Algeria and Nigeria are big powers in the continent and in this interview, the visiting Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sabri Boukadoum spoke with our Correspondent, GIFT HABIB about the commencement of the AfCFTA and the need for the continent to free itself from the shackle of former colonial masters
Question: Looking at the Continental Free Trade Area, my fear is that some African countries, they still depend on Europe. They do not really produce. How will that help so that we do not begin to import and share amongst ourselves?
Sabri Boukadoum : When we say Free Trade Area, we mean African products. Neither Nigeria nor Algeria will accept that others will come and sell their products to us. There is a level of integration of the products. Products from Algeria coming into Nigeria has to be at least 40%-50% Algerian and we do have them already and it is the case in Nigeria. I think we have no problem with Nigeria. There are other countries still depending on outside African countries that could use this platform to sell more. That’s is the goal of the Free Trade Area. It is to improve the trade between Africa countries, to help boost the production of goods. We are trying to take off all the barriers and obstacles to trade in the continent. This is the main work but there are many people working on that.
Question: Looking at the 2021 commencement of the Free Trade Area, how feasible is it?
Sabri Boukadoum: It is feasible but we have to start. We already have it in ECOWAS and now you have the bigger picture in Africa. Whenever you take off the tarriff, you will help trade improvement and the wealth of every citizen because at the end of the day, every citizen will benefit from this. We have to start despite all difficulties. This is the first step and by God’s grace, in the future, we will overcome. You can see the example of Europe, when they started, whatever issues they had between themselves and the relationship with the whole world, but they have improved the wealth of the Europeans. This is what we want to do in Africa.
Question: Looking at the Algeria-Nigeria bilateral relations, what are we looking at with this visit?
Sabri Boukadoum: First, it is a natural and normal way of working and we need to talk face-to-face and from time to time. We have the best relationship in Africa; Nigeria and Algeria. We need to rebuild and strengthen this brotherhoodness. We need to talk and work together. There are issues we cannot face alone. For example, Covid-19. No one can do it alone not even the U.S.A. Nigeria is important in ECOWAS and Africa. So we cannot imagine there will be any going forward without listening to Nigeria and working together. I told you that we have our own position in Northern Africa. We have this relationship with Nigeria for so many years. It is not new. The fact that Covid-19 has prevented us from seeing each other, we have decided with Geoffrey to move on to discuss. We need Nigeria. The Africa needs Nigeria because it is the giant of Africa. We have to listen to Nigeria.
Question: How many bilateral agreement or Memorandum of Understanding has Algeria signed?
Sabri Boukadoum: At least, fourty. There are some that are yet to be enforced but we have fourty on all issues. The main ones are the Trans-Sahara road from Algiers to Lagos, the fibre optic from between Algiers and Lagos, the gas pipeline project. We will build on the rest. It will help us.
Question: How far have both countries gone on the issue of gas pipeline, how far has it gone at your end?
Sabri Boukadoum: For Algeria, it is okay. To the border, we have 2-3 of our gas. We will see with our Nigeria counter parts and we also have the side of Niger. It is a huge investment and it needs a lot of money. We need to do it. It is a matter of security. We don’t have to rely on or maybe, there is another gas pipeline from another direction from Nigeria. We are working on it.
Question: You met with the ECOWAS commission, what are the expectations from the intending partnership?
Sabri Boukadoum : ECOWAS is different from Nigeria even though it is here in Abuja. It is the first time that an Algerian official comes to ECOWAS. We have so many challenges. I mentioned to the president of ECOWAS Commission, it is very good to listen to neighbours to ECOWAS. We are neighbours to Mali especially with the situation in Mali. So we need to talk. This is a goal of the first meeting even though we should have done that long time ago.
Question: What are those things we can learn from Algeria especially in the area of handling security, terrorism etc?
Sabri Boukadoum: I think we have succeeded in fighting terrorism. We still have the same challenges but doesn’t mean no country is immune from that. It does exist everywhere else in the world. We have a lot of experiences now. I think we have succeeded in fighting terrorism internally. We still need cooperation at international level. No one can fight terrorism alone, not even the United States or anybody else especially in the Sahel. We need that cooperation; that exchange of intelligence and information. We will someday make some moves against terrorism. We need to fight diplomatically at the international level. And then both countries go to talk together to others in the international arena, we will tell them not to pay kidnapping ransom. We will fight all the traffics that leads to terrorism. It is not just an issue in Nigeria, it is everywhere. Discussing on how to tackle terrorism is for the safety of everyone in the country and not just the country alone.
Question: Algeria has done greatly in the area of electricity but Nigeria is having challenges in this area, what can we gain from Algeria in thos area?
Sabri Boukadoum: We have big experience in this field. This is the best thing we have succeeded in Algeria today. We produce the big generators on natural gas base. Today, Algeria is 98% of power supply/electricity and for natural gas, we have about 60-65%. So we have this experience and we are ready to share this experience with Nigeria concerned authorities. We have tremendous high schools on power and it is working well. We just sent team of engineers to Libya where they have problems with their generator-based power production that gives power to Tripoli, the capital and it was fixed in less than 15 days and we are producing even the generators made by general electric in Algeria. We have experience of not more than 50 years. We don’t have a problem with that.
But we have started sharing our experience. We could make the training for our friends. We can invite anyone that wants to come to Algeria to see what is happening. The production is 25,000 mega watts which will soon go to 40,000 mega watts. We export power to Tunisia and Morocco. We also sell to Libya.
Questions: Are there issues with the Nigerians in Algeria?
Sabri Boukadoum: Not to my knowledge. You have an embassy there in Algeria where you could talk to them. If you have an issue, you let your embassy know and they will tell me immediately.
Question: What is Algeria looking to learn from Nigeria? Which area is Nigeria ahead of you?
Sabri Boukadoum: The trade level between both countries is a shame, so we need to improve on that. There are so many things in Nigeria that are produced by Algeria and vice versa. We need to put business minds together. We need business counsel to be activated between Algeria and Nigeria. The politicians are suppose to help and we put all the operators together and create the best conditions. If there are bureaucracy and obstacles, we need to erase it off. But then afterwards, It is up to the people who are dealing with the real things like the economy, the trade. To show the advantages, we are directly working together on traffic. We came yesterday from the up the North from Algiers the capital, to Nigeria. It is just four hours flight. It is not that big. And if we take off from the Southern part of Algeria, it is just 2 hours. We are very close. We need to free ourselves from the chains that we had with the former colonial powers. This is the goal; working together directly, finding the best way on how to improve our relationship in general.