Nigerians are openly uncomfortable as Morrcco seek admission into ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). The ECOWAS is currently a Union of fifteen countries that will end up as sixteen when a new member Morocco is finally admitted. The ECOWAS which is a Union of sovereign political and economic nations, with the aim of consolidating their political and economic sovereign resources together, in overcoming their common challenges against other powerful global bodies, in the advantage of the citizens of ECOWAS. This means, ECOWAS as the union of soveign states aim at pooling their collective sovereign powers together, against any other sovereign authority, within or outside the ECOWAS, in promoting the common interest of all ECOWAS citizens.
It is very interesting to note that ECOWAS inability to live up to the expectation of its member states, institutions and citizens, has everything to do with the loose nature of the union despite the fact that the West AFRICAN group remain the most successful of all the other regional bodies on the continent. This loose nature of the West AFRICAN Union leave the authority of the body in the hands of the component States, in place of vesting authority in the hand of an independent body, to govern over everyone of the member states, institutions and citizens, to make the power to controlling the fate of the Union at large. This current tradition of everyone for himself, allows the almighty Nigeria to enjoy the special status of playing the role of the Big Brother of ECOWAS, as the largest and most powerful of all the 15 member states, than the role of the benevolent neutral authority, to be played by the ECOWAS Commission.
So we daily hear the name of President Mohammadu Buhari of Nigeria and his views from Abuja, instead of the voice and views of ECOWAS Commission President, H. E. Marcel Alain De Seuzi, on behalf of the ECOWAS authority from Abuja. No wonder Nigerians like Femi Falana, Bolaji Akinyemi, Frank Udemba Jacob, Geoffrey Onyeama, Emeka Anyaoku, Ignatus C. Olive kea, Bosun Oladele and other Nigerians are desperately calling on their president Mohammadu Buhari not to accept Morrocco into ECOWAS, instead of appealing to President De Seuzi of the ECOWAS Commission. The question then remains, is ECOWAS another name for Nigeria or the name of all the 15 states as a single entity?
The ECOWAS that come into being on the 28th of May, 1975, is still at its teething stage and ironically, everything about ECOWAS seem to be about Nigeria, than about ECOWAS as an independent authority of all the 15 member states. The ECOWAS is still suffering the bureaucratic fate of being about the 15 heads of states and governments of member states, than about the ordinary citizens of the Union.
The lack of direct election of the citizens of ECOWAS member states for the Members of ECOWAS Parliament, remove the ordinary person from the principles of “popular participation” that would draw the citizens closer to the Union. Thus, the will of the most powerful president and his country men determines what we all do in ECOWAS, than the will of the ECOWAS Commission.
The above impression is formed by several factors in explaining why the ECOWAS is still struggling to be functional enough to meet up the expectation of all member states, institutions and citizens.
In taking a closer look at how this play out, let consider the factors that make things to be the way they are. First let take a look at the size of Nigeria as a member state of ECOWAS, in term of population, land size and non human natural resources. All the above makes Nigeria a form of big brother in ECOWAS that pose a threat to other ECOWAS member states. In fact in fear of Nigeria, the Francophone countries will rather keep their ties with Frence as a known enemy, than being comfortable with Nigeria as an unknown angel, with a potential of colonizing the rest of West Africa. The Anglophone countries of West Africa are not exemption to this instinctive fear of the big brother which justify why an English speaking ECOWAS member state will prefer working closer with the known enemies of British Commonwealth, than a potential local colonizer that Nigeria could end up into. In fact the evidence speaks for themselves.
Nigeria in ECOWAS is like a big fish in a pond with smaller fishes. Which fool will be blind that big fishes will not be feeding on the smaller ones and naturally the smaller ones will be cautious of their survival? So given the disproportionate advantages Nigeria has over all other ECOWAS member states, it must not be very difficult for us to discontinue to be blind about why the ECOWAS is not progressing. This blindness in turn make us leave behind the effort of overcoming the challenges of addressing the fear of all, by strengthening the common authority enough to control everyone, including big brother Nigeria, to win over the total confidence and trust of all member states, necessary for a more purposeful union befitting our collective dreams and ambitions.
