Choosing Between Nigeria and Morocco, By Owei Lakemfa

The conference decided that if by any subterfuge, Morocco is admitted into ECOWAS, there will be a mass mobilisation of Nigerians to withdraw their country from ECOWAS and kick the organisation and its secretariat out of Nigeria.

With the 42-year old Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meeting in December to decide on the divisive application of the North African Kingdom of Morocco to join its membership, an all-inclusive public forum was held in Abuja, following from this.

Organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, it drew diplomats, labour leaders, intellectuals, civil society activists, ECOWAS officials and the international community. CDD Director, Idayat Hassan set the tone by pointing out that ECOWAS was transforming from an “ECOWAS of nations to an ECOWAS of peoples”. And, implied in the statement was the fact that Morocco is a monarchical dictatorship.

ECOWAS Commission president, Marcel A. De Souza gave the opening address, delivered on his behalf by Dr. Babatunde Idowu. He said ECOWAS has had a lot of achievements, making it become attractive, while adding that the application of Morocco to join the organisation can be analysed in that context.

Political scientist, Dr. Adewale Aderemi argued that economy cannot be the basis of admitting Morocco, as even in Africa it ranks sixth, while Nigeria is the largest economy. The Moroccan economy he argued is very weak, as it is not only agrarian but also weighed down by mass unemployment and huge debts. He said Morocco’s main trading partners are France, the European Union and Spain, and so it is of little value to West African trade, whilst its benefit to ECOWAS is likely to be quite marginal. Dr. Aderemi explained that the phosphate Morocco is selling is like blood diamonds, as it is taken by force from Western Sahara, the African country it is colonising.

The intellectual argued that Morocco’s twin motives for wanting to join ECOWAS are as a proxy of its former colonial master, France, and to get back at Nigeria for its principled support of Western Sahara’s independence.

Mr. John Odah, secretary of the Organisation of Trade Unions in West Africa (OTUWA), pointed out that one of the basic principles of the Organisation of Africa Unity, now African Union (AU) was the decolonisation of the continent. Morocco, he argued, should not have been welcome to the AU when it is still defying it by colonising Western Sahara.

In my presentation, I argued that the dehumanisation of the Saharawi by monarchical Morocco, is no different from the dehumanisation of Africans by the Apartheid regime. I made reference to the June 19, 2017 sentencing of 24 Saharawi to between 20 years to life imprisonment by Morocco, for voicing their demands for freedom. I pointed out that Morocco is the only country in the world I know, which deports its claimed citizens, as it did to the Saharawi liberation campaigner, Hajia Aminatu Haidar. That despite its atrocities in Western Sahara and against its own people, Morocco has not been sanctioned either by the United Nations, which has a mission, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in Western Sahara, nor by any of the Western countries who are loud on human rights.

I condemned the EU for entering into agreements with Morocco to exploit Saharawi resources pointing out that the West did the same thing in supporting Apartheid and declaring freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela as “terrorists”.

I argued that Morocco is ineligible to join ECOWAS because its application violates the ECOWAS Treaty, which states the body is primarily to promote the integration of West Africa into “an economic union”.

For those who may argue that Morocco has some resources it can bring to ECOWAS, I said that since China and United States have more resources, ECOWAS may well invite them to join it rather than a dictatorship which will be an economic, cultural and political liability. I pointed out that Morocco already belongs to the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) but that even with its secretariat in Rabat, Morocco, the AMU has become moribund due to the aggression of Morocco, which is in perpetual conflict with most of its neigbours.

Historian, Professor Issac Olawale Albert pointed out that Morocco’s monarchism cannot fit into West Africa’s democracy, adding that its entry will be divisive as it would weigh in on the Francophone against the Anglophone. He also warned that with more Moroccans joining the Islamic State (ISIS) and that organisation shifting to Africa, Morocco’s admission may worsen the war against Boko Haram terrorists, implying that Moroccan terrorists may take advantage of the Free Movement Protocol in ECOWAS to come undetected to Nigeria and join other terrorists here.

Retired Ambassador Dahiru Suleiman informed the forum that after storming out of the OAU, Morocco, in 1987, applied to join the EU but had its application literarily thrown to its face. Suleiman, who was Nigerian Ambassador to Sudan, said Morocco is involved in “Cheque Book Diplomacy” and that those promoting its application to join ECOWAS were doing so for private ends. He added: “I have been to Morocco several times and I can say the peace there is the peace of the graveyard”.

Hajia Hauwa Mustapha of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) wondered if ECOWAS citizens should not challenge the move to admit Morocco in court, and whether Western Sahara should also not be admitted if ECOWAS admits Morocco.

Professor Nuhu Yaqub, former vice chancellor of the Universities of Abuja and Sokoto State, argued that Morocco is a Trojan Horse and that the issue of admitting it should be subject to referendum.

While retired Ambassador Zango Abdu, said if ECOWAS were to follow clearly laid down procedures, Morocco’s application is “Dead on Arrival”, Dr. Remi Aiyede of the University of Ibadan argued that the application is part of Morocco’s efforts to position itself as a regional player. Former Nigerian Ambassador to Libya, M.K. Ibrahim informed that when the Moroccan monarch visited Nigeria in December 2007, with a 300-member delegation, 50 of them were Islamic clerics of a particular sect, adding that this was dangerous for Nigeria, a multi-religious country with multi-Islamic Sects.

The president of the Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA), Professor Shuaib A. Ibrahim said that the Regional Arab Maghreb Union, which Morocco founded, admits only Arabs, so why should it “become an interloper” wanting to join ECOWAS?

ECOWAS commissioner, Shaibu Lawali said the secretariat was not consulted on the issue of Morocco; that it was a political decision by the heads of state, which the Commission will have to implement if passed.

With the conference solidly opposed to Morocco, Dr. Habibu Yaya Bappah of ECOWAS said Morocco does not intend to join ECOWAS “immediately, but it will do so slowly” and asked if the Moroccan application will be favourably considered if it grants Western Sahara independence. The reaction was that Morocco will not be allowed to join ECOWAS under any condition.

The conference decided that if by any subterfuge, Morocco is admitted into ECOWAS, there will be a mass mobilisation of Nigerians to withdraw their country from ECOWAS and kick the organisation and its secretariat out of Nigeria.

Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.