The Election of President Muhammadu Buhari as ECOWAS Chairman and Regional Issues and Questions

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    By Bola A. Akinterinwa

    President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) of Nigeria was, on Tuesday, 31st July, 2018 elected the new Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State at the 53rd Ordinary Session of the Authority, held in Lomé, Togo, after a closed-door meeting. The chairmanship, which lasts for the next one year, cannot but raise several questions on good governance.

    In other words, the election not only came on the heels of many national and regional problems, but also has the potential to largely shape the international image of PMB in his quest to garner popular support for his candidature for the 2019 presidential election in Nigeria The election can also prompt suspicions about the extent to which Nigeria, as a founding member of ECOWAS, will be ready to continue to sustain the organisation.
    Put differently, Nigeria is on record to have been disregarding rules of law, which has damaged PMB’s national and international image. PMB can therefore take advantage of his election as ECOWAS chairman to make a redress, by using regional environmental conditionings to address some of his domestic questions.

    In this regard, the understanding of the election has to be put in context and its analysis should also be located at the two levels of domestic and international. The word, ‘international,’ is used here to also imply both regional and global contexts. Consequently, we submit that the election is of importance to PMB’s survival, and more as a militician, than as a professional politician, in the political governance of Nigeria.

    More important and under normal circumstance, there is no way PMB would have been elected on the basis of his individual person, especially in light of his refusal to obey some judgments of the ECOWAS Court. The refusal can be interpreted to mean a refusal by the Government of Nigeria. And if we admit that the refusal by PMB means he had acted on behalf of Nigeria, and therefore it is Nigeria that had actually disobeyed the judgment of the ECOWAS court, that, again, does not speak well on the part of Nigeria, in particular, and other Member States of the regional organisation, that have not ensured respect for the supranational authority of the court.

    It should simply be recalled that the ECOWAS Court of Justice gave a judgment on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 in the case brought before it by Mr. Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser under the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration. The PMB administration was pursuing Mr. Dasuki for having diverted about $2.1 billion earmarked for the acquisition of weapons to fight the Boko Haram insurgency. Mr Dasuki was also accused of being in possession of arms illegally.

    True, the ECOWAS Court was not much bothered about the allegations but more concerned with the fact that his arrest and detention was unlawful and arbitrary. In fact, a three-man panel led by Justice Friday Nwoke and set up to look into the matter submitted that the Nigerian government erred in law by arresting Mr. Dasuki without any search warrant, and by so doing, the arrest contravened Section 28 of the Nigeria Police Act, which subjects the authorisation by a superior police officer of any search of a residence belonging to a suspect to possession of a search warrant.

    Apart from this, Section 143 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) requires that whenever there is a proposal by the police or other authorities for the search of a residence, an application must first be made to a court of law and must be granted after due consideration of the application in compliance with Section 144 of the (ACJA). The government ignored all these provisions. Perhaps more interestingly, the ECOWAS court sanctioned the Government of Nigeria by ruling that the sum of N15 million be paid to Sambo Dasuki for the unlawful, arbitrary and violation of local and international rights to liberty. Again, it is not clear whether this judgment has been complied with.

    Without jot of doubt, it can be assumed that the Government of Nigeria is not on record to have complied with the court judgment, whereas Article 15(4) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty stipulates that ‘judgment of the Court of Justice shall be binding on the Member States, the institution of the Community and on individuals and corporate bodies.’ In other words, every Community Citizen can have access to the Court. Besides, such access is in spite of whether or not there had been exhaustion of all local remedies and whether or not there are ongoing court cases before seeking redress at the ECOWAS Court. In light of this, there is the challenge of how not to continue disregarding the rule of law, on the one hand, and still expecting other countries to respect the same rule of law under the chairmanship of PMB, on the other.

    Domestic Dimensions

    It is important to begin with one clarification, and that is that, it was not PMB as an individual person, that was elected, but the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to which one seat is allocated and which PMB, on behalf of the people of Nigeria, has to occupy. In this regard, many national and international observers often consider the personality of PMB, especially in terms of his being a man of integrity in his quest to contain corruption and acts of serious misconduct in Nigeria. Thus, the personality of PMB is quite different from Nigeria’s own personality in the comity of nations. However, both personalities can be brought together to address domestic challenges.

