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The ECOWAS Antecedents: Early Efforts at West African Integration (Part 1)

The ECOWAS Antecedents: Early Efforts at West African Integration (Part 1) 

By Joseph Robert Bassey Department of History & Int’l Studies Akwa Ibom State University Obio Akpa Campus, P.M.B. 1167, Uyo Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.; Phone: +2348037626649 


Some scholars and commentators usually trace the origins of the West African integration to the post-colonial period efforts. This is historically incorrect. The aim of this article is to trace the historical origins of the West African integration that ultimately led to the formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The research seeks to counter the assertion that dates the sub-regional integration efforts in Africa to the post-colonial period. The bulk of information used in this paper was derived from both primary and secondary sources. The paper adopts historical descriptive analysis methodology to interrogate the relevant documents concerning the West African integration. Attention is paid to chronology – events, dates and places. The article reveals, among other things, that: (i) the origins of the West African integration could be traced to three main epochs, namely, the pre- colonial, colonial and post-colonial times; (ii) efforts at the West African integration date back to economic activities of the early empires of the Western Sudan, Islamic revolutions, trade and commerce, trade routes, and military alliances in the pre-colonial times; (iii) the functional economic cooperation and integration among the states of West Africa could be traced to the colonial period when institutions such as (National Council of British West Africa (NCBWA), the West African Currency Board (WACB) and West African Monetary Union (WAMU) were formed. This article deals with the first the two epochs, namely, the pre-colonial and the colonial efforts at West African integration. 


In his article titled “Regional Trade Agreements in Africa: A Historical and Bibliographical Account of ECOWAS and CEMAC”, Victor Essien stated that “Efforts at regional and sub-regional integration in Africa go back to the immediate post-colonial period”.1 With the support of Domenico Mazzeo, Professor Victor Essien further stated that sub-regional integration “was seen as an extension of the liberation movements and an effort to construct geographic entities that were economically viable and politically united” and that “it also reflected the prevailing European experience with its emphasis on free trade within a common external tariff areas.”2 In African historiography and dating system, the phrase “immediate post-colonial period” implies a period after 1960. The 1960s was the period most African countries regained independence from their colonial powers. In West Africa, the first colony to regain independence was Ghana with Togo in 1957. Ghana and Liberia (which, like Ethiopia, was not colonized) made unsuccessful attempts to integrate the West African sub- region. Nigeria and majority of other West African countries regained their independence in 1960. As shown elsewhere,3 Nigeria successfully championed the integration of West Africa and by 1975 the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was formed. Nigeria also, at the regional level, spearheaded the formation of the organization of African Unity (OAU)4 in 1963. The OAU was described as “the institutional symbol of African unity”5 It had the mandate to mobilize the African States politically against colonialism, neocolonialism and military interventions, and its formation was guided by African states’ “collective conviction that freedom, equality, justice and dignity are legitimate aspirations of the African peoples…”6 Ebere Adigbuo rightly notes that the transformation of the OAU to AU represents a major policy shift by which the AU takes it upon itself to resolve conflict in Africa7 the OAU was transformed to the present African Union in 2002 Constitutive Act of the African Union done at Lome, Togo, 11th day of July 2000. Although it was not until 1963 and 1975 that all-embracing regional organisation, the OAU, and the sub- regional organisation the ECOWAS, were successfully established, it would be a historical error to hold that efforts at regional and sub-regional integration in Africa go back to the immediate post-colonial period” to wit: 1963 and 1975, respectively. The position of this article is that efforts at regional and sub-regional integration in Africa or West Africa dates back to the pre-colonial times. 

Historically speaking, close commercial relations between separate nation-states as prerequisite to the economic development of the areas concerned is not a new phenomenon in the history of the growth of the nations and of the world economy. For instance, in Europe, the economic unification of Britain in the eighteenth century and German Zollverien of 1834 were indispensable foundations for the rarely development of these countries. They were isolated, yet important instances of economic integration, which preceded the commencement of the free trade movement. The formation of the European Free Trade Area ushered into scheme of economic integration, which were to be emulated first in South and Central America and later in other parts of the world, including West African.8 This article chronicles the past attempts at integration of West Africa. It is broken into two main sections viz, pre-colonial attempts and colonial efforts at integration. This is part one of the study. Part two analyses the post-independence efforts at integration before the establishment of the ECOWAS. The part two is not included in the present article, as that will be published separately. 

