R-L: Mr. Richard Mammah, Revd. Juliet Binitie, Ms. Uri Ngozichukwuka and Mr. Austine Lugard at The Difference 4th Colloquium

For Nigeria to make meaningful economic progress and establish itself as continental economic power house, establishing closer economic ties with other African countries is imperative. This was the resolution of various speakers at The Difference Newspaper’s 4th Africa Colloquium with the theme: “Pius Adesanmi: A Man, A Passage and A Continent” held in honour of the late Canada based Professor of African Studies, Pius Adesanmi, at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ogba on Thursday.

In his opening remarks, convener of the colloquium and publisher of The Difference Newspaper, a pan African news platform, Mr. Richard Mammah noted that Nigeria would be doing itself great harm if it turns its back on the continent as it is planning to do.

“There is an interconnectedness among the people of Africa. We are one continent. Of course, there are differences. We are 55 nation arrangement today. But there are connections, and those connections are important. If you discountenance those connections, you are cutting off a chunk of what we achieve,” he said.

“In the past few years, Nigeria has taken itself out of the centre of the pan African discourse and we think it’s not correct. It doesn’t help us. France makes more money from Benin Republic than Nigeria. We are neighbours. The French travel kilometers to come and make money in Benin ahead of us. If you have a business and you are not serving your neighbourhood, check your business models again.”

He called on the Nigerian government to reconsider its position on the continental free trade agreement as according to him, the country stood to lose more from not signing it.

“We refer here to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which comes into force next week and the continuing absence of Nigeria’s signature on the consent spot. As many of us know, the snag we have been told is that certain influential elements have concluded that Nigeria’s signing up for AfCFTA would be injurious to the best interests of the nation. Among other things, the objectors allude to the possibility of dumping of goods by other nations on the Nigerian market under the cover of AfCFTA as well as the influx of other Africans into the nation.

“From our checks however, these objections, while being notable, however need to be interrogated. And when this is done, we will see that the fear of goods dumping for example betrays an even bigger crisis: a penchant for papering cracks and not fixing them. This is because, at its base, goods are dumped on uncompetitive economies with compromised border spaces. If we do not fix these issues, we will find that even if we are out of AfCFTA, products with better weighted production factors would continue to find their way into our markets. That is how international trade works today hence it is cheaper and more cost effective to work on the substantive issues of economic non-competiveness and compromised border spaces.

“It is a near similar response that in our view would suffice for the other subject of ‘foreign’ Africans influx. From our checks also, the thing to do is to summon the political courage to deal with the questions of undocumented migrations, sharp practices in our border and migrations systems, and cross-border cultural accommodation of the situation.

“And beyond our fears, we also need to consider the gains of AfCFTA, and the first of them is that Africa is now set to begin the process of building a consciously coordinated and more beneficial continental economy. For whatever it is worth, it is not right that 52 of the continent’s 55 nations have signed up to this progressive move and giant Nigeria is doddering. This is more so when the initial foundations of AfCFTA were agreed upon in Lagos in 1980 and Abuja in 1991 even as the final stage was also moderated by a Nigerian, Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe.

“The second major gain of AfCFTA would be in raising the tenor of intra-African trade. For nations to grow, they need to trade with other nations. However, common sense and statistics depict that almost as an act of nature, the first choice of trade partner remain your closest neighbours. In Asia, North America, Oceania, Europe and South America, this is the norm, with Europe at 68 percent, Asia 59 percent and North America 39 percent. It is in Africa where we have the smallest regional trade numbers of about 15-17 percent and AfCFTA promises to change this.”

Mr. Mammah described the late Adesanmi as “a great son of Africa, the iconic media actor and indefatigable pan-African advocate.”

In her presentation, former banker and current CEO of April Dawn Communication, Ms. Uri Ngozichukwuka, regretted that Nigeria was already in a position where other smaller African countries were overtaking it in various developmental indices.

