Abuja — Vice President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday in Abuja said Nigeria was not ready to take chances by hastily signing the African Continental Trade Agreement (AfCTA) because the country's economy was the real target of the agreement.
Osinbajo who made this remark at the quarterly meeting of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) meeting in the Presidential Villa, said the entire Africa awaited Nigeria's coming into the agreement because of the economic potentials inherent in the Nigerian market.
According to the vice-president, Nigeria is making extensive consultations because of suspicions that the agreement may cripple its manufacturing sector and simultaneously hamper the current benefits of agricultural revolution in the country.
He also said whereas the general consensus seems to favour Nigeria's participation in the trade agreement, there are yet concerns on the necessity to upgrade the business environment for virile competition, improve power supply and invest in infrastructure.
"With respect to the AfCTA, there are clearly huge advantages for us, no question about it at all. The rest of Africa sees the enormous advantage of Nigeria's participation. Everybody is waiting for us naturally and that is because they see a huge market. There are advantages of our being there. But we must ensure to get the best possible terms for Nigerian trade and commerce.
"Our experiences with dooming and other injurious practices make it obvious to us that our market could be a real target. Our local manufacturing could become unprofitable. Our agricultural advantage could be reversed.
"Consequently, we have embarked on an extensive consultations with trade groups, manufacturers and organised labour in all the six geo-political zones in other to get a clear sense of concerns as we navigate the process of signing the treaty.
"I think the general resolve favours engagement but the concerns remain around improving the domestic environment for greater competitiveness, concerns of power supply and investment in infrastructure. I don't think I will make a more eloquent case than the Minister of Power, Works and Housing has just made," he said.
Osinbajo who said this is the first time that Nigeria is actually involved in negotiations for a treaty, added that in the past, Nigeria only found itself in treaties without knowing how it got there or the benefits derivable from them.
Osinbajo reasoned that having taken into consideration concerns expressed by the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), it looks appropriate to proceed to sign the agreement now because Nigeria does not have the luxury of time to keep waiting.
He added: "I have noted the various studies that MAN will like to see done, I think those background checks are important as to what works and what doesn't work and what is going on with the industry and all that. I think those concerns are very crucial and I think many of them are being done already.
"But at the same time, we must be careful not to give the impression that these are minimum pre-conditions for engagement with the process because the question of course has been asked, 'when will we be ready?' What is the opportunity cost of not engaging now? I think these are some of the concerns that we must fix. The only way to go is that we must fill the gap.
"We must keep the engine running. There is no time for us to say 'let's wait, take down the entire time just to prepare.' I think this is the time to go ahead and do something about it while we are taking into accounts all the issues that have been raised and making sure that we are negotiating well.
"For the first time, Nigeria is actually engaged and we are leading the engagement. This is something that had never happened in the past. In the past, we found treaties that were negotiated. Nobody knew who negotiated them. Nobody knew how they were done. Nobody knew what was going on.
Also speaking at the event, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said if Nigeria signs the agreement, the country will have a competitive advantage over a number of other African countries because it has six functional international airports unlike those that have only one.
Furthermore, as poor as Nigeria's electricity supply may be, the minister disclosed that it is far incomparable with the situation in some other African countries, recalling that as of 2016, Rwanda was only trying to secure paltry 106 megawatts of electricity.
He also said besides the road which leads to the Accra Airport in Ghana, there is no other dual carriage way in the country, pointing out that Nigeria supplies Niger 150 megawatts of electricity out of which he said they can only distribute 110 megawatts of electricity.
In the same vein, Fashola said Ghana which generates a total of 3000 megawatts can only distribute 1,600
"But if the decision on whether to sign or not were made, I will look at the countries that have signed. The interesting thing about the countries that have signed is that, unlike us where we have Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Owerri, six different cities that can land an Air plane and other cities like that, the country is that have signed are one city countries - Rwanda - Kigali, Niger - Niamey, Ghana- Accra, those are the countries that have signed and we are afraid.
"How much power do we have and we say we are not ready? Just listen to me and you can fact check this, as at 2016, Rwanda was trying to get to 106 megawatts of electricity. The suburbs of Rwanda are on generators. The only place that I saw that has a dual carriage way when I visited last year was the GRA. All their roads are dual carriage way, but they are ready.
"Apart from the airport in Accra built by the American Nexim Bank, which other roads have dual carriage way? Because I go there. It might interest you to know the Niger Power Minister came to see me. They are owing us on power but they are ready. We supply 150 megawatts of their power. Their entire grid is 250 megawatts. The 150mw we supply, they can't distribute more than 110 megawatts but they are ready. Ghana has roughly about 3000 megawatts installed. They are distributing only 1,600 megawatts, that's a little above what Lagos is getting," Fashola said.
In his own submission, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, said Nigeria's failure to sign the agreement puts it at a disadvantaged position adding that if Nigeria does not participate in the negotiations, it may be counter-productive in the end.
"If we are not at the table when the engagement is going on because those at the table are those who are deciding. So, if we are not at the table, we actually run a risk of being shut out.
"I have had meetings with some of the lead manufacturers and what we have proposed going forth is that, both MAN and other stakeholders should join our working committee to make sure we engage. But the idea of not signing the agreement actually disadvantages us. It weakens our position. As it has been pointed out by the speakers, the agreement is a ticket to play and I mean not buying the ticket to play is suicidal in a market where the consequences will be there," Enelamah stated.