Thursday, 30th November 2023

AfCTA: Between big brother role and Nigeria’s reservations against free movement protocol

By Chijioke Iremeka
26 November 2022   |   3:02 am
Nigeria’s adoption of Africa as the centrepiece of its foreign policy to liberate the continent from external influence, especially political and economic exploitation by the Western capitalist world, seems to be under threat


Nigeria’s adoption of Africa as the centrepiece of its foreign policy to liberate the continent from external influence, especially political and economic exploitation by the Western capitalist world, seems to be under threat by the treaty on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Though Nigeria reluctantly signed the agreement creating a single market for goods and services to boost intra-African trade, the Federal Government is hesitant in ratifying the free movement protocol to which it is a signatory because of the current infiltration of the country by members of trans-border terrorist groups, especially in the Sahel regions of the continent, CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes:

SINCE her independence on October 1, 1960, Nigeria’s foreign policy has continued to tip towards Africa’s affairs. Nigeria has been playing the ‘big brother’ role to other African countries, the reason it opened its borders for the free movement of persons and goods from all African countries even at its own detriments.

Africa being the focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy implies that Nigeria places a high premium on issues relating to the continent her foreign policy.

In the ranking of the major issues in Nigeria’s foreign policy, the ones concerning Africa take precedence over any other hence it is a fact that Africa has been the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy since independence.

The adoption of this policy dates back to an April 1960 session of the House of Representatives when some National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) members of the House moved a motion for the creation of a Department or Ministry of Pan-African Affairs. At that time, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the leader of the NCNC, was known as ‘Zik of Africa.’ Consequently, an All-Nigeria People’s Conference was held in 1961 to map out the strategies for achieving this objective.

The conference, which was hosted by an NCNC member, Dr. Ozumba Mbadiwe and comprised representatives of political parties, trade unions, the academic community, students, women’s organisations and parliament, made some far-reaching recommendations aimed at achieving the objectives.

Nigeria’s adoption of the Afro-centric posture in her foreign policy is a clear testimony that Nigeria attaches paramount importance to what a highly respected Nigerian, General Joseph Garba (rtd) once referred to as the ‘higher interests of Africa.’

Unfortunately, Nigeria’s afro-centric policy has yielded little or no benefit to her. Apart from the international recognition of her role and status in Africa, beneficiaries of her largesse, magnanimity and timely interventions in Africa scarcely show any form of appreciation for her.

Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, each of which became independent due partly to the financial and material assistance given to them by Nigeria turned their backs on Nigeria soon after their independence.

The Republic of South Africa which enjoyed immense material and diplomatic support from Nigeria in her quest for majority rule was one of the countries that spearheaded the campaign that eventually led to the expulsion of Nigeria in 1995 from the Commonwealth of Nations over the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other human rights campaigners.

The Guardian learnt that all these have remained a source of irritation to the Nigerian masses and government. Consequently, many patriotic Nigerians have argued against the continuation of the country’s Afro-centric posture at the expense of the masses, the country and its internal security.

Sometime in the past, a professor of Political Sciences, who was also Nigeria’s External Affairs Minister from 1985 to late 1987, Bolaji Akinyemi, suggested the adoption of the doctrine of reciprocity in the country’s foreign policy drive.

It was gathered that this suggestion is consistent with the principle of quid pro quo (a favour for a favour) by which a country’s largesse to any other country is reciprocated in one way or the other. Curiously, this principle is embedded in the foreign policies of the great powers.

Thus, the so-called aid or loans often given to poor countries by such countries as the United States of America (USA), Britain and France have both political and diplomatic implications for the recipients. This should be an eye-opener to Nigeria that there is no free lunch anywhere in the world. ‘Nothing goes for nothing,’ summarises this in local parlance.

Nigeria’s perception or self-image as the leading power in Africa is well founded. It is informed by the fact that apart from possessing a disproportionately large population, size and wealth compared to other African countries, Nigeria has always taken it upon herself to help restore peace to troubled spots on the continent.

Besides, records show that Nigeria is a status quo mediator in intra-African conflicts. This was amply demonstrated in Liberia and Sierra Leone. These are clear testimonies that Nigeria demonstrates an unparalleled political will to lead and speak for Africa.

The characteristic willingness of successive Nigerian leaders to get the country involved in virtually all domestic crises in Africa creates the illusion that Nigeria has all it takes to be the policeman of Africa. This is an illusion of grandeur for a country that has many domestic problems to contend with.

