A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), on Thursday lamented Nigeria’s trade imbalance with China.
Agbakoba warned that the country was losing business opportunities by not taking advantage of its bilateral relations with the Asian superpower.
According to him, the country’s large population provides a ready market for Chinese goods, but Nigeria, being import-dependent, gets “nearly nothing” in return.
He spoke at the annual conference of the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators (NICArb), which held at Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The conference’s theme was, “Enforcement of arbitral awards and economic growth in West Africa.”
Agbakoba said: “The trade between Nigeria and China is so skewed in favour of China and we are getting nothing; we are import-dependent; everything is imported. If everything continues to be imported where is our hope? We import toothpicks from China.
“I was listening to the Director-General of NAFDAC (National Food and Drugs Administration and Control) today (Thursday) talking about drugs; we import everything. This has just got to change.”
He warned Nigeria to be wary of becoming overexposed to Chinese loans in a way that could affect its sovereignty.
Agbakoba said: “The other day I saw in Zambia, the head of Zambian Police decorating a Chinese policeman who had taken over the Zambian Police because Zambia defaulted on a loan. So, there are wider implications.
“There is no way we can develop if we don’t take an interest in the immediate environment.”
The rights activist lamented that the country was losing jobs and revenue from a failure to enact a national arbitration policy, as obtainable in China, Singapore and most Western countries.
He observed that despite the existence of a highly competent arbitration community in Nigeria, most of the high-value disputes involving companies operating in Nigeria are still being taken abroad to be resolved by foreigners.
He explained that a national arbitration policy could compel multinationals doing business in Nigeria to put a clause in their contracts stipulating that all arising disputes must be resolved in Nigeria.
Agbakoba said: “When (former) Governor (Babatunde) Fashola was in office and I was the NBA President, I approached him and there were some policy initiatives by (former) Governor Fashola, to the effect that all the trades and transactions within Lagos State had embedded in them an arbitration clause making Lagos the venue and that created jobs.
“We can’t sit down here and be training as arbitrators and becoming fellows and we don’t have jobs. The key thing in arbitration is to have work to do.”
Also speaking, the 2nd Vice-President of NICArb, Prof Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), shared in Agbakoba’s concern that Nigerian-origin disputes were being taken abroad for resolution “to the detriment of jobs and wealth creation in Nigeria”.
He blamed the trend on “the consumption attitude” of Nigerians and speed with which Nigerian courts set aside arbitration awards.
The conference had in attendance the Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, Justice Mohammed Garba, who represented appeal court President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa.
Also in attendance were the President, National Industrial Court, Justice Babatunde Adejumo; and Mr Muniru Liadi, who represented NBA President, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN)