is an error in the process, it calls the credibility of election to question.” He praised journalists for the decorum and understanding they had exhibited despite the discovery but vouched for the neutrality of the election committee and attributed the error to an honest mistake. “How would it be possible to again gather the large number of journalists that joyfully turned out for the election?” One person was heard saying over the din, “There will be apathy.”
“It is a family and for us to make a headway (in this situation), we have to make a sacrifice to come back tomorrow,” the Commissioner appealed. He eventually put the decision like a motion to a voice vote. And those in support of returning the following day to vote had it. After receiving an apology from the NUJ Zonal Secretary, who said all the ballots used for the day would be destroyed before everybody. The gathering was dismissed to resume by 11 am the following day.
If the sky of Tuesday, January 18, 2022 was gloomy, the sky of Wednesday, January 19 came clear. If there was any fear that not many voters would turn out for the election after the rescheduling, the large enthusiastic crowd that reported on Wednesday proved otherwise. The votes were cast and they were counted. At the end of it all, winners emerged and their opponents embraced them. As one veteran journalist, who said he was troubled when he heard about the violence that had marred the August 12 the initial date for the election, said, “I am glad to come around and see that journalists in Rivers State are able to put aside that ugly past and are embracing themselves.”
A number of things had happened while the election stalemate lasted. The council could not send a unified team to the national convention of the NUJ that took place in Umuahia in October last year. However the state was able to produce the National Zonal Vice-President in the person of Opaka Dokubo, a former state chairman of the NUJ in the state.
Credit for the successful election and smooth transition during the almost six months of crisis must be given to the Honourable Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, himself a former Council Chairman and Secretary who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring the warring faction together. When it mattered he took a leave from his cabinet duties to troubleshoot when his physical presence mattered.
Credit will also go to the Elders Committee of the NUJ in the state, whose quick reaction and consultations led to the setting up the caretaker committee that took over the running of the council and prevented a vacuum. The Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Friday Eboka, also deserves mention for not only providing security to safeguard the Press Centre on the day violence broke out, but also for successfully bringing the various stakeholders of the council to commit to peace.
The caretaker committee headed by Comrade Amaechi Okonkwo also proved a commendable point for successfully steering the affairs of the council safely to shore despite the many mines that were laid in its path. Similar commendation also goes to the President of NUJ, Chief Chris Isiguzo, and other national executives who despite their engagements prior to and following their elections during the crisis period provided support and guidance for the process that led to the successful transition in Rivers State.
It is now expected that the new state working committee will build on the renewed love, unity and camaraderie among journalists in the state and move the union forward. There are many issues regarding the welfare, accreditation, training and empowerment of journalists in the state, which the council must now address itself to. The menace of fake news and new media practitioners, who masquerade as journalists; abuses by members who go cheap before their sources; irregular accreditation of chapels; and living wages for journalists and settlement of benefits to retiring journalists by both public and private employers of journalists. There is also the issue about creating synergies between the NUJ and public institutions, government bodies, organised private sector and corporate organisations in the state; integration and empowerment of veterans and revival of the press centre culture.
Those elected were Comrade Stanley Job (Chairman); Comarade Okechukwu Maru (Vice-Chairman), Comrade Ikechukwu Wigodo (Secretary); Comrade Esther Obialor (Assistant Secretary); Comrade Miebaka Fubara (Financial Secretary); Comrade Doris Tam Morrison (Treasurer) and Comrade Ominini Wokoma (Auditor).
Job, the re-elected chairman promised to improve on the achievements of his first tenure, work for the bettering of the welfare of journalists, and renovate the Ernest Ikoli Press Centre.

By: Emmanuel Obe

Obe is a journalist in Rivers State.

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What Do Nigerians Expect In 2022?