(A) Pre-Colonial Antecedents of ECOWAS 

1. Islamic Revolutions, Trade and Trade Routes as Factors of 


By definition, “integration” implies several stages of close economic and political relations between defined states within a geographical region.9 Evidence available strongly indicates that attempts at West African unification date back to the ancient Negro empires of the old Sudan and the Islamic revolution.10 Such Negro empires included Ghana, Mali, Songhai, and Kanem-Borno as well as Yoruba and Benin. These empires fought wars of expansion which resulted in most cases in the integration of the conquered territories or vassal states.11 The empires were linked culturally by Islam which was brought about through jihads during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. According to J. Spencer Trimingham, “the first currents of Islamization into West Africa had an economic basis”.12 The Arab conquerors of North Africa had no desire to conquer the Sahara and Sudan, but were concerned with the organization of the gold trade. Expeditions were led against gold producing towns in West Africa such as modern Ghana, Mali, Awdoghast, Songhai and Walata. Gold was the great attraction which drew Mediterranean trade in North African ancient towns which subsequently developed into important markets where many Arab traders settled even before the penetration of Islam.13 Trade relations thus developed not only between West Africa and the outside world but also amongst West African towns and communities. What facilitated the trade relations were trade routes. One of such trade routes was the trans-Saharan trade route. Trade routes in West African date from antiquity. As J.D. Fage put it, exactly when men began to travel in and fro, and to trade across the Sahara is not known, and may well never be known, because it probably derives from the period, corresponding to the last Ice Age in Europe when the climate was appreciably wetter and the Sahara was not desert but grassland on which both Hamites and Negroes hunted game, and, later pastured their herds.14 A similar view has been expressed by A.I. Asiwaju when he writes: 

In strictly socio-economic questions, the West African sub-region has, within human memory, formed a complex whole. The phenomenon of long distance trade in all directions dates from antiquity, as can be easily perceived from the history of the Trans-Saharan trade which also covered both the Savannah and the forest belts.15 What these authorities are saying in effect is that trade routes within and outside the West African sub-region came into being before the coming of the Europeans. However, some historians have suggested that the Trans-Saharan trade and trade routes started about the second century AD after the Roman occupation of North Africa. Onwubiko quoted Christopher Fyfe as saying that the Trans-Saharan trade “goes back at least one thousand years before the beginning of our period – perhaps many thousands of years”.16 The trans-Saharan routes, according to recent studies, linked with their northern termini along the Mediterranean Sea coast and extended into the forest belt, a number of them terminating on the Atlantic coast in the Southern most extremity of the region. For example, the route which some explorers, namely, Clapperton and the Landers took to reach Sokoto via Badagry and Old Oyo “was an old and very frequently traditional highway by which the Yoruba and the neighbouring Adja-speaking peoples traded with Hausa land and the Maghreb.”17 From these routes came exchange of goods and ideas. The Landers observed that Hausa leather works and Arab Muslim charms constituted part of household possession among the Yoruba ruler they visited all along their routes. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the famous C.M.S. 

Pastor, similarly reported that among the traders he met doing business at a market in Ketu, the ancient Yoruba capital (now in the Republic of Benin), in 1853, were Ijebu as well as numerous Bariba and Hausa with merchandise of a variety that reflected the diversity of the origins of the business gathering. Like the Badagry – Sokoto – Maghrib route, the East West route which Crowther used to reach Ketu from Abeokuta was a very long route linking Ketu with Ijebu and Benin to the East and ancient Dahomey and Ashanti to the West.18 

At this juncture, it is pertinent to ask: why were the trade routes created? What were the trade goods? The complex network of trade routes had to be created in order to reach the geographically disperse Islands of relatively wealthy consumers. The pastoralists of the Sahara – Savannah border traded livestock, dairy produce and salt with the cultivators of the savannah in return for millet and cloth. In return, the Savannah region traded livestock, salt, dried fish, potash and cloth with the peoples of the forest, from whom they received slaves, kola nut, ivory, iron ware and cloth. Finally, producers in the forest sold various food stuffs and manufactures to coastal settlements in exchange for fish and sea salt. Slaves, dried fish and Kano cloth were sold throughout the Western Sudan. There was also movement of food stuffs outside the locality of production: the great entrepot of Timbuktu imported grain, vegetable and livestock from the twelfth century onwards, and in the fifteenth century there was considerable trade in millet, rice, cotton and livestock within the empire of Mali. Similarly, slaves, rare beads and Yoruba and Ashanti cloth were traded throughout the forest. Hausa traders where dominant in the Eastern part of West African spreading out from their base in northern Nigeria as far South – West as the Gold Coast, where they exchanged salt, cloth and livestock for gold, kola nuts and slaves.19 

Specifically, the three most important trade routes that linked North Africa with West Africa and Europe were: (i) The Taghaza-Timbuktu or Western routes which began from Morocco to Walata from where it branched off to Old Ghana, Mali, Jenne and Timbuktu. It was the most important route because of gold and salt trade. Reportedly, Ibn Batuta travelled this route to Mali in the 14th century; (ii) The Ghadames-Alr or central route which started from Tunisia and passed to Katsina and Kano in Northern Nigeria; (iii) The Fezzan-Kawar or Eastern route which began from Tripoli in Libya to Egypt and passed to Bornu and Lake Chad. 

There were official traders who transacted business on behalf of the state. Given that the need for revenue was a common preoccupation of all governments, it is not surprising that some states tried to raise money by participating in long distance trade. In Ashanti, for example, official trade was conducted by functionaries such as the balafo. In Dahomey, royal rights over trade were delegated to a group of quasi-official merchants in return for a share of the profits. In Mossi states, large caravans were organized by senior officials. In their commercial dealings, these states can be thought of as substantial firms. Public enterprise had access to the capital needed for long distance trade, and it was also in a position to secure privileges which in theory at least, gave official traders a comprehensive advantage over merchants.20 Long distance trade was therefore an important source of State income, especially tolls and market dues were imposed on trade goods as means of raising revenue. The above trade goods and to inter-state connections are indicatives of multilateral economics relations among the pre-colonial West African empires and Kingdoms. 

