Morocco's bid to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) hung in the balance last weekend as the regional leaders could not reach a conclusion on the Kingdom's application.
The West African leaders, at the 51st summit held in June 2017 in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, agreed in principle to Rabat's request to join the sub-regional grouping.
But they requested the ECOWAS Commission to consider the implications of such decision pursuant to the provisions of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty and submit their findings to the 52nd session.
Morocco's application to join ECOWAS came after it re-joined African Union in January 2017. The country left the continental body in 1984 after AU's recognition of Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco regards as part of its historic region.
Its frantic efforts to join ECOWAS included the 23 royal visits to 11 countries in West Africa by King Mohammed VI, with the signing of hundreds of investment contracts, which Morocco said had given a strong impetus to its bilateral cooperation with the sub-region.
ECOWAS is made up of 15 West African nations, although none shares a border with Morocco, a North African country.
Rabat's request to become a full member of the sub-regional bloc drew criticisms from diplomatic veterans, activists and lawyers who argued that the economic implication of Morocco's admission would be enormous.
They said Morocco's accession to ECOWAS would erode Nigeria's diplomatic influence not only in the sub-region, but also in the international community.
A study on the impact of Morocco's membership was carried out and the outcome was submitted to the West African leaders at the 52nd summit in Abuja.
The issue, among others, topped the summit agenda but the leaders, after about three-hour closed door session, could not reach a conclusion.
They instead asked a committee of presidents of Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria to supervise the thorough study of the implications of Morocco's accession.
"Regarding the applications received by ECOWAS from Morocco for membership, Tunisia for observer status and Mauritania for associate membership, Authority decides to set up a Committee of Heads of State and Government comprising the Togolese Republic, Republic of Cote d'Ivoire, Republic of Ghana, Republic of Guinea and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to adopt the terms of reference and supervise a comprehensive study on the implications of the membership," said a communiqué read at the end of the summit.
"Authority notes that matters of accession to the ECOWAS Treaty and the granting of observer status to third countries should be preceded by the appropriate institutional framework which constitutes the legal basis for such a decision.
"In that respect, Authority instructs the President of the Commission to immediately commence the preparation of the appropriate Community Act which will set out the decision-making process within the Community, in accordance with Article 9 paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty," the communiqué added.
Ambassador Suleiman Dahiru, a retired diplomat, said, although setting up the committee is contradictory; they should study the implication of Morocco's membership in a "dispassionate" manner.
"ECOWAS, at the 51st summit, admitted Morocco in principle to the regional body, while at the 52nd summit, asked a committee to supervise a comprehensive study on the implications of the country's accession.
"They should look at the ECOWAS Treaty of 1975 and the revised version. If there is no provision for a non-West African country to join, then Morocco cannot join ECOWAS because it is not in West Africa.
"The name West Africa is geographical and Morocco, geographically, belongs to North Africa," he said.
The diplomat questioned Morocco's request to join the sub-regional bloc after 42 years of its existence. "Why is the country applying to be a member now?"
He said, "The moment you bring Morocco in, then it is no more ECOWAS because you are admitting a North African country. This means that you cannot stop others from applying to join because you have opened the door for a North African country to come in.
"I'm aware that Morocco has excellent bilateral relation with most countries in ECOWAS. That is good but this does not qualify Morocco to be in ECOWAS because it is a regional body."
He urged the Moroccan government to settle its differences with Algeria, which has caused the North African regional body to become moribund.
Dahiru said Morocco's application to join ECOWAS is not necessarily to weaken Nigeria's influence as some people have said, but it is coming because of its economic and political interest.
"Politically, it will do whatever it is possible to ensure that Western Sahara does not become an independent country.
"Nigeria had fought colonialism, apartheid and any other form of domination. Morocco continues to occupy Western Sahara despite resolutions by the African Union and United Nations Security Council."
On the economic front, the retired envoy said Rabat's accession to ECOWAS would rubbish Nigeria's refusal to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.
"If Morocco is admitted to ECOWAS, manufactured goods moving into Morocco from Europe will flood West Africa as member states have free movement of goods and services within the community," he stated.