A Public Hearing on Morocco’s Bid for ECOWAS Membership

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The people of Nigeria have been playing host to various calls for the review of Nigeria’s continued membership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of which Nigeria is a founding member. The calls were prompted by the admission in principle of the Arab Kingdom of Morocco by the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government at the last 51st summit of the regional body held in Liberia in June 2017.

The approval in principle, which is expected to be finally ratified after the definienda would have been articulated at the forthcoming 52nd Ordinary Session of the summit in December 2017 in Lomé, Togo, is generating great concerns especially, because the 1993 revised ECOWAS Treaty frowns at multiple memberships of regional economic communities by Member States. In fact, the concerns were to the extent that the House of Representatives at Plenary on Wednesday, 4th October, 2017 had to deliberate on the motion seeking the review of Nigeria’s membership of the ECOWAS. The motion was sponsored by Hon. Bosun George Oladele from the Irepo/Orelope/ Olorunsogo Federal Constituency.

Besides, the House of Representatives considered that ‘for Nigeria to review its relationship and status in ECOWAS, the House of Representatives ought to be well informed for a proper and beneficial decision to be taken in the interest of the country.’ More interestingly, the House of Representatives is also determined to ensure that ‘the West African sub-region does not fall prey to a plan that could enslave the citizens and jeopardise the economy of the sub-region. It was in the light of this determination that the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Honourable Nnnena Elendu-Ukeje and the House Committee on Cooperation and Integration in Africa, chaired by Honourable (Amb) Kingsley S. Ebenyi, were mandated ‘to undertake an appraisal of the matter and make recommendations on ways to ensure that Nigeria is protected from any adverse effects that could result from the admission of Morocco into the ECOWAS and report back within two weeks for further legislative action.’

In compliance with the mandate, a Public Hearing on Morocco’s bid for membership of the ECOWAS was organised and held on Thursday, 9th November, 2017 in Room 034, House of Representatives, at the new wing of the National Assembly Complex, to address many questions arising: should Morocco have been considered for admission? To what extent is Morocco’s intention to accede to the ECOWAS Treaty legal? Should Nigeria have considered withdrawing from the ECOWAS? In fact, what really is the official position of the Government of Nigeria on Morocco’s bid for membership of the ECOWAS?

Perhaps, most interestingly, what is the big deal about the development contributions expected from Morocco, especially in the light of the fact that West Africa currently accounts for only 5% of Foreign Direct Investments into the African continent? Can the ECOWAS survive without Nigeria with a GDP of $406 billion, representing 29% of the whole GDP of sub-Saharan Africa, which is currently put at $1.3 trillion in 2016?

Answers to these questions were not easy. They first raise new critical issues that not only point to foreign policy remissness, but also to a Foreign Ministry divided against itself. The issues raised at the hearing included the required conditions for membership by accession; the extent of legality or illegality of Morocco’s bid for membership; what the position of the government of Nigeria is on Morocco’s bid; why the representation of Nigeria at the June 2017 ECOWAS summit in Liberia was at a very low level; number and nature of treaties signed by Nigeria but not yet referred to the National Assembly for domestication; which arm of government has the right of ratification of treaties, the status of ratification and domestication in the context of Nigeria’s foreign policy and relations; as well as how to interpret the admission of Morocco in principle, that is, is it already a fait accompli or not, especially that the President of the ECOWAS Commission was reported to have said Morocco’s admission was a completed deal.

On the basis of a deductive analysis of the explanations provided by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria, most unfortunately, actively supports Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS. First, as reminded by Ambassador Edward A. Aina, OON, ‘Nigeria reiterated its support for the “return” of Morocco to the African Union on Wednesday, 25 January, 2017 in Addis Ababa.’ The point here is that if Nigeria is in support of the return of Morocco to the African Union at the continental level, there cannot be any good logic for Nigeria to be against Morocco’s accession to the ECOWAS Treaty, at the regional level.

Second, Mr. Onyeama is also on record to have declared that ‘there is no objection to Morocco’s request to “reintegrate the African Union” in a statement to the press on the sidelines of the 30th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the African Union.’ Third, and perhaps more interesting, Mr. Onyeama also has it that ‘the door is open for Morocco to “reintegrate” the African family,’ stressing that ‘the return of the Kingdom will strengthen the unity of the African ranks. It’s good that we are united again.’ If, as reminded by Ambassador Aina, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister made the quoted statements, there cannot be any ambiguity in Nigeria’s position at the level of Morocco’s quest for membership of the ECOWAS in West Africa.