2. Military Alliances 

Cases abound of functional inter-State union and co-operations even for the purpose of military defence, apart from the occasional social- economic ends. Yoruba land which evidently was “the most troubled West African zone” during the pre-partition era may be cited as a case in point.21 Here, the most spectacular example of inter-state defensive alliances was the Ekitipaapo. This was a military alliance of Ekiti, Ijesa and the Igomina which in the period 1877 to 1893 successfully liquidated Ibadan imperial designs in Eastern Yoruba land.22 There was also the confederation des Nagot, a grouping of Yoruba states between the Yewa and Weime rivers (i.e. astride the present Nigeria-Benin boundary). This confederation was formed in about 1852 to combat the Dahomean invasion of the area. Also on record has been the convention among Yoruba states and other traditional West African states, whereby market-places were in times of inter-state hostility regarded as neutral grounds.23 This convention shows how great a premium, traditional West African societies placed on peaceful, as distinct from war like, ends and how even in a situation of inter-state conflict the need for social-economic cooperation was emphasized. 

In a more grand scale, the Kings of Benin and Mani Congo established correspondence with Kings of Portugal and even to the extent of changing envoys to promote trade and other aspects of diplomats relations. A much earlier relationship based essentially on commerce flourished between the Sudanic states of Africa, the Maghreb and the Mediterranean world.24 

All this further shows that the pre-colonial West African Empires, Kingdoms and city-states practised economic diplomacy as they sought to enhance the material well-being of their people. They did this through interaction among themselves and with the outside world. They accorded due place to economic and commercial relations in their complex network of diplomatic contacts.25 Summarily, the realities and potentialities of these long-distance movements of people and goods as well as diplomatic contacts lend credence to a possible argument of the West African sub- region being a natural common market zone of considerable antiquity. Migration was one other phenomenon that facilitated pre-colonial integration of West Africa. Migration aided the concept and tradition of familial relationship among the West African groups and between them and other African groups in the East, Central and Northern parts of the continent and beyond. In spite of its separate political states, the West African region is known to have encouraged harmonization of socio- economic activities including common market systems and techniques over many centuries. Trade was the main medium of contact among the West African peoples and principal instrument of cultural harmonization in the sub-region. There was apparently a remarkable extensiveness of socio- economic integration among West Africans and between them and other peoples of Africa and beyond, even before the era of European politico- economic intervention. (B) Some Institutions of Integration During the Colonial Period 

Scholars are agreed that the genesis of functional economic cooperation and integration among the states of West Africa goes back to the colonial period.26 This was the period when the metropolitan authorities, especially Britain and France, pursued a deliberate policy of harmonization. The harmonization policy covered economic matters such as currency, banking, marketing, transport and judiciary. Colonialism and its effects on Africans also gave rise to institutions and associations whose arms were inter alia to check mate the Europeans and their colonial rule and to foster economic and political integration of West Africa. Some of the colonial integration institutions and associations are discussed hereunder: 

3. National Council of British West Africa (NCBWA) 

The NCBWA was founded in March 1920. It sought to achieve pan- West Africanism or West African nationality. But the idea of a West African nationality did not find sudden expression in the NCBWA’s birthday. Apart from the factors of the existence of the Negro empires and Islamization mentioned earlier, Dr. James Africanus Beale Horton of Sierra Leone was said to have advocated “self-government of West Africa” as early as 1867. Horton asserted in 1867: “It will be my province to prove the capability of the African for possessing a real political government and national independence and that a more stable and efficient government might yet be formed in Western Africa under the supervision of a civilized nation”.27 

Horton saw his nationalism in the context of the whole of West Africa. And so he referred in one breath to “Iboes (sic), Yoruba, Mandingoes, Soosoos, Joloofs, Timnehs, Krew, and Dahomeans. Yet, in another breath he talked about the African Race, preferring the use of “nationality” to tribe. 

However, Edward Wilmot Blyden was said to be the ideological father or the idea of West African unity and that he spearheaded alongside Bishop James Johnson, of the cultural nationalism that accompanied the idea. J.A. Langley paid tribute to Blyden thus: “By far the most important and most influential theoretician and prophet of negritude and pan-Africanism in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century was Edward Wilmot Blyded.28 After Blyden’s death in 1912, J.E. Casely Hayford, his ideological heir, revived the West African integration dream, this time giving it some organizational form. The idea of a pan-West African meeting was first conceived between 1913 and 1915. In early 1914, Casely Hayford and Dr. Akinwade Savage of Nigeria sent circulars from Sekondi to influential people in Lagos, Freetown, and some parts of Gold Coast. The circulars invited the opinions of the influential people on the subject of a West African conference. Savage was a practicing lawyer based in Gold Coast. In early 1915, Hayford and Savage wrote to the Gold Coast Aborigines Right Protection Society (GCARPS) concerning “the question the proposed West African Conference which appears to be engaging the attention of several public men throughout West Africa”.29 

