Obasanjo expressed optimism that the government would sign the AfCFTA in order to help its vibrant private sector benefit from the integration programme.
Amechi Ogbonna, Cairo, Egypt
Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo and Chairman, Advisory Board of the First Intra-African Trade Fair holding in Cairo, Egypt, yesterday, lamented Nigeria’s failure to sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), despite its leadership role in the continent.
He said it was absurd for Nigeria that had played many leadership roles on the continent from 1963 not to be part of the AfCFTA deal.
He said the rest of Africa countries was ready to proceed with the implementation of pact without Nigeria.
On March 21, 2018, 44 of the 55 African Union (AU) member states gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, to sign the AfCFTA with a view to creating a single market in the continent. Once the agreement is ratified by all signatories, the trade bloc to be created would encompass 1.2 billion people and over USD $2 trillion in combined (Gross Domestic Product (GDP.)
Obasanjo who featured at one of the closing sessions of the first Intra Africa Trade Fair and Exhibitions titled “Conversation with former Nigerian president” and moderated by Nigerian journalist, Mark Eddo, regretted that at a time the country was needed to provide leadership by being on the table to sign the AfCFTA, even after debating it at the highest policy making organ of the Federal Government, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the leadership suddenly developed cold feet thereby leaving other nations who were looking up to it for direction in quandary.
“I just sincerely hope and pray that Nigeria will be at the table before the implementation of the scheme begins. But the truth is that whether Nigeria is there or not, Africa has started to move forward and it cannot stop the rest of continent that have already signed the agreement.
He added: “We started it from 1963. From there we had the Lagos Plan of Action, then NEPAD, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and several others. But what has gone wrong today that Nigeria is taking the back stage in Africa’s economic integration initiative?”
Obasanjo, who also reminded his audience that Nigeria, as the largest economy in Africa, with one third of its the population living in virtually all parts of the world, expressed optimism that the government would comply and sign the agreement in order to help its vibrant private sector benefit from the integration programme. He expressed satisfaction with the heavy presence of the Nigerian private sector at the Fair and urged the Nigerian authorities not to allow the opportunity to slip off their hands.
According to him, the AfCTA is the economic salvation that Africa needs to redeem the wrong perceptions of it left by colonialism.
“I don’t care what people say about me but I believe this is the time that we need to rise together and prove to world leaders that go with the perception that Africans live in huts and that we are shit holes, that we are human beings and the only way we can do this is by improving the standard of living of Africans.”
He, however, called on the Afreximbank leadership to continue with its effort and commitment to changing Africa, stressing that it was high time the colonial structures left by Europe and America were dismantled.
According to him, it’s only when we do that that we can be seen as human beings and not “shit holes”.
Meanwhile, Obasanjo has called on African leaders to commit more to infrastructure development, stressing that such investment would help the private sector expand its operations.