Consequently, the argument of the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bamgbose A. Olukunle, according to which the Ministry is only advising government and does not take decision and that the Permanent Secretary is not aware that the Government has taken a final decision, on the matter, is inconsistent with the Foreign Minister’s declarations. Besides, if the Foreign Ministry is only advising, then there is the need to differentiate between the Ministry’s own advisory position from the yet to be determined position of the Buhari-led government.

In this regard, the advice of the Foreign Ministry is, at best, most unfortunate, recklessly anti-Nigeria and not informed by the currency of the situational reality of Morocco’s attitudinal behaviour, not only towards its immediate neighbours but also to other Member States of the African Union. The advice is myopic and self-serving in design, and has the great potential to destroy in a day Nigeria’s political credibility and integrity acquired over the years. This observation brings us to the arguments for and against Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS.

Government’s Position is Supporting Illegality

First, there is no question raised by members of the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and Integration in Africa that was seriously addressed or substantiated by the Foreign Ministry. Claims of ignorance was the main feature of answers given to the critical questions asked: how many treaties are in possession of the Foreign Ministry and how many of them are yet to be forwarded to the National Assembly; does the amended 1993 ECOWAS Treaty provide for accession of any African country; has the same amended 1993 Treaty been made available to the National Assembly?

The controversial answers generated by the explanations of the Foreign Ministry prompted a new problem and hypothesis by the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), represented by Professor Fred Agwu. The NIIA argued that it was the executive arm of government that has the right of ratification of treaties, implying that the National Assembly should not be much bothered about not being informed about treaty developments as they relate to Morocco’s bid.

The problem with this argument is that it theoretically and consciously wrongly placed ratification above domestication in the context of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended. The truth is that the Constitution not only subjects the implementation of any treaty done by Nigeria to preliminary domestication by the National Assembly, meaning that domestication is at the crescendo of the continuum of signatures or approvals. The Supreme Court has also ruled in favour of the National Assembly on the matter. It was an already settled matter, Honourable Elendu Ukeje simply said and that put paid to the NIIA argument.

Regarding the arguments in support of Morocco’s membership, some observers have suggested, but arguably, that there are some economic benefits derivable from Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS. The likelihood of any derivable benefit is best imagined because the estimated GDP of the whole of West Africa is currently put at $345 billion while the total value of Morocco’s volume of trade with West Africa has not even reached $1 billion. This simply implies that the Morocco-ECOWAS trade is, at best, insignificant.

The supporters of Morocco’s bid also draw attention to Morocco’s status as the current ‘second largest African investor in the continent, after South Africa, whose investments, according to the OCP Policy Centre, ‘have jumped from sixty-six per cent in the period from 2008-2013 to eighty-five per cent today.’ Again, the investments are not a big deal, because, as one Yoruba proverbial saying has it, one must first look at the type and quality of dress worn by an individual promising to buy a dress for someone. In other words, Morocco does not have the political and economic stability domestically and in the AMU region to be able to perform miracles being flaunted by the Foreign Ministry. The government is simply supporting illegality and is unnecessarily being induced into error. This point brings us to the arguments against Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS.

Non-tenability of Morocco’s Illegal Bid

Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, has posited that Morocco’s application for membership of the ECOWAS is an act of illegality while the approval in principle of the accession is also an act of illegality, from the perspective of Ambassador Edward Aina in a statement he made elsewhere. Falana predicated his argument on the logic of the African Charter on Human Rights while Ambassador Aina raises the issue of decision-taking by unanimity and consensus.

Falana has it that, by virtue of Article 2.2 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty, only the members of the Community referred to as Member States are the States that ratified the Treaty. ‘It follows that any West African State may apply to become a member of the Community, which requires that the applicant be a State in West Africa whose territory is located at least in part on the geographical space of West Africa.’

Ambassador Aina has drawn attention to Article 9 of the ECOWAS Treaty according to which the Authority shall act by decisions (paragraph 1), unless otherwise provided in this Treaty, or in a Protocol, decisions of the Authority shall be adopted, depending on the subject matter under consideration by ‘unanimity consensus’ or by a ‘two-thirds majority’ of the Member States (paragraph 2); and more importantly, matters referred to in paragraph 2 above shall be defined in a Protocol. Until the entry into force of the said Protocol, the Authority shall continue to adopt its decision by consensus.

In this regard, was there any consensus of opinion and decision in the consideration of Morocco’s bid? As Nigeria was represented at a low level, had Nigeria given her consent before the June 2017 summit? In the absence of Nigeria’s consent, what would have been the basis of the approval in principle given by the Authority?

