Airline owners in Nigeria want the Federal Government to withhold plans to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area Treaty (AfCFTA), warning that the pact holds dire consequences for the economy, particularly for the aviation and manufacturing industries.
The AfCFTA is a flagship project of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, and is aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments. The Federal Government has signified its intention to sign the treaty during the African Heads of States meeting slated for March 21 – 22, 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.
Chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggison, who spoke at a press conference in Lagos Tuesday, faulted Nigeria’s participation in (AfCFTA) as “a hasty decision taken by civil servants without any input from private sector investors who would be the executioners of the policy on behalf of the Nigerian government.”
He also condemned the signing of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) also known as Open Sky Agreement at the just concluded AU meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia noting that the two policies could wreck severe havoc on the economy.
Said Meggison: “We are not aware of any Impact Assessment Studies done by the Federal Government to ascertain the likely impact of such an immediate implementation of SAATM/AfCFTA on the Nigerian domestic airline market, the economy in terms of capital flight and on the employment of our teeming youths who cannot find jobs as things currently stand.
“Nigeria cannot afford to rush into signing of AfCFTA which will give unfettered access into the Nigerian market and is likely to erode the good work Government has so far put in place to diversify the economy and reverse the gains of the present administration in reviving the economy out of recession,” he added.
Meggison said, rather than rush to sign the AfCFTA, the Federal Government should first push for free visa entry policy, into all African countries for Nigerian businessmen.
“Sadly, it is a well known fact that it is a herculean task for Nigerians to get visas to travel into many African countries. Nigerians require over 34 visas to travel within Africa alone. This is an issue that needs to be addressed first before the full implementation of SAATM or the signing of AfCFTA,” Meggison said.
“It is worthy of note that a country like Ethiopia, which is a strong pusher of this Treaty, makes 45 per cent of its income from Nigeria. Yet Ethiopia has a Visa on Arrival policy for over 40 countries. But sadly, and with disrespect, Nigeria is not included among them. So how do we compete with Ethiopia?
“Similarly, Customs tariff (importation duty, levies and taxes) is not uniform across the continent. This poses a challenge to the AfCFTA because it will impact significantly on its success and gains or otherwise to Nigeria.
“Government is yet to come up with a clear policy or mandate of what we want to achieve by signing the AfCFTA or how we will gain from it as a nation. While the AfCFTA has clear objectives, Nigeria as a nation is yet to come up with clear goals that reflect the interest of the airline operators of Nigeria (AON), Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) or Nigerian entrepreneurs in general.”
“There is also the risk of foreign countries carrying out sharp practices in importation of a product like rice, cement or fertilizers which can be re-bagged off shore and sold fraudulently onshore as rice from another African country as a way of taking advantage of the AfCFTA. This will further reverse the gains of the Buhari administration to make Nigeria self sustaining,” he said.
Meggison said airline owners in Nigeria consider it as unfair and a complete disconnect that airlines who are the fulcrum of the implementation of Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) also known as Open Sky Agreement which the Federal Government signed recently and the AfCFTA which it plans to sign in the next couple of days were not carried along in the decision process leading up to the signing of these treaties.
“Only 23 countries out of 54 nations in Africa (less than 50 per cent) have committed themselves to SAATM. Those countries yet to sign the treaty no doubt, are trying to protect their markets until they can realistically compete in the single market space,” Meggison said.
“The question, therefore, is why is Nigeria in a hurry to sign the AfCFTA Treaty when we are yet to put our domestic industry in order first and empower our domestic businesses to effectively compete?
“Nigeria is simply not ready to handle the level of unfair competition that the full implementation of SAATM or the signing of AfCFTA will bring upon the country. It will be counter productive.
“A full implementation at this time will mean loss of jobs for our youth and a mortgaging of our beloved children’s future,” he added.