In recent times, the country has been experiencing serious security challenges and this is affecting the ‘big brother’ role of Nigeria in Africa, especially as regards the free movement of persons and goods around the Sahel countries known to be the hotspots for terrorists’ infiltration of Nigeria.

In line with this, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration recently said it would not implement the ratification of the agreement on free movement on account of the high level of insecurity in the country. The government was hesitant in signing the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area, based on these challenges. It took the country till 2019 (18 months), before it reluctantly signed the treaty, and is yet to ratify the free movement protocol.

Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, explained that insurgency in the Sahel region was one of the reasons Nigeria was reluctant to ratify the free movement protocol, but said the country had introduced a visa-on-arrival policy to ease movement in the country. He assured the African Union (AU) of Nigeria’s willingness to work with the organisation to achieve the free movement of people within West African countries.

A statement by the Ministry’s Director of Press, Afonja Ajibola, said that Aregbesola gave the assurance while playing host to AU delegations who paid him a courtesy visit in Abuja. He spoke of his partnership with the AU in the realisation of the protocol of free movement of persons, goods and services across the sub-region.

Aregbesola, on the other hand, stated that the bloody aftermath of insurgencies, which posed a major threat to the realisation of the free movement protocol, particularly in countries in the Sahel region makes Nigeria hesitant to amend the protocol. He added that the ousting of the Libyan leader, Muammar Al Gaddafi, brought about a security breach in Nigeria via the proliferation of arms, leading to full-blown insurgencies.

The Permanent Secretary, Dr. Shuaib Belgore, said the Nigerian government’s hesitance to implement the protocol was largely due to insecurity, but he assured the team that consultation was ongoing with other stakeholders on actualising the free movement of persons and goods across the region.

Earlier in her remarks, the leader of the delegation, Rita Amokhobu, stated that their visit was to inform the minister of the outcome of their trip to the Benin-Seme border, which she said had accorded them the opportunity to gather information on how Nigeria complies with the treaty of the African Union on the free movement of persons and goods.

Reacting to this, experts said the short-term shutting of Nigeria’s doors against other African countries, especially the Sahel regions is necessary to secure the country’s peace, property and lives of the citizens from marauding terrorists. They, however, said the long-term of it might be tantamount to a breach of protocol and it might elicit reprisal actions, including sanctions, from other member nations.

A senior lecturer at the Department of History and International Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Awka, Anambra State, Sam Okeke Nwajiugo, said: “Nigeria maintained Africa as the centrepiece of its foreign policy when there was relative peace and security on the country. Then, it was essential to liberate Africa from external influence, especially politico-economic exploitation of the continent. But as you can see now, Nigeria is reverting to that position because of insecurity in the country, especially in the Sahel regions.”

He said Nigeria’s open door policy might be the reason for infiltration of the country by terrorists in the region as well as other places, therefore there may not be any guarantee for free passage of goods and genuine business people for now.

“For security reasons, I think that Nigeria should sit up until everything is normalised. When that happens, you can reverse the trend. It’s not to the advantage of the country right now to throw our doors open.

The fact that something has prompted the tightening measures, we need to keep it up until things revert to normal. Then, we can return to Afro-centric policy of Nigeria’s foreign policy. That is the situation because evidence and facts have shown that the area is not safe when you allow the free movement of persons, goods and services without control.

“The best thing is to safeguard the interest of the country, the lives and property of the citizenry before we begin to think of granting access to foreigners to move freely within the country.”

On the implications of the non-implementation of the AU policy on free movement, Nwajugo said that the policy had a short-term disadvantage on the country because it would affect businesses and a number of other things, including infringing on the human right of freedom of movement, it would curb a number of unwholesome things, especially militancy and terrorism.

On whether the Federal Government’s action would amount to a breach of protocol, the lecturer said: “It will not be seen as a breach because Nigeria has not reneged on the agreement. It’s just a temporary measure to relieve the problem. Nigeria cannot just get up and breach the treaty. What the country is doing is a temporary measure but if it becomes permanent, then, it can become a breach, which may be followed by sanctions or reprisal actions from the neighbouring countries.”

Nwajiugo, in his reaction to the observation that the African countries, to which Nigeria is playing the big brother roles, are not reciprocating the gesture, said: “Yes, I read in a book by Joseph Garba that some of these African countries do not appreciate what Nigeria has done and is still doing for them. For instance, the independence of Angola was facilitated by Nigeria but when she got her independence, she turned her back on Nigeria.

“In fact, when former Nigeria’s Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed was killed in a coup, the Angolan president didn’t send a condolence message or emissary to Nigeria. Similarly, South Africa! What do I say about Zimbabwe, in particular about the visa imposition on Nigerians to enter Zimbabwe? All those things are not necessary.”

