Tuesday, October 19, 2010

After half century as independent nations: No bilateral ties between Benin and Nigeria

50 years after independence, Benin and Nigeria have no bilateral ties
Nigeria and her immediate neighbour to the west, Benin Republic, has not formally entered into any bilateral agreement since both countries achieved independence from Britain and France respectively 50 years ago, “Travels” can authoritatively reveal.
Interestingly, apart from being long-standing members of the African Union (AU); Nigeria and Benin Republic also belong to the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It is also worth recalling that during a visit to Burkina Faso, where we spoke to some legislators including Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, who were in Ouagadougou for a meeting of the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) in September 2000; one had also gathered that no bilateral agreement had ever been entered into between Nigeria and the late Captain Thomas Sankara’s country.
Prospective areas of bilateral agreements between Benin and Nigeria include “Elimination of double taxation” and “Framework for development” et cetera. In deed, we gathered that a “Co-prosperity Alliance Zone” agreement conceived to facilitate economic growth from Nigeria to Ghana, through Benin Republic and Togo is also on the card. However, without putting necessary signatures to relevant documents, such plans would prove no better than mere dreams.
Speaking inside his office in Cotonou, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Benin Republic, HE Lawrence Akindele admitted; “As a matter of fact, for more than 10 years now; the Joint Commission, which is the framework for carrying out bilateral relations between Nigeria and Benin Republic, was in doldrums”. The fourth session of that joint commission took place sometime last year in Abuja. Sadly, however, “the meeting was inconclusive”, Ambassador Akindele recalled.
Although there are numerous areas where the two ECOWAS countries of Benin and Nigeria could further cement their ties, no bilateral pact had actually been signed to date. However, while efforts are afoot to fast-track the conclusion of the processes leading to formalization of such ties; the head of Nigeria’s diplomatic mission to Benin Republic observed: “there are many, many bilateral frameworks within which we can address issues of mutual interests”.
“There are a number of important frameworks for cooperation. And, you would remember that we also have the West Africa Gas Pipeline Project, and Benin Republic have challenges of oil and gas. This means that there are many, many bilateral frameworks within which we can address issues of mutual interests”, Akindele emphasized.
The incumbent topmost Nigerian diplomat in Benin, who attended the joint committee’s fourth session last year, added; “We are now making arrangements to review that session. With that framework, there are so many bilateral agreements that we need to have”.
Hopefully, it would seem that everyone has not gone to sleep, for; according to Ambassador Akindele, “People are already making contributions”. When asked what Akindele would put his finger on as his major contributions, during his tenure as Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic; in the event of his redeployment from his current post, this is what the envoy had to say: “I can assure you that we are working at full-throttle…“So, the legacy I want to leave is an embassy that is efficient and which receives Nigerians with open arms. I’ve told my staff that, where necessary; they must bend over backwards to ensure that Nigerians are in deed comfortable in their own home because this is Nigeria House. I’ve told them to always remember that without Nigerians, we (the embassy staff) have no business being here”.
Referring to encomiums showered on him by Chiefs Emmanuel Uko Elendu and Ebuka Onunkwo, President of Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO) and Igbo Union leader in Cotonou respectively, for newfound efforts by Nigerian Embassy Cotonou to protect and defend the rights of their compatriots in the neighbouring country; Ambassador Akindele declared; “And, as President of NIDO and the Igbo Union leader in Cotonou, rightly observed; we have an open-door policy”.
Apparently alluding to criticisms of alleged laissez faire conduct, when called upon to protect the interests of Nigerians in Benin Republic, levelled against the embassy staff in previous years, Akindele remarked: “Contrary to the reputation of the embassy in the past, we want to make sure that we open our doors to all Nigerians. And, if any Nigerian is in dire straits or any difficulty; we shall not shy away from our duty. We shall go headlong and make sure that no matter who steps on the rights of Nigerians, we shall continue to insist and ensure that Nigerians are treated fairly and within the ambit of the law”.
Apart from greater access to the embassy and protection of their interests when necessary, now enjoyed by Nigerians, the embassy has also recorded progress in other areas. Hear the ambassador: “Remember, also, that this embassy manages the Nigerian International School, Cotonou; and, we are raising the standard of that secondary school because many of us had the benefit of attending what could be called ‘top schools’. That, being the case; we are also determined to leave a legacy of an excellent secondary school in the name of Nigerian International Secondary School, whose primary arm is now autonomous and independent of the secondary school section. We have restructured the school and appointed a new principal as well as three vice principals saddled with specific tasks and segments of the school’s activities. We have also engaged a new head teacher and vice head teacher.
“The schools got wonderful results last academic year and they are doing very, very well and we want to sustain that. So, we are working very, very hard to make sure we leave a legacy of excellence in education here. In fact, everybody who is somebody in Nigeria wants their children to come and study here because the students ultimately end up bilingual with sound knowledge of English and French languages. The parents know that the future is multilingualism, so they prefer their children to come and study here.
Until his appointment as Ambassador to Benin Republic, Ilora, Oyo State-born Akindele served at Nigeria’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, where he was in charge of Third Committee Issues, such as Human Rights, Women Rights, Rights of the Child, Rights of people with disability and so on.

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