A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), has said the trade relationship between Nigeria and China is skewed in favour of China, with Nigeria getting nearly nothing.
He argued that the bilateral relationship favoured China more because the Asian country had found in Nigeria a large market to keep pushing its manufactured products; while Nigeria on the other hand remained a consuming country, depending on imports.
He spoke in Lagos on Thursday at the 2018 annual conference of the Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators. The theme of the conference was ‘Enforcement of arbitral awards and economic growth in West Africa’.
He said, “The trade between Nigeria and China is so skewed in favour of China and we’re getting nothing; we’re 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 DG of NAFDAC today (Thursday) talking about drugs; we import everything. This has just got to change.”
To address the problem, Agbakoba however called for caution, citing the Zambian example, where China had taken over the Africa country on account of default on a loan repayment.
He 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.”
Agbakoba lamented that despite a large pool of competent arbitrators in Nigeria, a lot of high-value disputes involving companies operating in Nigeria were still being taken abroad to be resolved by foreigners.
To reverse this trend, he said there must be a deliberate national policy by the government to encourage the local arbitration community.
One way the government can support Nigerian arbitrators, according to him, is to design a policy insisting that multinationals doing business in Nigeria must put a clause in their contracts stipulating that all arising disputes must be resolved in Nigeria.
“When (former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde) Fashola was in office and I was the NBA president, I approached him and there were some policy initiatives by 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,” Agbakoba said.
The 2nd Vice-President of NICArb, Prof. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), also expressed concern that Nigeria-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 the speed with which Nigerian courts set aside arbitral awards.
The conference had in attendance the Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, Justice Mohammed Garba, who represented the appeal court President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa.
The President, National Industrial Court, Justice Babatunde Adejumo; and Mr Muniru Liadi, who represented the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN), attended the event.