Mr. Peter Obi, Vice Presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was a lone voice, supporting Nigeria’s immediate signatory to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
All the other candidates disagreed, pointing to the volatility and crisis of Nigeria’s economy as considerations in making such a vital decision on AfCFTA.
The African free trade agreement was one of the major topic in the Friday night Vice Presidential debate that was organised by the Nigerian Election Debates Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) for the five candidates.
In spite of unanimous support by other candidates to government’s delay in signing the deal, the major opposition PDP disagreed, saying it was better for Nigeria to pen the agreement now than waste time.
Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s Vice President and the running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari, said the federal government was consulting with key stakeholders on the agreement.
Osinbajo of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) disagreed with Mr Peter Obi, who is ex-governor of Anambra state and the Vice Presidential running mate of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Osinbajo explained that government withheld its signature to the agreement because it wanted to ensure that all loopholes that would make the agreement have negative impacts on the country were blocked before signing it.
Osinbajo said that though the agreement was important, the chief fear about it was the possibility of transhipment, saying for example China can ship its goods to Benin Republic and import to Nigeria under a free trade agreement.
“So we can have a situation where local industry is killed just by the mere fact that we signed on to this without ensuring that all of the loopholes have been blocked. So we are in the process of ensuring that all of the loopholes are blocked.’’
Osinbajo said that the key stakeholders in the private sector including Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and other business bodies were against the agreement for now.
“We are a private sector driven economy. We cannot say because we are involved in the process, we should just go ahead and sign it.
“It is our duty as a responsible government to make sure that we take into account all of the different issues that are involved before we sign.
“ There is no need for hurrying into signing the agreement. We must make sure we cover all our basis before we sign.‘’
But Obi explained that there was nothing to fear about signing the policy if necessary things had been put in place.
Obi said it was going to be win-win for Nigeria if the agreement is signed, saying there is no way the country could be part of preparing the policy and back out at the signing stage.
He said that Nigeria has the market, the population and everything it takes to benefit from the trade agreement and not just depending on oil for foreign exchange earnings.
“If we sign it today it is going to be a win-win for us. Other countries that don’t have oil, are deriving their foreign exchange earnings from manufacturing.
“You have to look into the agreement fix those things we are not doing well here, put them in place and sign that agreement because it is going to be a win-win for us.’’
He was of the view that consultation should not be now but when the agreement was being formulated.
However, Osinbajo reminded Obi that negotiations for the trade agreement began in the PDP’s era and they also ought to have done a lot of consultation.
Disagreeing with Obi, candidate of the Alliance for New Nigerian (ANN), Mrs Kadijat Abdullahi-Iya, said the country must study the impact of the trade agreement on the Nigerian economy before signing.
“We have to look at how the agreement affects the common man on the streets, how many employment it creates.
“We have to look at how it will boost the industries, we are looking at diversification, how will it affect our Gross Domestic Products (GDP). These are the things we must look into.’’
The Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) candidate, Mr. Ganiyu Galadima, also disagreed with the PDP’s candidate and commended the Federal Government for not signing the agreement because many things were not working well in the Nigerian economy.
“Any agreement that we sign that will turn Nigeria into dumping ground for goods from other countries and cripple our local industries will not be in the interest of the country.’’
“I think the proper thing for the government is to put the agreement on hold until the economy of the country improved and manufacturing industry is revived’’
The Vice Presidential Candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), Mr. Umma Getso, also said that signing the agreement with the current situation of the country would not be a wise decision.
Getso said the trade agreement would be favourable to Nigeria when the country was strong in terms of production and not when it was importing goods.
AfCFTA is a trade agreement between African Union member states with the goal of creating a single market followed by free movement and a single currency union.
The AfCFTA was signed in Kigali, Rwanda on 21 March 2018 by least 44 out of the 55 countries.
Initial planning for the agreement began in 2013 when PDP was in power in Nigeria.