And most significantly, the definition of a region as provided for in Article 1d) and 1(e) of the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community necessarily disqualifies Morocco from applying as the treaty places Morocco in the North Africa region. It can be argued that the objective of continental integration may be helped with Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS. However, the AEC Treaty provides for continental integration through regionalism. The truth is that this objective is far-fetched in the AMU region.

Apart from the issue of illegality, there are also politico-economic, as well as religious and cultural reasons militating against the admissibility of Morocco. It is on record that Morocco has made efforts to become a member of the European Union, but to no avail. The argument was made that Morocco was not a European country, which was a condition sine qua non for membership of the European Union. However, Morocco has an association agreement with the European Union.

It should also be remembered in this regard that Nigeria and The Gambia are the only two countries that have refused till date to sign the European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the ECOWAS, a major reason as to why the EPA has also not come into force for reasons that are not far-fetched. The main market targeted by the EPA is Nigeria and since Nigeria has not yet signed the EPA, the signing of the EPA by other ECOWAS countries has therefore become irrelevant in the same way the United States had to postpone the relocation of the Germany-based US Africa Command for ten years in 2005. The EPA is critically detrimental to Nigeria’s national interest.

As a result, it is in the immediate and long term interest of the European Union to have Morocco join the ECOWAS so as to serve as a major instrument for channelling European finished goods to Nigeria. As rightly pointed out in the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives on Thursday, 5 October, 2017, paragraph 15, ‘Morocco enjoys a non-tariff economic partnership with the European Union, if it is admitted into the ECOWAS, it will enjoy Free Trade Area status and therefore, European goods will inevitably flood the ECOWAS market through Morocco, thus adversely affecting the production and manufacturing sector of Nigeria and its economy as a whole.’

Second, Professor Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi, CFR, former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and former Minister of External Affairs, has raised a number of issues to be addressed by Nigeria’s policymakers on Morocco’s bid. In a press statement issued on Thursday, June 8, 2017, Professor Akinyemi raised the issue of eventual whittling down of Nigeria’s influence in West Africa and the world. As he put it, having failed to find any rational benefit to ECOWAS by expanding membership to Morocco, I (Akinyemi) can only conclude that the move is to whittle down Nigeria’s influence in ECOWAS. And by extension, in the world, as Nigeria’s status as a regional power is facilitated by its role in ECOWAS.

Third, Professor Akinyemi has also rightly reminded us of the use of regional representation in the distribution of both appointive and elective positions in various international institutions, such as the United Nations, African Union, Commonwealth organisation, etc. In this regard, there is no way Morocco’s admission into the ECOWAS would not make Morocco to benefit from the Arab League quota and West African quota at the same time. This cannot but be detrimental to the collective interest of the ECOWAS.

Fourth, Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS has the potential of extending Israeli-Arab conflict to the ECOWAS region. For instance, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, was scheduled to attend the June 2017 ECOWAS summit, where admission of Morocco was agreed to in principle. However, he did not attend because of the invitation extended to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and who was physically present at the summit.

This clearly shows that the factor of Israelo-Moroccan misunderstanding can always be reflected at the ECOWAS meetings, and thereby destabilising the regional body. And true enough, some countries, including Nigeria, did not participate in the ECOWAS June 2017 meeting at the summit level. The division is therefore already there and can only be deepened with Morocco’s membership.

Fifth, Morocco was a pioneer member, and of course, a founding member of the Organisation of African Union (OAU). In fact, she played host to the meetings of the Casablanca group, which wanted United States of Africa. Morocco and Osagyefo Nkrumah’s Ghana played very active part, like Nigeria, in the making of the OAU in 1963. However, in 1984, Morocco opted to withdraw from the OAU because of the conflict of interests between the OAU and Morocco concerning sovereignty over the Spanish Sahara.

Morocco was and still claiming sovereignty over the Spanish Sahara, which has declared its independence. The OAU, consistent with its policy of total decolonisation and eradication of colonialism in Africa, recognised the independence of Spanish Sahara as Saharawi Arab Republic. This angered Morocco. Morocco insulted all African leaders in unprintable words and adopted the policy of ‘Open Chair’ for a period before eventually withdrawing her membership from the continental organisation.

The problem is that, as at today, even though the ICJ has denied Morocco any legitimate claim to sovereignty over the territory of the Saharawi Arab Republic, Morocco has always remained a stumbling block in the peaceful governance of the territory. The sovereignty which Morocco never had under Spanish rule of the territory, Morocco cannot legally lay claim to after the departure of Spain. This was the reasoning of the ICJ.

But true enough, Morocco has continued to always frustrate the organisation of referendum in the territory, but increasingly populating the territory with Moroccan nationals with the ultimate strategic calculation that, by the time there might be a referendum, Moroccan population would have grown to the extent that the proponents of Moroccan sovereignty cannot but outweigh those of Saharawi Arab Republic. The point being made here is that, the dispute is still there and has to be first addressed constructively and permanently before Morocco can be eligible for membership consideration.