By the way, the AfCFTA is aimed at creating a single market for goods and services and boosting intra-African trade. The Agreement to create the AfCFTA was signed in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018, by 27 countries. Subsequently, other African countries signed the agreement, with Nigeria being the latest to sign on July 7, 2019, thereby bringing the total number of participating countries to 54 and leaving Eritrea as the only country yet to sign the agreement.

Till today, 28 AU member-states have deposited their instruments of ratification with the African Union Commission (AUC). The countries include Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Niger, Chad, Congo Republic, Djibouti, Guinea, Eswatini (former Swaziland), Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Senegal, Togo, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Saharawi Republic, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, São Tomé and Príncipe, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritius.

By the number of participating countries, the AfCFTA is considered the world’s largest free trade zone since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation in 1994.

The Article 5 of the AfCFTA stipulates its governing principles, two of which are that the AfCFTA is to be driven by AU member-states and that the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) Free Trade Areas (FTAs) will serve as building blocks for the AfCFTA.

This article narrows down these two principles by considering Nigeria as one of the AU member-states and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as one of the RECs.

Current statistics, The Guardian learnt, show that Nigeria is not maximising its export potential in the non-oil sectors, with oil exports such as mineral fuels, oils and distillation products constituting 94 per cent of the country’s total exports in 2018.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the AfCFTA will stimulate intra-African trade by up to $35 billion per year, creating a 52 per cent increase in trade by 2022 and a vital $10 billion decrease in imports from outside Africa.

More so, Nigeria is a signatory to the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), a trading instrument designed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The scheme offers unhindered market access to the 15 member-countries and promotes economic relations within the sub-region. Countries covered by the scheme include Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Burkina Faso, and Cape Verde.

The ETLS guarantees free movement of goods and persons between member countries, no quantitative restrictions, total exemption from import duties and taxes, and non-payment of compensation for loss of revenue for items (ii) and (iii) as a result of their importation.

It was learnt that to qualify for admission into the ETLS, such products must originate from the ECOWAS region. The following are the three criteria for admission of products into the scheme: At least 60 per cent local content of products; 30 per cent value addition for products and change of tariff headings (reflected in HS-code).

It was also learnt that this aspect was the part that affected the Federal Government of Nigeria, which made her to delay the signing of the pact. The FG was scared that upon signing the agreement, it would be incumbent on Nigeria to allow products from any African country with low tariffs.

The government feared that other countries of the world might go to any of the neighbouring African countries with better infrastructure to establish their factories and flood Nigeria with foreign finished products under the smokescreen of African products.

However, as part of measures to boost security and intelligence gathering in the country towards nipping insecurity in the bud, the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS), it was gathered, has been enrolling foreigners in the NIS database under the migrant’s e-registration exercise with a view to helping with intelligence and strategic planning.

The Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, recently kicked off the electronic registration of non-Nigerian residents in the state, describing the exercise by the NIS as a key step in the national security and socio-economic development of the country.

The e-registration, which would be carried out in eight states of the federation, would see the NIS documenting non-Nigerians living in those states as part of efforts to keep accurate data and curb crimes, transnational terrorism and security threats to the country.

According to the NIS, the programme aims at ensuring the proper registration of migrants in the country. It also targets the generation of a robust personal profile and electronic biometric database of all foreigners that intend to stay in Nigeria beyond the period of 90 days.

“We’ve found out that partnership with critical stakeholders at the grassroots level is germane to effective border security. This explains our renewed engagements with the traditional institutions to assist in providing us with intelligence about the presence of foreigners in their midst,” he added.

On when to make a shift from the country’s foreign policy in the midst of challenging situations, a historian and part-time lecturer in one of the private universities in Okija, Anambra State, Dr Vincent Ezeme, said: “Prior to the Nigeria Civil War, the country’s foreign policy tilted towards the West but when the West started playing politics with the war, the country’s pro-West policy moved to Russia. This was the first time in the history of the country’s foreign policy to go north. This is how the relationship between Nigeria and Russia started.”

He noted that the decision of the Federal Government not to ratify the free movement protocol, especially as Nigeria is facing worsening insecurity, is good for the peace, stability and safety of the citizens and their property. He urged the government not to relent until the coast is clear.

“It is, therefore, not a breach of protocol. It’s a decision to salvage the country. When the situation gets better, we can continue with the Afro-centric foreign policy. It’s our safety first before the international community,” he added.