Given the size of its population and economy, and its high diplomatic profile in the African arena, Nigeria has a widely acknowledged role as continental heavyweight. Through successive administrations, and evidenced by the large military and financial contributions it has made to regional economic and peacekeeping efforts, Abuja has long assumed a lead role in everything from encouraging regional stability to advocating for debt relief. The country is a founding member of both ECOWAS and the African Union (AU), and had an instrumental role in guiding the latter from its previous form as the Organisation of African Unity into the AU, a body consisting of all 55 African countries.
In 1975 when the country was going through a period of economic recovery following the 1967-70 civil war, Nigeria was one of the biggest proponents for the establishment of ECOWAS, even pledging to contribute one-third of the bloc’s financial needs. Today, ECOWAS is a 15-member regional group and single trade area with a mandate to support economic integration throughout its member countries. In addition to promoting economic and political stability in the region, the group is working to reduce the member states’ dependence upon external capital and markets.
Introduced in June 2007, the ECOWAS Vision 2020 framework lays down the current goals of the group. It endeavours to boost investment in the development of the region’s human capital, especially as it pertains to women and young people; promote internal peace and a cooperative regional defence and security apparatus; support economic integration through a unified market, common currency, and integrated capital and financial markets; and prioritise private sector growth. Nigeria is a major beneficiary of the group’s ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, controlling 40% of the trade transactions in the region.
The leaders of ECOWAS met in June 2017 to discuss Morocco’s request for membership of the group. While the request was accepted “in principle” by leaders of the group, Nigeria elected not to send a high-level delegation to the summit, citing as its reason ECOWAS’s failure to give the government time to discuss Morocco’s accession internally. “The principle of course is one of non-hostility to Morocco. There’s no enmity there […] What has to be looked at a bit more is all the technical ramifications,” Geoffrey Onyeama, minister of foreign affairs, told local media in July 2017.
Having been elected on the basis of strong security credentials, President Muhammadu Buhari’s first trips abroad in the region were characterised by a strong security agenda. President Buhari took immediate trips to the four other countries fighting the Islamic insurgents of Boko Haram – Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The president also welcomed his counterparts from Benin, Chad and Niger, as well as the Cameroonian defence minister, to Abuja.
As a result of these talks, a new 8700-strong regional fighting force was announced in June 2015. This boosted the existing Multi-National Joint Task Force, which is led by a Nigerian commander and is staffed by the five nations currently engaged in action against Boko Haram. The major offensive carried out by the force from June to November 2016 was hailed as a success, securing the release of hostages, losses and defections from within Boko Haram, as well as the liberation of areas previously under the extremist group’s control.
Nigeria has repeatedly sought out an active role in regional peace-keeping missions, including in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire. The country also initiated the creation in 1990 of the military arm of ECOWAS, known as the ECOWAS Monitoring Group, in response to the conflict that was engulfing Liberia at the time. Indeed, the country’s responsibility towards peacekeeping in its neighbouring states is enshrined in its constitution.
The current administration has maintained the country’s tradition of peacekeeping, most recently with the deployment of 800 troops to Sudan in January 2017.
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