ECOWAS FREE MOVEMENT PROTOCOL; IMPLICATIONS FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION WITHIN THE WEST AFRICAN SUB-REGION
Background to the Study
The quest for economic development and regional integration among African countries led to the establishment of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West Africa), SADC (Southern Africa Development Community), EAC (East African Community), and ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States). These sub-regional organizations are all recognized under the African Union and their various activities have been aiding the growth and development of Africa.
Before the existence of ECOWAS, West Africa was made up of several states with diverse cultures, traditions and local languages that had emerged from different colonial experiences and administrations. Prior to colonialism, the West African region contained so many famous empires like: the Oyo Empire, Sokoto caliphate, Wolof, Kanem Bornu and Mali Songhai these empires lacked integration among themselves, which arose due to diversity in ethnic groups with different languages, cultures and traditions (Onwuka, 2012).
The quest to foster regional integration and cooperation among these states brought about the existence of ECOWAS. In view of this, one of the first steps taken towards the integration of ECOWAS took place in 1945, where all the French speaking countries in the region decided to adopt a single currency known as CFA Franc. In 1964, the Liberian President William Tubman suggested an economic union for West African states and in 1985, Guinea, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone signed the single currency agreement but nothing tangible came out from this, not until in 1972 where the Nigerian and Togolese head of state General Yakubu Gowon and Gnassingbe Eyadema respectively embarked on a regional tour to campaign and show support towards the idea of regional integration (Davidson, 1999).
ECOWAS treaty was signed on the 28th of May 1975 in Lagos by Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, and Togo. According to Article 27 of the treaty one of the major objectives of ECOWAS is to create a unified citizenship for all ECOWAS states which has helped to develop the standard of living among all member states. The organization has provided a framework for security observation and control through the establishment of ECOMOG to foster peace in the region. The economic interests of member states have improved as trading relation between member states are well coordinated with the protocol on free movement. Nigeria for instance provides gas and electricity to member states like Benin, Ghana, and Togo. These developments have enabled the members to share a common goal and objective despite their difference, although several efforts have been made to provide a common currency with official languages to be English and French to enable easier communication. The quest for free movement of persons, goods and capital led to the organization to formulate the ECOWAS protocol on free movement, residence and establishment of West African citizens (Goodwin-Gill, 2002).
In May 1979 the protocol on free movement of persons, residence and establishment was established, which granted ECOWAS citizens the right to free entry and exit within an ECOWAS states for a maximum of 90days. Member states were given the period of 15years to fully implement and establish the protocol on free movement of persons, residence and establishment, within the first 5years of the establishment of the protocol on free movement the use of visa into an ECOWAS member states was abolished, ECOWAS citizens possessing a valid travel certificate and international health certificate were allowed to have access to free entry and exit within an ECOWAS states for a maximum of 90days without the need to acquire a visa (Comfort, 2013).
ECOWAS countries can still refuse the entry of an inadmissible immigrant into their countries under their respective laws. In a case where by an immigrant is deported from a country, the country should guarantee the security of that individual in terms of life, prosperity and family (Adepoju, 2007). In July 1986 the delayed right of residence came into force when all member states ratified it although the right of establishment hasn’t been implemented. In order to achieve the objectives Article 2(2) of the treaty requires member states to abolish all forms of obstacles preventing the protocol on free movement from being implemented, the abolition was to serve as a foundation for regional cooperation and integration in West Africa (Ojo, 1999).
According to Ike (1999), ECOWAS commissioner for trade stated that ECOWAS vision of a borderless region, integrating and creating a single currency union which can be achieved through regional cooperation and integration among member states. He however stated that the inter-state boundaries are still barriers to free movement, noting that ECOWAS citizens go through stress and pain while crossing borders, and even though visa entry has been abolished travellers are still harassed illegally by customs and police force which has led to various economic loss (Ike, 1999).
The establishment of ECOWAS protocol on free movement, residence and establishment in 1979 has not been fully implemented by member states. ECOWAS citizens while migrating still undergo rigorous and harsh scrutiny by member states security agencies and this leads to ineffectiveness of the protocol.
Esekumemu (2014), expressed that some issues affecting the application of the protocol are as a result of the political instability in member states, terrorism, trans-border crimes, poverty, underdevelopment, proliferation of small and light weapons among others have prevented the full application of the protocol (Esekumemu, 2014). Major Gen. Akwa during his speech at ECOWAS 40th celebration collaborated the above issues by expressing that majority of ECOWAS achievements are not known to majority of the citizens in the community (Akwa, 2015).
Panike (2015), expressed that there are no security of lives and properties and the protocol constituted more security concern than economic advancement. The implication therefore is that, the protocol is only a drafted protocol and not applicable in practice. Research by different scholars have basically been on pointing out the challenges facing the protocol and the success of the protocol but leaving behind the various efforts put in place by member states in ensuring the durability of the protocol.