After much intrigues and counter intrigues, President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the controversial African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in Niger Republic during the 12th Extraordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Heads of State.
The signing of the agreement on behalf of Nigeria by Buhari came after months of pressure mounted on his government by the different interest groups both from within and outside Nigeria to make the country join other African countries that had earlier signed the agreement.
The AfCFTA is one of the flagship projects of the African Union Agenda 2063 which is aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments and one currency.
Before the signing, many groups had either spoken in support or against the African policy based on different reasons which made Buhari to first pause in the signing in Kigali, Rwanda two years ago.
As good as the project is meant to be, key players in the country’s aviation sector, particularly the airlines had argued that rushing to sign the trade policy would give other African countries and some foreign nations undue advantage into the Nigerian market including its aviation market.
The Nigerian airlines through their Chairman, Captain Nogie Meggison, had cited how similar agreements signed without undue consultations by previous governments had impacted negatively on the sector in particular.
Without be-labouring issues, after months of debates, President Buhari has not only signed the agreement but has now set up a national committee to begin the implementation of the trade agreement.
One good thing about the committee is that it is expected to engage with relevant stakeholders and set a standard for building support for strategic areas of public policy with clarity on concrete parameters for implementation of action.
Without doubt, since such stakeholders must include those in the aviation sector especially the airline operators; it has become pertinent for the aviation stakeholders to bring to the attention of the committee for the implementation of the policy the need for it to protect the Nigerian airlines and the entire sector.
The need for the committee to protect the airlines and the aviation sector becomes pertinent in the sense that all these other African countries using individuals in Nigeria to coerce the government to sign and implement the agreement are doing so based on what they stand to gain from Nigeria.
Based on records, many of these African countries have displayed their smartness by hiding under the guise of calling Nigeria a ‘big brother’ to rip the country off even as they continue to frustrate Nigerian investors including airlines from operating in their countries.
It is no longer news how some of these African countries whose airlines have been given unlimited privileges to operate here often collude with their home countries to discourage Nigerian airlines designated to operate into their countries under the pretext of protecting their own airlines.
A typical example of the selfishness of many of the African countries reared its head in their refusal to up till now allow the Yamoussoukro Agreement signed 27 years ago for open skies to be implemented as many African countries continue to restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by their state-owned air carriers.
It is however contradictory to see the same countries now desperate to force Nigeria to sign and implement the policy.
In implementing this agreement, the committee should be on its toes by ensuring that Nigeria and its sectors of economy including the aviation are well protected while the the other African countries should be made to show their readiness to allow level playing fields devoid of any hidden agenda or protectionism at the expense of Nigeria.