- As the debate on the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement gains momentum, stakeholders have been expressing their views on the desirability of Nigeria signing the agreement. One of such stakeholders is the President of Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, SAN., CON.
What do you think informed Nigeria’s decision to pull out of the Africa Continental Free Trade agreement?
One can say the decision not to go to Kigali to sign the agreement, and surrounding documentation is because, aside from the very comprehensive effort of the Nigerian government officials to host, to follow up, to encourage other African countries to get involved in a positive way to get it off the ground, the Federal Executive Council approved the framework of the agreement and also agreed that government officials to proceed to sign, but as far I know there has been no official decision that Nigeria was pulling out of it or that Nigeria will not sign it.
It is just that the President did not go to Kigali and it is not mandatory for the President to go because quite a number of African countries were represented by their ministers, so it neither here nor there. Unless it happens today I am not aware that the Federal Executive council had formally suspended it but as at the time it was being speculated that Nigeria was no longer going to key into the framework of the ACFTA there has been no official decision to that effect.
I am aware that the agreement has been on the drawing board since 2012, how come it is just now we are doing something about it?
All I know is that it has taken the African Union and African countries time you know it is not easy to push these thinks through as it takes a lot of consultations and many countries can set up consultations for their framework internally. Since the middle of last year I have been involved in the Federal Ministry of Trade and I know there is a group that has been put together to discuss a lot of things and the trade facilitation of WTO and the CFTA, so there are various levels of consultation. May be some groups were not invited or were not carried along in the Nigerian sense of the word, but for me the Organised Private Sector OPS was involved, NACCIMA was involved, I represented NACCIMA and other officials of NACCIMA were involved and is the overarching OPS in Nigeria today.
The overarching umbrella for the private sector and we looked at it. The issue of labour I cannot say much because the conversation CFTA has been going on in the media, the intellectual circles and sectoral conversations. Everybody has made their contributions and I don’t think that any sector should wait for government to invite them to make contribution on an issue of global and continental importance like CFTA, but having said that you can consult; you can contribute or take part in the conversation. Government must take a position and provide leadership depending on how you look at it. Unfortunately for us, not only leadership at national level but continental level.
Nigeria must lead, it was we have been doing it is what we do well; it is what providence has thrust upon us. Just as I said if not that it would have been so tragic, one would have been laughing. We are going to sign that agreement whether we like it or not unless we are going to be at the back while other countries are in the front. For Nigeria, the leading economy in Africa to be at the back seat, how can that work? You begin to imagine that more than 2 million people, whether we like it or not, more than 600,000 local graduates from our tertiary institutions every year, another 120,000 coming in from abroad and we cannot accommodate fifty five per cent of them in our economy, what is going to happen? We need to expand our industries, we need to grow our industries, and look at what government is doing to rice. Two years ago you cannot imagine that we will be where we are today, just continue to do that good thing for the next two years and we can actually begin to beat back the issue of rice smuggling and foreign rice. We are expanding capacity in terms of growing of rice more than expected; up to 500, 000 hectares can come into production this year. We are enhancing capacity in terms of processing that is adding value to it.
Do you know that most West African countries import their rice hundred per cent like we do? Do you know that we can actually export rice to support the economy of those other countries from here up to Senegal, Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone? Look at what Dangote has done with cement. Do you know that we could not only continue to do much for export purposes? Do you know that the fact that you are protecting does not stop you from dumping? When you are talking about dumping does not mean somebody physically bringing goods to dump on you, in fact that word dumping is a misnomer.
In essence you have to import it before you pay for it and it may become cheaper, but look at it, look at electric wires for wiring houses. Whether you sell it N5 or ten Nigerians will not buy imported wire because they believe in the locally made ones. The same thing, the average Nigerian will rather eat local rice than imported rice. Give me Ofada rice any day I will rather eat it than Basmati. The fact that you want to work on the continental level expands the opportunity and releases the energy of Nigeria and we have energy. Create opportunities first and if we have challenges which are power, infrastructure, roads, rail, waterways these are our own local individual challenges. We have to face it; it has nothing to do with working in a continental free trade zone matrix.
Let me tell you whether we sign or we don’t sign those challenges still remain there you still have to come up with a global infrastructure policy, a global implementation plan, look for source and implement it assiduously with a lot of commitment look at 2005, Abuja to Lokoja was awarded by 2018 it has not been completed, railway 2007 agreement was signed it was stopped by Yar’adua government started again by Goodluck stopped started. Now something is being done about it, I will acknowledged that but it will take time but Buhari has started doing something but can you imagine the advantage of not only do those within the country but linking up to other countries to connect us with Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Freetown and so forth, can you imagine all the advantage that is coming to us with all our energies. We have two things, one we control the economies of these countries, and we have the energy to make them prosperous out of our own prosperity. Whatever reasons we give I think it is one of those things we do to humiliate ourselves.
We did not provide the leadership that was expected of us we can afford the luxury to be rooted in one point while the world moves on; the world will not wait for us
Out of the fifty four African countries about five countries backed out of signing the agreement, what could be the implication of this development?
