Pressure mounts on Nigeria to reopen borders
By John Eche
Pressure is mounting on Nigeria to reopen its land borders in the wake of news that the Executive Council in Africa’s most populous country has approved the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA.
This proponents of the move say is to allow for a seamless implementation of the landmark treaty which had previously been ratified by 30 of the 54 countries that had signed the agreement.
The AfCFTA treaty is scheduled to come into practical implementation from January 1, 2021.
With over a billion people within its coverage area, the treaty would automatically be inaugurating the largest free trade area known to man in the current dispensation.
However, there is still some concern over whether the approval of the Federal Executive Council, FEC of Nigeria equates to a complete ratification of the treaty given that in many of the other jurisdictions in the continent, ratification has involved a formal parliamentary vote.
Efforts to confirm from both the country’s National Assembly, NASS and the Ministry of Trade if this had been carried through were unsuccessful as at press time. While a source at the National Assembly affirmed that he was in the know of the fact that some committee sessions had been held to discuss the subject, he could however not categorically confirm if the processes had indeed been concluded as at the time of the FEC announcement, mid-week.
Nevertheless, lawyers spoken to on the subject affirmed that it was imperative that NASS concludes every activity on the process given that the 1999 Constitution clearly stipulates that no treaty agreement entered into on behalf of the nation would be binding without the endorsement of the National Assembly.
Analysts say the endorsement of the agreement by the continent’s largest economy is quite significant for the the free trade zone, which promises to generate as much as $3.4 billion in economic activity. Nigeria had been holding back on giving its full endorsement on account of job loss fears and complaints from local businesses that the scheme could encourage an influx of Chinese and European goods, repackaged as products from other African countries.
The country’s land borders with Benin, Cameroon, and Niger have been closed for months in a declared attempt to curtail the smuggling of agricultural products, weapons and other processed goods.
However, the closure has come under renewed internal criticism in the wake of the recent #EndSARS protests and the exemptions given to some well-heeled firms to continue to import and export products across the borders.
There has also been strident criticism of the closure by notable business interests in Ghana, which sources say has further compounded the challenges faced by Nigerian retail traders in that country who are presently lobbying to be helped to relocate back to Nigeria. Incidentally, the AfCFTA secretariat is located in Accra, Ghana and AfCFTA Secretary-General, Wamkele Mene was in Nigeria recently to drum up support for the treaty..
The Horn of Africa country, Eritrea remains the only member of the African Union that has not signed the AfCFTA agreement.
Wamkele Mene, AfCFTA Secretary-General