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Assessing ECOWAS’s Relevance To Nigeria In An Era Of Dwindling National Economy

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OIP 51

OIP 51

Nigeria undoubtedly occupies a central place in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Nigeria’s capital houses both the headquarters and the parliament of ECOWAS. This is understandable because over 50% of the ECOWAS population live in Nigeria. Nigeria’s GDP is larger than that of the combined GDP of all the other ECOWAS states put together.

In fact, Nigeria accounts for the lion share of the annual ECOWAS budget. In 16 years, Nigeria has contributed more than $1.177billion to ECOWAS as its community levy, and this is the highest contribution by any member state since inception.

Hon. Awajim Abiante, a Nigerian lawmaker at the ECOWAS Parliament noted that “Nigeria has immensely contributed to the ECOWAS- power supply to member states, medical interventions and peacekeeping efforts in member states including the Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Liberia among others.

“Despite Nigeria’s larger-than-life financial contributions to ECOWAS, the country and its citizens have not benefited immensely.

“There is a need to appraise the benefits and contributions of ECOWAS towards the Socio-economic development of Nigeria and Nigerians in the last ten years,” the lawmaker said at a plenary session at the Nigerian House of Representatives.

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The pre-eminence of the Nigerian economy vis-à-vis the other ECOWAS states, and its correspondingly large financial responsibilities (among others), inevitably raises the question of the value of ECOWAS for Nigeria. Many regional integration schemes have been established in Africa in the bid to attain a market no more than half the size of Nigeria. Moreover, Nigeria’s domestic industrial production is still insufficient to accommodate the vast demands of its internal market, how much more to provide for significant exports to neighbouring ECOWAS states.

This has led to the conclusion in some quarters that Nigeria does not need ECOWAS, at least in the short-term. The feeling is prevalent that what Nigeria basically derives from ECOWAS are the headaches.

This is even made worse with the recent developments at the ECOWAS wherein other member states seem to have reached a consensus to hijack all employment opportunities at the commission to the near-exclusion of Nigerians.

As a fall out of this, Nigerian representatives at the parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have threatened to withdraw Nigeria’s membership of the regional economic bloc.

The lawmakers cite the huge financial commitments which Nigeria makes to the body while relegating funding its internal security challenges. They say that there is no commensurate return on investment for Nigeria in ECOWAS for all the country has done and is doing for the region.

This is coming following the recent lopsided recruitment exercise at the ECOWAS parliament which is manifestly skewed to serve the personal interest of member states to the exclusion of Nigeria.

Last month, at the 2022 First Ordinary Session of the Parliament, the lawmakers had passed a resolution to suspend the recruitment exercise. This came after Nigerian representatives at the parliament had alleged discrimination and lopsidedness in the recruitment of workers at the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja.

The motion to suspend the recruitment and promotion in the ECOWAS Parliament was moved by Hon. Awajim Abiante. The motion was seconded by Sen. Biodun Olujimi, a Nigerian Lawmaker at the Parliament, supported by Hon. Yousoufa Bida and concurrently agreed by the house.

Abiante, who represents Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro federal constituency in the House of Representatives said “The Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament is duty bound to respect the resolutions of Parliament. If he does not respect the resolution of Parliament, I wonder which Parliament he is heading. So, it is left for him to answer where he stands. But the Speaker is duty bound to obey the resolution of Parliament.”

The Deputy Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, who is also the first Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Ahmed Wase told VANGUARD that it has become imperative that Nigeria review its relevance and membership of the bloc.

“If you are in a system, and you are not getting the right results, where you are investing your money, it pays best to walk out of the union. In a situation where we are having an infrastructural deficit and witnessing security challenges, why should we continue to invest our money where it will not benefit our country? Yes, we will pull out if we don’t get the desired result from this,” he said.

He said “we are asking for justice not just for Nigerians alone, but for the entire ECOWAS community. That is what MPs are asking for. There are few countries that want to run ECOWAS like a cabal but we will not tolerate that.”

The Nigerian Permanent Representative to ECOWAS, Musa Nuhu, had also written to the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Tunis, to over the nepotistic employment scandal rocking ECOWAS.

The letter from Nuhu was dated July 20, 2022, and titled, “Formal complaint about unfair treatment and confirmation of staff at the ECOWAS parliament.”

He wrote in the letter that “I have the honour to refer to our verbal discussion on the above subject matter and formally inform you that the attention of the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the ECOWAS Commission has been drawn to a number of complaints by Nigerian staff working at the ECOWAS Parliament. The grievances border around stagnation and overlooking of staff already working in the parliament in favour of outsiders in the ongoing recruitment for divisional heads and professional staff.

“This action directly contravenes the recommendations of the 30th meeting of the ECOWAS Administrative and Finance Committee as well as the position of the Council of Ministers, which directed that internal candidates should be prioritised in filling existing vacancies in ECOWAS institutions, as recommended in the Staff Skills Audit Report.

“The Honourable Speaker may kindly wish to note that the mission has examined the complaints of the staff of the parliament based on existing staff regulations as well as the decisions and guidelines given by the AFC and Council of Ministers for ECOWAS institutions to carry out the recruitment and found that their grievances are genuine.

“Therefore, as you rightly observed during our discussions, recruiting individuals outside the system to place them above the existing staff would only lead to discontent, demoralisation and continued stagnation of the staff. This will inevitably affect the overall performance of the Parliament.”

At the centre of all of this controversy is the implementation of the provision of the staff regulation of ECOWAS. It is understood that each institution in ECOWAS gets the permission (since there is a freeze on recruitment) to employ from the AFC/ Council of Ministers. Thus, Parliament needs to show that the permission was given.