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As the year 2021 was winding up with all its ups and downs, it was natural for people to state some of their expectations in the coming year, 2022. And what are some of these prospects?
Joseph Omeje, is an economist and lecturer with the Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT). He believes that human beings are usually very optimistic. Hear him: Yes, the economy of the country and globally is very bad but I expect that 2022 will be better than 2021 only that we have to plead with the political leaders to play the game of electioneering very gently. Let there be human face in whatever they are doing. We wouldn’t like to hear that the youths are being used to kill or to commit all evil in a bid for some people to realise their political ambitions. Our leaders should do their best so that we do not incur much human losses anymore. We have suffered a lot in the hands of these religious extremists and those who are pursuing their personal goals.
Economically, Nigeria will do better once there is security. The insecurity problem in the country is something that government can tackle if they want. Once the security situation in the country is improved so as to allow farmers go back to their farms and Nigerians go about their businesses freely, then the nation wouldn’t be as bad as it was in the last year. Government should dialogue with agitating groups. Whatever is the problem let them discuss it so that there will be peace in the country. When there is peace, the economy will improve. I believe that political solution is much better than judicial solution.
I also expect that government should take a second look at the idea of giving out money in the name of allowances. What is N5000.00 for a household or even an individual in a month? Instead of all these handouts, government should create an environment where people can get employment. When we were growing up I know that some states had stakes in businesses. In my own state, Enugu, we had cashew industry, aluminium roofing sheet industry and all that. All these are moribund now. If all these can be revived and new ones added, you will see that there will be a lot of jobs. And once you have job opportunities for the youth, you will see that even the problem of insecurity will reduce and per capita income will increase and the economy will improve.
It is also my expectation that the excessive borrowings will stop. We have borrowed enough. It’s true that no country can do without borrowing but when we keep borrowing and we are not putting it into real investment portfolio or productive sector so that it helps the economy to grow, then there is a big problem. And how do we intend to pay back these loans? We heard what happened in Uganda recently. The Chinese government has taken over the only international airport they have because of their indebtedness to China. What if the same thing should happen to Nigeria?
For Mrs Dorathy Mayford, a civil servant, the experiences of the previous years have taught her not to have any expectations from the government, the society or individuals as doing so affects her health negatively. “I have learned that the best way to live is without having any expectations from life. Expecting good from our leaders in Nigeria will end up getting you disappointed. For some years now workers in the state and the nation have expected that their salaries will be increased to enable them cope with the prevailing harsh economic realities in the country. Civil servants in the state have expected that they will be promoted but these expectations were never met.  So, I have decided that in order to stay healthy and happy, I will not expect anything. I only put my trust and hope in God because only He will not disappoint or fail me.”
A technician, Mr Malachy Amadi, expects that there will be plenty of money in circulation in the country in 2022. In his words, “2022 is a year preceding an election year. It will be a period of campaigns and the politicians will bring out all the money they have been stealing from government’s coffers and saving. So, there will be a lot of money in circulation and that will make life better and easier for the masses.”
Joel Ogwuche, a stock broker, projects that Nigeria will be a better society, a well-planned environment where people can begin to make plans for the future. “As it is, presently, nobody can plan for tomorrow in this country because of several policy summersaults. Those in authority change the existing policies at any time and introduce new ones without even notifying the citizens. Nobody can make a sustainable plan in this type of environment. So, I expect that in the coming year, our leaders will begin to do the right thing for the benefit of the entire citizens and not for a few individuals”, he said.
Miss Grace Moses, a housekeeper, is of the hope that in 2022, security would be a major concern for those in the authority both at the federal and state levels. Grace, an indigene of Kaduna State, working in Port Harcourt, narrated that many people from her state have been forced out of their state and into other major cities around the country where they engage in all kinds of menial jobs to survive. According to her, the prices of food and other commodities are rising daily in the country because farmers have been driven away from villages by Boko Haram militants disguised as Fulani herdsmen and other criminals. She, therefore, expects that in 2022, the problem of insecurity will be given a sincere, adequate attention so that people can go back to their villages.
Jake Baridon, a legal practitioner expects the national and state assemblies to be on the side of the masses and make laws that will benefit the generality of the people instead of being “rubber stamps”. He continued, “I personally will expect the National Assembly to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto on electoral bill. The bill, as far as I know, represents the desire of the electorates in the country and it is wrong of Mr President with withhold his assent for the second time for some flimsy reasons. The year 2020 should be a period for us to start seeing vibrant law making, practical separation of power and checks and balances in our nation. These people have been dormant for a long time and it is high time they showed that they can not only bark but that they can also bite.”
He also expects the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government, the police, the EFCC and others bodies to play their respective roles in fighting corruption in Nigeria, adding that the high rate of corruption in the country is disturbing and if nothing is done to check it, the future of the country will be very bleak.
Arinola Moyo, a youth corps member, says she wants to see true leadership in the country, especially at the federal level. In her words: it’s been as if we don’t have a true leader since the current government came on board. Every time you hear the Presidency said this, the Attorney General of the Federation said that, Lai Mohammed said that. You hardly hear from the President, making it seem as if these people are the ones ruling the nation. So, I want to see more effective leadership in the country.
“Government should also do something about the high unemployment rate in the country. Thousands of graduates come out from schools every year without jobs for them. That is why some of them join Internet fraudsters and other bad gangs.
“I also expect federal and state governments to implement the recommendations of the various judicial panels on #EndSARS. This issue is so delicate to be swept under the carpet.” Moyo said.
Christian Chidi is a businessman. He expects that with the issue of COVID-19 being curtailed, life will come back to the business sector in the country. According to him, since the advent of the pandemic two years ago, business has been dull with many oil companies working from home and many private companies folding up.
A housewife, Lady Pep Iroh, is projecting that, come year 2022, adequate attention will be paid to the problem of soot in Port Harcourt which she alleges is causing serious health issues for the residents of the city.
Pastor Godswill Abalagha envisions that the grace of God will be abundant for the nation and the citizens in 2022 to help see them through all difficulties and challenges. He, however, advised Nigerians to turn away from their wicked ways, including stealing government’s money, shedding of blood, kidnapping, corrupt practices and rather seek the face of God.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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…Creates Two New Offices In Govt House

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has announced the creation of two new executive offices to guarantee efficiency and effectiveness of activities at the Government House, in Port Harcourt.
The governor’s action was made known in a statement signed by the Special Assistant on Media to the Rivers State Governor, Kelvin Ebiri in Government House, Port Harcourt, last Monday.
The terse statement reads, “To ensure activities are functioning efficiently and effectively, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has announced the creation of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt.
“The Deputy Chief of Staff will be in charge of the Logistics, Correspondence of the Governor and Legal Matters.
“Similarly, he has also announced the creation of the Office of the Special Adviser on Aviation”.

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