Only a few days ago, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari, led a delegation to Borno State to meet with the Governor of the State, Babagana Zulum.
In the conversation with Zulum, Kyari promised the establishment of a gas-fired power plant in Borno State within a maximum of 4 months to solve the recent blackouts that resulted from insurgents cutting off Borno from the national grid since January this year.
In Kyari’s words, “We have talked to each other and we think it’s very possible to establish a dedicated power plant in Maiduguri which will serve current needs of power supply not only in Maiduguri but to other parts of the neighbouring cities.”
Yet, there is a significant possibility that the power plant promised by Kyari may not materialize for many reasons, the first of which is security. In the meeting with Kyari, Governor Zulum had noted: “The ongoing insurgency has cut off the entire Borno from the national grid in the last three months. We put all our efforts and restored it back… but unfortunately, after 48 hours, the same group of insurgents went back and destroyed the main tower again.”
This glaring security challenge cannot be overlooked in considering a major power plant project in Borno State, particularly noting that the State and its surrounding communities have been the hot zone of insurgent and terrorist attacks by Boko Haram insurgents since 2009. Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have particularly been states where the insurgents have set up shop and carried out various activities, including kidnap, extermination of entire communities, burning of markets and religious buildings and the attack on the United Nations compound, in each case claiming tens or hundreds of innocent lives.
One report reveals that at least 37, 500 people have been killed by the insurgent group since May 2011, a modest number, some say. Also, till date, some of the secondary school girls kidnapped in the April 2014 Chibok incident are yet to be returned to their families. It is then bewildering how Kyari intends to see to the construction and operationalizing of this gas power plant.
Additionally, while the Minister of Petroleum for State, Chief Timipre Sylva, announced last year about the discovery of oil and gas deposits in the North, we have not seen any exploration and production kick-off. It then begs the question of where the gas for the Borno power plant intends to be sourced. The only gas pipeline that runs through the North – the AKK- is still in its first phase of construction out of three phases and has been earmarked at the earliest, to be completed in 2023 – not counting the typical delays the project will experience along the way.
Should the AKK by some stroke of luck materialize much earlier than the target date, the pipeline route is a considerable distance from Borno. It runs the route of Ajaokuta-Abuja-Katsina-Kano, its endpoint, a striking 481km from Borno State. Thus, there would have to be construction of a tie-in pipeline almost as long as the AKK from Kano to Borno State to get gas to Borno.
Optimists may reference the oil and gas discovery in the North and how production may start soon, thus obliterating the need for a 481km pipeline. This optimism however is not well-founded, as insecurity has been shown to be a major risk to oil and gas projects everywhere in the world. One of the major reasons the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline proposed to run from Nigeria to Algeria was abandoned was due to security challenges posed by Nigeria’s Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the Tuareg guerilla movement in Niger and other insurgent groups along the proposed route of the pipeline.
These increased the risks across board, including for completion and operations through the lifecycle of the project. As such, failing to fix the security threats in northeast Nigeria makes any proposed gas plant project a pipe dream. Transporting gas via LNG trucks is not a better option, given that the drivers and their cargoes would be in danger of being kidnapped, shot at or bombed. The risks for both personnel and investors are high.
In any event, promising a power plant in 4 months for the people of Borno is unconscionable, since a typical gas power plant will take between 1 to 6 years to construct in relatively peaceful regions. What the government needs to do instead of making promises it cannot keep is to work arduously to fix the security challenges in Northern Nigeria and at the same time consider using decentralised solar power to provide power supply to homes, government institutions, schools and businesses while plans to produce gas in the region or transport gas to it are underway.
Tasks before the AfCFTA dispute settlement body
The success of the AfCFTA will depend largely on the willingness of the member states to adhere to the agreement.
The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) held its inaugural meeting on 26 April 2021 at the AfCFTA Secretariat in Accra Ghana. The DSB is composed of the representatives of the State Parties and shall have the power to establish Dispute Settlement Panels and an Appellate Body responsible for settlement of disputes between the member States.