Which are those countries, we have Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Burundi, Nigeria, Eritrea many of us are just flabbergasted, but be rest assured we will work within that
framework because we cannot afford to be left behind and we know that the world will not wait for Nigeria. We are too important to be left behind. That is just the truth, we may not know our value, it is when you step out of this country you know that Nigeria is a very important country. People are looking forward to talk to us, just this afternoon the Cote d’Ivoire Ambassador was in my office and she was saying you have to give us leadership. The same thing, I met some ministers in Gambia last week the same thing, the same thing was being said. Whatever the case mat be you are our big brother we just follow you. They believe that if we do it, it would be good for us and we will follow you.
Since .Nigeria did not sign this agreement, lets say for instance we decide to sign it later, I am aware that Ghana is already asking to be the host of the secretariat, I had thought that if Nigeria had signed the agreement we would have been hosts
First of all the agreement is now operational because all they needed was about fifteen countries, so we can always come on board that is why I said we would clean up our dirty linings but the important thing is that we also bury the hatchet as there are other things involved in this thing beyond what meets the eye, we will get over that quickly, but this is Nigeria and we can’t afford to be left behind. I absolutely believe that we will sign. It is very important that we have to realise we cannot be left behind. On the issue of the secretariat of ACFTA for the moment it is going to be in Addis Ababa, the AU Headquarters and we had a meeting here in December to clean up the whole agreement and Nigeria provided the leadership, spent all the money, took all the time to do this.
So in the meantime the office is in Addis Ababa, it will remain there for some time but there was almost a consensus that Nigeria should host it but we all understand if they say the office should be warehoused in Addis Ababa in the meantime, I think that is fine but for me it is neither here nor there. What we need to do is take full advantage of this agreement to drive our economy to establish our leadership position in Africa, create opportunities for our people and re-industrialize Nigeria so that we put an end to exporting raw material and crude oil. Lets add value lets create jobs and industrialize, we are in a position to gain a lot from industrial jobs 300 billion in the next three years from China because they are moving us to high technology and replace a lot of imported items, we can do it. Look at automobiles, it is now flat sheet and metal sheet and plastic, just take off with plastic industry in a serious way you will begin to contribute about thirty to forty per cent of parts of an automobile, we can do it, so what are we talking about.
You will not get Foreign Direct Investment until you clean up your act, until you shun the idea of protectionism it will not happen. Secondly the more we begin to show consistency with policy and policy implementation, if you are likely to flip-flop nobody will bring their money to you, they want to make profit and they want to ensure that by the time they produce they can sell and get more money and we need Foreign Direct Investment. Nigerians have the capacity to make investment but if we are not certain, if Dangote is not certain that government will be consistent, if other boys in the industry are not certain, how do we want them to invest their money because they have to raise money somewhere. I am certain that this is just a temporary set back and I think commonsense would prevail.
Do you believe that if this agreement is signed it will further strengthen the economic recovery plan of this administration?
It will definitely, it will strengthen the Economic Recovery Growth Plan which is a short term plan and will make it possible for us to have a mid term plan before having a long term plan for about fifteen to twenty years. We need to have these plans and you know that in the Economic Recovery Growth Plan the underlying issue is for us to be able to produce more, to create jobs to increase ease of doing business and create an enabling environment.
The government is actually moving along that line and to begin to replace the things we import like food equipment and gradually the industrial revolution plan is on paper, by the time we begin to implement it we need more markets we need to establish our authority. If you move between here and Banjul it is two and a half days and if you are moving ten trucks of products you have two and a half days but if it Brazil which is the nearest big country to them it is about ten days by sea, so you see the advantage that we have. So we can produce five times what we require and be able to sell on the west coast to assist the economy and get all these people, the Lebanese who are holding us by the throat, get them off and work with them in a more humane way and it is good for us so why don’t we take that opportunity. I think this agreement will assist the economic recovery plan, but more importantly government has to be more consistent in its policies so that the ERG can achieve optimally what it is supposed to achieve.
I believe that the Federal Government will start to open up discussions with stakeholders to key into the agreement.
This will also allow us to learn a lesson, for everything government wants to do let there be a structure, if you want negotiate the economy or trade let there be a formal structure so that people will see that this is the structure for negotiation both at the consultative level and government level. A lot of things are being done by government officials in silos. Ministry of Finance will not know what Ministry of Trade is doing, Ministry of Agric will not know what Ministry of water resources is doing and Ministry of Health will not know what Ministry of Education is doing. We need to begin to work much more on a multi lateral level instead of silos.
Having said that let the stakeholders be carried along. The Minister of Trade should identify the people they want to consult on a broad level because there are thousands of groups. If you have a topic with twenty Nigerians they would have twenty opinions and you end up wasting the whole day and nothing comes out. Again leadership must be provided, you cannot just bring everybody in and they say I want to be in the consultative group. Even though we have not signed does not mean that in the implementation we cannot be.