By Lucy Ogalue
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has urged the Federal Government to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFT) agreement.
Obansanjo made the call at the ongoing 2019 Africa Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) in Moscow Russia.
He said Nigeria had no justifiable reason why it had not signed the agreement as countries like Eritrea, Niger and even Benin that were our neighbors had signed.
“ I don’t think there is any confusion. I was talking to somebody in government in Nigeria not long ago, he said we would be like a sleeping giant and when a sleeping giant wakes up he will surprise everybody.
“ I believe we have enjoyed the time of delay but of course we have no choice than to sign it.
“ I do hope that sincerely before the formal inauguration in Niamey on July 7 and 8, that Nigeria will not be absent at the launching because I see no reason why Nigeria can be present when it has not signed the agreement.
“If you heard the statement of Nigeria’s Permanent Secretary, you have nothing in a statement more beautiful than that, but he is not a policy maker, he is a policy executor.
“Now, he will go home and tell the policy makers that he has made the right statement and its now right for action. I hope after he says that, they will follow through,” he said.
According to Obasanjo, Nigeria supposedly did the AFCTA negotiation from Egypt with a Nigerian minister actually leading the negotiation.
He said unfortunately while that negotiation was going on, the type of consultation that should have gone on with trade unions, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Chambers of Commerce and civil society did not go on.
“Government is only a facilitator but the people who will really make it work are the private sector operators but they are not carried along.”
“ When Nigeria came back, the cabinet endorsed it but when it was presented to the private sector, they were asking what it was all about.
“The other day I was in Addis Ababa on this same issue, the trade unions, MAN and chambers of commerce were there and they all said they are now fully informed and now fully onboard.
“It is now left for government to do the needful by signing the agreement,” he said.
On corruption, Obasanjo said it was not defined only on when money, goods and services were involved.
While listing nepotism, condoning what is bad and lack of fiscal disciplines as a form of corruption, he said corruption and development were not compatible, therefore corruption should be eschewed to ensure development made significant progress.
The former president urged that corruption should be consistently fought, adding “it must not be a matter of do it today and leave tomorrow, It must not be a matter where you have sacred cows, but comprehensive and all inclusive.’’
Meanwhile, Mr Gabriel Aduda, the Permanent Secretary, Politics and Economic Affairs, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, said the country would soon sign the AFCTA.
According to him if we do not work hard to ensure that a few protective steps are put in place, what we will likely end up with is a dumping ground which is what we do not want.
“With time, Nigeria is going to sign, we have to do like what China did even with the World trade agreement – they gave a condition and that is what we are going to do and you have to look at the size of your market.
“You do not expect a country like Nigeria to be given the same size of cake with a country like the Gambia even though we are all in Africa, it doesn’t work like that because Gambia is just like a local government in Nigeria.
“We need to understand how these things work and we should also understand one thing that behind all these trade issues – the barriers, the policies, the rules and everything – are the big players behind the masquerades- who are the former colonial masters.
“You cannot just go ahead and enter into an agreement with neighboring nations without looking at who is standing behind that nation; how are you going to protect yourself.
“Even though we need a free and fair deal, but how also do we protect ourselves to ensure that we do not just become a dumping ground.
“These are some of the issues we are looking at the moment. Absolutely, we are coming back to the table to say this is what we want.” (NAN)