Rethinking Nigeria’s Membership of ECOWAS


By Jonathan Elendu
Three weeks ago I started working on this piece. I was still working on the research and dealing with some other distractions when the historic referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union christened: BREXIT took place last week. We all know the outcome of that referendum.
By a slim majority, 52-48%, the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU. Some would say the call for Referendum by David Cameron was unnecessary. He lost on the Referendum and his job with it. However, Cameron showed leadership in fulfilling a promise he made during campaigns last year.
The ripples of BREXIT are still being felt around the world. Global stocks tumbled. The value of pounds sterling plummeted to a thirty one year low. IMF warns of potential for recession in the United Kingdom. In truth this is uncharted territory and not even the EU members know what the exact result of this UK decision would mean for the Union and indeed the world.
Scotland is pondering its own referendum on independence from the United Kingdom as it voted overwhelmingly to REMAIN in Europe. The Scots argue that they voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union and therefore should have the right to remain. There are fears that other countries may want to go the way of the United Kingdom.
I have a feeling only a few people outside of Britain know that the UK was not a founding member of what later became the European Union. It was founded by six countries in 1958and Britain joined fifteen years later as the ninth member.
On May 28th, 1975 what would be known as the Treaty of Lagos was signed by 15 Heads of States and governments. That officially started what we have come to know today as ECOWAS; an economic grouping of states in the West African region.
We need not wonder whether the leaders who gathered in Lagos to sign the treaty on that fateful May 28th, 1975 were motivated by patriotic zeal. They were. Many of the countries, apart from Liberia, were young democracies, so also the leaders. Gen. Yakubu Gowon was 40 at the time.
Nigeria was only 15 years as an independent nation and within those years had fought all kinds of battles, including a civil war. To that extent the sub-regional group was necessary at the time for all kinds of reasons, chief of which is that we needed to chart a path for our fledgling economy.
The Nigerian economy is primarily based on export of crude oil. We depend heavily on imports. As at today we produce few goods to sell outside Nigeria given that whatever we had as an industrial base hardly exists. I doubt that Nigeria can sell a lot of her services in the region as many of the countries are poor. Are there any other tangible economic benefits accruing from our membership of ECOWAS?
In my research for the article on the Grazing Bill I spoke to many people who confirmed my suspicions that most of the killer herdsmen are not Nigerians. Some of them come from far places like Sudan and Mali. They come into the country through other ECOWAS member countries.
The ECOWAS treaty created a common market and border. By implication any citizen of a member State should be able to enter any of the States freely, sell goods and services without paying duties.
I have crossed the borders on a few occasions and I can tell you that it is always easier for me to cross borders in Europe, Americas and even Asia than crossing Seme border.
Yet criminals who masquerade as herdsmen have easier access and take advantage of that to come into our country to do us harm. Even the Boko Haram insurgency has been gravely influenced by the easy entry and exit through our borders.
Security sources I have spoken to over the years have lamented the harm that is being done to our nation because of our porous borders. Arms and ammunitions, banned goods, and people who do not have our interest at heart enter our country freely on a daily basis.
We cannot effectively fight the Boko Haram insurgency, tackle the menace of the herdsmen, check the smuggling of essential goods in and out of our country the way things are today. Our neighbours are not doing enough to check their borders thereby jeopardising our security.
How has our membership of ECOWAS benefited us in international diplomatic circles? For years we have asked to be admitted as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. I have not heard that our Francophone brothers in ECOWAS have lobbied France on our behalf. Most times they sabotage our interests in global forums.
Nigeria contributes more than any member of ECOWAS to the regional body. Every import into Nigeria is charged a 0.5% tax for ECOWAS. To be fair, every other member does it but none has up to 50% of Nigeria’s imports.
While Nigerians are complaining of hunger, lack of electricity, the country paid billions of naira in outstanding debt to ECOWAS at the last summit in Ghana.
As host country of the ECOWAS secretariat, Nigeria cannot be the President of the group. You would think that we wield a lot of influence in the organisation as we contribute the most. Not true, according to ECOWAS insiders who spoke to us for this article.
Even the “G” staff (locally recruited staff) which we are supposed to provide has been denied us as French speaking members of ECOWAS fill those positions with their nationals.
Nigerians who head directorates are not treated as well as their counterparts from other member states. A Nigerian, Sunny Ugo, headed the Communications Department of ECOWAS for three years as Acting Director. He was not confirmed as director.
An Ivorian, who is not as experienced, skilled, and qualified as Mr. Ugo was brought in to take over from him and confirmed in one year. It takes about six years to confirm a Nigerian as director, according to sources we spoke to in the organization. ECOWAS directors have no term and can remain in office for more than twenty years until they reach retirement age of sixty-two.
Within ECOWAS there is another group called UEMOA. This group comprises the eight French speaking countries and act as a bloc, giving them tremendous powers to influence issues. The UEMOA members consider their interests in anything concerning ECOWAS primarily, hence, they allocate important positions to themselves and ensure they get it by voting as a bloc.
Nigerian diplomats and legislators who represent us in ECOWAS have not helped matters as many of them are only interested in their pecuniary interests or lack the necessary experience to represent us. We have 35 seats, the highest number, on the ECOWAS Parliament and yet cannot push through legislations that benefit Nigerians.
I have been told by multiple sources that our diplomats go to meetings with other member diplomats ill-equipped as oftentimes they don’t have knowledge or preparation to deal with issues on the agenda.
During negotiations our diplomats carry on the big brother-all is well attitude while their counterparts get the best for their countries. Their lack of interest in the affairs of the group has resulted in our being short-changed in the allocation of programs by ECOWAS.
The ECOWAS Speaker of the Parliament pushed through a resolution that unilaterally gives him the right to appoint who presides over meetings in his absence. This was done to block the 1st Deputy Speaker, a Nigerian, from presiding over Parliament when the Speaker is not available.
This was a vote Nigeria could have blocked if our 35 man delegation to the Parliament had done their homework. Most times the Nigerian members of the Parliament appear in the morning; sign the attendance register, chat up a few ladies from the other countries and depart. They hardly attend sittings, according to our sources.
We are too big to remain in a sub-regional body that does not benefit us. We have done it for too long. In this era of CHANGE, we cannot carry on like this. It is time to go.
Email: Twitter: jelendu1


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