Is it Time for Nigeria to Quit ECOWAS?

The recent military agreement between Ghana and the United States basing of U.S military personnel, the admission of Morocco, a north African country into ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and the consideration of Tunisia’s request to join the West African bloc brings to fore the fact that ECOWAS as a regional bloc no longer serves the interest of Nigeria.

We should not be in the business of pledging our financial resources to help countries just because as a regional giant we are expected to do so. We should not be sending our brave soldiers in a measure of devotion to defend West African countries on a whim just because as the regional giant Nigeria is by default expected to do so.Their sole duty of the Nigerian military is to defend the citizens of Nigerians who pay their salaries and owe allegiance to Nigeria, which Ghana, Sierra-leon, Gambia, Togo, etc do not.

For that reason among others. Nigeria should invoke whatever Article is required to withdraw from ECOWAS. The billions spent maintaining the regional bloc will be better spent on investments in infrastructure. As Africa’s biggest economy we should be aiming towards forging strategic economic ties with China, India, Brazil or the European Union, not playing petty big brother diplomacy.

The ECOWAS economic integration charter gives countries with a tiny GDP access to Nigeria’s $1 trillion economy and 200 million consumer market, the biggest consumer market in Africa, while Nigeria gets access to tiny, underdeveloped economies with a non-existent market.

Nigeria’s ECOWAS membership goes contrary to the 1999 amended constitutions policy of billions for subsidizing ECOWAS to serve Nigeria’s interest, but not one Naira for Empire or entangling alliances.

ECOWAS was established in May 28, 1974 not in self-defence, but to provide economic and military protection to West African countries not strong enough to fend off or resist big power bullying, which became apparent when France carried out several atomic bomb tests, not in France I Europe, but in West Africa. Exposing the people of Niger to harmful radiation.

Nigeria’s sense of brotherhood morphed into making West Africa safe for democracy by employing Nigeria’s powerful military, not unilaterally but under the auspices of ECOWAS to defend every member state from internal and external aggression.

As we can see self-defence did not push us into joining ECOWAS. In 1975 we were the most militarily and economically dominant nation in black Africa. Nigeria’s currency was running neck and neck with the British pounds, higher than the U.S dollar. The oil glut made Nigeria incredibly rich. Nigeria emerged from civil war stronger and richer.

Nigeria created ECOWAS as part of a gratuitous, preoccupation with containing the imperialist drive of colonial powers who, despite granting independence refused to leave their colonies alone. Secure in her oil wealth Nigeria was not vulnerable to economic imperialism.

The cost of subsidizing the security of the region Bloc is astonishing. Nigeria for instance spent $10 billion in a five-year period restoring peace to two ECOWAS member states in a civil war that had spilled into one country and threatened to expand into other member states. In January 2017 the Nigerian government spent $300 million to restore democracy in the Gambia.

ECOWAS enabled Nigeria to dominate West Africa. We were ECOWAS’s torso, while West Africans were ECOWAS’s limbs. As of this writing Nigeria accounts for 75 percent of ECOWAS’s budget and has soldiers, teachers, health experts, lawyers scattered across member states helping them develop.

ECOWAS marked an unprecedented break in African history. Not only was it the first fully integrated alliance ever, but it was the first time could practice its long-held foreign policy of Africa being the centre peace, by promoting and preserving peace everywhere in the West Africa.

But today times have chamged.ECOWAS  is more ill-conceived at present, having expanded to admitting North African countries into the bloc, ostensibly to challenge Nigeria’s dominance, than it was in 1975 . Among other things, we are committed to defending ECOWAS member states from the very countries the member states are falling head-over-heels to establish economic and military alliances with. We are also absurdly committed to defending the admittance of a powerful North African country to ECOWAS all in the name of political correctness.

Nigeria’s efforts to collaborate with the leaders and people of the 16 member states to steer a democratic course have obviously being an exercise in futility. The evidence makes you wonder if our members of ECOWAS is inherently more threatening to Nigeria, than are our authoritarian or tyrannical next door neighbours.

A recent application by Tunisia to join the regional bloc is under review. While the proliferation of French and American military bases around Nigeria’s periphery was a cause for concern, Nigeria’s diplomatic, military and economic dominance of the ECOWAS regional bloc, with a net GDP of $1.4 trillion compensated for the challenge to Nigeria sphere of influence. The thought of an American or French military in an Anglo-phone ECOWAS member state was unthinkable.

The first domino to fall was Niger Republic. The construction of a $100 million Reaper drone base came as a surprise as there was no consultation with Nigeria to that effect. The construction of a second $100 million drone base in Agadez, Niger Republic at time when Boko Haram is more or less a spent force, was enough to raise eyebrows. For Mali, of course, France retained a significant force in the country after its military operation against the Tuaregs rebels. That was expected.

The big surprise here is Ghana. At a stroke, Nigeria’s closest ally and second most important ECOWAS member state just completely changed the strategic dynamics of ECOWAS. Everybody wants a piece of West Africa.

As the strategic environment in West Africa became more crowded and competitive, there was always the possibility, albeit remote, that external actors may someday diminish Nigeria’s influence by undermining Nigeria’s development and diplomatic effort.

French West Africa is already taken. Half these countries are dictatorships, the rest are in the doldrums.  There is a reason why ex French colonies are the poorest and least developed in Africa. Nigeria and Ghana were the exception in majority French region.

Ghana claims it will not offer a military base to the U.S. That is delibrate naivety or actual naivety. Engaging with external actors like the United States and France will continue with open discussions of intersected interests and differences to Nigeria. It’s time Nigeria realises it has to withdraw its membership of ECOWAS and chart a new course for its future.

Leaving ECOWAS will set the stage for Nigeria’s soul-searching. Among other things it will force Nigeria to forge closer economic and diplomatic ties with China and Russia. France and the United States would certainly claim the sphere of influence over the ECOWAS, but that would be un-alarming as Nigeria will be too busy charting a new course.

Chinese firms have invested billions of dollars in building infrastructure in Africa, not military bases. China’s contribution to Africa, should be a catalyst for Nigeria to expand its economic relationship with China where both parties will  mutually benefit.

The United States and France has a very arrogant attitude that it takes towards people from Africa, and that’s to set aside the fact that the United States does not have the financial or economic wherewithal to compete with China in any case. The U.S interference in the internal affairs of African countries is in sharp contrast to Chinese engagement with Africans. Nigeria is better served ridding itself off the shackles of petty regional responsibilities and take on the big league on the global stage.

To make Nigeria more prosperous, secure and grow to its potential, ECOWAS should be made a museum along with other artifacts of Nigeria’s decades long big brother engagement with its neighbours.

 

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