Nigeria’s national interest should determine our position
On November 9, 2017, the House of Representatives organised a public hearing on the question of Morocco’s admission-in-principle into the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This was against the background of Nigeria’s admission of its support for the return of Morocco to the African Union at the January 2017 meeting in Addis Ababa under the cover of “African integration”. But there was much ambiguity about Nigeria’s willingness to follow through and encourage Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS. There had also been so much opacity with Nigeria even claiming that it had no proper record of international treaties it had entered into.
However, public opinion and the people’s buy-in are both critical to the legitimacy of decisions taken on their behalf by either governments or regional bodies seeking cooperation, collaboration and integration. Whatever may therefore be the interest of heads of government, it is important to structure public opinion appropriately to ensure the legitimacy of outcomes in line with the ECOWAS mandate and objectives. Beyond this, the overriding objective is to defend Nigeria’s strategic interest as distinct from emotive nationalism and chauvinism.
It is in that context that we should examine the arguments against Morocco’s bid for the membership of ECOWAS. Some have argued that Morocco is seeking to benefit from both the Arab League and ECOWAS at the same time and that this will reduce Nigeria’s influence within the sub-region. Others canvass the extreme view that if Morocco joins ECOWAS, “Nigeria will disintegrate.” Members of the House of Representatives resolved that if admitted into ECOWAS, Morocco, which enjoys a non-tariff economic partnership with the European Union (EU) will flood West Africa with European goods and pose a threat to the Nigerian economy. Groups such as the Nigerian Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara, the Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA) and other opinion leaders have also raised issues about geographical contiguity.
Unfortunately, in all these disparate positions, pertinent questions remain: How serious is the threat allegedly posed by Morocco to Nigeria’s strategic influence in the ECOWAS sub-region? If African countries are expected to end up in African economic integration, how does the Morocco bid negate such aspiration? What are the real implications (political, economic and otherwise) of Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS for Nigeria?
The argument that Morocco’s opposition to self-determination in Western Sahara amounts to a disqualification fails to take into consideration the fact that confronted with similar threats, the responses of other African countries including Nigeria, have not been dissimilar to that of Morocco. Raising the banner of this argument is therefore self-serving and inconsistent. And what that suggests is that the reactions to the proposed Moroccan membership of ECOWAS suffer from a poverty of the contemplation of the long term perspective of the place of Nigeria within both the sub-region and the continent at large.
However, before any action can be taken for or against the bid by Morocco to join ECOWAS and what the position of Nigeria should be, public opinion needs to be well clarified to ensure effective buy-in and prevent a backlash such as has been seen with Nigeria’s continued membership of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the D-8 Organisation for Economic Cooperation. Indeed, it is within that context that we understand the fears of those who look at the Morocco bid from the prism of local politics. But what is ignored is that the expansion of the sub-regional body beyond the West-Africa geographical does not in any way impinge on our national interest.
All factors considered, we believe that instead of adopting a knee-jerk reaction, the idea should be subjected to a national debate so that a more rational decision can be taken on the basis of enlightened interest rather than on emotions.