The NCBWA was formerly established as a result of a conference held in Accra in 1920 at the invitation of Casely Hayford. Delegates to the conference included representatives of educated groups in Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia. The resolutions adopted at the conference were: (1) A legislative council in each territory half of whose members would 

be elected Africans. (2) African veto over taxation. (3) Separation of the judiciary from the legislative branch of the 

government. (4) Appointment and deposition of chiefs by their own people. (5) Abolition of racial discrimination in the civil service. (6) Development of municipal government. (7) Repeal of certain obnoxious ordinances. (8) Regulation of immigration of Syrians and other non-Africans. (9) Establishment of a University of West African.30 

These resolutions were subsequently embodied in a memorandum and taken to London. It was presented to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The delegation that presented the petition remained in London from October 1920, until February, 1921. The reason for the rather long stay in London was that the delegation wanted to use the opportunity to establish contact with important international organizations and relevant world class personalities. Consequently, the delegation established contact with the League of Nations, the Bureau International Pour la Defense des Indigenes, the Welfare Committee for Africans in Europe, the African Progress Union, and West African Students resident in London. While in London, the delegation endeavoured to gain the support of the friendly members of parliament and of prominent Afrophiles such as Sir Sydney Oliver, J. H. Haris, and Sir Harry Johnston. 

Unfortunately, Lord Milner, Secretary of State for the Colonies, rejected the delegation’s demands. The Secretary’s action followed unfavourable reports he received from the Governors of the British West African territories about the petitioners.31 Surprisingly though, activities of the NCBWA attracted greater support from educated elements in the Gold Coast and Sierra Leone than from those in Nigeria. But the idea of a West African Conference and a permanent body had first been advanced in 1913 by a Nigerian, Dr. Akinwande Savage, who, as noted earlier, was then resident in the Gold Coast. 

A number of reasons accounted for the failure of NCBWA in Nigeria. First, the educated Lagosians who actively supported the movement resorted to in-group fighting among themselves. Second, the personality of Dr. Savage who returned to Nigeria in 1915 to head the organization alienated many actual and potential supporters. Third, the Nigerian government opposed the idea from the very beginning. In fact, Sir Hugh Clifford, the Governor of Nigeria, denounced the congress and its pretensions in strong language. In his memorable address to the Nigerian Council on December 29, 1920, Clifford ridiculed the leader of the congress as: 

…a self-selected and self-appointed congregation of educated African gentlemen who collectively style themselves the ‘West African Nation Conference’… whose eyes are fixed not upon African native history or tradition or policy nor upon their own tribal obligations and duties to their natural rulers which immemorial custom should impose upon them, but upon political theories evolved by the European to fit a wholly differently set of circumstances, arising out of a wholly different environment for the government of peoples who have arrived at a wholly different stage of civilization.32 

Although the Governors of the British West African territories did not favour the idea of the NCBWA, the West African nationalists had achieved at least one important thing. They made the people of the territory to see themselves as belonging to one common political entity that could be further integrated for socio-economic development. This image was projected to reputable international organizations and some prominent people in Europe and Americas. Casely Hayford, the leader of the NCBWA, thought in terms of “West Africa Nationhood”, “United West Africa” as distinct from self-government for the component units of West Africa. For Casely, as for most of the early West African nationalists, “British West Africa existed before Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, The Gambia or Nigeria”. As J.A. Langley has observed, this identification of the part with the whole was to continue up to the depression of 1929 and 1930s when a narrower conception of nationality became dominant.33 

The narrower conception was first noticed in Gold Coast, Casley Hayford’s country, in 1928. In that year, a Gold Coast newspaper called Gold Coast Leader wrote that “this idea of a Gold Cost nation is a fundamental one”.34 In a similar tone, the Sierra Leone Weekly News of October 27, 1928 declared: “whatever may be said to the contrary, Sierra Leone is our country and our requirements and advancement should obtain full consideration”. Views such as these, and coming from highly rated national newspaper, were indications that Casely and his colleagues were beginning to lose support for the idea of pan-West African nationalism. Some elite were now seeing Casely’s dreams as containing some unrealistic elements. 

Expectedly, by 1950 when Casely died, the NCBWA had waned. But before it went into oblivion, the organization had made some achievements. As earlier pointed out, the congress projected the image of West Africa to the outside world. It forged unity amongst West Africans. Furthermore, the organization sensitized Africans and the international community at large by holding various meetings, as in Freetown in 1920 and 1923, Barthrust in 1925, and Lagos in 1930. It fought for the introduction of certain reforms in the colonies. For instance, it had been claimed that the principle of elective representatives to the legislative council was conceded and that franchise though limited, was introduced for Calabar and Lagos in 1922, Accra and Cape Coast in 1923 and Freetown in 1925. The new legislative council inaugurated for the colony of Southern Nigeria in 1925, had four elected African members, three from Lagos and one from Calabar. Lastly, the congress founded the popular Achimota College in 1927 to cater for the educational needs of the people of West Africa.35 All these achievements well as the activities of the NCBWA within and outside West Africa qualify it as one of the serious organizations that sought to integrate the West African region. It should however, be pointed out that this move towards integration focused more attention of the British West Africa and its political activities. It did not extend to the Francophone and Lusophone West African countries. 

