Deepening Nigeria’s AfCFTA involvement: Practical steps
By Richard Mammah
The recent visit by the Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, Mr. Wamkele Mene to Nigeria is indeed a welcome one. As Africa’s largest economy and most populous state, Nigeria’s involvement and full participation in the AfCFTA process can indeed not be under-estimated. It is crucial.
And it is most important also that the rest of the continent gives the West African nation its due in this regard, more so when it is all important that everyone be carried along in this most desirable project. And talking about desirability, it is indeed time for Africans to clink their glasses on the relative progress recorded this far with AfCFTA. Given the many booby traps on the way, it is notable that AfCFTA, arguably the continent’s most ambitious initiative since the decolonisation era, has come this far.
But then there are issues and they need to be addressed overall, and in particular for us at the moment, in relation to how to get Nigeria to play an even stronger role in the entire AfCFTA process.
And in this writer’s view the way to go is to break it into its two critical sub-sets: ratifying AfCFTA and implementing AfCFTA.
Following upon Nigeria’s signing up to be listed as a promoting state of the AfCFTA initiative at the Extraordinary Summit of the African Union, AU in Niamey, Niger, the next step is for the nation to formally ratify the treaty. That has not been done.
But if the assurances given by Otunba Niyi Adebayo, the country’s Trade Minister, in the course of his parley with the visiting AfCFTA chief are anything to go by, then we can say that it would only be a matter of time before even that would come. We look forward to it and want to remind everyone involved that the practical step that would signal that this is being done to the relief of all curious onlookers and observers is when an Executive Bill to this effect is formally listed on the Order Paper at the National Assembly, NASS. So we wait.
In a sense, it is indeed a shame of sorts that Nigeria has not played a far more dominant role in the AfCFTA process this far, given that it indeed stands to be a prime beneficiary if it gets its acts together. But even going beyond the already recorded historical foot-dragging, there is the need to ramp up awareness about the scheme both for business players and then the general population. This is the time to do it.
It would also be very necessary to identify all of the in-country adjustments and improvements that would be required to give Nigeria the desired foothold in the scheme. This would require more and more consultations, policy adjustments and awareness generation. AfCFTA is a marathon but it is one that the ultimate winners begin to distinguish themselves from the onset by simply being primely informed, enthusiastic and sure-footed.
Getting it right
It is important that we go beyond talk. In the specific instance of Nigeria and indeed the broader West African sub-region, one quite thorny issue has been Nigeria’s closure of its land borders with its neighbours. Hopefully, this phase would soon be over and it is hoped that the border closure lessons have indeed been learnt across all sides of the divide.
Things to do
There are things to fix. And the first one has to do with mentality. As it has to do with Nigeria again, it would begin with our conception of Africa and our pan-African involvement. Here we would not mince words. Africa must be seen as our advantage, our opportunity and not our problem. This is most important because even the entire border closure matter was beginning to degenerate into that. Yes, there have been issues with our neighbours, but on the broader scale of things, our neighbours would indeed bring more benefit to the table for us than disadvantage. But that is if we put on the right lenses and do the right things.
And we had done it before
Indeed, it is important that we recall at this point that this position is neither novel nor foreign. We only need to remember the era of Murtala Muhammad when Nigeria took the high ground and the nation shone radiantly as a continental leader.
But even going beyond the Murtala Muhammad years is the imperative that working with Africa is indeed the historic mission of Nigeria. As the largest agglomeration of African descendants the world over, Nigeria is a natural beacon for the African renaissance, And this is why at other levels, every national structure and vision reform that is required to achieve this goal should be stridently pursued and implemented.
Nigeria was made to be a world-beater. And in AfCFTA, it has one more vehicle that it can use in achieving this process. May it be well with Nigeria and Africa.
To be continued…
Wamkele Mene, AfCFTA Secretary General