Emma Emeozor; [email protected]
Morocco has been making efforts in recent times to reintegrate with its African brothers, after almost a decade of estranged relationship with the continent’s umbrella organisation, the African Union (AU). Since its return, it has been reaching out to various countries in Africa to strengthen its bilateral ties. In the process, it has stirred controversy in West Africa by applying to become a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This move has attracted the ire of activists and civil society organisations in the region against the background of the North African country’s continued claim to the territory of Western Sahara against popular opinion that the territory be allowed to exist as an independent nation.
Beyond the issue of Western Sahara, political pundits are at a loss as to why Morocco would want to migrate from its northern abode to West Africa for the purpose of becoming a member of ECOWAS. Since its inauguration, ECOWAS has remained an organisation for only West African countries.
Interestingly, as the controversy trailing its return to the AU as well as its desire to join ECOWAS escalates, Morocco has continued to dig deep into the foyer of West African countries, exploring diplomacy. Though Nigerian activists and civil society are at the forefront of the opposition to its request to become ECOWAS member, Morocco has reinvigorated its bilateral relations with the country.
Analysts say Morocco may have reasoned that winning the heart of Nigeria could open for it the gateway to West Africa, considering the special position Nigeria occupies in the sub-region and Africa. Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari visited Morocco, where he signed three agreements following talks with King Mohammed VI. In the agreements, Nigeria is expected to provide gas to Morocco through a regional gas pipeline. The Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMGP) will be 5,660 kilometres long. Among others, the project is expected to reduce gas flaring in Nigeria while helping to diversify the nation’s economy. Worthy of mention is the fertilizer agreement between the two countries. Above all, Buhari and the Moroccan monarch “affirmed their will to create a South-South cooperation model.”
But how do Nigerians react to the joint projects the two governments are undertaking? Will Nigerians have a rethink and approve of Morocco’s application to join ECOWAS because of improved bilateral relations with the Federal Government? Diplomatic Circuit sought the views of Kunle Wahab, Professor Emeritus, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and former Special Adviser on Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Wahab did not hesitate to describe the outcome of Buhari’s visit to Morocco as commendable.
He said, “It is commendable to the extent that we are not going too far from Africa. Morocco is another African country that wants to deal with us. It is welcome because it is more of what I would call an African pact. Obviously, there is more for us to gain in trading with ourselves in Africa. It enables us to also share the benefits of trading on African soil. To that extent, I think it is a good move.”
Wahab was, however, quick to express concerns over the fertilizer initiative and the gas pipeline project. On the fertilizer project, he reacted thus: “I would also go beyond that (commendation). If the raw materials or ingredients for making fertilizer in Morocco are available also in Nigeria, why doesn’t Morocco assist Nigeria in getting the production done on Nigeria’s soil, rather than turning it to an import?”
Perhaps to show that he too knows the diplomatic environment, the professor quickly added: “I am aware that if you don’t involve any other country, you probably don’t have any leg to stand on in trying to export anything to them. That is one side of my argument.”
The agreement on the gas pipeline turned out to be Wahab’s other side of the argument. He said:
“The laying of gas pipeline from Nigeria to Morocco for the purpose of disposing gas is good because, probably, Nigeria is going to earn some foreign exchange in this exercise.
“But I am a little bit worried. Nigeria cannot protect even the pipelines in the country to some extent because of the unsavory attitude of some of our people, sabotage and other activities such as piracy. Beyond that, do we have the capability for making sure that what leaves Nigeria is what gets to Morocco? Even if there are no cases of sabotage, if there is any kind of fault along the line or any mishap somewhere, how do we overcome that?
“I am not saying that technology is not available to detect whether there is any damage from Nigeria to Morocco; I think that will be a little bit of my worry.”
Mindful of the sensitive nature of the gas pipeline project, Wahab wants the public to clearly understand his point of worry: “I am not saying it is impossible, because there is nothing that technology cannot overcome. But it is something that has to be looked into totally, about the feasibility; how do you police the route, how do you monitor and ensure what leaves Nigeria gets to Morocco, how do we, from our point of view and from their point of view, vouch that we are honest between ourselves to record accurately what leaves Nigeria and that it is not undervalued?
