Three weeks ago I started working on this piece. I was still working on the research and dealing with some other distractions when the historic referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union christened ‘BREXIT’ took place last week. We all know the outcome of that referendum.
By a slim majority, 52-48 percent, the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU. Some would say the call for referendum by David Cameron was unnecessary. He lost on the referendum and his job with it. However, Cameron showed leadership in fulfilling a promise he made during campaigns last year.
The ripples of BREXIT are still being felt around the world – global stocks tumbled. The value of pounds sterling plummeted to a 31-year low. IMF warns of potential recession in the United Kingdom. In truth, this is uncharted territory and not even the EU members know what the exact result of this UK decision would mean for the union and indeed the world.
Scotland is pondering its own referendum on independence from the United Kingdom as it voted overwhelmingly to REMAIN in Europe. The Scots argue that they voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union and therefore should have the right to remain. There are fears that other countries may want to go the way of the United Kingdom.
I have a feeling only a few people outside of Britain know that the UK was not a founding member of what later became the European Union. It was founded by six countries in 1958 and Britain joined 15 years later as the ninth member.
On May 28, 1975, what would be known as the Treaty of Lagos was signed by 15 heads of states and governments. That officially started what we have come to know today as ECOWAS, an economic grouping of states in the West African region.
We need not wonder whether the leaders who gathered in Lagos to sign the treaty on that fateful May 28, 1975, were motivated by patriotic zeal. They were. Many of the countries, apart from Liberia, were young democracies, so also the leaders. Gen. Yakubu Gowon was 40 at the time.
Nigeria was only 15 years as an independent nation and within those years had fought all kinds of battles, including a civil war. To that extent, the sub-regional group was necessary at the time for all kinds of reasons, chief of which is that we needed to chart a path for our fledgling economy.
Nigeria’s economy is primarily based on export of crude oil. We depend heavily on imports. As at today we produce few goods to sell outside Nigeria given that whatever we had as an industrial base hardly exists. I doubt that Nigeria can sell a lot of her services in the region as many of the countries are poor. Are there any other tangible economic benefits accruing from our membership of ECOWAS?
In my research for the article on the Grazing Bill I spoke to many people who confirmed my suspicions that most of the killer herdsmen are not Nigerians; some of them come from far places like Sudan and Mali. They come into the country through other ECOWAS member countries.
The ECOWAS treaty created a common market and border. By implication, any citizen of a member-state should be able to enter any of the states freely, sell goods and services without paying duties.
I have crossed the borders on a few occasions and I can tell you that it is always easier for me to cross borders in Europe, Americas and even Asia than crossing our borders.
Yet criminals who masquerade as herdsmen have easier access and take advantage of that to come into our country to do us harm. Even the Boko Haram insurgency has been gravely influenced by the easy entry and exit through our borders.
Security sources I have spoken to over the years have lamented the harm that is being done to our nation because of our porous borders. Arms and ammunitions, banned goods, and people who do not have our interest at heart enter our country freely on a daily basis.
We cannot effectively fight the Boko Haram insurgency, tackle the menace of herdsmen, check the smuggling of essential goods in and out of our country the way things are today. Our neighbours are not doing enough to check their borders, thereby jeopardising our security.
How has our membership of ECOWAS benefited us in international diplomatic circles? For years we have asked to be admitted as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. I have not heard that our Francophone brothers in ECOWAS have lobbied France on our behalf. Most times they sabotage our interests in global forums.
Nigeria contributes more than any member of ECOWAS to the regional body. Every import into Nigeria is charged a 0.5 percent tax for ECOWAS. To be fair, every other member does it but none has up to 50 cercent of Nigeria’s imports.
While Nigerians are complaining of hunger, lack of electricity, the country paid billions of naira in outstanding debt to ECOWAS at the last summit in Ghana.
As host country of the ECOWAS secretariat, Nigeria cannot be the president of the group. You would think that we wield a lot of influence in the organisation as we contribute the most. It’s not true, according to ECOWAS insiders who spoke to us for this article.
Courtesy: Sahel Standard
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