More than a year after declining to append his signature, President Muhammadu Buhari, this week, in Niamey, Niger Republic, signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
With Nigeria committing itself to the agreement, the number of parties to the agreement now jumps to 53. So, it’s now official, Nigeria has joined the AfCFTA precisely on Sunday at the opening of the African Union (AU) summit.
The president appended his signature to the treaty in the presence of African heads of state and government, delegates and representatives from the private sector, civil society and the media practitioners attending the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on Launch of the Operational Phase of the AfCFTA.
Too beneficial to ignore, the AfCFTA is said to possess a potential market of 1.2 billion people and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion for the entire 54 member states.
To buttress the need for Africans to unite and the AfCFTA market’s significance, the president said Nigeria’s commitment to trade and African integration had never, and will never, be in doubt. After all, he said, and we all know that, it’s in the interest of Nigeria, with the largest population in Africa, to continue promoting trade among African countries.
Still, while many benefits accompany the AfCFTA among which are the promotion of better business environment, promotion of local business and business growth and expansion, it is important, like the president did, to carry everyone on board, especially the business community, in the process of committing to the agreement.
Broad consultation, thus, is critical for the success of the AfCFTA at national and continental levels. It is against this background that Nigeria embarked on an extensive nationwide consultation and sensitisation programme of its domestic stakeholders on the AfCFTA
This reason, apparently, stopped the president from appending his signature to the agreement last year despite its potential to transform trade in Africa and contribute towards solving some of the continent’s security, economic and or corruption challenges.
There is no doubt that the economic welfare of Africans and some of the clear benefits of the AfCFTA, when it is fully implemented, cannot be overemphasised. That is why the success of the AfCFTA should be a matter of great concern to all who desire a strong, safer, secure and progressive Africa.
However, like the president pointed out, for the AfCFTA to succeed, Africans, especially leaders, irrespective of their colour, race and religions, should support the initiative. Without any doubt, the AfCFTA can be a platform for the African manufacturers of goods and providers of service to construct regional value chains for made in Africa goods and services.
However, plenty challenges need to be surmounted in order to achieve the vision for the free movement of ‘made in Africa goods.’ Some of the critical challenges that require addressing include injurious trade practices by third parties and attracting the investment we need to grow local manufacturing and service capacities and there should be provision and from and for all stakeholders of free and fair trade regime.
Essentially, free trade must also be fair trade. Ideally, African leaders should focus on implementing the AfCFTA in a way that it would develop their nations’ economies and create jobs for the young, dynamic and vulnerable population.
Again, African leaders must build knowledge and expertise of all stakeholders on priority trade issues of the AfCFTA, improve regular information flow on trade issues to key stakeholders, and suggest framework for the establishment of AfCFTA national committees and improve co-ordination among relevant government ministries and agencies including through clear mandates and assigning of responsibilities.
They should also improve the participation opportunities for stakeholders in the AfCFTA and strengthen the culture of dialogue and inclusiveness among them. Like the president said, Africans should continue to engage themselves constructively “to build the Africa that we want.’’
It is pertinent to point out that with Nigeria and Benin Republic signing the AfCFTA agreement, 54 out of 55 African countries have signed the world’s largest free trade area deal, encompassing 55 countries and 1.2 billion people.
Eritrea is the only African country yet to sign the agreement. A total of 26 African countries have deposited instruments of ratification, with Gabon being the latest after depositing the instrument of ratification during the Extraordinary Summit.
The AfCFTA Agreement came into force on May 30, 2019, 30 days after receiving the 22nd instrument of ratification on April 29, 2019, in conformity with the legal provisions.
The return of teachers’ pride
For too long and for no just reason, the education sector was pushed to the back burner and welfare of teachers neglected. Now, that ugly situation looks destined to be remedied.
President Muhammadu Buhari said reviving the education sector, with renewed focus on teaching valuable lessons like integrity in schools, would be giving priority and welfare and issue of training of teachers will be moved to front burner.
Known, especially for his integrity and respect for labour, the president chose the right time and audience to talk about lessons on integrity and dignity in labour. The occasion was the presentation of a proposal to him by the Arewa House Centre for Historical Documentation and Research to start an annual, “Buhari Integrity Lecture Series.’’
Speaking, the president said training, welfare and happiness of teachers have bearing on the quality of education children and adults get in schools.
Underscoring the significance of the gathering and role played by the centre, the president said if the proposed annual integrity lecture event is to succeed, we must go back to history and contribution of teachers to education.
He highlighted the roles of teachers in instilling discipline and imparting knowledge. He also, tellingly, praised teachers for helping to develop kids other than their own, like him, to imbibe the virtues of honesty and integrity.
The president, of course, cannot be more generous in his commendation for teachers as teachers uphold students with more care and sincerity as they would do their children.
Recalling with fondness how his teachers handled him, the president said: “I have been lucky to be in boarding school for nine years, three years in primary school and six years in secondary school before I joined the military.”
Those nine years, like the other years students used to spend in schools, no doubt, formed part of the character formative years of the president and so it is with all those who went through school. Still, teachers are seldom or scarcely respected.
In the past, teachers were usually held in high esteem in the society as they were rightly perceived as the providers of knowledge to youngsters. They used to prepare the youngsters to become useful members of the community.
Regrettably, that situation can now hardly be said to be the case. Little or no respect is now accorded teachers. Even more regrettable now is the fact that many teachers have become disgrace to the noble profession that they represent.
Still, when one hears about acts of structural violence committed against teachers, denying them their basic rights, it is justified to ask why such injustices take place, what is being done to prevent them from taking place again and are conscious of the fact that poor treatment of teachers have bearing on the training of youngsters and education.
It is based on this concern that the recent promise made by the president to return education and teachers to their previous position of pride must be respected, and appreciating the roles played by his teachers in making him who he is now, there’s no reason to suspect that the president would not fulfill his promise.
For a start, it is heartwarming when he urged stakeholders to consider who pays the teachers at every level and if the teachers get adequately compensated to provide quality education.
“We must make education…a priority, relative to the resources available,’’ he said. The president should also be appreciated for saying it as it is – the challenge of repositioning the education sector and cultivating strong moral values in children, especially in the disadvantaged North, goes beyond the region and it should be pursued holistically at the national level, using national resources.
Essentially, in the North and elsewhere in the country, making quality education accessible and necessary for all kids of school-age can make Nigeria become a better country and a better place to live and realise full potentials at individual and collective levels.