Now, in line with the advantages of Nigeria in terms of population, land size and exploitable none human resources, what exactly are the benefits Nigeria derive in ECOWAS that make other West Africans uncomfortable with the “big brother of the house” and how can these problems be address?
Economics Advantage of Nigeria. We mention earlier that Nigeria has the largest population in Africa with over 150 million people and therefore, largest in West Africa.
Large population means large market. So a lot of industries from within out and inside Africa do locate their production activities in Nigeria, than they will do to other West African countries. Here, the free movement of goods across West African States means those locating their industries within Nigeria, are assured of the domestic market and the regional market. Naturally, most industrialists aiming at the regional market, will locate their industries in Nigeria and then facilitate the movement of surplus to other West African countries. Since these industries are majorly locating in Nigeria and producing essential goods, with surplus finding their way to other West African countries, such items will not be travelling by themselves.
Either the citizens of other ECOWAS member states must travel to Nigeria to take these goods back to their respective countries or the Nigerians will transport the goods to these countries. The fact is, Nigerians have establish impenetrable dominance in the transportation of these goods to other West African countries.
What we again noticed is, more Nigerians are now domicile in all the West African States to be playing the middleman role, as well as participating in the domestic retailing activities of the countries of ECOWAS. Since it is natural for a Nigerian to trust another Nigerian, than trusting other West Africans, and the fact that in the chain of bulk transfer of goods most of the activities are base on credit and trust, there is a case foe Nigerians to dominate the local retailing business of other ECOWAS states.
So the best part of the commercial activities in ECOWAS favour a Nigerian both within and outside Nigeria, in ECOWAS.
It is also important to add that both domestic or non ECOWAS importers prefer bulk importation into Nigerian as the population provide room for cheaper bulk importation per unit cost than any West African state. Since most importers prefer to import into the Nigerian economy for immidiate market, where surplus find their way to other ECOWAS member states, along with goods produce in Nigeria, more goods from Nigeria find their way into other West African ECOWAS economies than those that goes to Nigeria from others.
What is happening here is, the Nigerians are not only moving goods to other ECOWAS member states but also living in other ECOWAS state in line with Article 2 of the ECOWAS protocol of movement of goods and people. This means Nigerians living in these member states are earning income from such member states, than ECOWAS citizens of other states are doing from Nigeria. So there are more income for Nigerians at the expense of others West Africans, even out side Nigeria within ECOWAS. Furthermore, in addition to the exercise and import duties, Nigeria rake in revenue from ECOWAS states, at the expense of other West Africans due to free movement of foods and service by ECOWAS, while the Nigerians domicile in other ECOWAS member states repatriate their earned income back to their home country of Nigeria. This means, the only one benefiting from the current loose nature of ECOWAS is Nigeria.
In their own response to these subtile Nigerian economic hegemony across West Africa, the French speaking West African States work closely with France to locate industries in Cote De Ivoire and Senegal, so that they will feel protected as well. Thus, most of the products produce in Nigeria, have their French version also produce in Senegal and Cote De Ivoire, for other Francho phone states. This rivalry only weaken our collective position of a common ECOWAS economy, than strengthening us.
Political Advantage of Nigeria. Well, Economic advantages goes hand in hand with political advantage. Nigeria is therefore a formidable political power in ECOWAS, using the economic earned from both within and outside Nigeria, to influence decision across the ECOWAS member states. We therefore live in ECOWAS like we are all Nigerians than ECOWAS citizens. What Nigerians want easily gain control than what the rest of ECOWAS want, as the central authority of the Union is not actively in charge.
The above is something no one can blame on Nigeria or Nigerians but on the current loose system we have in place for the Nigerians to be taking advantage of. This is something that could be controlled by a stronger ECOWAS authority other than the Nigerian government. One cannot pretend the Nigerians are not aware of what is happening and are taking advantage of the situation. It is not strange that Nigeria has a nature of standing against anything or move that will evolve into an ECOWAS authority capable controlling us all, like the EU Commission is doing with the 28 member states of the European Union.
