The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari and other African leaders for withholding their signatures on a free trade agreement for African countries, has drawn the fury of a former Nigeria President, Olusegun Obasajo, who described their action as “criminal”.
Buhari and other leaders from the continent had stayed away from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where African Continental Free Trade (AfCTA) was signed. The agreement, when implemented, will unify market for about 1.2 billion people across the continent.
It was also gathered that aside encouraging ease of trade among countries on the continent, the agreement, which is described as the largest free trade deal since the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995, will eliminate borders and tariffs on goods and services within the continent that boast of a combined gross domestic product of $3.4 trillion.
But Nigeria, which had been involved in the process of the agreement when negotiation began in 2015, backed out in the last minute, despite a preceding approval by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on March 14, for the country participation in the agreement.
Buhari, who had initially given indication of attending the treaty, announced his pulling out from the trip to Kigali, explaining the decision of government to stay away from signing the deal to allow for broader consultation amidst an outcry from trade unions that Nigeria would not benefit much from the deal.
It was, however, revealed that Buhari may have succumbed to pressures from Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Organisation of Private Sector (OPS), who are opposed to the free trade agreement.
Reacting to Nigeria’s boycott from the treaty, Obasanjo who had long advocated for a more united Africa, hit Buhari for shunning a deal he observed will redefine the continent.
He (Obasanjo) was at the meeting and he was disappointed at Buhari and other African leaders, who failed to take part in the agreement signing, adding that they have shattered the integration of the continent “that our founding father fought for.”
The former president wondered why Nigeria as a key negotiator in the free trade deal would back out at the last minute, noting that “When you have a thing that is in the best interest of the people and you fail to do it, it is a crime.”
But dismissing criticisms against the government’s boycott of Kigali trade agreement, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, listed other nations who also failed to take part in the trade deal.
Onyeama, who was in Kigali for the March 20-22 summit, but had no mandate to participate on behalf of Nigeria, said Burundi, Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Guinea Bissau, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Benin, also failed to sign the agreement.