• M74 Editorial Team

Nigeria and ECOWAS

Updated: Jan 18

By Ifeoluwa Oseni

What is ECOWAS?

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a trading union with the goal of promoting economic cooperation and development among member states. ECOWAS comprises fifteen African countries in the Western African region who share common economic interests. Its members are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

ECOWAS was established on May 28 1975, with the signing of the Treaty of Lagos in Lagos, Nigeria. The proposal for a union of West African States emerged three years earlier in 1972, when the Nigerian head of state Gen Yakubu Gowon and his Togolese counterpart Gnassingbe Eyadema toured the West African region in support of its formation. Their draft formed the basis for the Treaty of Lagos in 1975 and led to the formation of ECOWAS.

ECOWAS was set up to foster the ideal of collective self-sufficiency for the countries that belong to it. It has a trade policy that is meant to increase the volume of commerce in the region. The region's total trade in a year is about $208.1 billion, made up of $137.3 billion in exports, and $80.4 billion in imports.

Some of the fundamental principles that guide ECOWAS include:

  • Equality and inter-dependence of Member States

  • Inter-State cooperation, harmonisation of policies, and integration of programmes

  • Peaceful settlement of disputes among Member States, active cooperation between neighbouring countries, and promotion of a peaceful environment as a prerequisite for economic development

ECOWAS not only helps smooth trade among its member states, but also helps other economies of the world. Trading with countries with good economies, like the United States of America (USA) and Europe, has helped the ECOWAS countries, and it has helped Nigeria to become one of the top trade partners of West Africa.

ECOWAS and Nigeria

Nigeria is a key member of this regional, political and economic union. Not only did Nigeria play a crucial role in the formation of ECOWAS, Nigeria also has the largest population and economy among member states, accounting for 76 percent of the total ECOWAS trade in the region. Nigeria has paid more than $1,177 billion to ECOWAS as its community levy contribution over the last sixteen years, as reported by Premium Times.

Nigeria joined ECOWAS to protect its interests among other West African countries and to get support from other member countries. As an ECOWAS member, some of the benefits that Nigeria has gained are free movement of goods and persons between members, no quantitative restrictions, total exemption from import duties, taxes, and many more.

Additionally, the free movement of goods and persons among member countries has created a much bigger market. This has helped manufacturing companies in Nigeria to not only produce for Nigerians, but also for its neighbouring ECOWAS countries. Citizens of member-states do not require visas or resident permits when travelling to other ECOWAS countries. They can work and conduct businesses in any of the countries that belong to ECOWAS. This makes it easier for Nigerians to work or do business in these countries rather than in non-ECOWAS countries. Furthermore, Nigerians who hire workers from other ECOWAS countries get good value, since these workers usually offer their services for a lower price than Nigerians with similar skill sets.

ECOWAS and the USA In 2017, the trade between ECOWAS and the USA was worth $14.1 billion, with export from the region being $4.8 billion and imports totaling $9.3 billion. The trade between Nigeria and the USA was worth $2.2 billion, making Nigeria the largest export market amongst the ECOWAS countries for the USA, followed by Ghana ($860 million), Togo ($482 million), Cote d’Ivoire ($320 million), and Benin ($250 million), according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. In 2017, Nigeria imported $7.1 billion from the USA, making Nigeria the largest importer amongst the ECOWAS countries. Other members of the top five ECOWAS countries that import from the USA are Cote d'Ivoire ($1.2 billion), Ghana ($750 million), Liberia ($91 million), and Senegal ($72 million). Top commodities that the USA exports to ECOWAS countries are vehicles and parts, mineral fuels, machinery, cereals, and plastics. The commodities that ECOWAS countries export to the USA are mineral fuels, cocoa and its products, rubber, edible fruit, nuts, artificial flowers, and feather and down articles.

ECOWAS and Europe ECOWAS has an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union (EU). This partnership makes it easier for ECOWAS countries to trade with the 27 EU countries. One of the main objectives of this agreement is to establish a free trade area between Europe and West Africa (ECOWAS + Mauritania), with ECOWAS being the organization promoting the West African countries’ interests. For Europe, West Africa is the largest trading partner and also the most important investment destination in Africa. Some of the exports of West Africa to Europe include fuels and food products, and ECOWAS countries import fuels, food products, machinery, and chemicals and pharmaceutical products from Europe.

ECOWAS and Peacekeeping ECOWAS is also involved in peacekeeping missions in the West African region. On August 18 2020 there was a coup d'état in Mali, one of the fifteen member countries of ECOWAS. The civilian government of Mali was ousted, leading to Mali’s suspension from the African Union. ECOWAS imposed several sanctions on the country, including a call to its other members to close their land and air borders to Mali. Nigerian former President Goodluck Jonathan led a mission of fourteen other West African leaders to Mali for peace talks. Former President Goodluck Jonathan regularly updates the current Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari about the developments of his team in the Mali crisis.

Ifeoluwa Oseni is an intern at M74, and a recent graduate from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, where he studied Computer Science. His interests include cybersecurity, politics, and technology. He loves telling stories of positive changemakers in Africa on his blog, InterviewStories.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the M74 Group, which remains neutral on all matters. Publishers assume no liability for content.