Sixth, and perhaps more interestingly, Morocco has rejoined the African Union even though the dust over Saharawi Arab Republic saga is yet to settle. Why rejoin the African Union, when the main rationale for initial withdrawal is yet to be removed? Additionally, why is it that Member States of the Maghreb Union are now showing keen interest in the ECOWAS? For instance, Tunisia is interested and wants an observer status to begin with. How do we explain the fact that Morocco is not capable of raising the bar of the Maghreb Union but will be expected to sustain the ECOWAS?

Seventh, Morocco, unlike all Member States of the ECOWAS, is a kingdom and not a republic like others. This means that the political and cultural tradition is not the same. In Mauritania, the difference in the political and cultural lifestyles of the Black African Mauritanians and Arab Mauritanians is a case in point. In this regard, Mauritania was a founding member of the ECOWAS but withdrew its membership in order to seek associate collaboration with the Arab Maghreb Union. Now the Maghreb Union appears to be on the path of decline and its members, Morocco, in particular, are now seeking alternative futures in the ECOWAS region, but under what conditions? Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS cannot but have the potential to ignite Arabic versus Black African controversy within the framework of ECOWAS regional organisation.

Eighth, Morocco does not, by whatever geo-political definition, qualify to be considered as a West African member state. Articles 1 (d) and 1(e) of the Abuja 1991 Treaty Establishing African Economic Community are quite clear on this. Morocco’s bid cannot but require the redefinition of the concept of a ‘region’ within the framework of the African Union.

Ninth, Morocco’s bid and its approved admission in principle is ultra vires. Falana has it that by virtue of Article 2.2 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty, only the members of the Community referred to as Member States are the States that ratified the Treaty. ‘It follows that any West African State may apply to become a member of the Community, which requires that the applicant be a State in West Africa whose territory is located at least in part on the geographical space of West Africa.’

Tenth, Morocco’s admission into the ECOWAS will make the regional body a new centre for corruption à la Marocaine. Corruption in Morocco is systemic. Anna Jacob has reminded us that ‘on 13 August 2014, a US federal court declined to enforce a 123 million dollar judgment issued by a Moroccan court in 2009 against Texas native, John Paul Dejoria. In Dejoria v. Maghreb Petroleum Exploration S.A. (W.D. Tex 13 August 2014), the court laid out various reasons for refusing to recognise the verdict, focusing on the absence of an independent judiciary and the unlimited influence of the Moroccan royal family, especially King Mohammed VI, on the country’s judicial system.’

Perhaps most disturbingly, Morocco has been listed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, to the extent that, in 2010, ‘the European Union withdrew its aid packages for Morocco’s judicial reform process, after it became clear nothing was changing despite the king’s call for action.’

Eleventh, Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS has the potential to undermine the protection of democracy, and particularly development and fundamental human rights, not simply because Morocco has a monarchical system of government while all ECOWAS countries are republican, but essentially because all ECOWAS Member States have signed and ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. As explained by Falana, this means that ‘Community citizens have access to the Community Court of Justice to protect their human rights enshrined in the African Charter.’

In this regard, however, it is on record that ‘Morocco has refused to ratify the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, meaning that Moroccan citizens ‘cannot access the Community to challenge the abuse of their human rights.’

Twelfth, Morocco’s membership may, in the long run, become a booby trap to prevent Nigeria from being eventually considered for possible permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The power brokers at the United Nations have been seriously challenged by how to consider the Arab world for a possible permanent seat, but to no avail so far. One major dynamic of the inability is the fact that the Arab Diaspora does not qualify to be called ‘a region.’ Egypt has been the target of the United States until now.

South Africa is the target in Africa South of the Sahara while Nigeria and Egypt are expected to contest for the other seat to be approved for Africa. This is in spite of the declared policy of preparedness to support whichever candidates to be recommended by the AU Assembly of Heads of States and Government. In light of this, the intrusion of Morocco into ECOWAS cannot but strengthen the Arabo-American-led agenda to the detriment of Nigeria’s natural candidature.

Grosso modo, there cannot be any reason, good enough to override the protection of Nigeria’s national interest of self-dignity, national credibility, international respect, and being seen to say one thing and not behaving differently. It is nothing more than a self-deceit to have spear-headed the admission of the Saharawi Arab Republic and then coming again to strengthen the enemy within Nigeria’s sphere of influence. Something must be critically wrong with Nigeria’s foreign policy making process.