By Nwiabu Legborsi Nuka Esq
The Nigeria Trade Experts Forum position paper was issued at the end of a one-day Roundtable Discussion on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) held on Saturday 24th March, 2018 in Abuja, with the Theme: AfCFTA Implementation: The Roles of the Private Sector in Nigeria.
Previously the African Union Assembly launched the continental free trade area negotiations at the 25th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government on 15 June 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. This decision marked a significant step towards advancing Africa’s regional integration and development agendas.
It was also leant that AfCFTA offers a window of opportunity for African countries to boost intra-African trade, to diversify, structurally transform, and meet other important development objectives and poverty-related goals the continent is committed to under its Agenda 2063 – of which the AfCFTA is a flagship project – and the global Agenda 2030.
It is an established fact and common knowledge that Nigeria is the giant of Africa and the leading economy on the continent. In recognition of that role, Nigeria was elected as Chairman of the Negotiating Forum for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). That role has been discharged excellently well by our Negotiation team and legal experts who supported the process. (Kindly read the vote of thanks by Chief Negotiators from the 55 African countries led by Uganda at the 10th Negotiations forum Vote of Thanks Session in Kigali).
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, in his address at the 30th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa on Monday January 29, 2018 made clear our position and passion when the President said “It is Nigeria’s position that, as African leaders and principal architects of our Union, we must now speed up action to conclude the negotiations and establish the Continental Free Trade Area.”
Now at a moment that Africa was looking up to Nigeria as usual for leadership to achieve yet another milestone in economic integration by signing the AfCFTA on the 21st March, 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda with other African Heads of state and Government, Nigeria in a twist of yet to be clearly identified reasons, disappointed Africa and the world and threw our National image into a diplomatic déjà vu in terms of treaty obligations.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday 14th March, 2018 approved the framework agreement for establishing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA). Emphasizing that the benefits of ACFTA for Nigeria outweigh the temporary concerns raised by critics.
In a responsive and participatory approach, the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs was mandated to widen consultations with stakeholder who have fears of any Negative impacts of the AfCFTA on businesses in Nigeria.
It also stated that in a consistent rejectionist method, some of the consulted groups having been briefed and intimated of the state of affairs, made a U-turn to misinform the Nigerian Business community and political leaders by abandoning the civil process of public private dialogue and resorted to media threat and campaigns of calumny against the promoters of the AfCFTA.
We are all conscious of the gains and pains of globalization but the world would not wait for Nigeria except we brace up and drive competitiveness into our business operations and reap the benefits thereof by integrating into the regional and global value chains.
There were three key agreements to sign in Kigali – AfCFTA Framework Agreement, the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol on Free Movement of People. Nigeria not signing any after the highest executive decision making body in Nigeria has approved called for more questions and puts us in a bad light among the comity of Nations.
Nigeria is too big to be manipulated by a handful of persons who arrogate to themselves the Powers of representing the views of a critical mass of stakeholders in Nigeria. No group of business leaders can hold government to ransom at this stage of the Negotiations.
There were no clear cut national studies or Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) by the Nigeria Office for Trade Negotiations on the effects of the AfCFTA on the Nigerian economy.
The NOTN relied and based its Negotiating mandate on the continent wide studies and data generated by development agencies on AfCFTA at the continental levels, though tipping Nigeria as a major benefitting state under the agreement. That is not enough.
We found it bureaucratically inconsistent for the Federal Executive Council to overrule itself on a matter it gave approvals to severally and jointly. If FEC decisions are not reliable and consistent, it would portray the federal government in the negatives as unreliable and unpredictable.
The AfCFTA is a product of the Lagos plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty. Nigeria’s identity is on the continental process. Thus Nigeria cannot act Anti Africa at this moment.
Nigeria remains the biggest economy in Africa and should not trade it leadership position for short term fear of protectionism. We are also not compelled to liberalize beyond our negotiated commitments nor our power for domestic regulations taken away from us.
Nigeria should overcome the politics of policy making by ensuring that adequate support is given to public institutions that has appropriate mandate to carry out dedicated tasks.
President Muhammadu Buhari is the Anti- Corruption Champion in Africa, thus integrity must be maintained in our diplomatic and economic relations at all levels.
Nigeria should as a matter of national pride after due consultations with stakeholders go ahead and accede to the Agreement and also bid for the AfCFTA secretariat.
Nigerian government should encourage excellence when noted. Thus we pass a vote of confidence on Ambassador, Chiedu Osakwe having led the AfCFTA Negotiation successfully, and we therefore call on the Federal Government to confer on him a National Honor for a job well done.
The Governments should at all time act on accuracy of data and statistics and not dance to the sentiments, whims and caprices of some private interest and benefits captors.
Furthermore, Government should be more concerned about fixing the infrastructural deficits in the country in order to promote industrialization and competitiveness and increase our productivity capacity for the international market space and consumer satisfactions.
Federal Government should revert to our constitutional framework on economic matters by strengthening the National Economic Council (NEC) as established by the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Section 153(1) and Paragraphs 18 & 19 of Part I of the Third Schedule.
The Government should establish a clear cut framework for private sector engagement by the public sector in Nigeria in order to spur economic growth and policy inclusiveness.
National Assembly should also be more involved in our treaty signing and economic diplomacy programs in order to provide protection and participations of citizens in trade and economic development issues.
The various private sector organizations, labour unions, chambers of commerce, traders organizations, consumer protection organizations etc should develop capacity of their members to engage and participate in policy dialogues from an informed perspectives.
Legborsi is the Convener of the Forum and contributes this piece from Abuja.