ECO Controversy: Nigeria, six other English-speaking ECOWAS nations hold crucial meeting

Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed
Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed

Nigeria and six other members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are to meet by Thursday to take a common position on the ECO single currency controversy.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this to PREMIUM TIMES in an exclusive interview in Abuja on Monday.

The minister said Nigeria decided not to make any statement over the controversy that followed the recent decision by eight French-speaking ECOWAS members to dump the CFA franc and adopt the ECO as their common currency, to avoid being misunderstood.

“Nigeria has not (yet) made a formal statement on the ECO controversy. We have decided not to make any statement until January 16 when we are supposed to have a meeting of the English speaking member countries of ECOWAS to take a common position. That’s just it for now.

“Until that position is taken, that is why Nigeria decided not to make any statement that would be misinterpreted or misunderstood,” she said.

The English-speaking countries that will join Nigeria for the meeting include The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Although Cape Verde is officially a Portuguese speaking country, it will also be part of the meeting.

Following the announcement by the Francophone countries, critics expected Nigeria to have come out forcefully to take a position on the development.

But, the minister said the federal government was bidding its time to study the situation and prepare an appropriate response in due course.

The meeting will be holding almost a month after the eight French-speaking West African countries announced their decision on the ECO single currency.

The countries are Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo Republic.

ECO is the name adopted for the common currency of the ECOWAS by the Authority of the Community’s Heads of State and Government at their 55th Ordinary Session in Abuja last June.

The adoption of the common currency expected to be issued in June 2020 is part of efforts by ECOWAS to realize its over 30 years’ aspiration to establish a single currency among its members and ensure regional economic integration in the region.

But, the announcement by the Ivorien President, Alassane Ouattara, on behalf of the eight French-speaking Francophone ECOWAS members signaled a widening crack in the ranks of the group along pre-colonial and political lines.

The controversy became heightened following allegations of undisguised involvement of the French government, which analysts accuse of attempts to hijack the ECO single currency project.

Apart from the decision to keep the exchange rate of the proposed ECO still pegged to the Euro, the French government also said its former colonies would no longer be required to maintain 50 per cent of their reserves in France’s treasury.

Economic analysts say the French government’s involvement is an attempt to box the other seven countries, including Nigeria, into a tight corner and force them to accept the ECO on its terms.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron, is accused of exploiting the conditions created following the recent closure of the Nigerian borders against its Francophone neighbours to attempt to woo Ghana to join the ECO and fence off Nigeria.

Reports said Mr Macron, who was present as his Ivorien counterpart made the announcement on behalf of the eight countries, had given the willingness of his government to guarantee the ECO currency’s extension to the ECOWAS as long as Nigeria was not involved.

The Ghanaian government has since spoken in support of the eight Francophone countries, despite not being a member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU, also known by its French acronym UEMOA).

In its statement, the Ghanaian government applauded the decision by the eight countries as a “welcome development”, and a “good testimony to the importance attached not only to the establishment of the monetary union, but also to the larger agenda of the West African integration.”

“We in Ghana are determined to do whatever we can to enable us to join the member states of UEMOA soon in the use of the ECO, as we believe it will help remove trade and monetary barriers, reduce transaction costs, boost economic activity and raise the living standards of our people,” the Ghanaian government said.


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