Indications emerged on Sunday that President Muhammadu Buhari cancelled his scheduled trip to Kigali, Rwanda, because enough consultation was not made before the Federal Executive Council approved the signing of the framework agreement for establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The FEC presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had approved the signing of the agreement last Wednesday while Buhari was on a visit to Yobe State.
With the approval, Buhari would have signed the agreement during the extraordinary summit of the African Union holding on Tuesday, March 21.
But Buhari cancelled his trip to Rwanda at the last minute.
As of the time the trip was cancelled, some members of the President’s advance team were already in Kigali.
Some others were on Saturday recalled from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, where they were scheduled to take off.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tope Elias-Fatile, on Sunday issued a statement explaining the cancellation of the presidential trip.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has cancelled his trip to Kigali, Rwanda to attend an Extra-Ordinary Summit of the African Union on Tuesday, March 21, to sign the framework agreement for establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area.
“This is to allow more time for input from Nigerian stakeholders,” he wrote.
Stakeholders including the Nigeria Labour Congress had kicked against the signing of the agreement.
But despite this opposition, the FEC presided over by Osinbajo had approved the signing on Wednesday.
The Minister of Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, had told State House correspondents at the end of the meeting that with the approval, Buhari was expected to sign the agreement during the extraordinary meeting of African Union Heads of State and Government holding on March 21 in Kigali, Rwanda.
Enelamah recalled that Heads of State and Governments of AU had in January 2012 decided to establish ACFTA as an economic policy for regional integration.
He explained that after the signing of the agreement next week, the heads of government would go into some detailed negotiations.
The minister said, “In terms of what was approved in council today (Wednesday), the council approved for Nigeria to sign that agreement establishing ACFTA in Kigali on March 21.
“It will be signed by our President at an extraordinary session of the AU.
“The council also approved for Nigeria to express an interest in preparing a bid to host the secretariat where the work will be done.
“Nigeria has played a leadership role in the negotiations. Our chief negotiator and Director-General of the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations was the chairperson of the negotiating technical team.
“Also the African Ministers for Trade and Group was chaired by myself and so, if they played a leading role in this negotiation, we feel that it is better to lead than to follow.
“Therefore, we also got an approval to express an interest in the secretariat of ACFTA, that the headquarters be located in Nigeria. Obviously, we are expecting it to be a competitive process but Nigeria will be interested.
“We also got an approval for the Nigerian office for trade negotiations among ministries, departments and agencies and the private sector to work together and continue with the next stage of the negotiation.
“The first stage is the overall framework establishing CFTA. The next is the protocol on trade in goods and associated annexes; also a protocol on trade in services and finally, the protocol on rules and procedures for the settlement of disputes.”
The minister said council members believed that in approving the signing the agreement, they are doing what is good for Nigeria.
“We want it to generate more exports. The African market is 1.2 billion we are 180 million. We have an ambitious economic agenda, and we are going into this wanting to clearly improve market access for our products and our people.
“We are also going into it wanting to protect our markets from unfair trade practices – dumping, smuggling and all the other things that can go wrong.
“FEC directed that we should make sure that those things are built into the detailed paperwork that will follow. And more importantly, in the implementation, whatever ways and means are needed that they should be addressed,” he said.
On if enough consultations were carried out with Nigerians to ensure they are carried along, Enlameh said, “the President in his directive in February 2017, constituted a negotiating committee that included organised private sector and business-like MAN and NACCIMA, they have been working with us.
“However the level of consultation needs to be much wider and the FEC also pointed that out.
“In fact, tomorrow (Thursday), the Minister of Foreign Affairs is holding a meeting with MAN and other stakeholders and this is just a process that will continue.
“So we do expect to engage and we have been asked by the Presidency to widen those engagements to include more people, go to the geopolitical zones which is why it is important to have an interaction with you the media today.
“FEC also directed that the business community of Nigeria should go with the government negotiators. They want them to now be embedded in government negotiations so we will see that going forward.”
The Media Office of the Presidency later released a fact-sheet on the benefits of the agreement for Nigeria.
The benefits listed included that it will expand market access for Nigeria’s exporters of goods and services, spur growth and boost job creation as well as eliminate barriers against Nigeria’s products and provide a Dispute Settlement Mechanism for stopping the hostile and discriminatory treatment directed against Nigerian natural and corporate business persons in other African countries.