ECOWAS, Ecobank, Asky Airline, and Africa’s Integration

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Victor Ariole

The success of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was highly acknowledged at an intellectual gathering in Libreville, Gabon. It was also a moment to acknowledge the leadership of Nigeria in ECOWAS as against leadership in other integration endeavours in East, Central and South Africa. Hence, as ECOWAS just ended its 49th session of the gathering of Heads of State, Nigeria must push forward for food sufficiency in the region and efficient road/rail network while commending ASKY for its initiatives in the air network.

We congregated in Libreville, Gabon from 15th to 20th May, brainstorming on how to move forward the teaching and learning of French in Africa. People from Southern Africa, Eastern Africa, Central Africa and only two of us from West Africa both Nigerians sat to strategise on the way forward. Thanks to Agence Universitaire De La Francophonie(AUF), the only organ charged by all nations speaking French in this world to make sure French language compete favourably in all spheres of knowledge with English – the only two official languages of United Nations – even though Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and Russians stand as mere working languages of the UNN.

It was sort of paradox to have Nigerians standing in for West Africa. It says of how the two people had made great inroad in the teaching and learning of French beyond the shores of Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. The Assembly was like mini African Union. It was co-chaired by Cameroon and Rwanda, the most recalcitrant nations among nations of Central and East Africa respectively.

In that congregation I observed, from my discussion with people of all regions of Africa that ECOWAS remains a great success in Africa, and I do not hesitate in attributing that to Nigeria and Togo. Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Central African Republic, notwithstanding their belonging to the same sub region, had to pay visa fees to be allowed to enter Gabon. It is not so among nations and citizens of ECOWAS. ECOWAS, championed by Gowon and Eyadema in 1975 seems to have set itself already on a steady state toward breaking even and making profit for its citizens.

ECOBANK seems to be the financial muscle needed and it had followed the part of ECOWAS. ECOBANK is quoted in stock exchanges in Africa – BRVM (Abidjan), NSE (Lagos), Tunisia and Morocco. It has also succeeded in bringing to life an Airline – ASKY. Ethiopian airline is nurturing it to fruition and it is welcome being both Africa. One wonders why Nigeria fails to buy totally into it instead of thinking of a National airline which is quite anachronistic in this era of globalization and collaborative ventures. (Just like I heard the Minister of Communication talking about IT universities in the six geopolitical zones as if Nigeria owns any satellite in the space). ASKY is a collaborative venture in which Ecobank has stakes and Nigeria is also indirectly involved.

ASKY made me discover the Nigerian waste and lousiness. A propeller aircraft (Bombardier) lifted us from MMIA Lagos to a highly functional Gnasingbe Eyadema International Airport in Tokoin, Lome within 25 minutes. Lome Airport looks like a Turn-Key project. The airport seemed to have been cargoed either from Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown Barbados or from Casablanca Morocco. I have seen both airports and they look the same; that is to tell you that refineries can even be cargoed anywhere and transplanted as turnkey project if the political will is there. Lome airport compete relatively and effectively with Schipol in Amsterdam.

In Lome we boarded a real and standard aircraft to Libreville. It took 1 hour 50minutes. We hovered around Lome seaport for about 5minutes and from the window seat I sat I observed about 60 cargos waiting to berth in Lome seaport. I wondered what was happening to Nigerian Seaport if within that short minutes I could observe such a scene, linking to government revenue drive in a small Togo, then Nigeria port authority operators needed to sit up. As I was ruminating on the fate of Nigeria’s economy, someone from Central African Republic told me that Cameroon is to them what Togo is to Niger, Chad and Mali, landlocked countries. So, what is Nigeria doing? To them it is difficult to depend on Nigeria. However, I was surprised that ASKY makes a stopover in Abuja to convey people going to Ndjamena and even re routing those going to far away Angola. Quite an African venture!

In deed discussing with people from Chad, Central African Republic and Congo, it seemed a waste for Nigeria to have committed either in dollar or naira 5billion for the rehabilitation of Chad basin. The discussion was also an eye opener into why Idris Deby should be made to account for the Boko Haram phenomena in Nigeria as well as other destabilizing factors in Africa. To the Cameroonians in that congregation, there is more to Boko Haram that meet the eyes. According to informed people in Central African Republic, Deby wants to rehabilitate Lake Chad passing through Central African Republic to Congo Basin without caring for the welfare of the inhabitants such project would affect negatively. We have heard Nigerian leaders talk of going to Indian Ocean via Djibouti which is not the case. Congo (Brazzaville) is vital to this venture and there is where River Oubangui which serves both RCA and Chad originates in terms of its source just like River Niger starts from Futa Jalon the home base of the Fulanis far away Guinea (Conakry)

Note that for Deby to get on he must court the friendship of RCA, Cameroon, Sudan and Congo and who says Nigeria is not better at doing that than looking unto Deby with his heavy financial demand on Nigeria to do the in-between business.

All the above are issues begging for right integration in Africa the way ECOWAS, Ecobank AND Asky are trying to do. Lake Chad is like a metaphor of integration or disintegration in Africa and Nigeria must be decisive in dealing with that.

As we thank AUF, it must be noted that the gathering was never intended for politics though as concerned citizens of Africa we must strive to make African Unity a task that must be done.

– Victor C. Ariole is a professor of French and Francophone African Studies University of Lagos.