Nigeria’s delay in ratifying African free trade agreement regrettable – Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo
Olusegun Obasanjo

The Nigerian government’s continued delay in ratifying the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is regrettable, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Sunday.

The former president, who is also the chairman of the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF 2018) Advisory Council, said Nigeria was yet to ratify the agreement, despite leading the final negotiations.

“It is my sincere wish that Nigeria will be at the table before the AfCFTA comes into effect,” Mr Obasanjo said in his remarks on Sunday at the closing session of the maiden edition of the IATF in Cairo, Egypt.

“I went around the pavilions and the Nigerian pavilion was large. How can you be talking about the IATF when you are not part of the AfCFTA? You cannot absent yourself from what is the way for the rest of Africa.”

The IATF2018 hosted by the Egyptian government was organised by the African Export-Import Bank (AFREXIMBANK) in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC).

Urging all African countries to ensure the quick ratification of the agreement, Mr Obasanjo said its implementation and policies would facilitate and support intra-African trade.

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He described AfCFTA as an instrument of transformation capable of changing the structure of African trade.

With AfCFTA, he said, Africa would be able to say it no longer accepts the structure handed down by its colonial masters.

“One of the things I hope we will be able to get as quickly as possible is availability of visas-on-arrival, or a common visa for a number of countries. It hurts that those who want to trade within Africa need to have so many visas,” he noted.

Highlighting the challenges posed by differing trade regulations in different African countries, Mr Obasanjo said Africa needs to get away from the regime of different regulations from country to country when either importing or exporting.

He said the trade agreement by African countries will eliminate trade barriers and help the continent get away as soon as possible, from regulations frustrating trade.

Stressing the need for concrete actions to tackle challenges impeding intra-African trade, the former president who said it was time to move beyond rhetoric identified IATF as a bold step towards ratification of the trade agreement.

On the notion that Africa lacked the resources to finance its development, Mr Obasanjo said he was convinced the resources needed are available on the continent.

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“It’s a matter of how Africa accesses the available financial resources. Money is cowardly – it only goes where it feels safe and wanted,” he noted.

Describing 2018 as one of the most significant years for Africa with the signing of the AfCFTA in Kigali in March and the inauguration of the first IATF’, Mr Obasanjo commended AFREXIMBANK for spearheading the intra-African trade agenda.

He attributed the success of the bank to its culture of continuity, where all its past presidents have continued to work with and support the current president in pursuit of the development of intra-African trade.

On the need to address the global perception of Africa, Mr Obasanjo said the only way to change that was to come together and work towards lifting the standard of living of every African.

On what late former South African President, Nelson Mandela, told him about the three things that give a person wisdom and sober disposition in life, Mr Obasanjo spoke of adversity in life, age and prison experience.

“I say to my children, whatever you may feel, my wisdom comes from adversity in my life, age that I have acquired and prison experience. May you never add that one,” he said.

Describing 2018 as one of the most significant years for Africa with the signing of the AfCFTA in Kigali in March and the inauguration of the first IATF’, Mr Obasanjo commended AFREXIMBANK for spearheading the intra-African trade agenda.

On March 21, 2018, 44 of the 54 member nations of the African Union signed the draft AfCFTA during the 18th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of AU Heads of State and Governments in Kigali, Rwanda.

The signatories included host Rwanda, Niger, Angola, Central African Republic., Chad, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, The Gambia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Mozambique, Cote D’Ivoire, Seychelles, Algeria and Equatorial Guinea.

Others include Morocco, Swaziland, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, South Sudan, Uganda, Egypt, Ethiopia, Sao Tome and Principle, Togo and Tunisia and others.

Those that did not sign included Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Eritrea, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia.

Although South Africa has since signed the agreement, Nigeria is still yet to do so, on the ground that it needed more time to consult interest groups and labour unions.

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