Until very recently, many Nigerian entrepreneurs were more comfortable doing businesses with West European countries, to the virtual exclusion of the East European nations which operated closed economies.
The reasons were not far-fetched! Effectively from 1945 when World War 11 ended, the famed Cold War — a period of the great ideological conflict between the West and East blocs — set in.
As a consequence, most countries in Eastern Europe were locked away behind the Iron Curtain, while operating closed and centralised economies that were unique to communist nations of that era.
With the end of the Cold War and the eventual collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union in the early 1990s, however, the economic equation of Europe began to change.
As at date, many erstwhile East European nations have embraced democratic values of the West and consequently opened up their economies to the world.
Poland is one of such nations, which in 1989 shed its communist toga to embrace the capitalist credo and since then, its economic and political forays have known no bounds.
With a population of 40 million, Poland has thus far undergone a massive socio-political and economic transformation, which has ensured the prosperity of its people in all spheres of human endeavour.
For a visitor to the erstwhile communist enclave, the image of a very prosperous nation is discernible as all major towns and cities exude developmental characteristics.
There are broad roads with alluring greeneries on the sides, gleaming and well-maintained trams, exotic automobiles and fine architectural outlays, which typify the nation’s ancient and modern history.
The citizens also display unusual calmness, which perhaps, underscores their strong sense of security and contentment.
Beyond doubt, the citizens’ determination to rebuild their nation, especially Warsaw – the country’s capital, which was destroyed during World War 11, is discernible to any perceptive observer.
War historians say that Warsaw lost 85 per cent of its original buildings, among them, the country’s Parliament, during the war. Since the end of the war, however, the people have rebuilt the structures, recreating replicas of their original selves.
The Polish Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Ms Beata Stelmach, sheds light on the state of the Polish economy, saying that is had grown steadily at the rate of 4.3 per cent annually over time.
She said with some measure of pride that the Polish economy was unaffected by the last global economic meltdown, which pulverized the economies of many nations of the world.
In fact, some economists have said that the Polish economy had grown at such a dizzying pace that the country, which struggled to survive under communism barely 20 years ago, is now the sixth largest economy in Europe, overtaking The Netherlands.
On the political front, Poland is also the current President of the European Union (EU), a feat it could only have dreamt of two decades ago.
Nigeria’s Ambassador to Poland, Ms Asalina Mamuno, praised the growth of the Polish economy when she interacted with some Nigerian journalists, who undertook a study tour of that country between Aug. 28 and Sept. 4.
According to her, the communist Poland the world had known has now become history.
Mamuno insisted that there were vital lessons Nigerian investors could learn from Poland in terms of charting of economic directions, adding that even bigger nations as the U.S. and Russia were already learning some secrets of economic development from the Polish nation.
“Poland has potentials; they are a hard-working people. There is a lot to see here, a lot to learn; they are a talented people. We should have used them to build Abuja.’’
Analysts point to outstanding achievements of Poland in areas as ship-building, railway, alternative and renewable energy, military hardware, tourism and environmental maintenance.
In the construction and agricultural sectors, analysts stress that the Poles have held their own, recalling that a Polish firm – Navimor Invest, with a yearly turnover of over $60 million, built Nigeria’s Nigerdock Shipyard in Lagos in 1986.
Mr Tomasz Marcinkowski, a manager in the company, said that his company was also into hydro-technical construction and the development of power plants, seaports, cement pontoons and harbours, among others.
He bemoaned that Polish entrepreneur largely lacked information on business opportunities in Nigeria, even though they were quite willing to come over to do businesses.
Equally noteworthy is the interest picked in the Nigerian market by a Polish military hardware company — Bumar Group, considered the biggest military hardware company in Europe with a 40-year track record of operation.
Officials said that the group was interested in working with Nigeria’s Defence Industry Corporation (DIC) in the areas of technology.
Nigeria is on record to be Poland’s largest trading partner in West Africa and second in Africa but Mamuno insists that trade relations between the two nations, which began in the 1960s, was still at low and unequal ebb of 90 to 10 in favour of Poland
“Economically speaking, not much success has been recorded between Poland and Nigeria in the area of trade and investment but there are lots of areas we can explore, especially in agriculture.
“They have a good farming scheme and since agriculture is important to our transformation agenda, I think we can engage the Poles. ’’
She identified alternative energy sourcing as another area where Nigerian businessmen could key into the Polish expertise so as to regenerate the nation’s energy sector.
