Nigeria has threatened to withdraw its membership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if the regional body does not suspend the ongoing recruitment exercise as recently directed in the 2022 First Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja.
Nigeria’s representatives at the ECOWAS Parliament issued the threat when some principal officers in the regional bloc allegedly defied the directives and embarked on the illegal process of recruiting their relatives and cronies.
The lawmakers recall the huge financial commitments which Nigeria makes to the body amid its internal security challenges and said there was no commensurate return on investment for Nigeria in ECOWAS for all that the country has done and is doing for the region since its inception in 1975.
This development is coming on the heels of recent lopsided recruitment exercise at the ECOWAS parliament which was discovered to be manifestly skewed to serve the personal interest of other member states to the exclusion of Nigeria.
Leader of the Nigerian delegation and Deputy Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, who is also the First Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Ahmed Idris Wase, said it had become imperative that Nigeria reviews its relevance and membership of the bloc.
“If you are in a system, and you are not getting the right results, where you are investing your money, it pays best to walk out of the union. In a situation where we are having an infrastructural deficit and witnessing security challenges, why should we continue to invest our money where it will not benefit our country.
“Yes, we will pull out if we don’t get the desired result from this,” he said. “We are asking for 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.”
The Nigerian Permanent Representative to ECOWAS, Musa Nuhu, also wrote to the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohamed Tunis, on what he termed the the nepotistic employment scandal rocking ECOWAS.
The letter from Nuhu was dated July 20, 2022, and entitled, “Formal complaint about unfair treatment and confirmation of staff at the ECOWAS parliament.”
The letter reads 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 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.”
LEADERSHIP Weekend reports at the centre of all of this controversy is the implementation of the provision of the staff regulation of ECOWAS. It is understood that each institution in ECOWAS gets the permission (since here is a freeze on recruitment) to employ from the AFC/ Council of Ministers. Thus, Parliament needs to show that the permission was given.
The problem is that the process of ensuring that internal candidates are first considered for positions (via internal advertisement of positions with the institutions of ECOWAS) before looking externally for candidates where internal candidates have not measured up to requirements, has been jettisoned because it allows the powers that hold sway to bring in their favourite candidates, often their kinsmen, to occupy those positions.
“Let me tell you, those recruitment exercises are never fair because before they are even conducted, you will start hearing about preferred candidates already and about instructions to the so-called consultant in charge of bringing out the long-list from the entire list of applicants to ensure that some people are not on that list and also that those preferred candidates make it to the top of those lists,” a source said.
According to Wase, the fact remains that as of today, Nigerian lawmakers are in receipt of certain misgivings, and protestations by people who are so affected.
“I may not know if such protestations existed in the Fourth Assembly; as of today, these protestations are evident before us and we are duty bound to attend to them like we have indicated, and in the cause of our engagement we are not restricting ourselves to what has happened today. If you listened to our intent on the floor, we said that for the past ten years, whatever it is that had happened in the past ten years, the ones that have to be remedied, the ones that require sanctions, I am sure that at the end of the day, without preempting the resolve of the committee, we will get to that point,” he said.
Honourable Wase reiterated that Nigeria had done so much for ECOWAS, explaining that over 60 percent of ECOWAS funding comes from Nigeria.
“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 contemporaries 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,” he said.
According to him, such practice offends the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention on Forced Labour.
“I was an activist and a unionist before joining politics. We cannot keep an employee for more than six months on 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. I heard them saying that the audit report was inconclusive, it then meant that there were issues. Whether inconclusive or not, in Parliament, there is what we call an interim report. So, there was an interim report, and that is what some members were relying upon. It does not mean that because they were unable to conclude, then there was nothing. There was something on the table, and I will refer to that inconclusive report that the secretary general mentioned as an interim report before the parliament, which of course should be used, and considered because it raised issues regarding the imbalance in the composition of the staff,” he stated.
According to Wase, the Nigerian constitution in Section 14 (4) provides that the composition of government shall be in a manner that it reflects the federal character. “Now, we have people who possibly have one opportunity and they want to bring in their relatives, and their siblings against the larger interest of our community. Common judgment teaches us that when you have nations coming together, we should do the distribution in such a way that justice and fairness take the centre stage”
He further asserted that if Nigeria had not asked for 60 percent benefit in ECOWAS before now, it must have been a mistake “because our dividend should be equivalent to our contribution and investment. And if that is not done and the little that we have in the system is being humiliated, we will not take it.
“From the National Assembly of Nigeria, we are also going to probe our minister of Foreign Affairs, the finance minister who is giving the money and the Commissioner who is representing us at the Commission. What are they doing there? Are they part of this nonsense going on, possibly because they have one interest to protect or the other? We will not allow that to happen. We will expose everybody from the Nigerian Parliament and sanctions will follow. We will sanction anybody found wanting in the process,” he added
Last month, at the 2022 First Ordinary Session of the Parliament, the lawmakers passed a resolution to suspend the recruitment exercise after Nigerian representatives at the parliament alleged discrimination and lopsidedness in the recruitment of workers at the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja.
The motion to suspend the recruitment and promotion in the ECOWAS Parliament was moved by Hon. Awajim Abiante, a Nigerian lawmaker at the ECOWAS Parliament.
The motion was seconded by Sen. Abiodun Olujimi, another Nigerian lawmaker at the Parliament, and Hon. Yousoufa Bida, and concurrently agreed by the house.
Abiante, who represents Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro federal constituency in the House of Representatives, said, “The Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament is duty bound to respect the resolutions of Parliament. If he does not respect the resolution of Parliament, I wonder which Parliament he is heading. So, it is left for him to answer where he stands.
“You know, probably some of us are not well experienced, relative to Parliamentary requirements and procedures. Therefore, if one is not experienced, we could expect this kind of action. But the Speaker is duty bound to obey the resolution of Parliament.”
When contacted, the secretary general of the Parliament, John Azumah from Ghana, said he was unaware of any audit report that talked about employment and promotion.
“I don’t know where they got that information from that they were talking, but you know that on the floor of the Parliament, you cannot stop them.”
“For me, I don’t have any information about this, but let me tell you this, the First Deputy Speaker would have done himself good if he had called me to explain what is happening in ECOWAS to him. I don’t know where they got that information from. There is no audit report like that. It is true that ECOWAS did a skill audit some time ago, but it was inconclusive. The skill audit that was done for the whole ECOWAS institutions was inconclusive.
“So, if you went and were extracting information and you got something from staff, you are looking for your interest, sometimes they will give you half information because of their interest. They would not give you the full information,” he said.
According to him, the Nigerian parliamentarians needed to validate the information with the authorities before coming to raise the issues on the floor of the parliament.
‘When they were talking, I was just laughing in my heart. I am telling you the truth because they were just ridiculing themselves,” he added.