President Muhammadu Buhari has explained that he embarked on extensive nationwide consultation and sensitization programme of domestic stakeholders before signing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
The President gave the explanation after signing the AfCFTA deal on Sunday at the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union holding in Niamey, Niger Republic.
The 12th AU Summit ushered in the launch of the operational phase of the Africa free trade deal.
Buhari, who had been criticized by former president Olusegun Obasanjo for refusing to sign the agreement after it was approved by Federal Executive Council (FEC) on March 14, 2018, maintained that there was need for him to consult widely with the necessary stakeholders in the country before signing the deal.
Buhari’s media adviser, Femi Adesina, said the President “appended his signature to the treaty at exactly 10: 47 a.m. in the presence of African Heads of State and Government, delegates and representatives from the private sector, civil society and the media.”
According to Adesina, Buhari had after signing the agreement declared that Nigeria’s commitment to trade and African integration “have never been in doubt nor was it ever under threat.”
“Nigeria wishes to emphasize that free trade must also be fair trade,” the President was quoted as saying by the presidential aide.
‘‘As African leaders, our attention should now focus on implementing the AfCFTA in a way that develops our economies and creates jobs for our young, dynamic and hardworking population.
‘‘I wish to assure you, that Nigeria shall sustain its strong leadership role in Africa, in the implementation of the AfCFTA. We shall also continue to engage, constructively with all African countries to build the Africa that we want,’’ President Buhari said.
Adesina further quoted President Buhari as stating: ‘‘I have just had the honour of signing the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), on behalf of my country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
‘‘This is coming over a year since the AfCFTA Agreement was opened for signature in Kigali, Rwanda, at the 10th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union, on 21st March 2018.
‘‘In fact, you will recall that the treaty establishing the African Economic Community was signed in Abuja in 1991.
‘‘We fully understand the potential of the AfCFTA to transform trade in Africa and contribute towards solving some of the continent’s challenges, whether security, economic or corruption.
‘‘But it is also clear to us that for AfCFTA to succeed, we need the full support and buy-in of our private sector and civil society stakeholders and the public in general.
‘‘It is against this background that we embarked on an extensive nationwide consultation and sensitization programme of our domestic stakeholders on the AfCFTA.
‘‘Our consultations and assessments reaffirmed that the AfCFTA can be a platform for African manufacturers of goods and providers of service to construct regional value chains for made in Africa goods and services.
‘‘It was also obvious that we have a lot of work to do to prepare our nation to achieve our vision for intra-African trade which is the free movement of ‘made in Africa goods,” said the President.
With Nigeria and Benin Republic signing the Agreement at the Summit, 54 out of 55 African countries have signed the world’s largest free trade area deal, encompassing 55 countries and 1.2 billion people.
Eritrea is the only African country yet to sign the agreement.
A total of 26 African countries have deposited instruments of ratification, with Gabon being the latest after depositing her instrument of ratification during the Extraordinary Summit.
The AfCFTA Agreement entered into force on May 30, 2019 thirty days after having received the twenty-second instrument of ratification on 29 April, 2019 in conformity with legal provision.
As the largest economy on the continent, Nigeria’s decision to sign the deal was a boost to the pact. It was one of the last countries to commit to the deal.
In signing the deal at the African Union summit in Niger, Buhari called on the continent’s nations to band together to attract investment, grow local manufacturing and combat smuggling.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) aims to unite 1.3 billion people, creating a $3.4 trillion economic bloc that could usher in a new era of development.