The Special Adviser to the President for Economic Matters in the Office of the Vice-President, Dr Adeyemi Dipeolu and Senator Shehu Sani are divided over the land border closure brouhaha, a development that has continued to elicit divergent reactions.
Sani and Dipeolu were part of the panel that discussed the impact of African Continental Free Trade Agreement on Africa’a economy at the recent African Economic Congress (AEC) held in Abuja.
Sani in his remarks at the session wondered how the biggest economy in Africa will shut all its land borders, thereby threatening the smooth takeoff of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA); a pact that aims to compress the continent into a single market of 1.2 billion people with a cumulative GDP of over $3.4 trillion.
He said the decision was poorly thought out, as it hurts the spirit of unity which AfCFTA preaches.
Sani said: “He said, “A lot has been said about the AfCFTA but I think what we need to remind ourselves is that the idea to integrate the continent economically is not a new one.
“The idea of an African Free Trade Area is coming back to that reality that our future and destiny is tied to each other. But there are challenges that we have to be ready to face. One of which is the one that we are experiencing in the country today.
“You can’t sign an African Free Trade Agreement and close your borders. I don’t know how to call black white. And you also have to tell yourselves the truth that if we are desirous of building a more economic future our continent, then we have to sacrifice some of our irrelevant relationship with nations that are outside the continent.
“And on this, I believe that signing is one thing and following to the latter all the requisite of all the papers we sign is another.
“So I believe a conversation like this will ignite and encourage those who are in power to see that those things that we sign on paper come to light.”
Sani said the implementation of the AfCFTA would be based on an efficient Customs and Immigration system”.
In his submission, Dr Dipeolu said the closure was done in national interest, especially as neighbouring countries have perennially failed to abide by trade pacts they have with Nigeria.
He said, “I have a very straight forward answer. The simple answer is that we have sign (the agreement) but we have not ratified
“More importantly, the AfCFTA is trying to introduce a rule based trading system in Africa. Now the very people who have already signed previous agreement with Nigeria on Customs cooperation and the rules that will affect transit of goods are not living up to those obligations.
“So you are not following on the things you have signed to and you want to hold me onto the things I have just signed up to.
“What you will then have is that I will sign onto the AfCFTA and you will continue to do these things you are doing to undermine my economy by smuggling, dumping.
“So I think it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that all obligations must be adhered to.”
He added, “How do you explain situation where Nigeria increase tariff on rice in 2013 and since then the export of rice to Benin has been 500 per cent since then on par boiled rice that they do not consume.
“How do you explain that Benin with a population will become second largest importer of rice after China?”
He said the government would ensure that the cooperation agreement that has been signed with other countries are respected.
Other members of the panel moderated by the Chief Executive Officer, African Economic Congress, Nancy Illoh-Nnaji were the Special Advisor, African Union Commission, Prof Jerome Afeikhena; a lecturer at Baze University, Abuja Dr Yima Sen and President of the International Center for Diplomacy Karina Rhanem.
In his remarks, Prof Afeikhena pointed out that the African Continent must implement the AfCFTA in order to increase its share of global trade.
He however said despite the potential, there were challenges that must be urgently addressed for the agreement to succeed.
He listed these challenges to include non-tariff barriers, absence of sound political leadership and lack of infrastructure particularly roads and ports.
He said, “Free trade won’t solve your infrastructure problems, 16 countries in African are landlocked and not connected to the sea and many ports in Africa are not efficient.