4. West African Students’ Union (WASU) 

Another early organization that attempted to unify, or rather integrate the West African Sub-region was the West African Students’ Union (WASU). However, the first formal association of students was the Union for Students of African Descent (USAD) which was organized by a few West Indian and West Africans in Britain in 1917. Its members mainly students, the USAD eschewed politics. Of course political agitation did not seem likely to serve the best interest of the average student. By 1921, the union had 25 members which grew to 120 in 1924. Immediately after the First World War, the number of West African students in London increased. One of the new arrivals was Ladipo Solanke, a Nigerian (Yoruba) law student. While in London, Solanke came to the firm conclusion that, “until Africans at home and abroad, including all persons of African descent recognize and develop the spirit or the principles of self-help, unity and cooperation among themselves… they would have to continue to suffer the results of colour prejudice and remain hewers of wood and drawers of water for the other races of mankind”.36 

In 1924, Solanke took the initiative in organizing the Nigerian Progress Union which, in 1925 was replaced by the West African Students’ Union. It is interesting to point out that all the foundation members of WASU were law students who, on graduation went back to their respective West African countries as political leaders. Between 1925 and 1945, the WASU was the principal social and political center for West African Students in United Kingdom. The declared objectives of WASU were:- (1) To provide and maintain a hostel in London for students from West 

Africa. (2) To act as a center for information and research on African history, 

culture and institutions. (3) To promote good –will and understanding between Africans and 

other races. (4) To present to the World a true picture of African life and philosophy. (5) To foster a spirit of self-help, unity, and cooperation. 

(6) To foster a spirit of national consciousness and racial pride among 

its members (and other West Africans). (7) To publish a monthly magazine to be called WASU.37 A cursory look at these objectives would reveal that WASU was moving towards integration of West Africa using education as a spring-board. Its activities were largely centered on West Africa as a political entity. Its vision of integration informed its call for “self-help, unity and cooperation” among the West Africans at home and abroad, students or working-class, professionals and politicians. The WASU journals provided an early literary outlet for many West Africans especially the student members of the union who later became West Coast leaders in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and the Gambia. Perhaps, WASU’S greatest contribution had been its stimulation of political and racial consciousness among the West Africans who came under its influence, for as J.W. de-Grats-Johnson has asserted, the first step towards nationhood is to change the attitude of the white man towards the educated Africans.38 

5. The West African Currency Board (WACB) 

Two major kinds of financial zones had been in use within the West African countries during the colonial period. These were the “monetary areas” and the “currency union”. The difference between a monetary area and a currency union was that in the former, member countries might use separate currencies, while in the later the same currency was in vogue. Under the monetary area arrangement, the Francophone and Anglophone countries of West Africa had special relationships with the respective currency of the ‘Mother’ country, which were the pound sterling and the French franc respectively.39 The currency union embracing the English- speaking countries of West Africa during the colonial period operated under the West African Currency Board (WACB). The Board was founded in 1912. The quest for the introduction of a uniform monetary system in all the Anglophone West Africa territories necessitated the establishment of the WACB. It had its headquarters in London. Branches were opened at each of the four Anglophone countries’ capitals namely, Lagos, Accra, Freetown and Bathrust.40 

The Board was founded to “provide a simple but effective method of managing a separate colonial currency and of maintaining complete stability in the rate of exchange between colonial currency unit and sterling”.41 The Board provided and controlled the supply of a common currency for the Anglophone countries of West Africa. As a currency issuing authority, the WACB issued its currency in the respective capitals of the countries concerned at the rate of twenty shillings West African currency to one pound sterling. In other word, one pound sterling exchange for one West African pound. It was therefore a sterling exchange agency. The Board had authority to invest its fund in sterling securities in any Commonwealth countries. As Usoro has asserted, 

[T]he importance of this monetary link was the convertibility of British West African coins and notes on demand into sterling balances in London. It was essentially a convenient sterling exchange standard currency, the issue and redemption of which were completely automatic. The system was convenient for both commercial and administrative links with Britain.42 

Two important factors brought about the demise of the WACB. The first was that from 1957 West African countries began to get their political independence from Britain, beginning with Ghana. Independence went hand in hand with the establishment of national monetary institutions in the English-speaking countries of West Africa. For instance, Ghana established her central bank in 1957, Nigeria in 1958, Sierra Leone in 1964 and The Gambia in 1971. When Ghana became independent in 1957, she established her own Central Bank that issued the Ghana pound which was in turn replaced by the cedi. These indigenous apex banks replaced the WACB as the currency issuing authority. However, in spite of the demise of the WACB at independence, and the establishment of national monetary institutions, the West countries still belonged to the sterling area until 1972 when same countries started to break away and formed their respective central banks. 

The second and more important factor was the policy statement issued by the British government. In a statement dated 23rd June 1972, the United Kingdom informed West African in particular and the world at large that, 

[I]n consequence of the decision to allow the pound sterling to float, exchange control is being extended to capital transactions by UK Resident with residents of Overseas Sterling Area except the Irish Republic, and the necessary statutory instrument has been made to limit the scheduled territories to the United Kingdom (including the Channel Island) and the Irish Republic.43 

To all intents and purposes, this statement terminated what was left of the sterling area within the West African sub-region. The Anglophone West African countries ceased to belong to the sterling area immediately after the policy statement had been issued. 