The mandate of the DSB also extends to adopting the reports of the Panels and Appeal Body as well as monitoring and ensuring the implementation of the ensuing decisions. In carrying out its mandates, the DSB will work with the AfCFTA Secretariat while maintaining its independence in the area of dispute settlement.
The inaugural meeting signals the readiness of the AfCFTA dispute settlement infrastructure to take up any disputes that may arise in the course of trading amongst the member States. Disputes are inevitable in any free trade area and when any such disputes arise under the AfCFTA, the resolution is to be in line with the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes which forms part of Phase I Negotiation.
Recognizing its importance to the success of the trade deal itself, the Protocol proclaims that “the dispute settlement mechanism of the AfCFTA is a central element in providing security and predictability of the system” and “shall preserve the rights and obligations of State Parties under the Agreement and clarify the existing provisions of the Agreement in accordance with customary rules of interpretation of public international law.”
Though inspired by the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s dispute settlement architecture, the AfCFTA framework is meant to address some of the lapses in the WTO. In an exclusive opinion piece for “The Africa Report”, Mr Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA, explained how the AfCFTA will work in order to avoid the pitfalls of other trading blocs. As noted in the report:
“The WTO’s tribunal of final instance for global trade disputes, the Appellate Body, has been reduced to irrelevance over disagreements on its composition. The paralysis of both the WTO’s negotiating and dispute settlement arms means that trade disputes between China and the United States, two of the WTO’s largest members, have flared into open hostility.”
Drawing from the WTO experience, the African States in negotiating the free trade treaty cherry-picked the aspects of the WTO’s dispute settlement system that have worked and jettisoned the problematic parts.
At the Virtual Press Conference held on 04 May 2021 to update the public on the status of the implementation of the AfCFTA and the progress made so far, the AfCFTA Secretary-General re-echoed the importance of the dispute settlement mechanism to the success of the AfCFTA while answering questions from journalists across Africa. Commenting on the milestone achievement recorded with the inaugural meeting of the DSB, he noted that:
“The dispute settlement is really the mechanism and is at the heart of the African Continental Free Trade Area. And it is at the heart of what we mean by a rule-based trading system. And at the heart of what we mean by market certainty and predictability. For the first time on the African continent, there is a dispute settlement body that will have oversight over all the disputes that arise under the agreement whether there are investments related, trade in goods, trade in services, market access related disputes. This body will have oversight over all of that.”
All eyes are now on the AfCFTA DSB as it shoulders the task of ensuring that disputes between member States are resolved in an efficient, transparent, fair and impartial manner. The starting point is to ensure that persons appointed to be members of the Dispute Settlement Panels and Appellate Body have the expertise and experience in the subject matter of the dispute and are chosen strictly on the basis of objectivity.
There is an even more important corresponding duty on the State Parties when nominating persons to be included on the indicative list or roster of individuals to serve as Panelists to ensure that nomination is based on merit and proven expertise on the subject matter. The member States should eschew any nepotistic or tribal considerations in nominating State representatives. The Nigerian government should resist the temptation to premise its nominations on Federal Character or other ethnic or religious considerations as we’ve seen in recent appointments.
Recent events such as the reported discriminatory measures against Nigerian traders in Ghana, the closure of the Nigerian border with Benin Republic, the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa on African businesses and the retaliatory attack on South African-owned businesses present examples of the kind of disputes that may come up before the AfCFTA DSB assuming that similar issues arise in the future. Others may include disputes over conflicting public policies, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, rules of origin, dumping, regulatory excessiveness, standardization, trans-shipment, taxation, market access, and consumer protection etc.
The AfCFTA dispute settlement mechanism is restricted to State-to-State disputes. The treaty is silent on the mechanism for the resolution of disputes between private individuals. Notwithstanding this limitation, the private sector participants such as the SMEs and other business entities will be able to petition their governments to implement the rights and obligations set out in the agreement establishing the AfCFTA. That way, the rights of the private sector can be enforced using the State instrument.
