In January 2018, at the 31st Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU), leaders across the continent agreed to adopt a protocol to the treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC). This protocol, commonly known as the “Free Movement of Persons in Africa Protocol (FMP)”, relates to the laid down principles by which there can be free movement of African persons under the right of entry, right of residence and right of establishment.
Under the “right of entry” within the FMP, nationals of a member state shall have the right to enter, stay, move freely, and exit the territory of another member state, in accordance with the laws, regulations, and procedures of the host country for a maximum period of ninety (90) days from the date of entry. The FMP’s “right of residence” however enshrines that nationals of a member state shall have the right of residence in the territory of any member state, in accordance with laws of the host country.
Yet, as laudable as the provisions of the FMP read on paper, Nigeria remains a non-signatory to the agreement. Indeed, Nigeria’s Ministry of Interior has explained that insurgency in the Sahel region of Africa remains one of the reasons why Nigeria is reluctant to sign and ratify the FMP. Without a doubt, Nigeria’s wariness to unencumbered crossings to its land territories can be observed in the arbitrary closure of all its land borders to its neighbours in August 2019 mainly to reduce smuggling, and illegal flow of small arms and to protect local manufacturers.
However, insecurity concerns on the one side, Nigeria’s economy sorely needs a boost and perhaps signing the FMP will ease the country’s security and economic pressure points rather than exacerbate them. The country’s inflation rate reached an unenviable 18-year high of 26.7 percent in September 2023, amidst a further devaluation of the naira and a rising public debt of more than $103 billion.
To Nigeria’s unique mix of economic headwinds, a perceptive observer cannot but wonder if signing and ratifying the FMP will play a crucial part in shoring up the country’s security and economic gains. Free movement of persons has been shown to boost tourism, increase cultural exchange, reduce irregular migration and plug the latent skills gap. Perhaps then, signing the FMP will help to solve insecurity and supercharge the Nigerian economy, rather than dwindle them.
Signing The FMP Can Help Nigeria Curtail Rising Insecurity And Boost Economy
Insecurity remains a latent impediment to the Nigerian way of life. The incendiary activities of non-state actors such as Boko Haram, “bandits”, kidnappers and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) accounted for the deaths of more than 1,100 Nigerians within July-September 2022 alone.
But if insecurity is a growing menace within Nigeria, the bigger consequence is its inexorable link to poverty. Widespread insecurity is often caused by frustrations from rising poverty, inequality, and employment inadequacy, which leads to further insecurity.
To nip insecurity in the bud, Nigeria must not go with the plausibly easier option of shutting off access to its African neighbours. By working out the fine text of the FMP Protocol, Nigeria can reap the gains of free movement of African persons to its jurisdiction, some of which includes greater employment opportunities, higher gains in trade and tourism, and ultimately lesser poverty and inequality, all of which helps to drive down insecurity concerns.
A most important source of concern with Nigeria’s signing of the FMP Protocol will be with regards to fears surrounding the unencumbered crossing of terrorists and bad actors across the Sahel into Nigerian territory. To this, Nigeria can work with other AU member states towards simplifying civil registration and ID documentation procedures for all intra-African migrants.
Exchange of civil and criminal data between AU member states should also be fine tuned while relevant data standards should be set. Border management systems between member states should be beefed up on, and exchange of information between Member States should be commonplace. Member States must also codify repatriation agreements so criminals get justice in their host countries.
Through the implementation of these measures, the security related fears surrounding free movement of African persons to Nigeria can be nullified while the gains of the Protocol can be maximised.
The goal of the Africa 2063 Agenda is to achieve an inclusive and sustainable African continent rooted in shared prosperity, peaceful co-existence and unity. By signing and ratifying the FMP Protocol, Nigeria can fully confirm its interest in that collective African future as already being done by Rwanda and Kenya.
Doyin Olagunju is a legal practitioner and a free trade fellow at the Ominira Initiative for Economic Advancement.
This article was previously published on The Vanguard.