The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is the body that regulates and facilitates international trade between nations. It officially started operations on January 1, 1995, following the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement. It replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that was established in 1948. The WTO is the world’s largest international economic organisation, with 164 member states representing over 96% of global trade and global GDP.
It facilitates trade in goods, services and intellectual property among participating countries by providing a framework for negotiating trade agreements, which usually aim to reduce or eliminate tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions. These agreements are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their legislatures. The ogarnisation also administers independent dispute resolution for enforcing participants’ adherence to trade agreements and resolving trade-related disputes. It prohibits discrimination between trading partners, but provides exceptions for environmental protection, national security and other important goals.
With its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the organisation’s top decision-making body is the ministerial conference, which is composed of all member states and usually convenes biannually. Consensus is emphasised in all its decisions. Its day-to-day functions are handled by the General Council, made up of representatives from all members.
Nigeria and non-oil export promotion
Nigeria’s desire to promote exports is a formal objective of successive Federal Governments. Its overall strategy is to diversify the productive base of the economy away from oil and to foster market –oriented and private sector-driven economy. This strategy aligns with the overall economic agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari to intensely grow revenue from non-oil sources within the economy.
From the rebased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures, the oil sector contributes only about 15.9% to the entire GDP, leaving the remaining 74.1% to be shared among the sectors (the non-oil sector); i.e. agriculture, services, manufacturing, telecoms, among others. This is a gradual reversal of the initial trend in the GDP proportions between the oil and nonoil sectors. The potential for enhanced non-oil tax revenue through international trade and foreign direct investment cannot be tapped more significantly without strong representation at WTO.
But Nigeria is a subject of negative discussions in WTO offices over non-replacement of a substantive envoy to the global organsation following the unofficial recall of Nigeria Ambassador to the body, David Adejuwon, in 2017 without proper communication.
His appointment was conveyed in two letters of approval by Mr. President on July 1, 2013 and that of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment dated July 24, 2013. The inability of the ministry to send a replacement is more embarrassing as a Nigerian, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, now sits as the first female director-general of the organisation.
Though the approval for Adejuwon’s appointment was with immediate effect, the envoy could not assume duty in Geneva until March 3, 2014, after his predecessor, Ambassador Yunov Fredrick Agah, who was retired from the Federal Civil Service in January, 2010, as a result of tenure policy of the Federal Government, finally vacated the office.
All efforts to speak with the embattled ambassador on the matter proved abortive. He only told The Nation that his lawyers have advised him not to grant any interview on the matter against the contempt of the court because he proceeded to the National Industrial Court in October, 2017 to demand for payment of his statutory allowances and repatriation entitlement.
The beginning of the crisis
According to investigation carried out by The Nation, the current situation started barely a year after Adejuwon resumed duty in Geneva. He then wrote the ministry drawing attention to the negative consequences of the non-remission of the Overhead Cost Allocations released to the ministry by the Federal Ministry of Finance and the failure to remit the overhead appropriation to the Nigeria Trade Office (NTO), Geneva for the months of September to December, 2014, for the smooth operation of the office and image of Nigeria.
With money not released and out of frustration, the envoy gave the ministry three-months’ notice to recall him from Geneva, settle his outstanding financial commitments, pay his repatriation entitlements and arrange for a replacement.
The ministry till date, neither issues the necessary letter of recall nor appoint a new ambassador to the WTO.
According to WTO policy, this implies that Adejuwon technically speaking is still Nigeria Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation and other Trade Related International Organisations in Geneva, Switzerland as approved by the President.
His Statutory Foreign Service Allowance and other entitlements were stopped with effect from September, 2016.
Moves to resolve the matter
Adejuwon, however, took the matter up with the ministry and when all the entreaties failed, he returned to Nigeria in 2017 with his personal effects locked up in his official residence in Geneva with his family members stranded abroad.
He then proceeded to National Industrial Court in October 2017. But, the ministry has failed to file a statement of defence in court from October, 2017 to February, 2019 despite the fact that it was duly served with the court processes.
The ministry reached out to the envoy through a phone call made by the Permanent Secretary followed by invitation letters, for a meeting with a Committee of Directors constituted by the ministry on payment of Adejuwon’s repatriation allowance and other related matters and to discuss the possibility of an out-of-court dispute resolution.
After the meeting, the committee members promised to advise the then minister, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, to pay Adejuwon’s entitlements.
The ministry agreed to renew his diplomatic passport and that of his spouse, which had expired and to obtain one year Schengen Multiple Entry Visas on the renewed passports to enable the family members travel back to Geneva and arrange for the shipment of their personal effects immediately the envoy receive his claims for final return to Nigeria. It was learnt that the original passports were handed over to the Permanent Secretary.
Owing to the discussion with the ministry, Adejuwon’s solicitors during the court sitting on March 6, 2019, notified the court of the move by the ministry to settle the matter out-of-court and requested for a long adjournment. The court proceeded on judicial vacation following which the matter was adjourned till end of September, 2019.
Another letter of invitation was sent to the envoy to come and sign an undertaking on an offer by the ministry for payment of his statutory Foreign Service Allowance and repatriation entitlements.
Adejuwon declined the amount offered, which was to be paid in Naira at official exchange rate instead of dollar, through his legal counsel.
In a letter addressed to the new Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, the envoy clearly stated that he had not been officially recalled as the Nigerian Ambassador to the WTO, Geneva, couple with the fact that the payment of his statutory allowance was unlawfully stopped as well as repatriation entitlement to enable him return to Nigeria with his family in line with the provisions of the Foreign Service Rules had not been paid.
He added that he was forced to seek redress in the National Industrial Court in October, 2017, following alleged the unfair treatment by Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.
Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, and Foreign Affairs reactions
In his reaction, the spokesman to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Ifedayo Sayo, said the ministry has nominated a replacement for Adejuwon to the Presidency and it’s expecting an approval.
Sayo said: “Yes, I just spoke with the minister on the issues you raised. A new nominee has been forwarded to the Presidency and the ministry is expecting a reply any moment from now. It is also true that the former ambassador instituted a case in court, which is yet to be determined by the court.”
Also, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Ferdinand Nwonye, said the minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, was not around to attend to The Nation’s reaction on the matter.
A source in the ministry, however, told The Nation that matters concerning WTO are within the purview of Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. According to the source, “the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment only need to notify the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about any approved nominee for the post and the need for orientation for the appointee”.
But the waiting game for a new ambassador to WTO continues.