For instance, in a situation where citizens of a member State are being subjected to discriminatory measures in another AfCFTA member country, the affected country may decide to refer the case to the DSB on behalf of its citizens, after exhausting the amicable settlement options such as Good Offices, Consultations, Conciliation and Mediation. It is not yet clear what yardstick will guide such referrals or to what extent such anti-free-trade measures will impact on the citizens of the member state before it decides to challenge the infractions at the DSB. Whatever the case, where a member state fails to protect the rights of its citizens, the affected traders may seek other legal remedies available under the national laws or within any bilateral and multilateral instruments applicable to the disputes.
In relation to investment disputes, the ongoing negotiation of the AfCFTA Protocol on Investment is meant to clarify the uncertainty around the framework for resolving investor-state disputes. The member states in choosing to resolve their disputes within the AfCFTA framework should be aware of the fork-in-road provision under article 3(4) of the Protocol, which precludes a State Party who has invoked the dispute settlement procedure under the Protocol with regards to a specific matter from invoking another forum for dispute settlement on the same matter. Another area of interest is the enforcement of decisions reached under the AfCFTA dispute settlement process.
The effectiveness of a dispute resolution mechanism is often measured with the 3 E’s which are efficiency, expertise, and enforceability. Challenges will likely arise in relation to compliance with decisions under the AfCFTA as we have seen under the WTO and other regional trade treaties. It is hoped that the desire to enhance investors’ confidence and the spirit of amity will spur the AfCFTA members to comply with decisions made by the dispute settlement bodies. In the end, the success of the AfCFTA will depend largely on the willingness of the member states to adhere to the agreement and to eschew any form of self-help when they perceive any breach of the trade deal.
Insurance Recapitalization: The quest for efficiency
To tap into this, however, would require players to come up with innovative products.
As the phase II deadline for the recapitalization of the Nigerian Insurance Industry draws nearer, cracks are beginning to emerge from the wall. The most recent being the National Insurance Commission’s (NAICOM) revocation of UNIC Insurance Plc’s license with effect from the 25 March 2020. Consequently, the firm was handed over to a receiver/ liquidator to ensure a seamless liquidation process.
According to Mr. Sunday Thomas, the Insurance Commissioner, the company currently manifests every symptom of a business that would not survive the recent wave, and all efforts to resuscitate it are being frustrated by its owner.
Over the years, especially since the last recapitalization in 2007, the industry has been engulfed in a brawl between the laggards and the high-fliers. While the underperforming entities constantly have issues of delay in claims payment, which has created distrust for the general insurance proposition in Nigeria, the “high-fliers” have continued to battle that narrative through increasing levels of efficiency.
NAICOM has also been coming up with policies to ensure seamless insurance delivery. Recall that in 2019, NAICOM instituted measures to ensure that players in the industry make prompt claims and benefits settlement a priority as part of its quest to restore the eroding public trust for Insurance in Nigeria.
Since the policy of recapitalization was proposed by the regulator, activities have intensified in the industry as players seek to meet the stated deadlines. For instance, we saw a flurry of bonus issuance of shares in December 2020, as firms sought to meet the Phase I deadline by converting retained earnings to paid-up capital as directed by NAICOM. This followed in the track of the series of takeovers that were announced in late 2019 and early 2020. We note that beyond improving underwriting capacity in the industry, the recapitalization exercise would eliminate operationally weak firms that have been a spanner in the wheel of the industry over time.
In our view, there is enormous potential for the players in the insurance industry in Nigeria given its untapped potentials as insurance penetration remains significantly low. To tap into this, however, would require players to come up with innovative products.
One of such innovative ideas in our view is developing products targeted at millennials and Gen Z, who are currently excluded from the insurance net in Nigeria; despite constituting a sizeable number of Nigeria’s population. Opportunities in the insurance industry are widely unexplored and a combination of favourable policies from NAICOM and efficient delivery by surviving players can help open more untapped areas.
CSL Stockbrokers Limited, Lagos (CSLS) is a wholly owned subsidiary of FCMB Group Plc and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria. CSLS is a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
Nairametrics | Company Earnings
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- 2021 Q1 Results: FTN Cocoa Processor Plc reports loss after tax of N162.21 million
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