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Members of the House of Representatives and other prominent Nigerians on Thursday warned Nigeria against supporting the application by Morocco to join the Economic Community of West African States.
They also said Nigeria must not consider the option of exiting ECOWAS, having sacrificed so much for regional integration in the West African sub-region.
The stakeholders spoke at a public hearing in Abuja on the ‘Review of Nigeria’s Membership of ECOWAS in View of the Clamour to Admit Morocco into the Community.’
They include the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs; Manufacturers Association of Nigeria; Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN); a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Dipo Fashina; a former Director-General of the NIIA, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa; and the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria.
The hearing was organised by the House Joint Committees on Foreign Relations and Cooperation/Integration in Africa chaired by a member from Abia State, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje.
All the stakeholders held the view that Morocco joining ECOWAS would have regrettable economic and political consequences for the sub-region, particularly for Nigeria.
They also noted that Morocco and West Africa had no geographical closeness and would be a direct breach of the ECOWAS Treaty to admit a non-regional country into the bloc.
Both Akinterinwa and Falana noted that Nigeria was the target of Morocco’s plan, as the latter would use its tariff-free ties with the European Union to flood the country with foreign goods.
They also argued that Morocco would be used as a “destructive” and “destabilising agent” in West Africa.
Akinterinwa stated that admitting Morocco would be a contradiction for Nigeria, which over the years opposed the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco.
He said, “There is no reason why Morocco should be in ECOWAS and I can give 12 reasons why this idea must not be supported.
“The Arab Maghreb Union has been completely bastardised by Morocco and the country is merely searching for future survival.
“The argument that Nigeria or West Africa will enjoy increasing trade benefits is flawed because the volume of trade as it stands today is only $1bn.
“That is not in any way comparable to the $345bn total GDP of West African countries.
“The reason Morocco is coming is that it is going to be used to disintegrate Nigeria.”
Falana, who shared the same opinion as Akinterinwa, told the session that the EU had for years sought to strike an Economic Partnership Agreement with ECOWAS, a move that Nigeria consistently blocked.
He noted that by admitting Morocco into ECOWAS, the EU would achieve the EPA objectives through the back door.
Falana added, “They want to kill our industries and there will be job losses. The whole idea is to flood West Africa with European goods. When you talk about the West African economy, 70 per cent of it is Nigeria. So, Morocco will now subvert our economic prosperity.”
MAN, which was represented by its Vice-President, North, Mr. Ibrahim Usman, stated that West Africa had nothing to benefit from Morocco because it was not an industrialised nation.
“As far as MAN is concerned, Morocco is not industrialised and can’t be useful to Nigeria other than to ship European goods into West Africa.
“Nigeria must not be part of a plot to accept the EPA through the back door,” Usman said.
On his part, Fashina, who spoke on behalf of the Nigerian National Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara, urged the Federal Government to protect Nigeria’s reputation as against embracing any economic gains it hoped to get from Morocco.
He cited Dangote Cement as one of the companies the government felt would benefit from the ties with Morocco, especially through easy access to phosphate and sulphur for cement production.
He said, “How can we sell our hard-earned reputation because of business?”
The NIIA, which was represented by Mr. Fred Agu, said Nigeria must stop Morocco and should also not consider the option of leaving ECOWAS.
He said, “Nigeria leaving ECOWAS is like infecting the whole of Africa with HIV; the worse will happen. There is no window in the ECOWAS Treaty for the admission of Morocco. Nigeria must use its position to stop Morocco. We have our veto power. We must not even think of leaving ECOWAS.”
However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyema, favoured Morocco joining ECOWAS, saying there were economic benefits for the sub-region and Nigeria.
He argued that although the ECOWAS Treaty was clear on which country could join the bloc, the Heads of State of the member-nations could choose to “modify” it to allow Morocco access into the group.
On the expected economic gains, Onyema said, “The reality is that trade with Morocco has been increasing, both with ECOWAS and Nigeria.
“So, we are looking at more trade, which will be a win-win for us.
“Is Morocco a Trojan Horse for the EU? There are laws and rules in international trade that prevent dumping of goods or easy access to other markets.
“It is not something that will happen easily that the EU will dump goods here.”
When he was asked if it was not contradictory for Nigeria, which had opposed Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara to support its ECOWAS bid, the minister replied that engagements could resolve lots of differences.
The minister added that on legal, economic and political fronts, Nigeria had no fears to entertain.
However, after Onyema excused himself and left the venue, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Olakunle Gbambose, claimed that Nigeria had yet to take a stance on Morocco’s application.
“At this stage, no final decision has been taken by government. The apprehension that Morocco is a conduit for the EU is one of the issues to be thrashed out before a final position is taken.”