    First, there is no certainty about any political stability surrounding the 2019 general elections in Nigeria for various reasons. Political governance is currently fraught with insecurity of life and property: boko haram insurgency, struggle for the sovereign state of Biafra, Niger Delta agitation for resource control, Fulani herdsmen and farmers’ war, deepening kidnapping and killings, armed robberies and killings, etc.

    The recent report of the International Crisis Group, given on Thursday, July 26, 2018, is quite apt at this juncture. It says ‘violence related to grazing rights has occurred for decades but threatens Buhari’s popularity in swing states as herders are mainly from the Fulani ethnic group, as is the president. Deaths have been politicised as his critics say he has not cracked down on the nomads, which he has denied. Now claiming about six times more civilians lives than the Boko Haram insurgency, the conflict poses a great threat to the country’s stability and unity, and it could affect the 2019 general elections.’ Thus, it can be seen that the domestic setting in Nigeria is not as friendly as the ECOWAS regional setting. What the ECOWAS Authority may want to have PMB do in the next one year of his chairmanship is largely going to be also defined by what obtains at the level of domestic politics in Nigeria.

    And perhaps more disturbingly, there is now a new insecurity phenomenon: Nigerian state terrorism. Government appears to be using the security forces, particularly the paramilitary forces, for purposes of political intimidation. In the public glare of the security forces during the recent elections in Ekiti State, vote-buying took place at polling units and the security force only remained on lookers, there was no reaction. In Benue State, the members of staff of the House of Assembly, including the Clerk, were chased out of the Assembly by the police.

    As claimed by the Clerk, Dr. Toryese Angenor, on Tuesday, July 31, he was told that ‘the Commissioner of Police had ordered them (policemen at the House) to tell us (Assembly men) to leave the complex. No reason was given and no definite time was given to us to come back. The implication of this is that we were not allowed to do our job and that is going to impede the work of the legislature and it is going to affect all the people of Benue.’
    What is particularly apparent about the sacking of the Benue State House of Assembly is that the incumbent Governor of the State, Samuel Ortom, defected from the ruling party, APC, to the main opposition party, PDP, and efforts were consequentially made to remove him from office through impeachment, but without going through the rules of procedure. As a result, people are not only talking about treason by APC members in the House, anger is increasingly also shown vis-à-vis PMB who has denied any involvement in the illegal sack. The act has been generally condemned and the image of PMB has been seriously tainted and he is no longer seen as a believer in democratic governance.

    Second, the foregoing environmental conditionings of domestic politics in Nigeria are not currently favourable to the re-election of PMB in 2019. There is the question of party defection virus, gradually spreading like wild fire and catalysed by unguarded statements of some of the APC stalwarts, like Adams Oshiomole.

    International Dimensions

    First, the International Criminal Court (ICC), thanks to the President of the Court, Justice Chile Eboe-Osuji, a Nigerian by ius sanguinis, invited PMB to give the keynote address at the opening session of the 20th anniversary celebration of the Court on Tuesday, 17th July, 2018 at the Hague.

    At the celebrations, PMB not only noted the unflinching support for the ICC, even though the African Union has been much suspicious of the ICC and even though Nigeria refused to arrest the Sudanese leader, President al-Bashir of Sudan when he came to Nigeria on the platform of an AU meeting, but also requested that the ICC should ‘include serious cases of corruption by state actors that severely compromise the development efforts of countries and throw citizens into greater poverty.’

    This position of Nigeria is consistent with the wishes of the court, as well as with those of the larger international community. Thus, PMB cannot but be internationally seen to be doing well as an anti-corruption crusader. However, at the national level of Nigeria, opinion is still divided on his integrity as an unbiased anti-corruption crusader. In fact, the observation is already being eroded and tainted by several domestic political contradictions back home. In this regard, ECOWAS agenda, which PMB will be required to deal with as ECOWAS chairman may be difficult for him to handle because of the very domestic questions that have implications for ECOWAS regional interests as explicated under domestic dimensions above.

    Second, there is the problem of free movement and right of establishment of Community Citizens in any Member State of the regional organisation. As defined in the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol number A/SP.2/7/85 on the Code of Conduct for the Implementation of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, the Right of Residence and Establishment, is ‘the right granted to a citizen who is a national of one Member State to reside in a Member State other than his State of origin which issues him with a Residence Card or Permit, enabling him to hold employment or otherwise.’

