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Maidugu throws weight behind border closure, cautions on AfCFTA

By News Express on 20/11/2019

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A legal and development expert, Barrister Bashir Maidugu, has thrown his weight behind the Federal Government’s closure of the country’s borders as a means to check smuggling, which he described as a big threat to the country’s economy.

Speaking in his Keynote Address at the 7th News Express Anniversary Lecture held last Thursday (November 14) at the Ikeja Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Lagos, Maidugu said: “The Recent border closure by Nigeria has exposed a lot of untoward atrocities being inflicted on our country by our selfish neighbours. It clearly confirms that the economies of Benin and Niger Republics flourishes at the expense of Nigeria courtesy of the loose ECOWAS protocol. We must therefore remain firm and act decisively, but Nigeria’s borders cannot remain permanently shut. For example, we should equip the Nigeria Customs Service with modern military grade drones to combat smuggling and other criminal activities at all our borders.”

Maidugu, who is Honourary Special Adviser (Infrastructure) to The Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum, similarly endorsed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), but advised caution. He said in his address entitled, AfCFTA: Prospects and inhibitions for Nigeria: “The African Continental Freetrade Area, if carefully and fairly implemented, is truly an idea that has the potential of reversing the narrative with respect to poverty in the African continent. Despite the endorsement by Nigeria, my advice in this brief paper should be a cautious approach, considering our national interests and sovereignty.”

Below is Maidugu’s full speech at the high-profile event which also featured the Vice Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the 2019 polls, Mr. Peter Obi, who headlined the event as the Special Guest of Honour and Guest Speaker; Eminent Lawyer and celebrated Activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN; who was a Keynote Speaker; and Famed Change Agent, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, who chaired the event:

“INTRODUCTION

“Trans African trade and movement of goods and persons around the continent has existed for centuries before the advent of the Europeans. From the West African Kingdoms of Ashanti to Songhai to the Kanem Bornu Empire to the Maghreb across the famous Trans-Saharan trade to Tripoli, Cairo, Alexandria and Port Sudan to the Abyssinian regions and the East African Rift valley systems, Africa has engaged in productive trade even in ancient times.

“With the introduction of language and border barriers pursuant to the Berlin conference of 1884-85, inter African trade took a new shape. The events that took place thereafter should be a topic for another day.

“When the discussions officially commenced on the possibility of an African continental free trade Area agreement aimed at enabling free movement of goods and persons within the Continent, there were very high hopes for Africans and others that might seek to benefit from such an arrangement.

“OVERVIEW OF THE CURRENT SITUATION

“According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Africa’s current integration landscape contains an array of regional economic communities, including eight (8) active regional economic communities recognised as the building blocks of the AfCFTA. These are the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), The Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), The East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

“The regional Economic communities are expected to serve their member states with the implementation of the regional integration agenda, where, according to the UNECA, the concept of good faith and the resultant observance of treaty obligations are the basis on which member states must make regional integration decisions as well as ensuring their performance and implementation.

“Along these regional economic groupings are the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), a project of the Addis Ababa-based African Union. It was set to create a single market for air transport in Africa, advancing the AU’s agenda 2063.

“Similarly, there are several bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements with respect to agricultural commodities and other natural resources signed by African countries across the African Continent all aimed at enhancing economic relationships among them. Over the years, these arrangements enabled the different African countries to relate economically at their own different paces.

“AIMS, OBJECTIVES AND BENEFITS OF THE AfCFTA

To expedite continental integration and enhance intra-African trade and investment by creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of businessmen, women and investments, paving the way for faster establishment of the “Continental Customs Union”.

Harmonisation of trade regimes.

Industrial development in the AfCFTA zone.

Recognition of different levels of development, i.e need for Special and differential treatments, flexibilities among member nations.

Preservation of the acquis– Using the different Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) as building blocks of the AfCFTA

Reciprocity between nations

Eventual establishment of a single rule book for trade and investment in Africa.

According to the ECA, African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will cover a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion, across all 55 member States of the African Union. In terms of numbers of participating countries, AfCFTA will be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization.

It promises to be a highly dynamic market. According to the African Union, the population of Africa is projected to reach 2.5billion by 2050, at which point it will comprise 26% of what is projected to be the Worlds working age population, with an economy that is estimated to grow twice as rapidly as that of the developed World.

African businesses currently face higher tariffs when they export within Africa than when they export outside Africa. AfCFTA aims to progressively eliminate tariffs on intra-African trade, making it easier for African businesses to trade within the continent which will enable them to also grow from the growing African market.

The Economic Commission for Africa estimates that AfCFTA has the potential to boost intra-African trade by 52.3 percent by eliminating import duties, and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced.

“PROSPECTS FOR NIGERIA WITHIN THE AfCFTA

In analyzing the possible benefits that may accrue to Nigeria from the Continental Free Trade Area, we must appreciate the fact that we are still a mono product, oil-based economy. We also must understand that our oil is a hot cake in the international market and as such we have no serious need to market it to African countries. Our customers are largely in Europe, Asia and at some point, America. The African market is negligible compared with those.

Nevertheless, Nigeria still produces industrial goods that are exported and consumed within the African region. Most of these products are household consumables, garments, plastic materials, building materials, cement and sanitary wares. Ceteris paribus, The Nigerian economy stands to benefit from the export of these items. ECOWAS has truly proved this in recent times.

