Abuja, Lagos — Members of the organised private sector of the Nigerian economy yesterday welcomed the decision of the federal government to ratify Nigeria’s membership of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) as well as the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), described the ratification of AfCFTA as a welcomed development to enable the country to harness the full potentials of the agreement.
Earlier yesterday, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had ratified Nigeria’s membership of AfCFTA as the implementation of the agreement formally takes off on January 1, 2021.
The ratification of the continental trade pact came 16 months after Nigeria finally signed the agreement on July 7, 2019, in Niamey, Niger Republic.
A year earlier, President Muhammadu Buhari, at the last minute, had pulled out of a meeting of African leaders in Kigali, Rwanda, where he was to commit Nigeria to AfCTA.
At the Kigali summit, which held from March 20- 22, 2018, 44 African leaders had adopted and signed the agreement establishing the AfCFTA, conceived in 2012 during the 18th Ordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU).
However, Nigeria was one of the countries that did not attend the summit to sign the agreement as Buhari said the federal government would further consult with stakeholders before taking a final decision on the continental trade pact.
Briefing State House reporters after yesterday’s FEC meeting, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said whereas the implementation of the agreement was initially scheduled to commence in July, the plan was stalled by the spread of COVID-19.
According to him, the FEC ratified Nigeria’s membership of AfCFTA in compliance with the instruction asking parties to the agreement to ratify their membership latest December 5.
Mohammed said with yesterday’s ratification of its membership, Nigeria had beaten the ratification deadline.
He said: “The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment presented a memo today (yesterday) asking the Federal Executive Council to ratify Nigeria’s membership of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
“You remember that on the 7th of July, 2019, Nigeria signed the AfCTA agreement in Niamey during the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU). The effective date ought to have been July 2020, but as a result of the pandemic, it was postponed to the 1st of January 2021, and all member-states were given up to the 5th of December to ratify the agreement.
“That is precisely what Nigeria did today. The Federal Executive Council approved the ratification of the membership of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement. It was ratified and as such, we beat the deadline of the 5th of December. Effectively, we hope that by 1st of January 2021, the agreement will come into force.”
The minister added that the FEC also approved a memorandum presented by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, for the approval of N470,263,037 for the procurement, installation, and inauguration of what he described as fully dimensional aerodrome and approach simulator at the Lagos airport.
According to him, the contract will be executed by Messrs Intelligent Transportation System Limited, which he described as an authorised representative of the original manufacturer, Messrs Teofex System of France.
“The Minister of Aviation presented a memo in which he sought the approval of contract for the procurement, installation and commissioning of fully dimensional aerodrome and approach simulator at the Lagos airport in favour of Messrs Intelligent Transportation System Limited, which is an authorised representative of the original manufacturer, Messrs Teofex System of France for the sum of N470,263,037 with a completion period of six months.
“The contract became necessary in view of the increase in the number of personnel who have been recruited and trained as air traffic controllers. It is important to us to ensure safety in all the 32 aerodromes of the country. That memo was also approved today,” he stated.
The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, also said the council approved a memorandum presented by the ministry for the construction of Kano-Dawaki-Tofa-Gwarzo-Dariyo road in Kano at the cost of N62.7 billion. The contract duration is 24 months.
“The Ministry of Works and Housing presented one memorandum for the construction of Kano-Dawakin-Tofa-Gwarzo-Dariyo road in Kano. It was approved for N62.7 billion. It is to be executed in 24 months,” Fashola said.
Also briefing, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osage Ehanire, said the council approved the entrenchment of electronic medical record and management to be known as e-NHIS on behalf of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) that will put paid to the use of paper documentation in the hospitals.
Ehanire said the initiative would transform the health sector from its current paper record and management to a digital management status.
The minister who said the initiative would also serve as a platform for the management of payments and claims, added that it would guarantee transparency and accountability in hospitals.
He said the contract would be executed by NigComSat under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy in partnership with Galaxy Backbone.
“The Ministry of Health presented a memo on behalf of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to introduce electronic medical records and management in a concept known as e-NHIS creating an electronic governance platform that will allow inter-operability with all other stakeholders, including particularly the state’s health insurance schemes, the health management organisations and the hospitals which offer services to patients.
“So, this will be a platform for managing payments and claims and also patients records to install transparency and accountability. This is necessary because the basic health care provision fund as we know is going on stream and will include a large number of people being registered so that we move away from paper management to electronic management,” Ehanire said.
On his part, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Ali Isa Pantami, said the FEC approved a memorandum for the creation of National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre in Abuja as part of the federal government’s efforts to boost entrepreneurship, create jobs and enhance skill acquisition.
According to him, the centre will be managed by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the completion period of three years.
Pantami said the centre would support institutions, enhance the skills of graduates and promote self-employment, adding that the Ministry of Communications will provide policy direction for the centre.
