When Nigeria and 14 other West African countries signed the Treaty of Lagos in 28 May 1975, creating the Economic Community of West African States – ECOWAS, it was greeted as the most ambitious and comprehensive economic and political union ever signed in Africa, an innovative feat in economic trade governance.
Since then the policies and implementation surrounding the regional bloc have become more complex, and of recent more controversial and hostile. The early 90s saw the creation of ECOMOG, a military arm to the regional bloc that was formed with Nigeria providing close to %80 in personnel and funding. ECOMOG’S successful intervention in several member states drew global commendation and recognition with Nigeria spending $10 billion in peacekeeping operations.
This inaugurated an era of unprecedented economic growth and investment led by Nigeria and Ghana, the regions two most powerful economies. As the only English-speaking countries in a largely francophone neighborhood both countries forged a Special Relationship akin to that of the United States and Great Britain.
Together both nations helped subsidized the economies of smaller Anglophone member states by trade liberalization and investments. Nigeria and Ghana helped cement Anglophone West Africa’s regional dominance in economic self-sufficiency, culture and political independence . With the economic emancipation of English West Africa complete, there were plans to expand deep economic integration to all 15 member states. To this end, a single West African passport was introduced and adopted and plans were being drawn by the Central Bank governors of all member states for a single West African currency to was to be named the Eco.
With Nigeria’s return to democratic rule after a 40 year hiatus the country experienced unprecedented growth. With GDP growth %7 it was one of the fastest growing economy on earth. Industries and technology relegated oil sales in percentage of GDP. Nigeria was the fastest growing telecommunications market on earth. Mobile phone usage soared from 500,000 active lines in 2001 to over 50 million lines in 2005. By 2008 the number of active lines had soared to 90 million users.
By 2013 , after just 13 years of democratic governance Nigeria eclipsed South Africa to become the continents biggest economy and largest consumer market. Ghana had just discovered oil and was undergoing an infrastructural boom. Peace and security brought about by the Nigerian military allowed war ravaged Sierra-leone and Liberia to begin the process of economic growth and political stability. Liberia elected Africa’s first female elected President. The Nigerian/Anglophone economic model of free market enterprise and political independence seemed to be the model all francophone States to adopt.
When Liberia was having problems with educational institutions and did not have enough teachers to go round, the Nigerian government provided 6,000 teachers under the Technical Assistance Corp. Pax Nigeriana was on the rise as Nigerian soft power swept through the continent like a storm. The afrocentric focus of Nigeria was making a tremendous impact on other countries. Former war-torn countries were on a path of development and human development. By there were two dangers lurking ahead.
1. The dominance of Nigeria and Ghana in ECOWAS by every metric of development despite being outnumbered two to one by Francophone states was shedding a negative light on France.
2. IrresponsIble act of benevolence and not knowing when to stop.
Indiscriminate freebies over a long period of time comes with unintended consequences. This act of benevolence over time is taken for granted, and these countries start believing that the solution to their economic challenges can be found in next door Nigeria, Africa’s largest consumer market and entrepreneurial populace.
Trade governance has evolved significantly since ECOWAS was ratified in 1975, but the agreements itself essentially has been left untouched, leading to a situation whereby 14 member countries have unfettered access to Africa’s biggest economy and largest consumer market, while Nigeria, with its growing industrial capacity has basically created an ecosystem of a regional convenient store. But subsidizing the economies of an entire region to near bankruptcy can not be sustained for long.
There was little in the way of trade and investments to show for it. In Ghana for example, Nigerian remains the country’s biggest foreign investor, with banks, telecoms companies etc, employing thousands of Ghanaians. These are countries that lack the economic base to make or even attempt any form of investment in Nigeria. Again this gesture is taken for granted. The trade deficit amounting to billions is bad enough, whats shocking is their treatment of Nigerian investors.
DIVIDE & CONQUER
To remain relevant France needs her colonies to be dependent on Paris. Economic independence eliminates that need. By sowing discord and causing rift between the regions economic powerhouses the powers that be hoped to break that Special Relationship.
On July 2018, Ghana issued a notice barring Nigerians from engaging in retail, saying the country’s laws reserves the trade for citizens alone, a gross violation of the ECOWAS Free Trade Agreement that abolishes economic protectionism. This inflammatory announcement sparked fears of xenophobic attacks as Nigerian traders complained they were being forcefully evicted by their Ghanaian counterparts.
Just last month on 21 September 2018, the authorities in Ghana arrested 72 Nigerian women, puts them on cuffs, called a press conference and announces, in the most degrading of manner it’s deportion of seventy-two Nigerian women for being in the country illegally. Another flagrant violation of the Treaty of Lagos that allows free movement of persons between ECOWAS member states.
Just two days ago in October 9, a distraught Nigerian woman committed suicide in Ghana after her shop was locked up by Ghanaian authorities . This is a woman who took a loan from the bank, and in just a day she lost all.
Two weeks prior some Nigerians in Ghana were rounded up, arrested and locked up by Ghanaian authorities over their inability to meet strict Ghanaian trading conditions. Whats sad, the Nigerian government is doing nothing about the illegal property seizures and harassment of Nigerian traders.
The silence from the Nigerian government only rewards the hostilities towards Nigerians in Ghana. The Nigerian government seems to have no semblance of a response.
Nigeria, the supposed richest economy in the regional bloc. A nation whose smallest state in land area Lagos, is West Africa’s second largest economy and Africa’s 5th biggest economy is being countered by economic aid and incentives from the powers that be. Morocco’s membership will put to rest Nigeria’s economic influence.
