The National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) is fighting back EU Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandelson's recent accusation that Nigeria is "sitting like an elephant in the middle of the road", regarding her position on EPA negotiations in West Africa.
In reacting to Mandelson's accusation, in view of the weight it carries on the relationship between Nigeria and Europe, NANTS used the metaphor of the elephant or 'the elephant phenomenon.'
In a 5,000-word statement that is being circulated across the world NANTS explains that, first the 'elephant phenomenon' is a popular motif in African folklore evoking both positive and negative attributes depending on which of the tales it appears; but leaves it to Mr. Mandelson to decide which attribute his usage connotes.
"But, how does the 'elephant phenomenon' relate to the position of Nigeria in the ongoing EPA process?" the statement asks and offers an explanation. "The elephant indeed is a prestigious animal at least, for its size and gait, but more importantly for the ornamental value of the tusk. Whether it is walking, standing, or sitting, one fact is clear - it cannot be moved easily from one position to another against its will. This indeed is Nigeria's position as far as the EPA is concerned."
According to NANTS, Nigeria appears to be the only country within the ACP bloc that can sit and stand tall before any other (colonial headmasters inclusive), or even withstand any form of ferocious pressure from any kind of oppressor in the face of negotiations.
NANTS says while this may sound pompous, it is however important for the powers that be to recognize that the era of servant-master relationship or slavery has gradually been overtaken by expression of fundamental human rights. "The rights to protect Nigerians from squalor and degradation, from slavery of any kind and under any kind of pretext expressed by 'cooperation'; - all squarely lie on the shoulders of the Nigerian government."
NANTS says it would not be surprising, but regrettable to see Chief Mandelson trying to resort to cheap blackmail or bullying to calm the ACPs, especially Nigeria into submission. "Yet, according to the EC, 'there is no hidden agenda other than the development of the ACP' if there is no hidden agenda, and if the EPA is not profitable to the EU, why the pressure and why the bullying?", the statement points out.
"You want to be benevolent and philanthropic to someone and he is refusing your gift, why must you subdue and oppress him to submission if you have nothing to gain? Sadly, this is not the first time these oppressive instruments have been employed. It would be recalled that several times within the lifespan of the EPA negotiations, the duo of Peter Mandelson and Louis Michele have continued to treat even the ACP Ministers as if they were offending school children who were inviting the long stick of their masters", NANTS argues.
Giving specifics, the NANTS statement said during the 7th Joint Ministerial Council meeting held in Brussels, Louis Michele was only short of laying the ACP Ministers face down and giving them some 24 slashes of the cane. The only offence they committed was asking for clarifications on how much was set aside by the EC for the EPA adjustment and development fund. It took the bold intervention of the Nigerian Permanent Secretary in-charge of Trade who bitterly called for Louis Michele's apology before the meeting could continue.
Later in the year, precisely in Petersbourg, Bonn (Germany), while the ACP-EU Ministers met on the invitation of the German Minister for Development Cooperation, Mr. Mandelson allowed his emotion go before him and was almost casting aspersions on Nigeria. "The only crime Nigeria committed was that the then Nigeria's Minister of Trade (Dr. Aliyu Modibbo) in his statement made on behalf of the ACP Ministers, noted that an extension of the deadline for conclusion of the negotiations was required if the EPA is to translate into development and poverty reduction."
However, in the characteristic elephant attitude, the Nigerian Minister quickly pointed out to the meeting that such bullying should be stopped at the gate of some small islands, as Nigeria is sure bigger than all such countries whose population is counted in some hundreds of thousands or fewer millions.
"An observer has rightly noted that with a population of about 150 million people, if Nigeria doesn't act like an elephant, then something is absolutely wrong. As a matter of fact, what Mandelson and his EC colleagues need to realize is that it is impossible and unfair to compare Nigeria with or treat her like one of those countries whose budgets are dependent on the EC's ODA. This is the quality which no doubt places Nigeria in the category of 'an elephant' which other animals ought to accord respect. Nigeria will continually resist such undue pressure and treatment."
NANTS emphasized that equally true and important is the fact that the elephant has many sides to it and one's position determines what one sees. Hence, the case of the five proverbial blind men who went to see the elephant comes to play. Since they were limited by their lack of sight they would only feel the elephant with their hands and each, would return with a verdict based on what part he touched. Obviously, whatever Mandelson sees Nigeria to be in the entire EPA process could be interpreted in the light of the elephant phenomenon as espoused by the blind men's expedition above. Importantly however, the position of Nigeria in the sub-region perhaps best describes her elephant role in the current EPA negotiations. With a population of over 150 million people, Nigeria accounts for more than half of the population of the entire sub-region, with about 72% of the trade volume and about 60% of the GDP of the sub-region. "Nigeria indeed walks, stands, or sits depending on how you see it as the elephant in the sub-region", the NANTS said. (The battled continues next week)