The spotlight fell on Nigeria as former Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, delivered an inspiring address at the 3rd Adeola Odutola Lecture/Presidential Luncheon, a distinguished event integral to the 51st Annual General Meeting of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN). The central theme of his discourse was clear – “Setting the Agenda for Competitive Manufacturing under the AfCFTA: What Nigeria needs to do.”
In a rousing speech, Aganga delved into the immense potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a groundbreaking accord that began its journey on January 1, 2021. This historic agreement has shaped the world’s most extensive free trade zone, uniting 54 African nations with a collective population exceeding 1.2 billion. AfCFTA is not just a trade pact; it signifies a profound opportunity for fostering intra-African trade and bolstering economic cooperation. The roots of AfCFTA are deeply intertwined with the grand vision of “The Africa We Want,” articulated in the African Union’s Africa Agenda 2063.
Africa Agenda 2063, a visionary strategic framework conceived by the African Union, sets the course for the continent’s development over a span of five decades, from 2013 to 2063. Manufacturing emerges as a pivotal element in the realization of this ambitious agenda. It serves as more than just a sector; it is a dynamic catalyst for driving economic transformation and promoting industrialization. The potential of manufacturing to generate economic growth, employment, and shared prosperity is nothing short of remarkable.
Aganga pointed out that Nigeria, although not in a direct competition league with manufacturing giants like China, holds tremendous untapped potential. He stressed that with strategic investments and well-thought-out measures, Nigeria can position itself as the hub of manufacturing in Africa, capitalizing on the vast opportunities that AfCFTA presents.
The path to competitive manufacturing, as outlined by Aganga, encompasses several pivotal factors:
- Infrastructure Investment: Aganga emphasized the necessity of substantial investments in infrastructure to facilitate the seamless movement of goods, reduce transportation costs, and enhance overall logistics efficiency. Improved infrastructure forms the bedrock of competitive manufacturing.
- Innovation and Technology: Staying competitive in the global manufacturing landscape requires a strong focus on innovation and technological advancement. Aganga encouraged the development of research and development initiatives to foster innovation.
- Skilled Workforce: A skilled labor force is the backbone of a thriving manufacturing sector. Aganga underscored the importance of investing in education and training to ensure Nigeria has the talent needed for advanced manufacturing processes.
- Trade Barrier Removal: To thrive under AfCFTA, it is imperative to dismantle trade barriers that impede the movement of goods within the continent. Aganga called for proactive measures to streamline trade and ensure a smooth flow of products.
- Business Environment Enhancement: Creating a conducive business environment, characterized by reduced bureaucratic obstacles and improved ease of doing business, is essential for attracting investments and nurturing growth.
- Market Access Promotion: Access to broader markets within Africa is vital for manufacturers. Aganga emphasized the significance of policies that encourage market access.
Aganga concluded with a resounding commitment to support the realization of this vision. He passionately expressed his desire to see Nigeria reclaim its status as the “Jewel of Africa” and evolve into one of the world’s most prosperous nations. He firmly believes that Nigeria’s path to prosperity is intrinsically linked to becoming the manufacturing hub of Africa.
While acknowledging that the road to competitive manufacturing under AfCFTA may present challenges, Aganga called for unwavering dedication, determination, and adaptability. He stressed the importance of continuously monitoring and evaluating progress, advocating for the flexibility to make necessary adjustments along the way.
In his closing remarks, Aganga drew from “Reclaiming The Jewel of Africa,” citing a quote that underscores the integral connection between industrialization and national wealth. History has shown that countries that rely solely on raw material exports, without developing a competitive industrial sector, tend to stagnate economically. Aganga firmly asserts that industrialization multiplies national wealth.
With a resounding call to action, Aganga emphasized that the time for industrialization is now, highlighting that there is no better moment than the present to embark on this transformative journey and position Nigeria as a prosperous and industrially vibrant nation within the African continent.