The most recent is the position of Nigeria on the ECOWAS 2020 Common Currency Agenda. As part of the 4 Presidential Task Force on the 2020 introduction of the ECOWAS Common currency, the Nigerian team led by President Buhari made a fool of the whole ECOWAS, by rubbishing the entire project. The 4th presidential Task Force Summit that took place on the 26th October, 2017 in Niamey, Republic of Niger had the Nigerian team engaging in finger pointing and reminding us that even the EU failed, justifying this with Brexit and therefore our common West African currency. In fact the language of the Nigerian team sum up their position that they are not interested in any common currency, now and in the future.
The purpose of the Naimey Summit was not for anyone to come and remind us of the problem we have in ECOWAS. We all know the member states are struggling with double digits budget deficits, double digit inflation figure, over dependency on important due to poor domestic industrial base, very close attachment of the Francophone nations with France, instability of some member state governments and constitutional challenges, but these states need the assistance ECOWAS authority in overcoming the challenge. We all know the problems but our determination is to work around the complications of our problems to introduce the West African Common Currency in 2020 as the common currency will be bringing the fragmented economies closer together, than they currently are. We are therefore meeting to to make sure we meet the 2020 date deadline.
What we expected of the Nigerians is to engage in how to control the ECO (ECOWAS Common Currency) by coming up with technical measures like; setting up of an ECB (ECOWAS Central Bank), location of the bank, appointment of the ECB governor, term of office of the ECB, the mode of transition and the percentage of each national currency to be employ as ECO, during the transition. This means, all the ECOWAS member states will not be using the ECO totally but just a percentage of their national currency will be in ECO.
For example, the bench mark could be 10% or 20% of each country national currency. Here, each country will deposit 10% or 20% of their national currency with the ECB in return for an equivalent of ECO. The countries then would have a choice of using their national currency to make payment for inter ECOWAS member states transactions, including the use of their local currencies, as well as other international none ECOWAS transactions, in addition to the dollar. This position would have made 2020 more realistic than heaping up all the problems of ECOWAS and walking away.
The Nigerian team led by Buhari, reminded us to forget about ECOWAS and focus on the Africa Union common currency. Technically the Nigerians were telling us that they are not as interested in ECOWAS and it’s currency, as some of us thought they are. The Nigerians were quick to blame the French speaking countries of West for being the problem of ECOWAS which is not helpful.
Well, the Nigerians who are telling us that the ECOWAS is not good enough and so we should look up at the AU (African Union) for a United Africa, are suddenly on the edge when another member state of the AU, is applying to join what they make us feel is our “useless” ECOWAS. Why, is Nigeria suddenly so concern when another big fish is coming into the pond?
With a population of 38 million, Morrocco will be the second largest economy in ECOWAS when she become a member and that might be a form of threat to the big brother Nigeria. We all know that no West African country can stand up against the bullish Nigeria but probably Morocco can. Nigeria is just uncomfortable because, with the introduction of Morocco into ECOWAS, all the unchallenged position of Nigeria in ECOWAS are going to change.
The Nigeria with itself acclaimed delusionary “Veto power” in ECOWAS will be a thing of the past.
Are we now not seeing the fear of big brother Nigeria of ECOWAS, against a formidable rival in the ECOWAS for which she taken for granted? Is this the reason for all these sorts of excuses being employ by the Nigerians to push Morrocco out? How honest are the Nigerian advising us not to admitted Morocco into ECOWAS because of South Western Sahara, who is force to remain in Morocco against its will? How is any country disagreeing with secessionists as crime enough to exclude them from being in ECOWAS, when the same big brother Nigeria is actively forcing the Biafrans to stay in Nigeria against their will? If the Nigerians are saying that Morocco left the AU because of Saharawi issue, are the Moroccans not back in the AU? If Nigerians are saying that Morocco is not in West Africa, to be in ECOWAS, was Mauritanian not once in ECOWAS but left? When did West Africa became the personal property of Nigeria for her to decide what is West Africa and what is not? Has the AU raise any problem with Morrocco joining the ECOWAS and if not, why is Nigeria basing her position on divisions of regional blocks by AU?
