Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Thursday said Nigeria has no justifiable reason for refusing to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
Speaking on Thursday at the 2019 annual meeting of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) holding in Moscow, Obasanjo said, “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 it’s now right for action. I hope after he says that, they will follow through,” he said.
Obasanjo said during negotiations of AfCFTA, the Nigerian government failed to make relevant consultations with major stakeholders including trade unions, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Chambers of Commerce and civil societies.
He said, “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 discipline as forms of corruption, he said corruption and development were not compatible and therefore corruption should be eschewed to ensure development.
The Permanent Secretary, Politics and Economic Affairs, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Gabriel Aduda, who attended the meeting, assured that Nigeria would soon sign the AfCFTA.
“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,” he said.