MOST Nigerians say the only way out of this recession is to increase our non-oil exports. The Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) headed by Mr. Segun Awolowo, recently unfolded a Zero Oil Plan which it claimed has the potential of increasing non-oil export earnings to $30 billion over the next five years, adding that eleven strategic products for the export drive had been identified. We have heard this since the NEPC was established to replace the more productive Marketing Boards of the old Eastern, Northern and Western Regions.

They expanded Nigeria’s non-oil exports base, but it went down under the NEPC. Federal government officials have been singularly responsible for our failure to promote non-oil exports. A recent report by the President of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce, Chief Olabintan Famutimi, after attending the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) meeting told volumes about Nigeria’s lack of seriousness on non-oil export promotion.

AGOA was designed to assist African countries to increase their exports to the US. According to Famutimi: “All Ministers from Africa responsible for managing AGOA were there…Nigeria was not represented, more or less because the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, was not there; his Permanent Secretary was there. Mr. Segun Awolowo of NEPC was there. But when it was time for Nigeria to speak, it was the Minister of Labour and Employment (Dr Chris Ngige) who spoke.” Ngige had no prepared speech! Famutimi also disclosed that on the opening day, “the NEPC was represented by a lady; the second day NEPC was represented by one Mr. Faleke…The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment sent one representative, who showed up at the opening ceremony and then disappeared. We never saw him again.”

Meanwhile, all the non-oil producing countries sent their most powerful delegations and all of them were there from the beginning to the end. They also took the trouble to network and attempt to attract investors and customers. That shows the difference between nations which are anxious to increase their non-oil exports and those pretending about it.

Without oil export, Nigeria’s export to the US was less than that of Lesotho – a nation smaller than Kano State. The same US provides nearly forty per cent of that country’s export revenue. The difference is clear. Their officials mean business; ours go on jamborees.

The Ministers and the NEPC which failed to prepare adequately for this all-important meeting certainly provided no solutions and the funds spent to attend this meeting totally wasted. With such officials in place, we will get nowhere with non-oil export promotion.

AGOA has been waiting for more than fifteen years for Nigeria to key in and increase our access to the US market. Will we ever do so?

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