Issues As Morocco Seeks ECOWAS’ Membership

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As Nigerians continue to mull Morocco’s bid to join ECOWAS, the House of Representatives recently organised a forum to collate views of experts on Nigeria’s continued membership of the sub-regional organisation. KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL writes

With the next session of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) scheduled to hold in Lomé, Togo just weeks away, the House of Representatives two weeks ago, brought together experts and stakeholders to review Nigeria’s continued membership of ECOWAS in view of the clamour for the admission or otherwise of Morocco into the regional body.

It would be recalled that on February 24, the Kingdom of Morocco through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation issued a press release wherein His Majesty, King Mohamed VI informed the President of Liberia and Chairperson of the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS), Ellen Sirleaf, of the Kingdom’s willingness to join the Regional Economic Community as a full member.

At the hearing of House joint committees on Foreign Relations and Regional Integration, stakeholders expressed concern that Morocco has become a fertile ground for the European Union (EU) to push for the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), thereby eroding the successes recorded against terrorism, socio-economic development and local industries.

They also described Nigeria’s stance on the matter as mediocre given its leadership pedigree in the sub-regiob even as they berated the country’s leadership for absenting itself from the 51st summit of the regional body held in Liberia during which the decision to approve in principle, Morocco’s request was taken.

The stakeholders worried that should Morocco become a member of ECOWAS, it could have negative political and economic implications for Nigeria and warned against Nigeria exiting the body. They also noted that Morocco and West Africa had no geographical closeness and would be a direct breach of the ECOWAS Treaty to admit a non-regional country.

In his presentation, the chairman, Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN), John Shinkanye, bemoaned the final communiqué issued by the leaders of ECOWAS states wherein general support was given for Morocco’s admission as well as the invitation extended to King Mohammed VI to attend the forthcoming 52nd Ordinary session of ECOWAS.

Shinkanye posited that the admission of Morocco will pose serious challenges for peace and security and will particularly affect the current regional efforts to fight and defeat terrorism adding that “it would be one of the most humiliating moments of our country’s foreign policy since Independence”.

“ARCAN is of the view that free movement of people, goods and services will further open up the corridor between North and West Africa to the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, human trafficking, increased nefarious activities of terrorists and other non-state actors.

“Nigeria has spent $20 billion in the last 42 years of ECOWAS existence and observed that Morocco which became a member of Organization of Africa Union (OAU) in 1972 “was owing $2,185,158.77 and has still not paid these outstanding dues”.

Similarly, National Institute of International Affairs, apprised against Nigeria’s exit from the sub-regional body, stressing that there is no provision in ECOWAS treaty that allows for Morocco to be admitted stressed the need for alliance between member states to ensure that Morocco does not become a member.

Representative of the institute, Prof. Fred Agwu warned that it will only end up destabilising the West African region and charged Nigeria as a country, to be very proactive, assert its leadership position and use the instrumentalities available to it to block Morocco’s admittance.

“I feel it is important for Nigeria to remain in ECOWAS and to make sure that it blocks this move by Morocco to come into ECOWAS because it has the power to block it. ECOWAS treaty gives us the leverage to block it because ECOWAS treaty does not provide for ascension by people from other parts of West Africa sub-region.”he said.

On his part, Human Right Activist, Femi Falana, warned that Morocco’s admission will expose Nigeria to ridicule and subvert its economic prosperity and gains recorded in the past, adding that Morocco would become a conduit pipe to flood the region with European goods. He warned that admitting Morocco into ECOWAS will amongst other things, also lead to alterations in the name and instrumentalities of the body.

Falana who noted that the EU had for years sought to strike an Economic Partnership Agreement with ECOWAS, a move that Nigeria consistently blocked, said that by admitting Morocco into ECOWAS, the EU would achieve the EPA objectives through the back door.

“They want to kill our industries and there will be job losses. The whole idea is to flood West Africa with European goods. When you talk about the West African economy, 70 per cent of it is Nigeria. So, Morocco will now subvert our economic prosperity.”

“If you allow Morocco, it’s going to be a conduit pipe for the European Union to flood West Africa with goods and all our industry will just collapse. Morocco would be used as a “destructive” and “destabilizing agent” in West Africa.

In the same vain, Former Director General, National Institute of International Affairs, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, asserted that admitting Morocco ECOWAS will generate into a problem that Nigeria will never be in a position to solve adding that it would be a contradiction for Nigeria, which over the years opposed the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco.

