By Chijioke Okoronkwo
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says Nigeria must continue engaging crack teams and subject matter experts, to avoid serious economic consequences that may arise from badly-negotiated international economic agreements.
The vice president said that such knowledgeable teams would be in addition to the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations created in 2017.
Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, in a statement, said the vice president made the submission on Monday, at the opening of a one-day capacity building workshop in Abuja, for negotiators of international economic agreements.
The workshop was jointly organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Inter-Agency Committee on Stopping Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from Nigeria.
“That this capacity building workshop will be the start of a structured regular programme of training for negotiators in the initial areas of investment, trade, environment, natural resources and taxation agreements.
“I expect further down the line that negotiators of other similar agreements in financial, air services, shipping, fishing rights and such like will also be included in the programme.
“Our objective must be to build a corps of crack negotiators and subject matter experts on international economic agreements and indeed to develop what should emerge as a national style of negotiations”, the statement quoted Osinbajo as saying.
Osinbajo, who made reference to instances of agreements that brought about undesirable outcomes for countries, cited the cases of the Simandou iron ore contract in Guinea, the bilateral investment treaty in Pakistan, and the Strategic alliance contract in Nigeria, among others.
He said that the deals pointed to the fact that poorly negotiated contracts or framework agreements could lead to serious financial losses for countries, stressing that one of the most significant sources of economic loss for a country was the consequence of poorly negotiated agreements.
“Every negotiator must realise he or she is putting the entire nation’s economic prospects on the table every time they negotiate.
“My position is that, depending on the size of some of these contracts, and their implications, outside counsels who are subject matter experts, should be involved at all stages of the negotiations”, he added.
In preparation for the Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 26), Osinbajo urged negotiators from Nigeria and other developing countries to be focused on the issues of a just transition to the net-zero emission target.
He said that the focus must include ensuring that gas projects continued to be funded by international financial institutions.
“A topical issue in terms of negotiations is the preparation for the climate change conference of parties taking place in the UK towards the end of this year.
“I expect that the approach that will be taken as we count down to that event will be to constitute an inter-disciplinary team of experts and negotiators that can engage meaningfully in the talks.”
Also on Monday, the vice president also met with Nigerian-born Dr Michael Ugwueke, the Chief Executive Officer of Methodist Hospitals, Tennessee, USA, during which he said the Federal Government would look into the National Health Insurance Scheme to complement budgetary allocations to the health sector.
“Right now, practically all of the funding for the health care system is from the budget, and for a country this size, 200 million people, it will be extremely difficult to expect that we will resource our health care system purely from the budget.
“The National Health Insurance will be one way of giving us a more substantial pool of resources, which we can use not only to improve infrastructure, but also improve earnings for personnel,” he said.
Earlier in his remarks, Ugwueke said he was in the country partly to explore areas of partnership between the Federal Government and the Methodist Hospital, especially in complementing government’s efforts to transform the health care system.
He commended the Federal Government’s efforts in tackling COVID-19, describing government’s intervention in containing the pandemic as incredibly successful.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who was also in attendance, said the Federal Government would welcome offers of collaboration from the US-based, Nigerian-born medical expert and hospital administrator.(NAN)