Officials of the ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development appears to have taken advantage of President Muhammadu Buhari, decision to drag Nigeria to join the much talked about African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA. on Sunday, July 7, 2019, at the African union , AU, 12th Extra Ordinary Submit, in Niamy, Niger, to reposition the farmers in order to benefit from the trade agreement with the Republic of Benin.
Going by the calculation of the officials of the ministry over 500,000 jobs would be created with the launching of the trade pact,Operational Zone in the country. The Agricultural products that had been approved could be exported be exported to the West African neighbouring country include cocoa, cotton, cement, leather, cashewnuts, sesame, shea butter, palm oil, fertiliser, petrochemicals, and rubber among others.
Segun Awolowo, the Executive Director, Nigerian Export Promotion Council , NEPC, who was said to have been instrumental in giving reasons why Nigerian should join the AfCFTA, club was said to have identified 22 non oilproducts that could be traded at the Free trade Area to the advantage of the country.
According to the NEPC, Executive Director, the non oil exports could fetch the country about $30 billion annually. He was said to have repeatedly briefed the President who was impressed that he has no option but to make up his mind to sign the AfCFTA document inNiamy last Sunday.
He was said to have gone a step further sign a trade agreement withRepublic of Benin to be export the products to Benin, the West African neighbour. Patrick Talon, the Benin, President, according to an eyewitness account at the signing ceremony at Niamy was very happy to enter into the trade pact with Nigeria which has the market instead of spending the country scarce foreign exchange reserves in importing such items from Europe or Asia.
Note the NEPC boss had cited cocoa which many describe as being in great demand in Europe, China and the United states of America, USA, and other African markets. He, however, lamented that the country at present only produces less than 300,000 metric tons, compared to 900,000mt and two million mt, pushed into the International cocoa markets annually by Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire respectively.
Awolowo , the NEPC, helmsman, is optimistic that by joining of the AfCFTA, cocoa andShea nut and Cashew nut farmers would be forced to take advantage of the country’s land mass to raise production that could compete with producers in other parts of Africa.
Perhaps, to ensure that Nigeria farmers benefit from the new Continental market, he has suggested to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to initiate a programme that could encourage the Banks grantthe plantation owners and individual farmerslow interest loan to be able to raise their production output.
An elated NEPC boss who could not hide his feelings that the country had at long last joined the AfCFTA, after several months of dragging its feet, said the agency arecurrently working with the relevant ministries, agencies and Departments, to achieve the purpose of joining the larger African market. Recall, that the CBN, had earlier announced an initiative on four Agricultural products where the farmers couldenjoy lowinterest rates loans in order to go into commercial farming to raise their production.
Investigation by The Value News shows that between 2018 and now, the Commercial Banks also had devised loanpackages under the CBN, financial intervention measures at a single digit interest rate for both for individual and commercial farmers. Take forinstance , Access Bank, which was said to have made available over N240 million to finance Agriculture in the country.
An official of the Bank who spoke to The Magazine disclosedthat apartfrom giving out loans to the farmers, the bank is ready to help them to succeed in the business to be able to repay the loans. Under the CBN intervention Scheme, which arecategorisedinto theMicro , Small and Medium, scale Enterprise Schemes, SME, The maximum amount of loan that could be given out, ranges between N50 million and N2 billion.
The individual farmers, according to the Bank sources could get as much as N50 million loan while the Commercial farmers could access thebank loan for as much as N2 billion. The situation is not different what is happening in the United Bank For Africa, UBA, regarded as one of the biggest Commercial Banks in Africa or Zenith Bank, one of the new generation Banks that is making appreciable impact in the nation’s Agricultural sector.
The Banks may have been disbursing the low interest rates loan to the farmers based on the apex Bank Agricultural financing intervention policy thathad enjoinedthe them to give such loans to farmers in the country at five percent interest rate to enable them raise their production.
Until he vacated office last April, Audu Ogbe, a former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development who was said to have also influenced the CBN in bringing the lending rate to five percent was said to have monitored the Banks to ensure they comply with it.
He may have supported the financial institutions to imposeseverepenalty ondefaulters to recover the loans to make provision for other farmers who may have keyed up for such low interest rate loans to support their farming business.
It is instructive to note that before the CBN intervention measures came into effect, the Banks had pegged their interest rate on loans at about 18 percent, thus, forcing many farmers to scale down their operations as they could not approach the Banks for such loans.
Recall that the former minister had repeatedly said that ”Agriculture and solid minerals would remain theonly alternativesectors which the government could use to diversify the economy to survive under the current economic situation triggered by the recession lastyear .
It is not surprising why financial analysts believe that Nigeria decision to join AfCFTA, despite the initial fear of unfair trade would go a long way to raise the level of profit for farmers in their export of Agricultural products to Republic of Benin and other African countries. Nigeria had joined as the 53rd member of the African Union, AU, Economic group while Benin, joined as he 54th, thus bringing the total number of African countries that had endorsed it to 55 excluding Eritrea, for now.
At present , a total of 26 African countries, were said to have deposited their instruments of ratification with Gabon , being the latest country to do so. The AfCFTA , according to AU, sources was said to have been opened for Signature by the Authority of Heads of States and Government of the member countries at the 10th Extra Ordinary Summit of the AU, hosted by Rwanda on March 21st, 2018 but Nigerian remained hesitant to endorse it.
In spite of the fact that
the country has finally endorsed AfCFTA, the
Katsina state born Nigerian President was said to have made a passionate appeal to
member countries that the trade must be
fair to all. ”Nigeria wishes to emphasis
that free trade must be free
trade”, he had said.
He had every reason to worry because of the French speaking countries, way of doing business, Particular, Benin, Cote d’iVoire, Senegal and Togo, which still depend so much on France, their colonial master. There are fears that theycould import manufactured or Agricultural products from the country, china and China, repackage it as being made in Benin and export to Nigeria in the spirit of AfCFTA.
Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, who is not ready to take chances by allowing Benin to take advantage of the trade pact to turn Nigeria as a dumping ground was said to have put Muhammed Uba Garba , Comptroller , Seme Command and other land Border Staions Comptrollers including Comptrollers , Federal Operations Units, FOUs , and CGC, Strike Force, accross the country, on the alert to ensure that third party cargoes were not shipped into the country from Benin. This may have informed why Muhammed, the Seme, Customs boss and his Enforcement officers very thorough in checking out the details of all transit cargoes from other countries into Nigeria, through Cotonou port, Republic of Benin and other ports in the West African sub-region.
Prior to the Nigerian endorsement of the AfCFTA document, the Seme Customs Comptroller had approved the seizure of three trucks laden with transit cargoes of bottled water imported from the Asian country of China while conducting 100 percent physical examination at the Examination Bay of the Seme-Krake Joint Border Premises by his men.
The three trucks had carried 627 cartons or 7,524 bottles of Chinese table water valued at about N3.043 million. The seizure of the foreign bottled waters may have informed the reason while the Customs Comptroller had Charged his officers to ensure that that ”illegal importations of Contrabands through the Command is curtailed”.
insiders informed The Value News that the Beninoise Customs Authorities, may have learnt their lesson from the discovery of the Chinese imported bottle water loaded in three trucks that they are very careful about the type of transit cargoes allowed to enter into the Nigerian market through the Seme-Krake, Joint Border to void attracting sanctions from AU , managed AfCTA, or encouraging Nigeria to quit free trade market because of unfair trade.