He said the centre would provide a platform for training millions of Nigerians in information communications technology (ICT) and guarantee a productive future for citizens.
“I presented two memos. Number one is on the New National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre here in Abuja and this is part of the efforts of the Federal Government of Nigeria in producing many entrepreneurs, particularly looking at the challenge of unemployment and unemployable citizens.
“We came up with this plan to establish a digital innovation and entrepreneurship centre where millions of our citizens are going to be trained as entrepreneurs, particularly in ICT so that they will be future potential employers rather than being employees.
“This is, somehow, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They have a programme they call Regional Entrepreneurship Accelerated Programme (REAP), where they support a country or an institution to produce many entrepreneurs in the area of their choice.
“So, our focus, looking at our mandate in the ministry, is on the development of ICT and this centre is going to be managed by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), while the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is going to provide the policy direction for the centre and to supervise the implementation of the policy. It is going to be completed in three years.
“We came up with this plan to establish a digital innovation and entrepreneurship centre where millions of our citizens are going to be trained as entrepreneurs, particularly in ICT, so that they will be future potential employers rather than being employees,” he added.
The minister said the council also approved another memorandum for the initiation of a policy aimed at prioritising the affairs of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Pantami said the move was in furtherance of the initial approval of digitised identification for Nigerians, adding that the initial policy excluded persons living in IDP camps.
He said the new policy would assist the government in securing the data of IDPs, bearing in mind that obtaining data on their identities, numbers and locations would also assist the federal government in resettling them.
“The second memo is in relations with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). As we all know that NIMC Act 2007 has made it mandatory that each citizen must require a national identity number, according to the Act’s Section 5; and Section 27 emphasises that it could be an offence not to acquire the number.
“Most of us here do not have the number, but they have at least a form of identification, an official one; either driver’s licence, passport for travelling and many more, but people in IDP camps do not have that. Usually, so we come up with a policy that will prioritise providing national identity to people living in IDPs. The policy has been entitled National Policy for Digital Identification for internally displaced persons.
“This is a policy that will provide an up-to-date record of them so that government will give them special consideration of resettling them and taking care of them. As we all know, no matter how strong you are, if you fail to take care of the weak ones, then automatically you are also a weak one. This is why we come up with the policy to prioritise them,” Pantami said.
LCCI, NACCIMA Applaud Ratification of AfCFTA
The organised private sector has described Nigeria’s ratification of AfCFTA as a welcomed development, saying that it will enable the country to harness the full potentials of the continental trade agreement.
The Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, told THISDAY that the decision to ratify the AFCTA is good news that has cleared the uncertainty and anxiety over Nigeria’s stance on the AFCTA.
Yusuf said: “The truth is that we have seen a great deal of equivocation and prevarication over the AfCTA in the last two years. The next step is to support the Nigerian private sector to take advantage of the estimated $2.5 trillion market which the AFCTA presents.”
He urged Nigeria to strengthen the competitiveness of its domestic firms, especially those in the real sector, to enable them to optimise the benefits of its membership of the continental trade agreement.
“We need to liberate them (real sector) from the shackles of constraints that put pressure on their costs and inhibiting their competitiveness. The quality of our infrastructure needs to improve, our policies need to facilitate competitiveness, our regulations need to support business growth and our institutions need to demonstrate better appreciation of the value of investment and investors in an economy.
“The AfCTA will produce winners and losers across sectors. It, therefore, calls for a review of business models of many firms and industries in the light of new competition forces that will emerge,” he added.
Yusuf’s counterpart at the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, said the ratification reflected the country’s commitment to be part of the historic trade and economic agreement.
Olukanni stated that the government, especially the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, should prepare the ratification papers to ensure prompt deposition at the AfCFTA secretariat.
He said: “Notably, this ratification now gives Nigeria the status of a state party to the agreement, which also gives it a leverage to be an effective player in the scheme of things. It will also boost our position at the forthcoming February 2021 meeting of the state party. It will also strengthen Nigeria’s position during negotiations in the outstanding areas such as services, investment etc.”
He added that NACCIMA, as part of its strategic planning and readiness, has been closely working with various stakeholders such as the African Export and Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to keep the Nigerian private sector abreast of developments and issues that will enable them to play effectively in the continental free trade area by addressing operational issues such as effectiveness of the pan-African payment and settlement system.
The Head, Trade Practice Group of Aelex Legal Practitioners, Mr. Soji Awogbade, who is also an adviser to the National Action Committee that guides the federal government on the implementation of the AfCFTA, expressed happiness that Nigeria has finally joined the party.
The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a continental market for goods and services, with free movement of people and capital and to pave the way for creating a customs union.
It will also grow intra-African trade through better harmonisation and coordination of trade liberalisation across the continent.