By Bassey Udo
After enduring several decades of unfair and inequitable treatment by successive leaderships from member countries with far lesser contributions to the survival of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Nigeria has finally protested its ill-treatmentp, threatening to review its membership of the regional body.
Apart from being the biggest among the 15 member organisation, in terms of size and population, Nigeria accounts for more than 60 percent of the overall annual funding budget for the organisation’s programmes and activities.
In addition to the huge financial obligation the country has been exercising consistently since the inception of the organization in 1975, Nigeria also plays host to most of the key institutions of ECOWAS, namely the ECOWAS Commission, the ECOWAS Parliament and the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.
Besides, Nigeria is known to over the years deploy its human and material resources to spearhead the cause of the regional peace and conflict resolution campaigns, apart from promoting some projects to ensure regional economic integration in member-countries of ECOWAS.
Despite, all these sacrifices and contributions, Nigeria, the generally acknowledged powerbase of the organization, has often been out-manipulated and relegated to the background in the distribution of benefits, as other lesser contributors to the organization use their positions to unfairly trample on the country’s interests and rights.
Apart the unfair share of opportunities, no other area of benefits highlights the manifest inequity and injustice against Nigeria as in the distribution of offices and positions, either through employment or appointment.
The familiar pattern of inequity, injustice and nepotism against Nigeria that characterised previous exercises over the years appeared to have marred the current recruitment exercise approved during the 2022 First Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja recently.
In a strongly-worded petition by the Nigerian representatives at the ECOWAS Parliament against the recruitment process, allegations of nepotism and injustice were again levelled against some principal officers of the regional bloc for defying the directives and recruiting their relatives, associates and cronies.
The largely lopsided recruitment exercise has been criticized as manifestly skewed to serve the personal interest of other member-states against Nigeria.
In the petition to the Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, the leader of the Nigerian delegation to ECOWAS, who is also the First Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Ahmed Idris Wase, said Nigeria cannot continue to fold its hands while its interest and rights are trampled upon by other members of the organization.
“It has become an imperative for Nigeria to review its relevance and membership of the bloc. If one is in a system that professes equality, and one is not getting fair benefits commensurate with one’s contributions and sacrifices, the best option will be to review one’s relationship with such a union. If that will mean Nigeria pulling out of the organisation, we will have to do so, if we don’t get the desired response from this,” Wase said.
What Nigeria is asking for, he said, was justice not just for Nigerians alone, but for the entire ECOWAS community.
That is what MPs are asking for. There are few countries that want to run ECOWAS like a cabal but we will not tolerate that.
In another petition to the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohamed Tunis, the Nigerian Permanent Representative to ECOWAS, Musa Nuhu, expressed disgust over allegations of nepotism that has rocked the recruitment exercise.
In his petition dated July 20, 2022, and titled, “Formal Complaint About Unfair Treatment and Confirmation of Staff at the ECOWAS Parliament,” Nuhu recounted several complaints by Nigerian representatives working at the ECOWAS Parliament and called for immediate action to address their concerns.
The petition read in part: “I have the honour to refer to our verbal discussion on the above subject matter and formally inform you that the attention of the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the ECOWAS Commission has been drawn to a number of complaints by Nigerian staff working at the ECOWAS Parliament.
“The grievances border around stagnation and overlooking of staff already working in the parliament in favour of outsiders in the ongoing recruitment for divisional heads and professional staff.
“This action directly contravenes the recommendations of the 30th meeting of the ECOWAS Administrative and Finance Committee (AFC) as well as the position of the Council of Ministers, which directed that internal candidates should be prioritised in filling existing vacancies in ECOWAS institutions, as recommended in the Staff Skills Audit Report.
“The Honourable Speaker may kindly wish to note that the mission has examined the complaints of the staff of the parliament based on existing staff regulations as well as the decisions and guidelines given by the AFC and Council of Ministers for ECOWAS institutions to carry out the recruitment and found that their grievances are genuine.
“Therefore, as you rightly observed during our discussions, recruiting individuals outside the system to place them above the existing staff would only lead to discontent, demoralisation and continued stagnation of the staff. This will inevitably affect the overall performance of the Parliament,” Nuhu said.
Central to the entire controversy, Nuhu pointed out, was the inevitable implementation of the provision of the staff regulation of ECOWAS, which requires each institution in ECOWAS to get the formal permission from the AFC/Council of Ministers before embarking on any recruitment, in view of the freeze on recruitment.
Also, there were concerns about whether the positions being filled under the current recruitment process were first considered and approved by the Bureau of Parliament before the recruitment exercise, or whether such a request to recruit was even taken before the appropriate authorities.
Nuhu said the problem was about adherence to due process, by ensuring that internal candidates who were qualified were first considered for the positions after internal advertisement of positions with the institutions of ECOWAS before looking externally for other candidates where internal candidates have not met the requirements.
He said by jettisoning due process and opting to rely on consultants to handle the recruitment exercises created room for the manipulation of the process in favour of some vested interests.
For Wase, Nigeria did not deserve the treatment it was receiving, as the country accounts for over 60 percent of ECOWAS funding.
“We have staffers who are of Nigerian origin that may have done better or progressed rapidly in their career if they were within the bureaucracy of the Nigerian civil service. Their colleagues and contemporary in the Nigerian civil service are now directors and even permanent Secretaries and those of them in ECOWAS institutions have stagnated for years. They are not promoted because they are engaged as casual staff. We cannot subject these staff to remain at the same level for more than 10 years. ECOWAS employed them as casual staff, and kept them as casual staff for that long.
“It offends the International Labour Organization (ILO), Convention on Forced Labour. We cannot keep an employee for more than six months on a casual basis. It is against international law. But here we have kept them for a number of years, up to nine years. It is inhuman.
“What the Parliament is talking about is transparency, and doing the right thing in the right manner.
Whether the audit report was inconclusive or not, there should be an interim report.
That Nigeria did not ask for 60 percent benefit in ECOWAS commensurate to its financial burden to the organisation, Wase argued, must have been a mistake, considering that its dividend should be equivalent to its contributions, sacrifice and investment.
“If that is not done and the little that we have in the system is being humiliated, we will not take it.
In his response to enquiries on the controversy, the Secretary General of the Parliament, John Azumah from Ghana, denied knowledge of any audit report on employment and promotion.
Although Azumah acknowledged the existence of a report on the audit conducted long ago on the skills gap in ECOWAS institutions, he said the exercise was declared inconclusive. He did not give details on why the exercise was declared inconclusive.