Nigeria at the weekend in Niamey, Niger Republic, officially joined the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed the agreement at the opening of the African Union (AU) Summit.
This is coming as the President of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Babatunde Ruwase, yesterday hailed Nigeria’s membership of AfCFTA and commended Buhari for signing the agreement
The president’s spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a statement, said Buhari signed the treaty at exactly 10: 47a.m. in the presence of other African heads of state and governments, delegates and representatives from the private sector, civil society and the media, which attended the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on the launch of the Operational Phase of the AfCFTA.
The phase one of the agreement was adopted by African Union (AU) Heads of State and Governments at its 10th Extraordinary Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 21, 2018.
But Nigeria pulled out of the agreement signing ceremony at the last minute, following agitations from the private sector that the agreement would make Nigeria a dumping ground for goods and services in Africa.
Consequently, the president set up a committee to make wider consultations on the agreement with a view to coming up with recommendations on whether Nigeria should join AfCFTA or not.
The committee, while submitting its report on June 27, advised Buhari to sign the agreement, listing a number of factors, which aided the committee’s recommendations and the benefits accruable from it.
Shortly after signing the agreement yesterday, the president, according to the statement, declared that Nigeria’s commitment to trade and African integration had never been in doubt neither had it ever been under any threat.
The statement added that Buhari told the summit that Nigeria would build on yesterday’s signing of the treaty by proceeding expeditiously with the ratification of the AfCFTA.
‘‘Nigeria wishes to emphasise that free trade must also be fair trade. As African leaders, our attention should now focus on implementing the AfCFTA in a way that develops our economies and creates jobs for our young, dynamic and hardworking population,” Buhari said, adding: “I wish to assure you that Nigeria shall sustain its strong leadership role in Africa, in the implementation of the AfCFTA. We shall also continue to engage, constructively with all African countries to build the Africa that we want.”
The statement, which copiously quoted the president on his observations on the agreement, also said the president congratulated Ghana on its selection to host the Secretariat of the AfCFTA, while describing the signing of the agreement on behalf of Nigeria as an honour.
The president recalled his hesitation to sign last year, explaining it was due to reservations at home.
He said he subsequently extensively consulted and sensitized the stakeholders, adding that the outcome was a buy-in by all concerned.
“Our consultations and assessments reaffirmed that the AfCFTA can be a platform for African manufacturers of goods and providers of service to construct regional value chains for made in Africa goods and services,” Buhari said, adding: “It was also obvious that we have a lot of work to do to prepare our nation to achieve our vision for intra-African trade, which is the free movement of ‘made in Africa goods.’
According to him, “Some of the critical challenges that we identified will require our collective action as a union and we will be presenting them for consideration at the appropriate AfCFTA fora.
“Examples are tackling injurious trade practices by third parties and attracting the investment we need to grow local manufacturing and service capacities.”
Adesina also quoted Buhari as saying that Nigeria’s signing of the AfCFTA and its operational launch at the 12th Extraordinary Summit was an additional major step forward on the AU’s Agenda 2063.
According to him, with Nigeria and Benin Republic signing the agreement at the Niger summit, 54 of 55 African countries had signed the world’s largest free trade area deal, encompassing 55 countries and 1.2 billion people, noting that Eritrea is the only African country yet to sign the agreement.
In addition, a total of 26 African countries have deposited instruments of ratification, with Gabon being the latest, after depositing her instrument of ratification during the extraordinary summit.
Meanwhile, the President of LCCI, Ruwase, while speaking in a telephone interview with THISDAY yesterday, commended the president for signing the agreement.
He said: “It is something we have been talking about at the LCCI. We believe it is going to open a lot of opportunities for Nigeria as a country. We have a lot to offer Africa.
“Yes, we have problem with our manufacturing sector because of the challenges of power and infrastructure, but we believe this is something we can deal with.
“But in other areas such as finance, our financial institutions are doing very well. We are number one in Africa and Nigerian banks have continued to spread. We are very good in commerce and Nigeria can take advantage of this agreement to take advantage of other markets in the continent.
“We also have our creative industry which is well known, even beyond Africa. So, for us, these were things we saw in the past and have been encouraging the federal government to sign the agreement.”
According to Ruwase, Nigeria cannot continue to build its industries with protectionism.
“Instead of protecting industries against the competition, firms should be allowed to face competition in the continent squarely.
“The way to face competition is to understand how it operates, look at the weak points, which might be your strong points and work on it,” he said.
The Nigerian Army has raised the alarm that terror sponsors and their collaborators have stepped up logistics supplies to terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP).
This allegation is coming as fighter jets of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) bombed a terrorist hideout in Bakassi, on the fringes of Lake Chad, killing scores of insurgents.
Also, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, has warned personnel to stick to the rules of engagement in the fight against insurgency.
