By Chesa Chesa
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday in Abuja insisted that Nigeria would be guided by ‘national interest’ in taking any decision on the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The Africa trade deal had been causing concerns among stakeholders bin Nigeria as the President continues to delay appending his signature to the deal, explaining that he was still studying the document to safeguard national interests and ensure the country did not become a dumping ground for imported goods.
He restated this position while receiving National Council of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) led by its president, Engr Mansur Ahmed.
‘‘I don’t think Nigeria has the capacity to effectively supervise and to ensure that our colleagues in AU don’t allow their countries to be used to dump goods on us to the detriment of our young industries and our capacity to utilize foreign exchange for imported goods,’’ he said.
The President said he was ready to receive the report of a Committee set up to assess the potential costs and impact of signing the agreement establishing the AfCFTA for Nigeria.
He recalled that the Presidential Steering Committee on the AfCFTA Impact and Readiness Assessment Committee was inaugurated on October 22, 2018, with the mandate to assess the extent to which Nigeria was ready to join the agreement, and what the impact of doing so would be.
The Committee was initially given 12 weeks to conclude its assignment, after holding wide consultations with industry groups and stakeholders, including the MAN.
The President told National Council of MAN that the AfCFTA is in fact, on the agenda for the upcoming Africa Union Summit in Niamey, Niger Republic, in July.
President Buhari also promised to look into the presentation by MAN highlighting issues of concern to the manufacturing sector, namely the AfCFTA, Export Expansion Grant and other incentives, challenges with the 2019 fiscal policy measures, recent increase in NAFDAC charges, the Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) (Amendment) Act, 2019, among others.
‘‘I assure you that I know the enormity of our problems in terms of population growth rate and teeming young people.
‘‘We need to move very fast, and the government will try and encourage you as very much as possible so that the problem of unemployment and the provision of other services relative to our population and state of development can be tolerated,’’ he said.
Earlier in his remarks, the MAN president outlined some credible policies that have driven the economy forward in the first term of President Buhari.
Commending the Buhari administration for consistent efforts to sustain the growth trajectory anchored on improving the business environment, Ahmed recognised the government’s efforts at improving the Ease of Doing Business Project, fight against corruption, focus on poverty reduction, job creation and inclusive growth as well as the launch of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.
He, however, noted that despite the significant progress recorded in the last four years, ‘‘it is clear that our economy is still fragile.’’
‘‘With the GDP at 2.0 per cent and below the population growth rate, the clouds are still threatening and the task of driving the economy upwards is still enormous.”
Addressing the press afterwards, Mansur proffered solutions, saying that “we need him (Buhari) to strengthen the economic base in areas such as infrastructure, especially power and transport infrastructure. The manufacturing sector in particular depends critically on the availability of stable electricity and conducive environment which support growth and continuous investment.
“We have also suggested to Mr. President that in the short run, availability of power be improved by executing the program established by the power industry to ensure that those large organizations that draw large quantum of power draw directly from the National Grid rather than from the distribution companies.
“We believe that if that arrangement is made, three things will happen. First, the stranded power that is not able to reach the consumers can then be utilized. This will increase revenue to the power industry and be able to strengthen the manufacturing sector by making power available to those who can access it.
“The arrangement was that those who can draw up to two megawatts of electricity can do so directly from the high tension rather than the distribution network.”
He added that the MAN was capable not helping the President take over 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years, if given the right support.
“I believe that the manufacturing sector and the SMEs are the critical tool for enhanced youth employment. As you know, the more the manufacturing sector expands, the more it will employ people. Jobs will be sustained.
“Obviously, increasing employment is possible even for 100 million people and above. But you need the right support to the manufacturing sector, especially when you give incentives for growth to take place.
“We have drawn attention to the Bill that has been submitted to the President for assent – the Industrial Expansion Bill – which l believe if it is assented to, will offer tremendous rapid expansion in the industry,” Mansur added.