“I mean to say that we have to be absolutely sure that what we send actually gets there, for the purpose of knowing what cost benefit is going to accrue to Nigeria. And that is one side. You might say that I am looking at it from a very pessimistic point of view, I don’t think so. I am saying that, reinforcing it, we should be able to examine the nitty-gritty of the feasibility of the transaction.”
Wahab said he belongs to the school of thought that believe in Nigeria, by the grace of God, he said, we must be able to produce. And he asked: “Is there any other way of producing fertilizer other than importing it from other countries? What is the economic advantage and if we could produce fertilizer here, maybe from any other source, what is the cost advantage to us? I’m talking from the cost and benefit point of view now.”
If Wahab were to advise the authorities, what would he say? His words: “Let us first examine what it would take to achieve the desired benefit. There is the slogan, which says ‘What you need, you must produce, and what you don’t produce, you don’t need.’ Sometimes, you have to look at the cost benefit of both sides of the equation. There are some countries that are self-sufficient.”
Continuing, he said: “What our leaders or the advisers to our leaders should do is to explore what other areas are available in Nigeria that will not involve this long stretch of the commodity to export, the cost involved and the best way to get the product to Morocco. Is there any alternative to pipelines? I know that some major tankers can move from here to other places. The Chinese are bringing goods all the way to West Africa, not through pipelines. And they believe it is profitable to do so.”
Summarily put, Wahab is worried about the length of the pipeline: “I am not unaware that it has been done elsewhere, but I am saying, let us examine all other options that are possible to actualise trade between the two countries. And whatever is to be exported should be at the minimal cost.”
When reminded that Morocco exports sardines to Nigeria, Wahab responded rhetorically, “who said sardines cannot be produced in Nigeria? For example, in recent days, we have been talking about the problem of plastic bottles, the damage it is causing to many countries. People are quoting Rwanda as a country you cannot take anything plastic to, you can’t take it out, you can’t take it in. We must be able to examine many things. I may be wrong, but I think I belong to that school of thought, it may be drastic, and sometimes necessity is the mother of any invention.”
Wahab recalled the days he was in government as an adviser to the President and drew attention to how they talked to some governors in the oil-producing states on how to explore the possibility of making use of the region’s gas: “The question was why do we have to flare our gas? Why don’t we find a technology of not flaring the gas and use it because we need a lot of gas here in Nigeria too?”
He believes Nigeria has not done much to benefit immensely from its oil sector, because, “if, over the years, we had told any country that wants to import our crude oil that they must refine a certain percentage here, that would have saved us from the problems associated with importing our crude oil and exporting it back to us as refined oil.”
“We are exporting our crude oil, only to buy back the refined oil. Why can’t we do it here? There are other commodities whose materials can be produced locally. America is conserving its crude oil. When they have exhausted all the oil in other countries, we will have to be buying from them. Does it not sound embarrassing that we export crude oil and what we are getting back is not up to maybe 9 per cent of it?
“What is being exported back may be three times as expensive as what we exported. I am saying that these are the areas where we can ask Morocco to assist us. If they have the technology, they should come to help us even if we have to pay for consultancy, if they have to send their workers here. They should tell us how we can utilise our gas to obtain petroleum resources rather that exporting it. So, if there is any deficit on both sides, then something could be done to minimise such deficit,” he said.
On Morocco’s application to join ECOWAS, Wahab said he could not say much as it was not in his research development.
“But let me say that there has been no clear-cut transparent analysis of what is involved. I don’t want to rush into admitting people who are basically not of own region. I don’t know how many people have had the opportunity to study on a longer period what is actually happening in Morocco itself.
“By the same token, Morocco might say they have not really studied what is happening in Nigeria or in West Africa, as the case may be. Every country has its pluses and minuses. I don’t think we can have a perfect equation, if we look at it mathematically. As I said, I base my argument on the principle that if a country has not democratised its system, if there is exploiting the weaker link in its neighbourhood and it now wants to join ECOWAS, there must be something Morocco has in mind before it concluded that it wants to join us.
“Because of closeness between us and the former French-speaking territory in West Africa, I’m talking about Niger, Togo, and Ivory Coast, Nigeria is surrounded by all these countries. These are small countries in terms of Nigeria’s population. We ought to have better business relations with the French territories so that we can benefit from them. Even if it means Nigeria has to export some capital to develop these countries.”