At this moment, Morocco is having industries all over West Africa but Moroccans are not common in West Africa. So when Moroccans set up industries in West Africa, the citizens of the countries are employed while the Nigerians industries like banks, are filled up by Nigerians who reside in the respective ECOWAS states. So when Morrocco become a member of ECOWAS, they will be setting up more industries for both Morroccans and citizens of member states to gain employment. Morocco is also closer to Europe and when they become part of ECOWAS, our children who cannot go to Nigeria for jobs but prefer to go to Europe, will be travelling to live in Morocco as ECOWAS citizens, while waiting for opportunity to cross into Europe, than being slaves in Libya. While in Morocco legally, our children will be crossing into Europe, instead of dying in West Africa as Nigerians steal their jobs.
In fact the Moroccans have assured us that Ghana will be the location of all the ECOWAS institutions that are currently in Abuja, if Nigeria choose to leave the Union than being reasonable. The Morroccans are assuring us that they will abide by all the ECOWAS laws of equality of people, institutions and state, than the current system of the “bully and the bullied” in ECOWAS. The Moroccans also promise to fully be committed to ensuring all ECOWAS citizens will be voting directly for their ECOWAS MPs, to make regional laws that will work for everyone and make the ECOWAS authority into a stronger authority, necessary for law and order as well as peace and prosperity.
It is sad the Nigerians are taking their fellow ECOWAS member states for granted and refusing to learn anything from past experiences.
Nigerians never learnt any lesson from the experience of the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) and why they ended up as the only country to refuse signing up, while almost all the remaining fourteen countries did. Nigeria refused to sign because the EPA risk the extinction of local industry, when dumping of goods from Europe flood and move freely across all member states. Nigeria were worried by how such dumping of European goods will make Nigerian goods to other ECOWAS member states less competitive. What the Nigerians refused to accept is, Ghanaians and others signed the EPA because the industries are not sufficiently on their land and whether the goods are from Nigeria or Europe, it make no difference to the none Nigerian West Africans. We are free to sign anything because the loose ECOWAS authority is not strong enough to control all of us for the common good. It’s therefore a matter of time for another fish to get into the water to eat us all up, if Nigeria continue as she is doing while our common authority remain weak.
If these industries are proportionately on the land of Ghanaians just as in other ECOWAS member states, than concentrating in Nigeria, Nigerians will not be the only ones crying out against dumping of goods in West Africa.
Today, all other ECOWAS member states, except Nigeria, have no problem with Morrocco joining the ECOWAS? Why is it only the Nigerians? Are the Nigerians alone the only educated people in ECOWAS to know Morrocco is not located in West Africa? Are the Nigerians the only ones who know that the Morroccans are suppose to be part of the Magrib? Are the Nigerians the only ones in ECOWAS that know the Morrocco is occupying the South Wrstern Sahara? Why then is the Nigerians the only ones saying No, to Morrocco? Why is it that the Nigerians are the only ones saying Morrocco is not good for ECOWAS?
Come to think of it, one could have said the Nigerians are scare of Islamic or Arab influence if someone like Goodluck Jonathan is still the president, but here we are with a Muslim Mohammadu Buhari who is also a Muslem One could also say Nigerians are scare of the Barbar but Mohammadu Buhari’s Hausa Fulani are actually descendant of the Barbar and their culture are similar.
Nigerians are now threatening to leave ECOWAS if Morrocco is admitted, as if Nigeria in ECOWAS is doing anyone a favour, than to themselves. Sure, no one want Nigeria to leave the ECOWAS, like the EU never wanted the British to leave the Union. It’s however time we stop living in the West Africa of the big brother and small baby brothers. It’s time we start to be serious about the ECOWAS that works for everyone, than the ECOWAS that works only for Nigerians. It’s time we have every ECOWAS citizen of voting age, voting directly for their respective ECOWAS MPs to make legislative laws that will give the ECOWAS institutions the necessary authority to perform their legitimate functions. It’s only on this condition that we can jointly keep recurring challenges of such nature like the Morroccans in ECOWAS from our fate. Sure we can conveniently trade with the Morroccans as we do with other countries of Africa and the rest of the world.
Once again, no one want Nigeria to leave ECOWAS but we cannot continue with Nigeria being ECOWAS, at the expense of the rest of us.
Kofi Ali Abdul-Yekin
(ECOWAS Citizens Right Advocates)