    This right of residence and establishment, which is to be implemented in phases, includes the right to ‘apply for jobs effectively offered, to travel for this purpose, freely in the territory of Member States, to reside in one of the Member States in order to take up employment in accordance with the legislative and administrative provisions governing employment of national workers, and to live in the territory of a Member State according to the conditions defined by the legislative and administrative provisions of the host Member State, after having employment there,’ (vide Article 1 of the Supplementary protocol A/SP.1/7/86 on the Second Phase
    (Right of Residence) of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, the Right of Residence and Establishment). It was for this reason that the Authority’s Decision A/Dec.2/5/90 established a ‘residence Card in ECOWAS Member States.

    The problem is not with the desire and implementation of the foregoing protocols but with the perceptions and suspicions of Community Citizens as new possible agents of insecurity in Nigeria. There have been several calls on the Government of Nigeria to review the application of ECOWAS Protocol on Right of Residence and Establishment in Nigeria, but Government has not yet responded to the calls. Will PMB respond now that he is chairman or avail himself of the opportunity to nail in the bud such a dream? Whatever is the case, the problem still remains unattended to.

    But true again, what makes the situation difficult for the Government is that the ECOWAS Protocol on the Right of Residence and Establishment provides for the protection of the fundamental rights of any erring Community Citizen wherever he may find himself. For instance, Article 3(1) of Chapter III of the Supplementary Protocol A/SP.1/7/85 on Rights and Obligations of Migrants in Host Member States and Conditions and Procedures for Expulsion, stipulates that, ‘in the event of clandestine or illegal immigration, both at national as well as Community level, measures shall be taken to guarantee that illegal immigrants enjoy and exercise their fundamental human rights.’ In the same vein, paragraph 4 of the same Article says ‘any expulsion order which may lead to the violation of fundamental human rights is prohibited.’

    Consequently, PMB cannot but have the challenge of how to reconcile the satisfaction of domestic needs, especially in terms of containment of insecurity, on the one hand, and meeting the supranational obligations created by the ECOWAS protocol for Nigeria, on the other. Again, to what extent will PMB be able to act in favour of the ECOWAS protocol to the detriment of national security?

    Third, chairmanship of the ECOWAS can be interesting, particularly from the perspective of electoral procedure. More often than not, there are not always many candidates for election. Besides, election is generally held on the basis of rotation, in which case future successors are already well known in advance. In some cases, foreign policy efforts are made to also lobby in advance for the position when Member States have national events to celebrate and they want to host international dignitaries and also chair their regional organisation.

    Again, but more often than not, chairmanship of the ECOWAS is also very costly, as the chairman’s country cannot avoid incurring many expenses attached to the office. It should be recalled that Nigeria’s leaders, IBB and Sani Abacha, in particular, had to assume chairmanship of the regional organisation consecutively for many years.
    Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, PMB cannot avoid being challenged on many other regional issues such as Nigeria’s refusal to sign the ECOWAS-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement. All other countries have done the agreement with the exception of Nigeria and The Gambia. Pressure may also be brought on PMB on a similar question, Nigeria’s reluctance in signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. Nigeria is the main country being targeted by African and European countries.

    African leaders are all agreed that economic development cannot thrive in an environment of insecurity. The problem of Al Qaida in the Maghreb (AQIM) cannot but remain an important issue for PMB as ECOWAS chairman. The Sahelian belt is currently fraught with terrorism. The AQIM is reported to be aiding and abetting boko haramism in Nigeria. PNB cannot but use his new position to seek more regional assistance in containing it.

    The pending saga of Morocco’s membership of the regional organisation cannot be easily sent to the garbage of history. Nigeria is one of the main countries still nursing some reservations about Morocco’s adhesion into the Revised ECOWAS Treaty. Other members, especially the Francophones, are eager to have Morocco quickly join the ECOWAS in the wrong belief that there are more benefits to accrue to them. PMB cannot avoid this challenge during the next twelve months.

    Finally, the issue of fairness and equity for Nigerians working as functionaries in the ECOWAS ought to be looked into now that PMB has the unique opportunity to investigate their well known problems. Many Nigerians accredited to the organisation who ought to be given appropriate diplomatic status commensurate with their experience and responsibilities should be looked into. Even at the more junior level, Nigeria is not on record to be having a fair share of the dividends of regional cooperation for Nigerians, even though Nigeria is contributing financially more than any other member to the assessed budget of the ECOWAS. It has therefore now become necessary to set aside the afrocentric character of Nigeria’s foreign policy in favour of promotion of Nigeria-centric foreign policy.