12. Borderless ECOWAS: Exploring the Process of Socio-economic Integration in West Africa

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The aim of transmutation from an ‘ECOWAS of States’ to an ‘ECOWAS of People’ in West African sub-region has remained elusive due to prioritization of national interests over larger regional interests by member states. Over time and space, different immigration policies and multiple monetary zones have hindered cross-border socio-economic interactions within the sub-region. Since previous empirical efforts have largely neglected how the migration process is sustained at ‘home’ and ‘abroad’, this panel explores the significance of informal cross-border networking in the process of identity integration within the ECOWAS sub-region. For instance, cross-border interactive processes along the Nigerian-Ivorian migratory corridor by the Ejigbo-Yoruba (Nigerians) have persistently enabled the process of regional integration and inter-community development. Through ‘ECOWAS’ vehicular inscription, knowledge of indigenous languages across borders, and male intermarriage with female Ivorian, immigration barriers are jointly subjugated thus enabling the realisation of the ECOWAS borderless framework. Subsisting interpersonal ties amongst the Ejigbo-Yoruba have facilitated the ‘familial’ pattern of the migratory network. Such ‘familial’ pattern is necessitated by the economic survival of migrants, which presents a two-face socio-political context wherein the migrants overtly identify with the Ivorian society and covertly network with the Nigerian community to avoid negative sanctions. Back in Nigeria, the covert identification sustains community relevance and acceptance as a ‘social security’ for investment, family and dependants, and possible eventual relocation due to ill-health, old age and/or death since internalised identity demands burial at Ejigbo in Nigeria. The migratory behaviour of the Ejigbo-Yoruba has accounted for the harmonisation of what would have ordinarily been distinctive dual identities within the transnational social space. Hence, such informal cross-border networking should be promoted in order to attain the goal of a borderless ECOWAS sub-region.

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