By Donald Ugwu
Abuja – President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday promised to soon sign the Africa Free Trade Agreement to facilitate growth in the continent in a way that job creation and local industries would be enhanced.
He made the promise after he held a closed door meeting with the visiting South African President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, at the Presidential Villa Abuja.
The President fielded questions from newsmen at the end of the bi-lateral meeting where both economic giants in the continent also agreed to strengthen the bi-national commission and pursue Africa-focused foreign policy.
“I am very careful about what I sign, whether it is my cheque book or agreements especially when it involves nation states.
“As your President (Ramaphosa) has said we are so populated and we have so many young unemployed citizen and our industries are just coming up.
“So in trying to guarantee employment, goods and services to our country we have to be careful with agreements that will compete, maybe successfully, against our own upcoming industries.’’
“I was presented with the document, I did not read it fast enough before my officials saw that it was not right for signature, I kept it on my table.
“I will soon sign it.’’
Before the questioning, Ramaphosa had hinted that both leaders had reconfirmed that they would deepen their relationships.
He added that the focus would be on the bi-national commission of both countries to ensure that its elevation to the presidential level was where the real action should happen.
According to him, officials of both countries are expected to complete the technical aspects while the ministers will work on various areas where the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of South Africa will deepen their cooperation.
He said such cooperation would be through agreements and that when both Presidents meet again they would be able to sign off and ensure that implementation began.
In that regard, Ramophosa said the countries would like to hold the bi-national commission in South Africa beginning with a State visit by Buhari to South Africa later in 2018 during the start of the commission.
The South African President stated that both Presidents exchanged views on important economic matters particularly the oil industry and how South Africa could play a part.
He said they exchanged views on how to deepen trade between both countries and a number of other areas.
“All in all we had a number of exchange and we both got a sense that we are now opening a new page in the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria.
“And this new page gives us the opportunity to go beyond where we have been before and find a number of areas where we can reach agreement.
“And in this regard make sure that the benefit that should accrue to our people is actually bountiful particularly in view of the opening up of the African continent through the free trade agreement.
“When we will be able to ensure that our economies grow by leaps and bounds,’’ he added.
According to him, a new page has opened and the leaders are delighted that both presidents, ministers of both countries and officials are at the right place, at the right time, to extend their relationships to a higher level.
Ramaphosa noted that this was the first visit he embarked upon outside the Southern Africa regional block, besides his visit to the G7 and the Commonwealth.
He said that the visit should send a clear signal that both governments planned to pursue Africa-focused foreign policy.
He stated that in that pursuit the leaders would like to deepen the countries’ relationships.
He said Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with the largest economy also.
“It is important that South Africa and Nigeria should develop and deepen the relationships between the two countries at a people-to-people level, economic level, and underpinned by a good political relations,’’ he said.
The South African leader expressed gladness that at the economic level both countries’ companies were doing successful businesses together while at the political level his country remained grateful for Nigeria’s huge anti-apartheid support.
“Today, we are a free and independent country and this is largely due to the support we got from a number of countries around the world but more especially on the African continent.
“Nigeria, which is six hours away from South Africa, was proudly regarded as a frontline state because it was really at the frontline of our titanic struggle against apartheid,’’ he noted.