With the renewed interest in agriculture by the Federal Government, states and the Central Bank of Nigeria, this country is potentially well positioned to not only be self-sufficient in food production but also feed at least most of West Africa. To achieve this, we need to mobilise our population aggressively and orient ourselves towards agriculture and agro-allied industries in an unprecedented manner. Our efforts in the success of the rice revolution should be replicated with other foodstuffs like cassava, wheat, maize, beans as well as poultry and cattle etc. Government should also encourage the production of cash crops like cocoa, groundnuts, cashew etc. In Africa, we eat similar foods and the market is always there. We must bear in mind that farmers are generally encouraged to produce more when the prices for their products are right and when there’s incentive from the Government. I think one can safely say that all the indices are right at present.

“INHIBITIONS NIGERIA MUST CONFRONT

“Nigeria must overhaul and improve her production mechanism, industrial base and diversify her economy in order to be competitive. Though we have jumped many places up in the ease of doing business index, a lot still needs to be done.

The multiple exchange rate of the Nigerian Naira must be harmonised into a single exchange rate and the Central Bank of Nigeria should minimise its artificial support of the Naira. That way, foreign investors will be comfortable in planning their way into our economy which will further translate into growth of the economy.

The Electricity situation in this country should be fixed as a matter of urgent necessity. A situation where a country of 200 million people cannot generate enough electricity to ignite homes and industry will mean that there will be reliance on alternative sources than the national grid at least into the foreseeable future. This also translates to production of expensive manufactured goods and other services. This in effect further translates to our products becoming uncompetitive in the international markets. Businesses from countries with efficient and enough electricity supplies like Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, Rwanda and even Senegal will have automatic advantages over Nigerian businesses, especially where retail in those countries are controlled. The Kingdom of Morocco which has been eyeing the West African market for years and whose spirited attempts to join ECOWAS as a member was rejected will simply have a field day. Their obvious target has always been Nigeria’s huge population. We therefore may need a conflict resolution mechanism within the AfCFTA, exactly like the WTO, an African Trade Organisation perhaps.

The Security Challenges: This is perhaps the most important area that requires urgent and absolute attention from all. We all know that Government should by law secure lives and property as well as the territorial integrity of the nation. However, as citizens, we must also play our parts in securing our neighbourhoods and communities through responsible behaviour. If our nation is secure and the right policies are put in place by government, we would have an environment where massive investments will pour into our country. With the present security situation, we are at a disadvantage and investors will simply head for safer countries.

The Infrastructure gap: Related to the above drawbacks is the massive issue of infrastructure. As a country, we must provide the necessary enabling environment for excellent and affordable privately-run transport system…. road networks, air transport, as well as an efficient and friendly hospitality industry for the businessmen and women that may troop into Nigeria. Good insurance and banking system, excellent health care delivery all should be part of the infrastructure that require strengthening. Our banks should be able to provide credit facilities and finance projects and businesses with little bureaucracy. Our insurance companies should be strong and provide all types of cover with prompt payment of claims without much litigation.

Our judiciary must dispense justice within a reasonable time. Rule of law must be supreme, and Governments must respect human rights so that investors will have the confidence to invest here.

Government should also intensify the fight against corruption.

Government should strengthen the local airlines so that they can compete with major African airlines like Ethiopian Airlines, EgyptAir, Kenya Airways or even Rwandair, at least on the Nigerian route. As at October 2019, the bilateral Air Services agreements (BAS) signed by Nigeria has climbed to 92 even though Nigeria does not have a national carrier. Nigeria loses billions of US Dollars daily as a result of this inequitable gap.

It is obvious that the advent of AfCFTA will mean the eventual coming into effect of the SINGLE AFRICAN AIR TRANSPORT MARKET (SAATM) at some point in time. The SAATM wants to ensure that aviation plays a major role in connecting Africa. This is a dream project for the major African airlines especially Ethiopian Airlines. One can only imagine the chaos Nigeria will find herself in if this comes into force for example, today.

As a consequence of our domineering nature and enterprise as a people, Nigerians tend to face difficulty in securing visa to travel even to some African countries. This situation must change if we are to benefit from the AfCFTA. Only 14 out of the 54 African countries offer visa on arrival to African nationals. And only about five of these countries have such reciprocal arrangement with Nigeria.

“CONCLUSION

“The African Continental Free Trade Area, if carefully and fairly implemented, is truly an idea that has the potential of reversing the narrative with respect to poverty in the African continent. Despite the endorsement by Nigeria, my advice in this brief paper should be a cautious approach, considering our national interests and sovereignty.

“The Recent border closure by Nigeria has exposed a lot of untoward atrocities being inflicted on our country by our selfish neighbours. It clearly confirms that the economies of Benin and Niger Republics flourishes at the expense of Nigeria courtesy of the loose ECOWAS protocol. We must therefore remain firm and act decisively, but Nigeria’s borders cannot remain permanently shut. For example, we should equip the Nigeria Customs Service with modern military grade drones to combat smuggling and other criminal activities at all our borders.

“Finally, I would want the distinguished audience here to be aware that I am only speaking as a Nigerian with Nigeria’s interest at heart. It is a fact that African nations are unevenly developed with some having more efficient systems than others. We must admit that Nigeria is still largely a consumer nation. We must also have it in mind that the protection of our economy, businesses and sovereignty comes first. We must not consume our way to catastrophe. We must patronise Nigerian made goods and consume Nigerian as much as possible. Our survival as a nation depends entirely on our attitude to ourselves.

“To those of our brothers and sisters leaving for other countries to seek for greener pastures, we must let them know that it is not in our collective interest to do so. We should tell them that our pasture is already green. This country is already blessed with almost everything. We only need to gradually find our bearing, work more and launch ourselves to greatness.”

•PHOTO: Legal and development expert Bashir Maidugu delivering his Keynote Address at the 7th News Express Anniversary Lecture held last Thursday (November 14) at the Ikeja Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Lagos

Source News Express

Posted 20/11/2019 12:17:49 PM

 

 

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