By Wale Osunbiyi
THE recent sensitisation and sub-national engagement on the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, AfCFTA, in Ogun State by the National Action Committee on the AfCFTA brought to the fore the abundant opportunities the agreement offers businesses as well as required action that must be taken for those opportunities to be optimally harnessed.
The agreement enables Nigeria and Nigerian businesses to be a part of the largest economic bloc in the world, with a population of 1.2 billion people and a combined Gross Domestic Product, GDP, of $3.4 trillion. But beyond that, the agreement is aimed at increasing economic growth, breaking the bond of monopoly in different lines of production, thereby leading to reduction in price of goods and increase in Foreign Direct Investments, FDI.
Also as deduced from the discourse at the sensitisation, the agreement will progressively reduce and later eliminate non-tariff barriers on goods, thereby leading to increase in competition and improvement in standards of goods, allowing Nigerian-owned businesses to penetrate the global market through increased exports.
As good as all these ideas are, the most interesting of them all, especially as it concerns Ogun State, is the fact that the agreement has now put the spotlight on the Olokola deep sea port and Free Trade Zone Projects. The AfCFTA has now made the importance of the Olokola project which was abandoned by the immediate past administration in Ogun State more glaring and further makes a resonating call for the project to be urgently revived.
The Olokola project which is a Joint Venture between the Ogun State and Ondo State governments makes a case for administrators in Nigeria to be more vision-driven in their decision-making process and make decisions for the utilitarian good of the people irrespective of differences in ideology or political approach. The culture of abandoning beneficial projects initiated by a preceding administration will only set the country backward.
With the free trade agreement, the ports, especially the Apapa ports, will certainly be more busy with more prospects for transportation and logistics sector which is why concerted efforts is required if the country is genuinely interested in easing the stress on the Apapa ports and addressing the challenge posed by the dreaded Apapa gridlock now that the AfCFTA is expected to lead to increase in exportation and importation of goods.
With experts view on the Olokola deep sea port, the project has the potentials of bailing the country out of the challenge currently created by congestion issues at the Apapa ports.
Experts have said the depth of the Olokola water channel makes it capable of having vessels bigger than those that patronise the Apapa ports berth at the Olokola deep sea port when it becomes operational. That is one of the reasons the project needs to be urgently revived.
On the AfCFTA, the Ogun State government has been very swift in its response to the demand of the National Action Committee on the trade agreement, by inaugurating its Committee on the AfCFTA, saddling it with the responsibility of developing a state strategy, while also promising adequate implementation of the agreement.
Infrastructure has been identified as a major challenge to the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement. And that includes infrastructure like an effective port system which the Olokola deep sea port promises. The Ogun State government must, therefore, intensify efforts in line with its promise during the sensitisation programme to ensure that the Olokola sea port project sees the light of the day.
Beyond government’s promise, the state has also said that its forthcoming Investment Summit which holds in May, 2021 and themed: “OGUN#ISEYA21: Becoming Africa’s Model Industrial and Logistics Hub”, is part of government’s efforts at optimally tapping into the opportunities available through theAfCFTA.
For Ogun to become Africa’s model industrial and logistics hub, the government needs to act faster and in a strategic manner to get Olokola projects fully back on track.
Also, the two state governments of Ogun and Ondo need to form a strong synergy as the positive impact of the Olokola deep sea port and the free trade zone would not just aid the economy of the two states, but that of the Nigerian economy.
The Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, has been working to ensure the two states fully play their part in the revival of the project. More efforts is needed in that regards as the benefits of the projects is not just for the two states, but the nation as a whole.
Osunbiyi, an ecomonic analyst, wrote from Abeokuta, via email@example.com