Akinterinwa said, “the Arab Maghreb Union has been completely bastardized by Morocco and the country is merely searching for future survival. The argument that Nigeria or West Africa will enjoy increasing trade benefits is flawed because the volume of trade as it stands today is only $1bn. That is not in any way comparable to the $345bn total GDP of West African countries.

“The reason Morocco is coming is that it is going to be used to disintegrate Nigeria”, he submitted.

Representative of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and organized private sector, Engr. Ibrahim Usman, posited that the Morocco’s membership is a direct attempt to reducing the influence and strength of Nigeria as a strategic political and economic force in the region.

“Admitting Morocco has dire consequences on the region considering the fact that ISIS is gaining ground in Morocco. The security as regards the activities of ISIS in the Maghreb region and the likely effect could have on our already challenged economy through the activities of Boko Haram is an issue of concern,” he warned.

“With Morocco’s membership of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) and associate country of EU, Arab League and the Union of Mediterranean, the country has high antecedents if disputes with her neighboring countries and association she belongs to previously including the AU at a time and can undermine the peaceful coexistence of ECOWAS states.

Usman who picked holes in Morocco’s promise to build infrastructure if admitted into the ECOWAS regional bloc said “this promise needs to be technically appraised, as the country’s unemployment level and debt-to-GDP ratio of 64.7% as contained in the 2016 international monetary fund (IMF) report against the IMF benchmark of 40% for developing and emerging economies clearly reveals the likelihood of a mere wishful thinking.

However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyema, backed Morocco’s bid to join ECOWAS, saying there were economic benefits for the sub-region and Nigeria.

Onyema argued that although the ECOWAS Treaty was clear on which country could join the bloc, the Heads of State of the member-nations could choose to “modify” it to allow Morocco access into the group.

“The reality is that trade with Morocco has been increasing, both with ECOWAS and Nigeria. So, we are looking at more trade, which will be a win-win for us.

“Is Morocco a Trojan Horse for the EU? There are laws and rules in international trade that prevent dumping of goods or easy access to other markets. It is not something that will happen easily that the EU will dump goods here”, the minister stated.

On whether it was not hypocritical for Nigeria, which had opposed Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara to support its ECOWAS bid, Onyema said that engagements and dialogue could resolve lots of differences adding that on legal, economic and political fronts, Nigeria had nothing to worry about.

These positions regardless, the major contention of Morocco’s request remains whether a State located in Northern Africa can join an organization in the Western region. The Kingdom’s request must satisfy a geographical criterion, that of membership in the West African region as defined by Resolution CM / RES.464 (XXVI) of the OAU Council of Ministers. This Resolution, on which the Abuja Treaty is based, divides Africa into five Regional Economic Communities (RECs): West Africa (sixteen Member States); East Africa (thirteen Southern Africa (ten Member States) Central Africa (nine Member States), North Africa (five Member States). The RECs covering these regions signed the Protocol of Relations between the African Economic Community (ECA) and the RECs on 25 February 1998.

The 1993 revised ECOWAS Treaty respects this regional delimitation. Article 2.2, states that “the members of the Community, hereinafter referred to as “the Member States”, are the States that ratify this Treaty”. What this means is that any West African State may apply to become a member of the Community, as one of the requirements is that the applicant be a State and that it is a West African and its territory must be located at least in part on the geographical space of West Africa.

This requirement can be deduced from the 1975 Treaty, which states that “The Members of the Community, hereinafter referred to as” Member States “, shall be the States that ratify this Treaty and such other West African States as may accede to it. On this note, these States acceded to ECOWAS on the date of its establishment in 1975. Enlargement only concerned Cabo Verde in 1976. ECOWAS therefore exhausted the regional geographical contours, so that the phrase “and such other West African States as may accede to it” was not included in the Revised Treaty of 1993.

Ultimately, Morocco’s ascension, which will lead to the enlargement of ECOWAS to members outside the Sub-Region lies in the hands of the Heads of State and Government. The Kingdom of Morocco’s application to ECOWAS, an organization made up of 15 West African nations, none of which shares a border with it came shortly after it was re-admitted into the African Union in January following its exit from the continental body in 1984.

Also, this is not the first time Morocco would apply for membership into an organization to which it does not qualify geographically. Recall that in the late 1987, it applied to be a member of the European Union however, the request was rejected on the basis that it is not an European country.

It is expected that the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS will do same by virtue of its Revised Treaty of 1993 and taking into account the cohesion of the organization. Morocco, along with Tunisia and Mauritania, which wants to return to the body, will be invited to the next meeting of heads of state in Togo in December.