President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Mr Ayuba Wabba, on Tuesday commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement.
He said the agreement would benefit the lives of Nigerian workers and open trade relations in the region.
Wabba disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the sidelines of the meeting of Labour Experts and General Assembly of the ECOWAS in Abuja.
The meeting has “Strengthening Social Dialogue for the Promotion of Decent work in the ECOWAS region” as its theme.
He said the organised Labour were initially against Nigeria signing the agreement because there was no consultation.
He noted that only Nigeria and South Africa carried out extensive consultation on the agreement, adding that the observations of organised labour have been reflected in the agreement.
According to him, part of observation is that goods to benefit from the trade agreement must be produced in Africa.
He said “We were against it because there was no consultation and nobody even knew the content. I can say with nostalgia that it is only Nigeria and South Africa that did the type of consultation we did.
“Through our engagement process, there was dialogue, there was consultation with key stakeholders in the economy and we were able to identify way to improve and key into the Africa Continental free Trade Agreement and to have a comparative advantage.
“Part of what we agreed on is that those goods must be made in Africa, they must be goods we produce in Africa that will be used for the trade among ourselves.
“In the course of the dialogue, we found out that trade among African countries is less than 16 per cent. Therefore, it will be an advantage for African countries to trade among themselves than trading with other countries.”
Wabba said it was important for policies and programmes to protect the local market, noting that the agreement would help in promoting common tarrifs.
“With our population of about 200 million, you will be at the receiving end. Goods will be produced by your neighbour and flood your country because they have favourable employment policies, key investment opportunities like power and critical infrastructure.
“Critically, we said that our jobs must be protected, Otherwise, our jobs will be taken away and the unemployment situation will continue.
“What we, organised labour are impressed with is actually the consultation process that went into the process. If policies are about the people, then they should be consulted and that is the hallmark of it.
“It was because we shouted that people started asking questions about the content of the agreement. So, how do we sign what we are not aware of? We don’t just join the bandwagon. Africa is about Nigeria. Some of those countries that signed earlier are less than local government in Nigeria.
“If Nigeria has not signed the agreement, it means Africa has not signed it because we are the largest economy in Africa and also the key market in Africa. What we are impressed with and have canvassed that all other policies should be tailored along is the consultations.
“We have also insisted that it should be made in Africa goods and it should be strictly trade among African countries and that you import goods from other parts of the world, dump them in one African country and begin to flood our market with the goods. That is not part of the agreement because it is going to affect our economy and we will be at the receiving end.”
On the strike alert already issued, he said the Congress has not issued any strike notice over the implementation of the new national minimum wage by the government.
“No, we don’t work with that please. NLC, as an organised body, I am not sure we have given any notice to that effect. If we reach a point of issuing threats, we will do that without hesitation.
“But I have seen many information on the social media, we are a credible organisation and we should be able to speak for ourselves.
“If we get to that point, we will be able to inform you, but for now, the process is going on and we have been able to expand the scope of dialogue to include NLC/TUC and only limited to the unions in the public sector”.