The same thing is happening on the diplomatic front, where member states derive pleasure in harassing Nigerians and unfair negative stereotyping. Even the leaders are openly mocking the Nigerian government in international public events.
Take for example Ghana’s President. In May 2018, in an event that has nothing to do with Nigeria, Ghana’s president could not just help it. Smarting from his rising profile, the recent Ghana-America security cooperation and commendation from French President Macron, who said Ghana, not Nigeria was role model West African countries should emulates, Ghana’s president goes to the University of Oxford in England where, as he was invited to speak in a conference themed
“Enough Rhetoric! Catalysing an Era of Concrete Action”.
The Ghanaian President starts his speech with a 20 minute monologue on the dysfunction and ills and travails of Nigeria. In a bizarre and unprecedented move, he recalled with disgust the respect and prestige accorded Nigeria during the oil boom in the 70s. He berated the British government for the open arm welcome Nigeria received from the British government, and in an ” i told you so ” tone gleefully outlines the sorry state of Nigeria today.
Then he goes on about Ghana being endowed with natural resources in gold, diamond, oil, timber…and ends it with Ghana’s vision for African development. So here you have the President of an African country Ghana, going to England and like a petulent child trash talk a fellow African country in the most disrespectful and un-diplomatic manner the UKs capital London . The import of this development is clear, Ghana has displaced Nigeria in strategic interest to the West.
The visit to Ghana by U.S President Barack Obama, the first visit of French President Emanuel Macron, U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Ghana-USA Defence Treaty has been a calculated stunt orchestrated by the powers that be to replace Nigeria as the regional hegemon. The recent visit of America’s First Lady Melania Trump is only the latest icing on the cake for the rising profile of Ghana over Nigeria in West Africa.
Its time for Nigeria to cut the diplomatic political correctness and realise that special relationship between the Ghana and Nigeria is over. It’s high time Nigeria holds a regional conference to discuss ECOWAS’s utility given the new trends emerging in regional trade governance and security.
ECOWAS rigidity results from its design. The 1970s was the golden age for Nigeria, the oil boom. Negotiators avoided mechanisms that would have given the treaty flexibility for fear of French infiltration, as Nigeria was more concerned about French expansion in a majority francophone neighbourhood. As a consequence ECOWAS’s scope and depth has become severely limited, weak and may no longer be sustainable in the long run. The immediate consequence of this “enforcement deficit” has been lack of existing mechanisms to settle trade disputes.
Being the founder of ECOWAS should not stop Nigeria from pursuing its own interests today. Is the special relationship between Nigeria and Ghana fundamentally flawed? It’s a relationship based on shared histories and values, one that has become the cornerstone of Nigeria’s foreign policy. But does it serve Nigeria’s interest as it once did? Could Nigeria gain from a little more independence and a greater readiness to play it alone?
Ghana for one seems increasingly eager to establish a rapport with the powers that be, rather than ECOWAS. Abuja was the first to express its displeasure on Morocco’s bid to join the West African regional bloc. Here we have a country that withdrew from the Organization of African Unity (Now African Union) over its recognition of the Western Sahara, then applies for EU membership. Morocco’s application is thrown out the window, flatly rejected on the basic fact alone that as the name implies, the European Union is a European institution.
Then Morocco, comes back, applies to join a West African regional bloc, backed by Accra and Paris and is given red carpet reception. With no veto power structure in place there is nothing Nigerian can do as it stands alone. By supporting Morocco’s membership, violating ECOWAS trade laws, carrying out xenophobic actions against its largest trading partner and allowing for the baseing of U.S military force on its soil, needlessly given terrorists a juicy new legitimate target. Ghana has forsaken old relationships .
This relationship is borne out of its shared colonial past, close cultural, political and economic ties where Nigeria is the largest single investor in the Ghanaian economy. But increased independence becomes appealing when an alternative power may offer the same, if not greater economic and political attractions. The political environment in West Africa has dramatically altered since 2012. radicalization and terrorism. France and the United States now call the shots.
Ghana, the only Anglophone power besides Nigeria has pursued its own agenda in tandem with ECOWAS when it suites Accra. On the one hand it is reliant on Nigerian gas for power generation and enjoys access to credit on gas supply from Nigeria, but is equally prepared to deceive its ally, impose illegal tariffs on Nigerian goods, ban Nollywoo movies, impose illegal tarrifs on Nigerian directors, violate the ECOWAS Free Trade Aggrement by its protectionist policys, closing down Nigerian businesses, violating the free movement of people as the ECOWAS Chatter indicates and insult the Nigerian government and people in the capitals of Western countries and pursue a unilateral defence policy with the United States.
The willingness for member states to antagonize Nigeria by agreeing to be used as proxy does not commiserate with Nigeria’s %70 funding of the regional bloc. Cooperation with member states forms part of the delusion. Regional cooperation is being wrongly exploited to undermine Nigeria’s interest and security.
Its time for Nigeria to seek a judicious and flexible “special relationship” with a large trading nation like China, Russia Japan etc. Nigeria should be a member of the BRICS. Nigeria by now should be pursuing FDI, technology transfers, investments…if enough political reforms are made Nigeria could easily become the new source for cheap labour in manufacturing as China transitions into a high income country, competing with the likes Mexico, Vietnam for cheap manufacturing labour.
Nigeria cannot achieve her true potential by limiting itself in a claustrophobic neighbourhood playing big brother to unappreciative countries whose low economic base and dependence on aid makes them malleable to the powers that be as is evident today.