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As Nigerians unite against Morocco in ECOWAS

img 20160731 081542 - As Nigerians unite against Morocco in ECOWAS

Nigeria's minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama. PHOTO: TWITTER/ GEOFFREY ONYEAMA

Due to their diversity, which they said is also their strength, it’s always difficult for Nigerians to agree on one thing. The man from the north would have a different opinion from the other from the south. Even in the south, the man from South-East would hold a different opinion from the other from the South-West. Nigerians know how to have their opinions and there is nothing anyone could do about it.

However, some issues have required Nigerians to speak with one voice. One was the Ebola epidemic in 2014. That scourge galvanised Nigerians, and everyone stood united to stamp out Ebola. When rumour came from nowhere that citizens should drink and bathe with salt water to protect them from getting Ebola, salt dried up in the markets because every Nigerian scrambled for salt-water bath. There were very few Nigerians who did not drink nor bathe with salt-water before the dawn of August 7th, 2014. Everyone obeyed every rule against having bodily contacts with strange people. Writing about how Nigerians united against Ebola, the New York Times of September 30th, 2014 said that Nigerians’ actions seem to contain Ebola: “Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive, said she was “heartened to see this positive result of the efforts of so many in Nigeria.”, said NYT. 

With that oneness of spirit and of purpose, and by the grace of God, Nigeria was able to stamp Ebola within a short period of time. The issue at hand is the admission of Morocco, a northern African country, into the comity of West African countries—the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Since last July, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama informed Nigerians that Morocco wants to find its way into becoming ECOWAS member, Nigerians have resisted the move the same way they resisted Ebola.  There has never been a dissenting voice. And their argument is genuine. What other motive, if not ulterior motive, should be driving a country in far north Africa to be seeking membership of West African regional cooperation? Apart from the fact that Africa was divided into five Geo-political regions, it is equally against the establishment treaty of ECOWAS to admit countries outside the West African region. 

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That treaty was signed in Lagos on 28 May 1975, by General Yakubu Gowon, and his counterpart, General Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo. The then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) (now African Union (AU)) Council of Ministers, in its Ordinary Session held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from February 23 to March 1, 1976, by Resolution No. CM/Res.464 (XXVI), divided the whole of Africa into five geo-political Regions, namely Northern, Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. By that Resolution, Morocco became a North African country and not a West African country.

Yesterday, critical stakeholders warned the Nigerian Federal Government to quickly checkmate Morocco’s ambition as it will speed up disintegration of the Nigerian state. They spoke at a one-day public hearing put together by the House of Representatives joint committees on Foreign Affairs and Cooperation for Africa Integration titled: “Public hearing on the Review of Nigeria’s Membership of ECOWAS In View of Morocco’s Bid to be Admitted Into the Regional Body”. Former Director General, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, said “any attempt to allow Morocco to join the regional body will disintegrate Nigeria”. Akinterinwa argued that he had 12 points that could make Nigeria checkmate Morocco from joining “as it’s one of the most corrupt nations in the world going by the recent corruption index account.”

Speaking almost in the same vein, representative of the Director General, NIIA, Prof. Fred Agwu and activist lawyer, Femi Falana said Nigeria should vehemently stand against Morocco’s bid. “He who pays the piper dictates the tune. Nigeria can block Morocco from ECOWAS”, said Agwu, while Falana added that “any attempt to allow the North African country to join ECOWAS will subvert Nigeria’s economic prosperity”. The National Vice President of Association of Retired Ambassadors of Nigeria, ARCAN, Ambassador, John Shinkaye, in his view advised the Federal Government to effectively checkmate Morocco now as its membership will spell doom for Nigeria.”

Earlier in July, Dipo Fashina, Convener, Nigerian Movement for The Liberation Of Western Sahara, (NMLWS), argued that ECOWAS owed its existence and survival to Nigeria and that Nigeria should not allow any foreign body to whittle down its control of the regional body.
Okoronkwo, an author and Public Relations manager sent in this piece from Abuja.

“Apart from her financial and diplomatic support, Nigeria has played a commendable role in the struggle for the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. With the support of Nigeria, ECOWAS has been able to end military rule in the sub region. On account of the influence of Nigeria, the ECOWAS has rejected the European-ECOWAS Partnership Agreement designed to turn West Africa into a dumping ground for manufactured goods from Europe”, he said.

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However, due to policy inconsistency, Nigeria’s influence has begun to wane in ECOWAS. For instance, due to the virtual absence of Nigeria at the 51st Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS which took place in Monrovia on June 4, 2017, Morocco’s request for membership of the ECOWAS was given favourable consideration.

Fashina urged Nigeria to rise to the occasion and ensure that the application of Morocco for membership is rejected on the following grounds: ECOWAS is for the states in the West African sub-region and in this regard, the revised treaty defined the “region” as “the geographical zone known as West Africa as defined by Resolution CM/Res.464 (XXVI) of the OAU Council of Ministers. Morocco is not classified among the member-states of the ECOWAS by the United Nations and the African Union. The Kingdom is a member of Arab Maghreb Union States together with Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania and Tunisia. Morocco’s move to join the ECOWAS is a deliberate ploy to whittle down the influence and strength of Nigeria for her role in the body.

There is no accession clause in the ECOWAS Treaty. To that, the planned admission to ECOWAS cannot be justified under the Revised Treaty of the ECOWAS. In line with the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, the member states of ECOWAS are under democratically elected governments whereas Morocco is a monarchical state. Also, the opposition of Nigeria to the European – ECOWAS Partnership Agreement will be frustrated by Morocco which will flood West Africa with goods from Europe. The struggle of the people of Western Sahara for independence being championed by Nigeria will be seriously challenged by Morocco.

All member-states of ECOWAS have subscribed to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which has recognised the human rights of African people to independence and right to self-determination. Morocco has refused to recognise the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination. Sebasteine Hon, a lawyer, also said that Morocco had once lost its membership of the then Organisation of African Unity, OAU (now African Union, AU), and was only readmitted on January 3, 2017. Then Morocco’s rooting to be admitted into ECOWAS could be something sinister.

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“In the first place, the OAU Council of Ministers, in its Ordinary Session held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from February 23 to March 1, 1976, by Resolution No. CM/Res.464 (XXVI), divided the whole of Africa into five geo-political Regions, namely Northern, Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. By that Resolution, Morocco became a North African country and not a West African country. Morocco cannot, therefore, at the instance of ECOWAS alone, become a member of the West African regional community, except if Resolution CM/Res.464 (XXVI) is revoked or altered by the AU Council of Ministers,” Hon argued.

He further stated that he was guided in his submission by the provisions of the ECOWAS Treaty itself, which made reference to and even adopted the AU Resolution. “Article 1 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty, published on July 24, 1993, which is the definition Article, has defined the West African Region as follows: “Region” means the geographical zone known as West Africa as defined by Resolution CM/Res.464 (XXVI) of the OAU Council of Ministers.

In spite of the above, and in spite of the AU Council of Ministers not having revoked or set aside Resolution CM/Res.464 (XXVI), the President of Ivory Coast, Alasanne Quattara, told the BBC a few months ago that Morocco’s bid for membership of the ECOWAS had been agreed upon in principle and that it, together with Tunisia which is seeking observer status with the ECOWAS, will be invited to the meeting of the Regional body holding in Togo, in December. This is most unacceptable, to say the least. Going by the voluble argument against Morocco, Nigeria’s political leadership, the Presidency and the National Assembly, and the political leadership of other West African countries should resist this move and reject the alluring advances of both Morocco and Tunisia.
Okoronkwo, an author and Public Relations manager sent in this piece from Abuja.

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