Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has called for greater integration of African economies to enable the continent develop free trade among AU member nations.
Osinbajo made the call at the inaugural meeting of the Africa Champions Group, an initiative of business and manufacturing stakeholders in the continent, on Saturday in Lagos.
He said that regional integration was a necessary requirement for the continent’s development but had remained at very low level.
“We still have one of the lowest trade integration levels under 20 per cent while Asia is at 40 per cent and European integration is very much further ahead at about 60 per cent.
“The fact remains that other regions play as a bloc but Africa is still largely splintered into several economies and the ease of doing business across the region remains a significant challenge.
Osinbajo, however, observed that flowing from agenda 2063 of the AU the entire thing was changing.
He noted that the Continents Free Trade Area Initiative (CFTA), launch of the African passport and free movement of persons showed how the continent intended to grow in regional integration, which also showed how quickly the continent could move.
He said that the conference of the African Heads of State in July focused on a lot of those initiatives “and I am convinced that we are on the threshold of seeing a deeper and more integrated African market.’’
The Vice President explained that the move was a strategic priority for the country to enable a single integrated African market deep enough to exploit all the potential in the country.
According to Osinbajo, Nigerian goods are already all over Africa but mostly through informal channels, while a formalised market is important to the country for it to benefit maximally.
He said there was a sense of urgency in the public sector initiative, which the private sector would bring, noting that the administration believed in the African champions initiatives.
“We think that it is the private sector that would do what is required to bring the urgency and the sense of mission to all the plans in the AU.
“We will like to see greater synergy and collaboration in the Africa champions while all the organs of the AU get involved in economic integration issues.
Vice President Osinbajo congratulated the initiators of the Africa champions initiative on their visionary action and pledged that the administration was behind them.
According to him, the array of champions behind the initiative would ensure that the idea yielded fruits.
He said that in the past few years it had become obvious to many African countries that both the momentum and common sense were in favour of the private sector leading the economies of the continent.
He further said that the sector was championing the initiative to drive intra-African trade and commerce.
“The role of the public sector is to catalyse the umpire, to incentivize but whether we like it or not the private sector in Africa is already building world class grounds and trading everywhere,’’ he said.
Osinbajo noted that it was obvious that Afican giants had sprang up in manufacturing, banking sector and in telecommunications.
He, however, noted that in spite of the rhetoric of African governments, since the OAU days the governments appeared to be late starters in concrete actions.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo expressed appreciation and commendation for the initiative and added that while the initiative had put the private and public sectors together it needed to integrate the financial institutions.
He thanked the Vice President for attending the inaugural meeting, adding that his presence gave impetus to the partnership.
Obasanjo noted that the inaugural meeting was good and noted that one of the things that had not been done well in Africa was to sustain initiatives.
He mentioned the Lagos Plan of Action, the Abuja treaty, NEPAD as initiatives which had not achieved their purposes before going under.
“We should not allow this one to sleep; we should continue to fan the flame of Afrochampions initiative and may God help Africa,” the former President said.
Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote and former South African President Thabo Mbeki, both co-chaired the initiative, and urged quicker action to move the continent forward.