“Ninety per cent of Poland’s power is derived from coal; they also have a clean development mechanism, a technology that can reduce environmental pollution caused by coal. ’’
Mamuno said that some Polish investors had already shown interest in the use of Nigeria’s palm kernel as a renewable energy source — a move she described as a positive development.
A top official in the Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry also hinted that Poland was considering buying Nigeria’s coal to power the country’s energy facilities in a deal that could last for 10 years initially.
Stelmach said that Poland, on its part, would be willing to assist Nigeria in solving its power problems once both countries fostered their relationship.
“There is a need for study tours for businessmen as well as workshops and seminars. I will be satisfied if more companies from Nigeria come to Poland; there will be no obstacles to such initiative. ’’
The Polish Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Przemyslaw also stressed the need for entrepreneurs of both countries to synergise. An immediate action in this direction, he said, was the simplification of visa procedures at both ends.
Niesiolowski said that the Polish embassy would not place any obstacles on the way of genuine investors and businessmen, saying: “If we meet such reliable people, we can hook them up with reliable partners. ’’
He recalled the participation of six Nigerian businessmen in the Polish International Trade Fair in Warsaw recently, describing it as a promotion of “people-to-people diplomacy’’ — a key component of trade relations.
From Nigeria’s end, Mamuno stressed the need for businessmen to always liaise with the nation’s embassies and missions abroad once they desired to undertake any international business deals.
“Most times, once people get their visas, they embark on business trips and deals privately without consulting us but when they go wrong, they start coming to the embassy for assistance. ’’
Observers say that while the consolidation of trade relations between both nations is imperative, there is, however, the need to engender thrust between the peoples, while economic information data base must be readily available.
Mr Marek Zelazko, Head of the Polish Chamber of Commerce, decried the lack of business contacts and platforms where businessmen could interact and exchange ideas and initiatives.
Zelazko underscored the necessity for a renewed partnership agreement, to be signed by both countries, which would be an improvement on an earlier one signed in 1998 by his association and the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).
“The agreement was not fruitful to both countries; there is need to resuscitate the agreement by way of developing people-to-people diplomacy as it is the main force that will drive the framework. ’’
He also suggested the establishment of a Poland- Czech Republic-Nigeria Tripartite Joint Commission to promote economic co-operation among the three nations.
According to him, regional co-operation will expand investments and open up new market opportunities.
On his part, Alhaji Umar Gambo, a Nigerian businessman, who also does business in Poland, stressed the need for creation of increased awareness so as to properly educate businessmen on the opportunities that abound in both countries.
Gambo, who deals in technology systems, decried the low level of trade between Nigeria and Poland and urged the Nigerian government to take the lead in facilitating the international trade relation.
Apparently mindful of these viewpoints, the two countries have begun work on a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to guide economic relations between them.
Mamuno said that Poland produced the draft document while Nigeria was still evaluating the contents so as to harmonise issues for mutual benefits.
In what appears to be a determined effort to promote Nigeria’s international trade relations, the Federal Government recently established trade desks in all its embassies and missions abroad.
The objective, officials say, is to fill any information vacuum and offer potential investors in foreign lands details of business and investment opportunities which abound in the country.
Economic analysts say that while this measure is commendable, government must ensure that the desks are well funded, to enable them effectively discharge the mandate for which they were established in the first instance.
They insist that the funding must be prompt and adequate to save the desk officers from the financial embarrassments faced by some foreign mission staff lately due to the inadequacy of funds to operate effectively.
Salihu is of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
FG To Revive 46 Abandoned Housing Projects Across Nig
The Federal Government, through the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria(FMBN), has initiated a rehabilitation process to revive about 46 abandoned housing projects nationwide.
The bank said this would be achieved through a partnership with Shelter Afrique Development Bank, a Pan-African finance institution that exclusively supports the development of the housing and real estate sector in Africa.
The FMBN Managing Director, Shehu Usman Osidi, stated this while hosting the management of Shelter Afrique Development Bank recently in Abuja, noting that the bank had made reviving the housing estates a priority.
According to him, the intensified collaboration will help provide construction and mortgage financing to developers in Nigeria.
He said, “Nigeria has over 46 abandoned projects in the 36 states and the FMBN is determined to revive them.
“Our findings show that banks have entered into a housing financing agreement with states where the state governments are expected to provide infrastructure for these estates, but unfortunately many states reneged and the projects were abandoned.
“We have explored the product offerings of Shelter Afrique Development Bank and found out that they offer infrastructure financing, so we want to bring them on board to offer this financing so we can finish up the projects and hand them over to many Nigerians who need shelter.”
