The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, has said Nigeria does not lose anything by not signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
He said Nigeria's priority is to conclude the series of consultations with various interest groups on the impact the agreement could have on Nigeria's national interest and the economy.
But, Nigerian farmers appear to be counting their losses from the continued delay by the Nigerian government to sign the agreement.
Beyond the African trade agreement, the National Association of Yam Farmers, Processors and Marketers appealed to the government to also sign the agreement with the European Union to facilitate the free duty yam export to Europe.
Last Sunday, the group, in conjunction with the Technical Committee on Nigeria Yam Export, joined in deploring Nigeria's continued delay in signing the two agreements.
The President, National Association of Yam Farmers, Processors and Marketers and Chairman, Technical Committee on Nigeria Yam Export Programme, Simon Irtwange, made the appeal in a communiqué issued in Abuja at the end of a four-day study tour to Ghana.
"Nigeria yam exports to the United Kingdom attract a duty (tax) of 9.5 Euros per 100 kilogramme, unlike in Ghana where yam farmers and exporters enjoy free duty due to trade incentives they enjoy through the trade agreement with the EU.
"The government of Ghana has signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and provisional application of the EU Free Trade Agreement (EUFTA).
"The trade agreement with the EU makes it possible for Ghana yam exporters to export yams to Europe and the UK duty-free. The federal government should sign this agreement," Mr Irtwange said.
On March 21 last year, 44 of the 55 member-nations of the African Union during the 18th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of AU Heads of State and Governments in Kigali, Rwanda signed the draft trade agreement.
Conspicuously missing among the signatories was Nigeria, which many acknowledged spearheaded consultations and negotiations towards a treaty to create a single continental market for goods and services in member nations of the AU.
The treaty was also to establish a free movement of business persons and investments using a single currency among member nations.
Since then, pressure has been mounting on Nigeria for President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the agreement.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is also the chairman of the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF 2018) Advisory Council said the continued delay by the Nigerian government to ratify the trade agreement was regrettable.
As at last month, reports say at least 22 of the signatories have since ratified the agreement, propelling it on the threshold of coming into force any moment.
Regardless, Mr Enelamah said the government was determined "not to rush into signing the agreement until its house has successfully been put in order."
"We are working on the African Continental Trade Agreement, which will come into force soon," the minister said during a media briefing in Abuja on Thursday on the activities of his ministry in the last four years.
"We are working on putting our house in order by discouraging trade malpractices, dumping, smuggling, bringing sub-standard goods into Nigeria and the things that are inimical to the progress of the country's industry, economy, and trade
"The AfCFTA was a decision of the Heads of State and governments of the African Union in June 2015. Nigeria played an important leadership role towards the emergence of the framework agreement signed by member-countries last year."
Why Nigeria withheld her signature
He said the president was on the verge of signing the agreement (in 2018) when key stakeholders, demanded to study the content of the agreement and what it meant to them.
The groups included the various state governments, Nigeria Labour Congress, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and others.
The minister said the president directed the signing of the agreement be stopped to enable further scrutiny.
He said the process of stakeholders' consultations lasted for almost a year, beginning from March last year shortly after the agreement was reached.
With the recent completion of the consultation, Mr Enelamah said the president constituted a committee he chaired, along with the Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari, to conduct an impact assessment of the agreement.
The impact assessment, which involved the use of consultants and other experts and analysts, was to determine how the agreement would affect the country's interest generally, and the economy in particular.
Also, the assessment was to establish what the country should do to ensure the country would derive the best from signing the agreement.
The minister said the committee is currently writing the final report of its findings to be submitted for review and approval.
"That impact assessment assignment has now been completed. The report is being put together for the president to review. And perhaps give the go ahead to sign the agreement.
"But, the issue is not a question of the first country to sign. The important thing to Nigeria is that, what is worth doing at all is worth doing well.
"The consultation is important. Nigeria will sign the agreement when it has finished doing its homework. Nigeria will be going into the agreement stronger, having finished the consultations.
"Countries that have signed the agreement are now doing their stakeholders consultations. But, Nigeria chose to do its consultations first before signing. We hope that in the end, we will all be in the same place," he said.
According to the minister, the country's priority concern about the agreement is its proper implementation "that will be good, not only for Nigeria, but for Africa."
"Nigeria will provide leadership in its implementation. We hope the implementation will favour us," he said.
He said the need for African countries to trade more with each other is clear, considering that intra-Africa trade is currently at about 15 per cent of global trade.
He said Africa, and indeed Nigeria, stands to gain more if intra-African trade is increased.
He stressed the need to provide the right environment, in terms of provision of security for the country's borders with neighboring countries.
In a separate interview, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday that the impact assessment report by the committee "would be positive in favour of the president signing the agreement soon."
"The committee on impact assessment has finished its work. But, it has not finished writing its report. Nigerian government will not rush into signing the agreement. The country will be guided by the best interest of Nigerians in taking the decision to sign the agreement.
"Whatever examples anyone is bringing from anywhere about the benefits or otherwise of not signing the agreement is not important. The president will not be persuaded to sign until all key stakeholders are satisfied he should sign.
"If the government signed an agreement and the Labour or the MAN declared strike tomorrow because their interests were not protected, then signing is useless. The president should not be seen to be rushing with the other countries into signing the agreement and leave the vital interest of the country.
"What is happening now is that those who rushed to sign the agreement are now renegotiating the agreement after signature. The presidency's methodical preference is to do its homework and consultation before going forward to sign the agreement, instead of rushing to sign the agreement and then to renegotiate. It does not make sense," Mr Shehu said.