6. West African Monetary Union (WAMU) or Union Monetaire 

Quest Africain (UMOA) For the French-speaking countries, the colonial currency unit was the CFA (Colonies Francaises d’ Afrique) franc, which was equal in value to the French franc. The CFA franc was issued by each country, and was legal tender only within the country of issue. On May 12, 1962 a new monetary arrangement emerged when seven French-speaking West African countries formed Union Monetaire Quest Africaine (UMOA)44 or West African Monetary Union (WAMU). Under the WAMU or UMOA, the seven French- speaking countries, namely, Dahomey (now Benin), Ivory Coast (now Cote d’Ivoire), Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), used the same currency. For this purpose a central bank called the Banque Centrale es Etats de L’Afrique Quest (BCEAO) was established. 

Under a treaty of co-operation between the West African Currency Union and France, the name of the currency unit was changed to Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA) franc. Unlike the colonial CFA franc, the notes issued by the BCEAO were legal tenders in all the member states. The CFA franc had a fixed parity with French franc. For example the 1975 parity of CFA franc to the French franc was 1 CFA franc = 0.02 French franc.45 Again, its convertibility was guaranteed by the French government. The franc zone found the arrangement suitable for its operations and its membership allowed the nations involved a high degree of monetary stability. All reserves were held exclusively in French franc and the bulk of exchange transactions were similarly handled by France. This monetary arrangement allowed France an unparalleled degree of control over the economies of member states which had to follow monetary and financial policies adopted by France. 

Guinea and Mali opted out of the franc zone in 1960 and 1962 respectively. Each of the two countries now issued its own currency. The currency of Guinea was inconvertible although nominally pegged to the CFA franc. Mali maintained an operations account with the French Treasury so that settlements with France or any other country in the franc zone were easily made in Mali franc.46 

From the above analysis, it can be seen that there were two major monetary zones in West African. Harmonization in the monetary field therefore became imperative since this would encourage the growth of intra-region trade there by strengthening the sub-region’s economy. 

As rightly indicated by the group of experts which met in 1964, the establishment of a payments union for the clearing of payments among African countries was necessary for the carrying out of certain functions, notably: First, to exchange convertible currencies earned or accumulated by it for other currencies needed for payments. This would save exchange transactions cost by offsetting, for example, the sterling surpluses and French franc deficits of some countries or currency areas with the sterling deficit and French franc surpluses of other members. Second, any member could be credited by the UMOA with its convertible currency claims on another member, and those credits could be used to settle any convertible currency debt incurred towards another member. It was hoped that this type of transaction would obviate the actual use of foreign currencies in settlements thus effected.47 

7. The West African Court of Equity (WACE) 

Beginning from the early 19th century when the Atlantic slave trade was abolished, the European merchants had switched over to legitimate trade with the indigenous peoples on the coast of West Africa. Expectedly, there were trade disputes between the foreign merchants and the African traders. It fell on the indigenous courts to settle such trade misunderstandings not only between the Africans but also between the European and African traders. As the African customary court system was very strange to the foreign traders, they believed that they did not obtain justice in the indigenous courts.48 Consequently, the British government appointed consuls “to protect British subjects and promote their commercial interest….”49 John Beecroft was subsequently appointed British Consul in 1849 for these purposes. His territorial jurisdiction extended from Dahomey to Bimba in the Cameroons, but with headquarters at Calabar.50 It has been reported that it was King Eyamba’s failure to pay his British creditors in Old Calabar that led to suggestions, in 1814 and 1845 that John Beecroft be made a Consul to mediate in such matters.51 

In order to carry out their essential roles of protecting the British subjects and their commercial interests, the Consuls established Consular Courts. The Consular Courts dealt with trading disputes between African and European traders. There were also West African Courts of Equity, which were established jointly in 1850s by the foreign traders and the indigenous traders for the purpose of settling trade disputes arising on the West African coastal areas. The British Foreign Office accepted that the Consul ought to have more authority, but it was not until a legal decision established that the West African Court of Equity had no legal powers that they decided to act. It appears that the Consuls were more powerful than the West African Court of Equity. For as Professor Latham put it, “at long last magisterial authority was conferred upon the Consul… he could fine, banish, or imprison British subjects who broke the rules or regulations, which he might make for the good order of the district.”52 

Thus, during the early period, there were three categories of courts, namely, the Consular Courts, the West African Court of Equity, and the indigenous courts. While the Consular Courts and the West African Court of Equity handled commercial matters arising between the supercargoes and the Africans, the indigenous courts continued to administer justice in cases involving only the indigenous people. There was need to amalgamate the three court systems into one. The actual amalgamation of the court systems in West Africa started in 1862. In that year, the British government made Lagos its Colony, after ceding the territory to the British Crown under a Treaty of Cession of 1861. The British government introduced English law into the Colony of Lagos under the Ordinance No.3 of 1863. In the same year, the first Supreme Court was established in Lagos. The Supreme Court had civil and criminal jurisdictions.53 

West African Court of Equity based its decisions on general notions of justice. Whenever there was conflict between common law rule and the doctrine on the same matter, the doctrine of equity was to prevail. From the highest courts sitting in each of the British colonies, appeal cases lay to the West African Court of Appeal. Further appeal lay to the judicial committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. In 1874, a separate government was established for the British settlements of Lagos and the Gold Coast both of which were together called the Gold Coast Colony.54 

8. West African Court of Appeal (WACA) 

Like the West African Court of Equity (WACE), the West African Court of Appeal (WACA) was a colonial institution that attempted to integrate the West African legal and judicial systems. A recent research55 has concluded that the present ECOWAS Court of Justice has its antecedent in the West African Court of Appeal (WACA) and the West African Court of Equity (WACE), which were established by the British chiefly to protect the European economic interests. 

