By Robinson T. Sibe
Aha, I got your attention with caption. Me, defending President Buhari? Not really! I only defend him to the extent that he needed wide consultations before signing up. That’s where it needs. The President had all the time in the world to consult widely, but chose to wait till the Bus arrived. Truth is, the African continent is moving on, with or without Nigeria. The prospects for AfCFTA is enticing.
In the course of the week, I attended two separate events that discussed the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), among other issues. The most compelling presentation was made by the Africa Union (AU) Ambassador to the United States, Her Excellency Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao (pictured) at Georgetown University. Her argument was predicated on strong economics, as well as ideological and historical reasons. A very passionate presentation she put forward; in fact I jokingly told her she’s the only diplomat that I know of, that sounded like a revolutionary. She’s another testimony of why more women should be given positions of authority.
I am an advocate of AfCFTA. I won’t bore you with the many advantages. That’s not to say we should sign blindly. There are serious issues which I raised with Her Excellency, the AU Ambassador. I raised the issue of the complexities and differences in the respective production ecosystems; I raised the issue of how industries in less industrialized economies can be entirely wiped out by their illustrious African neighbours with a “borderless” continent; I raised the issue of taxation in the respective member states – eg VAT in Nigeria is 5%, in Benin Republic it’s 18%, Togo 18%, Kenya 16%, South Africa 15%, Rwanda 18%, etc; I raised the issue of currency differentials; I raised the issue of the extractive industry laws that’s still tilted in favour of colonial and western economies with long term JV-Agreements; I raised the issue of infrastructure gaps – eg South Africa with a population of 56 million generates about 50,000MW while Nigeria with over 170 million generates less than 10% of that (about 4,000MW), yet they will now both compete in same market; I also raised the issue of access and cost of funds, etc. She agreed with me that these are real issues that must be looked at.
So, you see, President Buhari was right when he said he needed to consult wide. However, his timing was wrong; he’s had more than sufficient time to either say yes or no to the deal. The Nigerian Manufacturing sector is an “infant industry” and inchoate; plunging in to the deep without a life jacket could prove disastrous. The Nigerian Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Okechukwu Enelama, was someone I expected so much from, but has appeared subdued in the last 3 years. This is the time for him to galvanize the stakeholders and come up with a position in good time, so we don’t play catch-up.
The AfCFTA will affect everyone. Yet, it’s hardly discussed in the Nigerian public space. Outside of Nigeria, everyone seems excited and eagerly waiting. Here’s to stimulate public discourse; what’s your opinion on AfCFTA? What are the prospects and challenges? What should Nigeria do to guard against trade shocks? What should Nigeria do to guard her infant industries, like the Automotive Industry? How can Nigerian businesses position to tap into the 1.2 billion market size of the continent if AfCFTA becomes fully operational? You may drop your contributions.
Robinson T. Sibe is a software engineer, geospatial expert, prolific writer, political analyst and strategist.