Review of ECOWAS Protocol: Will It Solve Nigeria’s Insecurity Issues?

As the search for a permanent solution to Nigeria’s security crises continues, the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Chief Audu Ogbe, has advised the Federal Government to stop herders and other illegal immigrants from West African countries from entering Nigeria as advocated by Governor Abdullahi Ganduje.

Chief Audu Ogbe advised that Nigeria should seek an amendment to Article 3 of the ECOWAS protocol, “especially as regards free movement of cattle and other livestock without a special permit.

According to him, “If it is done, we will have over five million hectares of land in old grazing reserves left, enough to accommodate over 40 million cows if well grassed and watered.

It is important to note that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is an organisation constituted by West African Heads of State and Governments for the purpose of economic integration. In addition to this, ECOWAS aims to promote cooperation and development in economic, social and cultural activities with particular objectives of improving the standard of living of citizens; increase and maintain economic stability; improve relations among member countries and to generally contribute to the progress and development of Africa.

The organisation consists of fifteen members including Burkina-Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Togo, Mali, Benin, Sénégal, Côte D’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, and Liberia (non-CFA countries). Mauritania was also a part but withdrew in 2000.

ECOWAS represents the true expression of Pan-Africanism. Some Francophone countries were initially not favourably disposed towards the idea of forming ECOWAS. It took a lot of effort on the part of Nigeria and Togo to change their disposition.

Read Also: ECOWAS to Deliberate on Food Crisis in the Region

Prior to independence, and even a decade or so after, people moved from one location to another as there was little or no regards for the artificial borders created by the colonial powers. In fact, tribes find themselves divided into two sovereign nations by these artificial borders.

Cross-border movement among these artificially divided tribes was not seen as “international“, but part of their own internal movements as members of the same families.

However, as states began to mature, the cross-border movement became increasingly difficult and was hampered by state laws, including certain requirements.

This was why the enactment of the ECOWAS Protocol on free movement became vital. The Protocol to liberalise trans-border mobility, however, was borne out of the need to promote regional trade and engender regional integration. It is believed that this economic integration will increase wealth and better the lot of the community citizens.

Even more than the promotion of trade, the mobility of labour and the other factors of production was central to ECOWAS and exemplified what the community was about. The free movement of persons within the region was both a repudiation of colonial frontiers as they impeded the economic development of the new States and an affirmation of the spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance.

Even though the aim of the free movement protocol is to enhance economic activities, criminals have availed themselves of this initiative to perpetuate their nefarious activities. These have a lot of implication for the security of the sub-region. There is no security of lives and properties. Guns are readily available as a result of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Refugees generate a different set of problems for their host country. In fact, many analysts have pointed out that the likely future conflict in the sub-region would be conflict over amenities and resources between refugees and host communities.

The challenges of the Protocol have not helped the security landscape of the sub-region. Even though ECOWAS prides itself as the first region in Africa with the free movement initiative, the Protocol is poorly implemented constituting more security concern than boosting regional trade and economic development.

Also, because ECOWAS does not have an adequate instituted mechanism for checking the entry of illegal immigrants, people who carry out nefarious activities have exploited the opportunity to their advantage in terms of trafficking in human and drugs, illegal arms, among others.

Thus, the privileges of the Protocol have been abused. The Protocol rather than serve the purpose of integration is rather contributing to the insecurity prevalent in the sub-region.

Nigeria, which is one of the strong pillars of ECOWAS is taking a huge chunk of the problem. The problem in Nigeria presently is caused majorly by the international trans-human Fulani herdsmen who move from the Sahel to the coast of West African countries in search of greener pastures for their cattle. Oftentimes when they move, it is alleged that they destroy farmers’ produce which always leads to crises between Fulani herdsmen and their host communities.

The situation among other issues in the country made the Southern Governors’ Forum convene a meeting now tagged, the Asaba Accord. In the meeting, it was observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives, including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security.

Consequently, the meeting also resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria. They noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot).

It is against this background that many Nigerians considered the ACF chairman suggestion with respect to the continued farmers/herders conflict which has almost turned into an inter-regional crisis in the country.

Chief Ogbe had initially urged Northern States Governors to look at the viability of their spaces to develop ranches for lease to Nigerian herders so that the matter of open grazing can be brought to an end. In his words, “thereafter, any herders found roaming can be penalised and our ECOWAS neighbours can find ways to deal with their own issues the way they deem fit.”

Similarly, the ACF chairman advised Nigeria to seek support from Africa Development Bank, the World Bank, European Union, Kuwait Fund or any source willing to support the initiative.

The elder statesman disclosed that governors should not think that merely banning open grazing would end the crisis, as the bulk of the violent herders were from neighbouring countries who have no regard for boundaries.

To this end, there is hardly any region of the world that is spared of the phenomenon of trans-border crimes. However, the peculiarity of the challenges in West Africa such as poverty and inequality, hunger, unemployment, and corruption present a more severe dimension of transnational criminal activities.

Most of the conflict that at times appear internal also have a trans-border undertone. The vast ungoverned spaces of the sub-region, especially those around the porous borders present a fertile ground for criminal activities of some international trans-human Fulani herdsmen to thrive.

Therefore, it is believed that an amendment to Article 3 of the ECOWAS protocol, if followed through, will help in solving the problems of farmers/herders clashes in Nigeria, and by extension the country’s security challenges.

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