In 1866, the four British settlements of Lagos, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and The Gambia were amalgamated into one government referred to as the government of the West African Settlements.56 The government of the West African settlements established Courts of Civil and Criminal Justice, which replaced the Supreme Courts in the British settlements. The government of the West African settlement also established the West African Court of Appeal (WACA) and the West African Court of Equity (WACE). The Judges of the West African Court of Appeal were drawn from among the four English-speaking colonies of Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone. The West African Court of Equity was made up of the supercargoes, commercial agents, local kings and the British Consuls.57 

The West African Court of Appeal gave judgments to numerous appeal cases brought before it from Supreme Courts of Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. The selected judgements of the WACA were reported in series of 15 volumes and are usually cited as “WACA”. Some of the volumes of WACA reports were published by the government of Nigeria, others by the government of Gold Coast, and some others by the Crown Agents for Overseas Government and Administrations in England. In Nigeria, the intermediate appeal to the WACA was abolished in 1954 when the country became a federation. 

The WACA entertained cases between individuals and between the Crown and individuals or vice-versa. There is no evidence that the WACA adjudicated on matters between colonial territories in West Africa. It is also instructive to note that following the doctrine of stare decisis or binding precedents, the decisions of the WACA were binding on all the Courts in the former British West African colonies. Presently, like the English Courts, no Court in the former British Colonies is bound by the decision of WACA because of the independence status of these nations. However, although the decisions of the WACA are no longer binding, they are still being treated with great respect: they may be cited as persuasive authorities in some West African countries, including Nigeria. With the demise of the WACA there was no judicial institution to link the West African sub-region until the establishment of the Community Court of Justice in 1991, which was however inaugurated in 200158. Interestingly, the WACA was located at Calabar. The WACA metamorphosed into first Supreme Court of the Southern Protectorate and currently housing the Appeal Court in Calabar. In other words, The Court monument which housed the West African Court of Appeal over one hundred years ago is current Court of Appeal in Calabar. Sadly the WACA house was wrecked by fire on December 31, 2011. 59 As one commentator rightly remarked, “[i]ndeed, the gutted WACA house “is the history of judiciary in Nigeria and West Africa.”60 

9. Summary and Conclusions 

The origins of the West African integration could be traced to three main epochs, namely, the pre-colonial, colonial and post- colonial times. This article deals with the first the two epochs. The article traces the origins of the West African integration to the economic activities of the early empires of the Western Sudan, Islamic revolutions, trade, trade routes, and military alliances during the pre-colonial times. However, the colonial period marked the beginning of functional economic cooperation and integration among the West African States. Some of the institutions that promoted the West African integration during the colonial period were National Council of British West Africa (NCBWA), West African Students’ Union (WASU), the West African Currency Board (WACB), West African Monetary Union (WAMU) or Union Monetaire Quest Africain (UMOA), the West African Court of Equity (WACE) and the West African Court of Appeal (WACA). Notably, most of the integrative organisations during the colonial period were mainly Anglophone or Francophone. This division was due to the external influence of Britain and France who were the colonial masters. The French, particularly, did not encourage the economic integration of its former colonies with the Anglophone countries, a situation which has continued in the ECOWAS. 


1Victor Essien, “Regional Trade Agreement in Africa: A Historical and Bibliographical Account of ECOWAS and CEMAC” Hauser Global Law School Programme/Hausa Home Global Research Tool/Globalex, (published October 2006, retrieved 31/12/15). 2Essien, “Regional Trade Agreement in Africa…”; Domenico Mazzeo (ed.), African Regional Organisations (1984), 1; Naceur Bourenane, “Regional Integration in Africa: Situation and Prospects in Regional Integration in Africa. OECD/ADB Seminar (2002), 17 cited in Essien, Regional Trade Agreement in Africa….” 3J. R. Bassey, “The Nigeria’s Foreign Policy and Establishment of the ECOWAS, 1960-1975: A Study in Diplomatic History” in African Journal of Political Science and International Relations (2015); J.R. Bassey, “Nigeria-ECOWAS Relations in Historical Perspective, 1975-1999: A Study in Diplomatic History” (Unpublished Ph.D Thesis submitted to the University of Calabar, 2002). 4See Federal Republic of Nigeria: Nigeria and the Organisation of African Unity: In Search of an African Reality, Abuja: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1991. 5Bassey E. Ate, “From the Cold War to Globalisation: A Review of the Foundation of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Since Independence” in Okon Eminue & Monday Dickson, Key Issues in International Relations, (Enugu: University of Nigeria Press Ltd., 2015), 159. 6P. E. Eze amd O. E. Ezeani, “African Union and Crisis Management in Africa: Interogating the 2011 Cote D’Ivoire Conflict” in Nigerian Journal of Social Sciences (Vol.10, No.1, January-June 2014), 252. 7Ebere R. Adigbuo, “African Union and the Comtemporary Challenge of Responsibility to Protect” in Godwin Ichimi(ed.) Perspective on Contemporary Nigeria: Essays in Honour of Professor A. Bolaji Akinyemi, CFR (Abuja: Salwin Nigeria Limited, 2014), 197. 8E.J. Usoro, “Past and Present Attempts at Economic Integration in West Africa”, E. C. Edozien and E. Osagie (eds.), Economic Integration of West Africa (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1982), 38-39. 9Ibid, 40 10A. B. Aderibigbe, “West African Integration: An Historical Perspective,” Nigerian Journal of Economic and Social Studies V.1 (March, 1963), 9-14. 11Roland Oliver and Anthony Atmore, Africa Since 1800 (London: Cambridge 

