The objective of the Economic Community of West African States is to promote co-operation and development in all spheres of economic activity within the region. It also aims to alleviate sub-regional and cross border conflicts. ECOWAS to date has had diminutive successes and it has become a self serving community with Nigeria at the helm. The other fourteen member countries clearly have no political or economic clout otherwise ECOWAS would not have been silent on Nigeria’s absentee President’s refusal to hand over power to Jonathan Goodluck and the ethnical tensions threatening to paralyse the country. ECOWAS (on the issue of Nigeria) is failing to prevent rifts and political entanglements from developing.
ECOWAS intervention in Guinea, Niger and Ivory Coast has raised expectations that are failing to be met. Niger was promptly suspended from the community after its third coup and due to the efforts of ECOWAS the Guinea junta was forced to hand power back to a transitional government. Of course ECOWAS has made headway in trying to resolve regional issues, giving it the appearance of credibility and effectiveness; but the issue is that it is not enough.
Mettemich once remarked ‘when France sneezes the rest of Europe catches a cold’ by the same token when Nigeria sneezes the rest of ECOWAS catches a cold. ECOWAS is heavily dependent on Nigeria to set its political and economical agenda. This is glaring evident when Nigeria decided to ban member countries goods entering its markets; although Nigeria has acceded to the ECOWAS trade liberalization scheme (which stipulates that member countries are free to export and import goods into each others country without any form of restriction). Nigeria’s flagrant disregard is left unchallenged by the other member countries.
The balance of power clearly rests in Abuja. ECOWAS headquarters are in Nigeria and it makes up a substantial number of its peacekeeping troops. Nigeria makes up 51% of the regions total population and its economy is twice the size of all member countries combined. Of the fifteen members, twelve are still classified as least developing countries; all of whom still rely on the west financially.
Arguably ECOWAS is more like a country club than a supranational institution. It has no real bite, it cannot put in place economic sanctions and certainly cannot act without Nigerian approval.