She said as at today, 10 African countries are among the world’s fastest growing economies, while another 10 are expected to join the list in a few years, none of which, according to her, includes Nigeria.

“The reality of the African story is two pronged. Let’s look at the good news. The good news is that we have about 10 African countries who have made list of fastet growing economies, with Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana topping the list,” she said.

“The rest are Uganda, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Togo. According to IMF, in the next five years, ten more African countries will be added to that list, making it 20. These 20 countries will be growing at at least 5percent rate, which is higher than the globally accepted average rate of 3 percent. So it’s a good story.”

“But you may wonder why the two biggest economies: Nigeria and South Africa are not on that list. They have one thing common. This year, they had their major elections. And we know that elections here in Africa is fraught with drama, with Nigeria clearly taking the lead in the African election movie magic.

“For us here in Nigeria, our growth rate last year was 1.9 percent. It’s been projected that this year we will grow at 2.3 percent. But that will not help us because our own population is growing at the rate of over 3 percent. In addition to this is the non performing economic indicators.”

“The hostile business environment, the insecurity, the difficult due processes, the lack of rule of law, and the pervasive practice of crony capitalism, and let’s not forget that our GDP is at about $1800.”

She said the country’s major challenge is power, noting that unless it shunned tribal and religious politics and promote a merit based society, Nigeria can never get basic things done.

“The election that both South Africa and Nigeria had this year is the only thing they have in common. There is a huge difference between the two countries. One huge difference is power generation. The general standard of electricity consumption for an industrialised nation is 1000 megawatt to 1million people.

“South Africa with a population of about 60 million people, generates 40, 000 to 45,000 megawatts. But in Nigeria, we have 200 million people which means that we need about 100 million megawatts or more. But currently we are doing about 4000 and 5000. What power does for the economy cannot be overemphasized. What lack of power has done to our economy is unquantifiable.”

She noted that only free enterprise promoted on a transparent manner will help the situation.

“We hear that the power sector is needs $200 billion investment. Not long ago, the power sector was privatised. But we don’t even know who is doing what. The benefit of free enterprise was not considered. And I begin to ask what we are doing. Power is not rocket science. We can get power without getting the $200 billion investment that we cannot even source. We can get it if we can do the right things.

“But while we fail to solve our problems, we have bigger issues awaiting us. Our currency is the first product of the country, and everything affects it. Bandits and herdsmen affects the naira, stories of corruption affects the naira, and the currency is fragile. The naira has not been devalued in a long while but it has found itself flying downwards. A country that puts sound macroeconomics transformational policies in place above mediocrity, above ethnicity, religion and nepotism and crony capitalism benefit hugely,” she noted.

In her own remarks, Rev. Juliet Binitie of the Institute of National Transformation called for attitudinal change in the country, as according to her, it has become obvious that changing governments alone cannot solve the country’s problems.

“Transparency International says Nigeria is more corrupt than she used to be,” she said.

“Therefore, I submit that we cannot solve this problem by changing Government alone; but by raising the Value system of our people and transforming our cultural belief systems which includes corruption.”

She described the late Adesanmi as a global citizen who stood for the good of all.

Journalist and former schoolmate of Adesanmi, Abdul Mununi Adeku who read the late activist’s tribute, described him as a very brilliant person who distinguished himself at college.

“Adesanmi was a brilliant person, even from college,” Mumuni said. “His mother was our matron. Pius was a genius, it was not difficult to spot that the young man was going to go places even at a young age. He led the school quiz competition He was easily the best student in French.

“He was always on the college honour role. He was made college librarian. He was always reading. You didn’t need to be a prophet to know he was going to go places. We are grateful to have known him. We celebrate his life. He had so much to offer within the short period he lived.”

Other speakers at the event which was moderated by writer and activist, Mr. Chuma Nwoko, include Dr. Joshua Bolarinwa of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs; Engr Vincent Chiedu, Founder, The Nigerian Initiative, Kayode Esuola of the Institute of African Studies, University of Lagos, among others.