Nigeria always stands out - and a lot of times, not in a good way. Yesterday, 49 out of the 55 members of the African Union signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
The chairperson of the African Union and the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame made the announcement in Nouakchott during the closing ceremony of the 31st summit of the 55-member African Union.
But Nigeria and five other countries did not sign the agreement.
Countries that signed the AfCFTA Consolidated Text earlier are Niger, Rwanda, Angola, CAR., Chad, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, The Gambia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Mozambique, Cote’d’Ivoire, Seychelles, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, Swaziland, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, DRC, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, South Sudan, Uganda, Egypt, Ethiopia, Sao Tome and Principle, Togo and Tunisia.
South Africa, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Lesotho and Burundi signed the AfCFTA at the summit Nouakchott. Chad and Swaziland ratified the agreement, which brings the total number of ratification to six.
A minimum of 22 ratifications are required to enable the AfCFTA to come into force, while 15 ratifications for the protocol on free movement of persons, right of residence and right of establishment.
The AfCFTA will be the largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation, according to the AU. It could create an African market of over 1.2 billion people with a GDP of 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars, according to the pan-African bloc.
The AU said the deal was expected to improve the economic prosperity of the African nations removing barriers to trade, like tariffs and import quotas, allowing the free flow of goods and services between its members.
It sounds good, so why won't Nigeria sign?
President Buhari has refused to sign the agreement citing economic protection as his reason. He says the agreement will expose industries and small businesses to external pressures and competitions, which could lead to closures and job losses:
"We are not enthusiastic about signing the EPA because of our largely youthful population. We are still struggling to provide jobs for them, and we want our youths to be kept busy.
Presently, our industries cannot compete with the more efficient and highly technologically driven industries in Europe. We have to protect our industries and our youths."
And...that is a weak defense. In a global and competitive market, protectionism doesn't offer anyone better benefits. Engaging in free trade with the rest of Africa will lead to competition back home and make local producers aspire to quality. The multiplier effect will be jobs and more jobs. Because companies get a market that is 1.2 billion strong. And with Nigeria possessing a large portion chunk of that market, it has more to gain than lose from partaking in the CFTA. And not participating actually puts us at a disadvantage.
Except the government is hiding something from us. And they are: the free trade agreement will force us to beef up decaying infrastructure and lead to a common air transport market that could drive down airfares in Africa. There are also plans for visa-free travel for Africans across the continent as part of the deal. You can see why
Nigerian politicians they wouldn't want that.