The army said sponsors and collaborators of Boko Haram and ISWAP were stepping up arms and fuel supplies to the terrorists thus escalating the war in the North-east.
The charge came on the heels of an earlier allegation that Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) were collaborating with the terrorists.
Military sources had raised concerns that NGOs had been discouraging visitors from coming to Maiduguri by paying for hotel accommodation for upwards of 10 years.
The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, had also rapped bankers at a recent meeting in Maiduguri over the alleged movement of funds through banks to fund terrorism.
He had said the commission had commenced a probe of such transactions, wondering why a single NGO would operate 50 bank accounts.
However, the Acting General Officer Commanding (GOC), 7 Division Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Abdulmalik Biu, said in Maiduguri at the weekend that sponsors and collaborators had continued to supply arms, fuel, and food to the insurgents thus escalating the war in the North-east.
“If terrorists are completely denied supplies of fuel and other logistics, how could they move their gun trucks, arms, and ammunition to attack troops’ locations in the theatre of war?” he queried.
He said the war was a multi-dimensional one that required concerted efforts.
Biu said: “How will the people be on board? You are a petroleum dealer that sells fuel only to genuine Nigerian citizens.
“The terrorists do not deserve to be sold petroleum products and other logistics for their operations. Some of the people have dealt in grains and other logistics with Boko Haram for about a decade.
“Why should you be carrying fuel and grains to the bush for insurgents?”
He said if insurgents were true citizens, they should come and be integrated into society for such transactions.
According to him, those he described as detractors continue to go behind the army to provide support for Boko Haram and ISWAP with fuel and other logistics.
“We have made several arrests with overwhelming evidence in Maiduguri metropolis,” he said, adding that such evidence indicated collaborations with Boko Haram.
He said the suspected collaborators would be made public for prosecution in court.
Meanwhile the NAF at the weekend conducted air strikes that struck terrorists structures, killing scores of insurgents in Bakassi, on the fringes of Lake Chad.
An update attached with a video of the air strikes made available by NAF spokesman, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said the air strikes killed ISWAP fighters.
NAF stated: “The Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation Lafiya Dole has destroyed additional terrorists’ structures and killed some Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters at Bakassi on the fringes of Lake Chad in Borno State in an air strike conducted yesterday.
“The attack was executed as a follow-up to air raids conducted at the same location on June 28, 2019, after intelligence reports indicated the ISWAP elements, having suffered heavy casualties during the attack, had relocated surviving fighters and logistics supplies to another part of the settlement, as confirmed by Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
“The ATF therefore dispatched two Alpha jets to attack the location, with accurate hits on the identified structures, which were seen engulfed in flames. Several terrorists were also neutralised as a result of the strike. The attached short video clip, now declassified, shows parts of the attack.”
Also, at the weekend, the Air chief, Abubakar, warned personnel to adhere strictly to the rules of engagement in the ongoing war against insurgency and armed banditry.
He said during a regimental dinner night at the NAF Officers’ Mess, Bauchi that Air Force personnel must adhere to rules of engagement in all internal security operations embarked upon by the Nigerian Air Force.
“You must also endeavour to remain within the ambit of the law and carry out your roles in line with the rules of engagement for the various internal security operations you are involved in,” he said.
The CAS, while tracing the history and relevance of the regimental dinner night, stated that the tradition began in the 16th century in England where it was used to honour heroes and celebrate victories in battles.
He added that such dinners also served as avenues to enhance officers’ observance of etiquette, comradeship, regimentation and inter-service cooperation in the Nigerian Armed Forces whilst also providing opportunity to unwind and celebrate achievements.
He said it was fitting that the dinner was being hosted to celebrate the achievements of the Special Operations Command (SOC), which was established to improve the ability of the NAF to respond to emerging demands of the national security environment as well as cover some of the capability gaps observed during NAF participation in counter-insurgency operations.
According to him, the achievements of SOC and its component units, especially the Special Forces personnel, in various internal security operations, clearly justified the establishment of the command.
He urged personnel of the command not to rest on their oars in the efforts to secure Nigeria and Nigerians.
Governor of Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Mohammed Baba, expressed delight to be at the event and commended the NAF for maintaining its noble traditions while sustaining efforts to combat terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other forms of criminality in the country.
He said the NAF, under the leadership of Abubakar, who is an indigene of Bauchi State, had remained focused, dedicated and resilient in carrying out its statutory duties of defending the territorial integrity of the nation in a professional manner.
He, therefore, urged the NAF not to relent in its efforts but sustain the momentum to ensure that Nigeria is safe and secure.
“As you continue with these responsibilities, I assure you that I will further create an atmosphere for cooperation with you and other security agencies in the state,” a statement by NAF quoted the governor as saying.