AFRICANGLOBE – There were a lot of presidents in the the presidential wing of Abuja airport on 23 March.
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commission president Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo sat alongside President John Mahama of Ghana, the current ECOWAS chairman.
Their host was Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan.
Their conversation on respect for the rule of law and the democratic process is a recurrent one for ECOWAS leaders.
The pair also met with Nigerian opposition challenger, now president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari with the same message.
ECOWAS would not claim to have midwifed the first genuine elections in West Africa’s biggest economy: success has many fathers.
But could the arrival of a truly democratic Nigeria be the final piece of the puzzle for ECOWAS’s big economic integration projects?
Certainly, for a single currency the regional body needs Abuja on board.
Nigeria represents 77% of West Africa’s gross domestic product, and its economy would be the guarantor of any single currency.
With the current convulsions in Greece, however, there is less drive for a single monetary zone as ECOWAS celebrates its 40th anniversary this May.
Buhari’s prowess as a former military leader could also help in re-establishing security in the Sahel.
Sustainable peace is a foundation stone of sustainable economies, and if Nigeria can relaunch its economy in the north, who knows what positive feedback loops will be created?
What is pressing is the need for greater trade between ECOWAS countries.
This currently stands at 9%, compared to 26% for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Here is where a Nigeria liberated from Boko Haram’s threat could play a key role.
Should Buhari’s administration fix electricity, transport and agriculture, the country’s non-oil economy will bloom even further.
ECOWAS is already Nigeria’s second-largest non-oil export market, selling $350m of goods in the region in 2014.
Nigeria’s potential as regional market counts too.
Should the government also manage to plug the holes in the oil budget that allows revenue to leak into Swiss bank accounts, Nigeria will have serious spending power to match its ambitions.
Nigeria’s whopping N1.3trn ($6.5bn) annual food import bill can only go up as meat consumption rises.
The country should be a tempting target for farmers in ECOWAS countries.
Complementarities could soon start to form.
For example, Nigeria’s long-delayed Petroleum Industry Bill, if passed, could kickstart Nigerian production of both plastics and fertiliser, both items in demand in the region.
Leaders will need to manage some old regional reflexes, such as the influence of Paris.
But the next 40 years will bring challenges that need strong regional blocs more than ever.
By: Nicholas Norbrook