Mercifully, there’s some good news from Obafemi Awolowo University after the de-marketing efforts of land speculators in the guise of equity-seekers.
No matter how optimistic one is, one cannot gloss over the fact that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and some other trade unions in our universities have been on strike for a while. The prayer on the lips of parents and all men and women of goodwill is that the Federal Government will consider the future of our students — and indeed the future of the nation— by quickly resolving the present impasse.
Meanwhile, the warts in the system have not stopped Obafemi Awolowo University from putting a smile on the faces of Nigerians, courtesy of its partnership with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).
A brief background is in order here. The African Union (AU), in May 2013, rolled out what it termed Agenda 2063 as a framework for the socioeconomic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. The Agenda builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development around 15 flagship projects aimed at accelerating Africa’s economic growth and development as well as promoting her common identity, history and vibrant culture.
The establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on 21 March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, is one of the 15 pivotal project envisioned by the AU, and it revealed the strong commitment of African leaders to re-energise regional integration efforts with the aim of creating one of the largest free trade areas in the world. AfCFTA aims to significantly accelerate growth of intra-Africa trade as an engine of growth and sustainable development. It is also envisaged that by integrating the continent through trade, it would be possible to also mobilize an authentic, visible and common African voice in global trade relations.
There is a lot of enthusiasm that AfCFTA has the potential to make a concrete and sustainable impact on the lives of ordinary citizens across the continent by facilitating job creation and greater competitiveness of African micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), thereby lifting people out of poverty and invigorating Africa’s growth trajectory.
Over the last few months, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), led by its Vice-Chancellor, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, and the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) have been working on the concept note to inform the development and implementation of the continental Center for AfCFTA Studies. The Center for AfCFTA Studies is planned as a continental project and will have affiliates in other regions, including Central, Eastern, Northern and Southern Africa.
Being one of the largest and top-rated universities on the continent, with 13 faculties and 107 departments, OAU enjoys a long-standing collaboration with several universities within the continent and around the world. The university is also host to national, regional and international Research centres, including the Centre for Energy Research and Development (CERD), National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM), Regional Centre for Training in Aerospace Surveys (RECTAS), and African Regional Centre for Space Science and Education English (ARCSSTEE).
The project to establish the Center for AfCFTA Studies is a follow-up to the mission undertaken by Professor Benedict Oramah, the President of the African Export-Import Bank last year. It provides the opportunity to build a solid body of research and knowledge to support implementation of the AfCFTA which has been touted as a game changer with the potential of accelerating the growth of intra-African trade and deepening regional integration.
Several steps had been taken by the leadership of OAU to facilitate the establishment of the centre, including the acquisition of a building and mobilisation of key stakeholders within the country. The mission will provide the opportunity for the Bank and OAU to finalise the scope of the project and develop a framework to connect the Center to other academic institutions across the continent. It will also provide the opportunity to develop a roadmap to mobilize the resources (both human and financial) necessary for a successful implementation and official inauguration of the Center later this year.
The establishment of the OAU/Afreximbank African Continental Free Trade Area Centre (OAAC) derives its core mandates, mission, vision and values from the ideals enshrined in the AfCFTA Treaty recently adopted by the African Union. The Centre will benefit the entire Africa and the world at large by advancing innovations in training and research by drawing a wide spectrum of people such as academics, government officials, representatives of development partners and international and local NGOs with interests around AfCFTA.
I am told that the main objective of the Center is to anchor and coordinate research and training capabilities for the sustainability of the AfCFTA goals in line with the aspirations of the founding fathers of the Bank – to support the expansion of extra- and intra-African trade.
The proposed Center for AfCFTA Studies is planned as a multidisciplinary research and training institution and will focus on the following:
• Trade and Sustainable Development Research
• Agricultural Trade Research and Information
• Legal and Political Research
• Technology and Innovation Research
• Trade and Public Health Research
• Trade and Humanity Research
• Macroeconomic modelling and CGE modelling and forecasting
A Visiting Team comprising four Senior members of Afreximbank and six members from Obafemi Awolowo University recently visited Abuja to interact with stakeholders and the authorities. The OAU-Afreximbank delegation was led by Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, Vice-Chancellor, and Dr Hippolyte Fofack, the Chief Economist of the Bank, respectively.
The joint team met with major stakeholders and discussed the initiative seeking their cooperation and support. These include Professor Abubakar Rasheed (Executive Secretary) with the team from the National Universities Commission; The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Bank of Industry, Dr. Leke Pitan, and his team; the Minister for Trade, Industries and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo and some officials of the National AfCFTA Committee; the Minister for Information, Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and others.
The team received the blessing of the stakeholders towards the establishment of the proposed Centre for African Continental Free Trade Area Studies, CAS, to be domiciled at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
The Centre will, among other mandates, serve as the hub for intellectual and policy innovations aimed at identifying and addressing the complexity of issues relevant to the successful implementation of the AfCFTA which was adopted by 54 African leaders in March 2018, with its implementation ongoing.
AfCFTA is widely touted as a game-changer in the continent’s quest for economic integration, competitiveness, development, and accelerated transformation of its economies, in line with African Union Agenda 2063 towards a prosperous continent. The world-class pan-African Centre will attract leading scholars, policymakers, practitioners, opinion-shapers from around the continent and beyond, and provide a platform for conversations that bridge the gap between knowledge and practice on trade, integration and development.
All the stakeholders expressed delight that Obafemi Awolowo University, one of the foremost Universities in Africa, was selected to host the Centre. The choice, according to them, is a tribute to the University which is famous for its African credentials and traditions of excellence. When it is fully established, the Centre will engage in a range of bespoke and high-impact executive and mainstream policy-oriented programmes to train a new crop of practitioners with the requisite skills, competences and orientation to contribute to meet the ever-changing needs of practitioners involved in trade facilitation and negotiations. It will also serve as the leading hub for innovative and policy-driven research by resident and visiting scholars. In addition, it will provide a major platform for conversations among leaders from diverse fields germane to issues of trade, regionalism and development.
If everything goes according to schedule, the Centre will commence operations in December 2022. The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, has expressed the commitment of the Commission to work closely with cognate government Ministries, Departments and Agencies as well as with the private sector and scholars drawn from Nigerian Universities, to fully support the execution of this initiative.
In the midst of various challenges buffeting universities in Nigeria, there is good reason to raise the elbow in celebration of this new continental recognition of OAU. The hope of Africa’s development hinges on realising the aspirations of AfCFTA through training and capacity building that seek to nurture a critical mass of scholars and practitioners to defend the continent’s interests in global economic relations.
An African proverb is instructive here: When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion. The future of Africa lies in initiatives such as this one championed by Afreximbank. And what better partner than Obafemi Awolowo University.
- Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021