Osidi further noted that Nigeria, the second largest shareholder in the bank with about 15 per cent holding, will explore areas of funding to achieve its target of delivering 100,000 housing units to Nigerians this year.
He mentioned that the FMBN is currently reviewing previously abandoned memoranda of understanding that were signed with the organisation. This review is aimed at exploring the benefits that Nigerians could gain from this renewed partnership.
Also speaking, the CEO of Shelter Afrique, Thierno-Habib Hann, said the organisation was in Nigeria to promote its development financing agenda and identify Nigeria as a destination for investments with over $25bn in Diaspora remittances each year.
He said, “We are ready to collaborate with FMBN and other institutions across Nigeria to address the housing gap. The challenges are there and the opportunities are also there. As a development finance institution, we are very well positioned to collaborate with the government of Nigeria and in this trip, we met all the leadership including the vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who is fully committed to driving the growth of the sector and invest more in the sector knowing that housing creates jobs.”
Meanwhile, the bank has said it collected about N100billion in remittances through the National Housing Fund (NHF) in 2023.
The NHF scheme was established by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria to facilitate the continuous flow of low-cost funds for long-term investment in housing, through 2.5 per cent monthly deductions from employees earning a basic salary.
Master Bakers Strike; Factional Group Pulls Out
A factional group, the Supreme Bakers and Confectioners Association of Nigeria(SBCAN), has opted out from the announced strike of the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria (AMBCON).
AMBCON had on February 14th announced it’s proposed strike which commenced yesterday February 27th due to Federal Government’s failure to honour agreement reached with the association in 2020.
The association also called for temporary suspension of all forms of taxation on the bakery industry at the Federal, State and Local Government levels.
However, in a statement on Monday, some bakers under the umbrella of Supreme Bakers and Confectioners Association of Nigeria said embarking on strike at a time Nigerians are going through a lot is uncalled for and could exacerbate the situation.
Acting National President of the association, Edmund Egbuji, in a statement on Monday, urged all members of the group not to participate in the strike.
”The Board of Trustee (BOT) chairman and the entire members of the board in conjunction with the national exco of Supreme Bakers and Confectioners Association of Nigeria wish to bring to the notice of the general public that Supreme Bakers Association will not embark on a nationwide withdrawal of services (strike) proposed by some bakers association in the country.
“Supreme bakers deem it as unpatriotic at this time of food insecurity and scarcity in the country. Going on strike will never be an option rather the government through its relevant ministries should call for a roundtable discussion to cushion the effects of food scarcity plight.
“All members of the supreme bakers are hereby directed to go about the business of feeding the nation as any contrary action will add to the pains of the overstretched citizens”, the statement posited.
Price Hike: BCPG Fears Increased Building Collapse
The Building Collapse Prevention Guild(BCPG) has expressed concern that the continuous rise in prices in building materials may lead to an increase in the use of substandard goods, exacerbating building collapse in the country.
National President of BCPG, Sulaiman Yusuf, stated this during the BCPG sensitisation walks, with the theme “Walking towards Zero Building Collapses,” held in Lagos .
He said, “The expected rise in the cost of building materials such as cement, fittings, and even wages for artisans and professionals in the built environment would eventually have a ripple effect that would see a further proliferation of substandard goods as more builders seek to cut cost by all means and an increase in the patronage of quacks and untrained artisans.
“The effects of these emerging menaces may not be felt immediately, but in three to four years, we may begin to see even more building collapses.
“This sensitisation walk is, therefore, an opportunity to bring this emerging challenge to our attention and is also a call to action.
“The Ministry of Physical Planning and the Office of Urban Development have strong roles to play. They must double their efforts in ensuring that building standards are kept by all builders and must begin to fund research or operationalise the results of previous research on local building materials.”
According to Yusuf, it has become necessary to look inward to reduce the effects of a depreciating naira.
“The Standard Organisation of Nigeria also must take extra care in ensuring that only quality building materials are in the market. We must have a hard line on this,” he advised.
Yusuf emphasised that the plummeting value of the naira, reaching nearly N1,500 against the dollar within six-month would result in a continuous escalation of building material prices.
He stated, “The government must train even more artisans and professionals in the built environment. It is my strong opinion that each local government area must have at least one training school where youths can get trained and become skilled in different areas of the built industry.
“Also, special scholarships should be provided for students offering courses in the built environment to encourage more of them to participate effectively. The youth must be encouraged to know that they do not need to ‘japa’ or turn to a life of crime to become successful in life.
“Regulatory fees should also be reviewed, as the government is advised to see the Ministry of Physical Planning and the Office of Urban Development as agencies for regulation and not revenue generation.”
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