The Gulf of Guinea is a geographical enclosure of the high sea with the archipelago islands (an extensive group of islands comprising parts of the sea and parts of the islands) surrounded by thirteen (13) countries with a combined distance of 2,350,000 square km, providing access channel to the high sea, exclusive water zones and some resources, including oil and gas reserves. The prime of the Gulf of Guinea is Nigeria, Cameron, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome & Principe, Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Liberia, DR Congo and Angola.
Relationship with Cross River State
With the Calabar waterfront communities existing since 1864 and knowing the strategic potentials of these Islands, the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo created the Gulf of Guinea Commission in 2001. The treaty signed by the thirteen member States of the Gulf of Guinea provides administrative architecture with every of the countries tasked with a responsibility of providing a Municipal Center to serve as a sub administrative consulate in those countries.
Part of the reason President Muhammadu Buhari chooses Governor Ben Ayade as his most principal ally during working visits to Gulf of Guinea Nations for conferences on economic and bilateral relations is due to Calabar having a status as the only Gulf of Guinea Municipal Center in Nigeria and Governor Ben Ayade as the Chief Executive of the state (automatically) assumed the status of an Envoy to the Gulf of Guinea. This was further demonstrated during Mr President’s tour to the Free Trade Zones when the thirteen member countries identified the Margaret Ekpo Airport as a Gulf of Guinea Airport in Nigeria.
Creation of Office of a Special Envoy to the Gulf of Guinea by Governor Ben Ayade
Arising from the need to partner with members states for ease of doing business and a foresight to tap into the Gulf of Guinea’s GDP totalling $76 Billion and considering Calabar’s status as a Municipal Center where economic and administrative functions can be incubated in Nigeria, with its attendant maritime administration and jurisdiction providing the fastest access route to the Gulf of Guinea, proximity to the Atlantic Ocean for shipment of supplies, coupled with Nigeria’s version of the only security architecture to the Gulf of Guinea been the Eastern Naval Command resident in Calabar, Governor Ben Ayade’s Industrialization Agenda to expand the state’s economy across the shores of Nigeria to create an alternative economy, it became necessary to appoint a Special Envoy to handle administrative, consultancy and supervisory roles with the Governor as the Principal Envoy.
The Special Envoy, the Rt. Hon. John Gaul Lebo is a revered diplomatic relations expert with a corresponding intellectual acumen, abundant understanding of international treaties and jurisprudence with an M.Sc in Int’l Economic Law, and a Fellow of the International Bar Association with concise legal background and high performance index, who himself saw to the passage of the ‘Gulf of Guinea Control Bill’ and ‘Commodity Control Bill’ under his leadership as Speaker of the 8th CRS House of Assembly has used his linkages to attract sterling economic advancements to the state, most of which will be harnessed in the nearest future.
Under his Speakership, he saw to the passage of the Wharf Landing Bill, the Inland Waterways Law which (now) enables local and foreign ships, pontoons and smaller boats coming to Calabar without the requisite maritime jurisdiction be allowed to offload and reload to boost local water transportation within smaller localities like Ikom, Itu, Cameroon etc while generating revenue for the state.
Benefits to Cross River State as Nigeria’s only Municipal Center to the Gulf of Guinea
With the setting up of sub entities (municipality cities) by the Gulf of Guinea Nations and creation of the Free Trade Zones (FTZ) and Exports Processing Zones (EPZ) backed by international sovereign laws, Governor Ayade identified the need to create a governance architecture to handle matters of international correspondences after it was discovered there exists frameworks recognized by global economic laws for partnership to fostering interstates businesses.
In addition, the Special Envoy is saddled with a responsibility of counseling the government on the best ways to attract potentials of the Gulf of Guinea to Cross River State, develop international frameworks and getting investments development opportunities open up consular relationship with the 13 member States while creating a strong delivery system propelled by private initiative to boost the Cross River economy.
Achievements of the Special Envoy so far
In just five months into this assignment, Rt Hon John Gaul Lebo has ensured that the number of ships landing at the Calabar wharf landing increase tremendously from 12 ships arriving per month to 46, including providing administrative, political and technical cover and ensuring that the Calabar Municipal Center is set up for increased value chain for robust economic yields. This includes Cali Air, which upon arrival will fly to the Gulf of Guinea States as a national Carrier.
Furthermore, the Commodity Control Bill passed under Gaul’s tenureship as Speaker will allow Farmers access to export goods like Cocoa, Banana, Plantain, Cassava, Wheat, Soya beans, Garri – local commodities of African extraction through Free Trade Zones to the Gulf of Guinea markets, especially Cross River been in the frontline of the Agro-Processing enterprise.
With commitment by the present administration in the state, the Ayade Industrial Park has been granted the Free Trade Zone status by the Gulf of Guinea countries and is (now) internationally recognized as an Exports Processing Zone. This Nobel feat has received an invitation with the Governor of Cross River State by the President of Equatorial Guinea for a roundtable business developments between Cross River and Equatorial Guinea for the Cross River Rice City, Garment Factory, Pharmaceutical Industry and further partnerships with Cross River for industrialisation export.
Also, through Gaul’s influence, the Wharf Landing Bill, an executive bill at the national level, has been domesticated in the state as a sub local legislation allowing ships coming from the Gulf of Guinea to do the various due diligence clearances at the Calabar jetties while generating revenue to the state. There’s also the Gulf of Guinea Economic & Investments Development Council (GEDEC) put together by Gaul’s team to see economic advancements to Cross River State. This is already facing competition from Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa States after the Southern States saw the merits of the initiative.
The Special Envoy, in synergy with some partner consortiums is working on setting up a Gulf of Guinea Chamber of Commerce in Calabar. This has been created and registered in Nigeria with the requisite authorities and the International Chamber of Commerce waiting for air flights to (fully) resume to partners from member States. This will serve as an enterprise roundtable, and an investment hub where import and export businesses; shipping, offshore banking, flights activities can be coordinated from, using the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council where all business transactions between the Gulf of Guinea countries begin and end under the policy of economic growth.
Arrangements have been concluded to set-up a Municipal Consular for a Gulf of Guinea Office in Calabar with international approvals granted and ready for kick-off in the coming days. In continuation of Governor Ben Ayade’s industrialization drive, the Envoy has visited countries, attending conferences to foster economic and bilateral business negotiations.
Though a routine engagement that is not meant to be a day-to-day reporting schedule, the Envoy has recorded these achievements and more in just five months of holding office.
©Eugene Upah is the Senior Special Assistant to Cross River Governor Ben Ayade on Public Communications, CRS.