According to the ECOWAS Staff Regulations, while the Parliament in conjunction with human resources upon approval of the Council of Ministers can recruit G- staff and P1-P4, for P-5 and above it has to be through Management Succession Committee which is made up of all Heads of Institutions chaired by the President of Commission.

Again, Parliament’s bureaucracy is subject to the Bureau of Parliament. The question then is whether these positions were first considered and approved by the Bureau of Parliament before the recruitment exercise or even before taking such a request to recruit to the AFC/Council of Ministers.

The another issue is that the tradition of ensuring that internal candidates are first considered for positions (internal advertisement of positions with the institutions of ECOWAS) before looking externally for candidates where internal candidates have nor measured up to requirements, have been jettisoned because it allows the powers that hold sway to bring in their relatives to occupy those positions.

“Let me tell you, those recruitment exercises are never fair because before they are even conducted, you will start hearing about preferred candidates already and about instructions to the so called consultant in charge of bringing out the long-list from the entire list of applicants, to ensure that some people are not on that list and also that those preferred candidates make it to the top of those lists,” a source told VANGUARD.

Some lawmakers have openly expressed their anger over the clannish recruitment processes going in ECOWAS saying that they are in receipt of certain misgivings, and protestations by people who are so affected.

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“I may not know if such protestations existed in the Fourth Assembly, as at today, these protestations are evident before us and we are duty bound to attend to them like we have indicated and in the cause of our engagement we are not restricting ourselves to what has happened today. If you listened to our intent on the floor, we said that for the past ten years, whatever it is that had happened in the past ten years, the one that has to be remedied, the one that requires sanctions, I am sure that at the end of the day, without preempting the resolve of the committee, we will get to that point,” Wase said in an interview with VANGUARD.

“We have staffers who are of Nigerian origin that may have done better or progressed rapidly in their career if they were within the bureaucracy of the Nigeria Nigerian civil service. Their colleagues and contemporary in the Nigerian civil service are now directors and even permanent Secretaries and those of them in ECOWAS institutions have stagnated for years. They are not promoted because they are engaged as casual staff. We cannot subject these staff to remain at the same level for more than 10 years. ECOWAS employed them as casual staff, and kept them as casual staff for that long.

“It offends the International Labour Organization (ILO), Convention on Forced Labour. I was an activist and a unionist, before joining politics. We cannot keep an employee for more than six months on a casual basis, it is against international law. But here we have kept them for a number of years, up to nine years, it is inhuman.

“What the Parliament is talking about is transparency, and doing the right thing in the right manner. I heard them saying that the audit report was inconclusive, it then meant that there were issues. Whether inconclusive or not, in Parliament, there is what we call an interim report. So, there was an interim report, and that is what some members were relying upon, it does not mean that because they were unable to conclude, then there was nothing. There was something on the table, and I will refer to that inconclusive report that the Secretary General mentioned as an interim report before the Parliament, which of course should be used, and considered because it raised issues regarding the imbalance in the composition of the staff.”

According to Wase, the Nigerian constitution in Section 14 (4) provides that, the composition of government shall be in a manner that it reflects the federal character. “Now, we have people who possibly have one opportunity and they want to bring in their relatives, and their siblings against the larger interest of our community. Common judgment teaches us that when you have nations coming together, we should do the distribution in such a way that justice and fairness takes the centre stage”

He said that if Nigeria had not asked for 60 percent benefit in ECOWAS before now, it must have been a mistake “because our dividend should be equivalent to our contribution and investment. And if that is not done and the little that we have in the system is being humiliated, we will not take it.

“From the National Assembly of Nigeria, we are also going to probe our Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Finance Minister who is giving the money and the Commissioner who is representing us at the Commission. What are they doing there, are they part of this nonsense going on, possibly because they have one interest to protect or the other? We will not allow that to happen. We will expose everybody from the Nigerian Parliament and sanctions will follow. We will sanction anybody found wanting in the process,” he added.

When contacted, the Secretary General of the Parliament John Azumah from Ghana said he was unaware of any audit report that talked about employment and promotion. “I don’t know where they got that information from that they were talking, but you know that on the floor of the Parliament, you cannot stop them.”

“For me, I don’t have any information about this, but let me tell you this, the First Deputy Speaker would have done himself good, if he had called me to explain what is happening in ECOWAS to him. I don’t know where they got that information from. There is no audit report like that. It is true that ECOWAS did a skill audit some time ago, but it was inconclusive. The skill audit that was done for the whole ECOWAS institutions was inconclusive.

“So, if you went and were extracting information and you got something from staff, you are looking for your interest, sometimes they will give you half information, because of their interest. They would not give you the full information, then you just pick it as an MP and you start talking.

“The staff will tell you that this is happening at the Commission, this is happening at the court and this is happening at the Parliament, it is not true, just because of their interest. For me, if you have that, you have to rely on some credible officers to validate the veracity or otherwise of the information before you come to the floor. When they were talking, I was just laughing in my heart, I am telling you the truth because they were just ridiculing themselves,” he added.

However, a Nigeria civil rights campaigner, Solomin Ossai said that such “allegations should not be wished away by mere gas lighting.”

He said “in the last sixteen years, Nigeria has paid more than $1,177 billion to ECOWAS as Community Levy contribution. That is huge. If those who contribute such a substantial amount feel excluded, I think it should be investigated.”

“When someone’s existence and legitimate concerns are dismissed and disrespected, they feel devalued,” he added.

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