Obasanjo: Nigeria’ll Soon Have President to Sign AfCFTA

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Olusegun Obasanjo
  • Says Buhari’s ‘hand too weak’ to sign agreement
  • Shehu explains why president is yet to endorse pact

Kunle Aderinokun and Obinna Chima in Bali,
Indonesia

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo saturday in Bali, Indonesia, criticised President Muhammadu Buhari for his failure to sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), describing it as a sign of weakness by the Nigerian president. Obasanjo, however, said, “Hopefully, Nigeria will soon have a president who will be able to sign, because the president that is there now, his hands are too weak to sign,” in apparent reference to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, whom the ex-president a few days ago described as the “president-to-be”.

Obasanjo spoke at the second Babacar Ndiaye lecture series, with the theme: “Global Power Disequilibrium, Trade Wars and Implication for Africa,” organised by Afreximbank, on the sidelines of the ongoing IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings.

However, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said Buhari had yet to sign the AfCFTA because he wanted to consult widely with stakeholders. Shehu called Obasanjo an “absolutist” who would have readily sidestepped the democratic procedure the incumbent president was following.

“Just when Nigeria was about to sign the continental free trade agreement, key stakeholders in the country said they were not consulted,” Shehu stated.

He added, “President said hold it, let’s listen to them all. That process is going very well, so far.

“The difference between President Buhari and the former President is that one is a democrat and the other is an absolutist. President Buhari is democratic. He therefore listens. Former President Obasanjo, given the chance, would have rammed the agreement down the throats of everyone, telling the stakeholders, some of the nervous as they are, to go to hell.”

Nigeria in March this year declined to sign the agreement to create the AfCFTA, which was signed at an extraordinary summit in Kigali, Rwanda by representatives of 44 of the 55 African Union (AU) member states.

The deal was expected to improve the economic prosperity of the African nations by removing barriers to trade, like tariffs and import quotas, and allowing the free flow of goods and services between its members.

Obasanjo said, “We now have the continental free trade agreement, which is a good idea and I can assure that Nigeria will soon sign.”

In his presentation, Obasanjo told his audience that Africa should not be seen as one country, but one market, saying the political will of African leaders was needed to move Africa forward.

According to him, “The future of Africa trade and effectiveness of policies to achieve macroeconomic stability in Africa will largely depend on the strength and resilience of Africa-South trade. Accelerating the process of industrialisation and transformation of African economies, we must add value to our commodities. And it is in adding value to our commodities that our industrialisation begins. This is nicely laid out in the African Union agenda.”

He pointed out that the agreement was essential for Africa’s growth, intra-African trade, and boosting the process of regional integration, especially with the AfCTA.

Obasanjo stated, “This is something (the AfCTA) we have all been working on and it came up only last March in Kigali. It is something I believe is good for all African countries, particularly for small countries in the continent who need protection and who also need to enjoy the advantage of economies of scale.

“I believe that if we develop power and I believe we have all it takes, solar, we would be able to stop taking the dangerous (route) across the Sahara and Mediterranean, we would be exporting power to Europe.”

He stressed the need for Africa’s business leaders and politicians to invest in the development of the continent.

“Who will develop Africa? Africans will develop Africa and we have to get that right. In Nigeria, Aliko Dangote who is the cement magnate and the richest man in Africa, said to me, if we had not had the banking sector reform that we had, all the ideas he had about cement would not have come to pass,” He urged the United States President Donald Trump to stop his country’s trade war with China, saying, “trade war does not help anybody.”

According to Obasanjo, the banking sector consolidation in Nigeria under his regime played a significant role in resetting the economy and gave the commercial banks the might to facilitate trade and investments in the continent.

He said Dangote personally told him how beneficial the banking sector recapitalisation was to his business.

“Aliko told me that when we had 87 banks, none of them had enough capital to be able to support his trade. But when we reduced the number of banks to 25 banks, they had enough capital to be able to support him.

“Today, not only is Aliko producing over 30 million metric tonnes of cement in Nigeria, he is doing the same outside Nigeria in Africa and wherever he is producing cement in Africa, the price of cement has come down.

“If we can do that in cement, we can do it in steel and any other area of our development, but we must get it right, nobody will do it for us.”

Earlier, a renowned economist and Professor at the Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, called for an African fund to ensure quality education for every child in the continent.

Sachs said, “I serve as special adviser to the Secretary General of United Nations on Sustainable Development Goals. I want to tell you, if Africa will make that pledge, I am assuring you, I and many other leaders will work tirelessly and fulfil that pledge

“You make the fund; I will help you fill it. We will go out, there are a lot of rich people out there anyway, I will go door to door for you, I have already started the phone calls but I can’t do more till you have the fund for African Fund.

“Until you have a pledge across the continent that every boy and every girl is going to have quality education; until young people on this continent understand I am going to be well trained, well equipped to be leaders of the 21st century.”

Obasanjo assured Sachs that he would mobilise business leaders and governments in the continents to ensure that the Fund is successful.