University Press, 1987), 29. 12J. Spencer Trimingham, A History of Islam in West Africa (London: Oxford 

University Press, 1970), 25. 13Ibid, 25. 14J. D. Fage, A History of West Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University 

Press, 1969), 13. 15A. I. Asiwaju, “Social-Economic Integration of the West African Sub-region in Historical Context: Focus on the European Colonial Period,” A. B. Akinyemi et al (eds.), Readings and Documents on ECOWAS (Lagos: Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, 1984), 34. 16K. B. C. Onwubiko, History of West Africa, AD1000-1800, (Aba: Africanna 

Educational Publishers Company, 1977), 59. 17Asiwaju, “Social-Economic Integration…” 34. “Maghreb” is an Arabic word meaning the land of the sunset. The Maghreb comprises the North African countries of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. See J. M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib (Cambridge, 1971). 18Asiwaju, “Social-Economic Integration…,” 35. 19A. G. Hopkins, An Economic History of West Africa (London: Longman 

Group, 1982) 58-60. 20Hopkins, An Economic History…, 62. 21J. E. Ade Ajayi and R. S. Smith, Yoruba Warfare in the Nineteenth Century 

(London: Cambridge Press, 1964), 33. 22S. A. Akintoye, Power Politics in Yorubaland: Ekitiparapo and the Kiriji War, 

1877 – 1893 (London: Longman Group, 1969), 43. 23A. I. Asiwaju, “Social-Economic Integration…,” 34. 24A. C. Ryder, Benin and its European Invaders (London: Oxford University 

Press, 1980), p.42. 25Federal Republic of Nigeria: Nigeria’s Economic Diplomacy (Abuja: Ministry 

of Foreign Affairs, 1992), 24. 26J. Ayodele Langley, Pan- Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa (Oxford: 

Clarendon Press, 1973), p.112; Aderibigbe, 9-13. 27Langley, Pan-Africanism and Nationalism…, 112. 28Ibid…, 112 29Ibid…, 112 30James S. Coleman, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism (Benin City: Brobury 

& Wistrom, 1986), 191. 31Ibid…, 19 32Ibid…, 193 33Langley, Pan-Africanism and Nationalism…, 115. 34Ibid… 115 35A Fajana and A. O. Anjorin, From Colony to Sovereign State (London: 

Thomas Nelson, 1978), 141. 36Coleman, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism…, 204. 37Ibid… 204. 38Ibid… 204. 39S. B. Falegan, “West African Organisations for Co-operation” in Edozien 

and Osagie (eds.), Economic Integration of West Africa, 59. 40J. Maris, “The Monetary and Banking Systems and Loan Market of Nigeria,” Margery Perham (ed.), Mining, Commerce and Finance in Nigeria (London: Oxford University Press, 1947), p.49. 41W. T. Newlyn and D. C. Brown, Money and Banking in British Colonial 

Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), p.25. 42E. J. Usoro, “Past and Present Attempts at Economic Integration in West 

Africa” in Edozien and E. Osagie (eds.), p.49. 43 Falegan, “West African Organisations for Co-operation” in Edozien and 

Osagie (eds.), p.61. 44Ralph I. Onwuka, Development and Integration in West Africa: The Case of the 

ECOWAS (Ife: University of Ife Press, nd), 4. 45Falegan, 60. 46Ibid…, 60 47UNECA, Report of the Expert Group on African Payment Union, (Addis Ababa, 

1964), E/CN. 14/262. 48Akintunde Olusegun Obilade, The Nigerian Legal System (Ibadan: Spectrum 

Books Limited, 2001), 18. 49A. J. H. Latham, Old Calabar 1600-1891: The Impact of the International Economy upon a Traditional Society. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 135. 50K. O. Dike, Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta 1830-1885: An Introduction to the Economic and Political History of Nigeria. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 129. 51Latham, Old Calabar…, 134. 52Ibid…, 138. 53Obilade, The Nigerian Legal System, 19. See also A.E.W. Park, The Sources of 

Nigerian Law (New Zealand: Sweet and Maxwell Ltd., 1963), 18. 54Ibid., 4. 55J. R. Bassey, “The Evolution of the ECOWAS Court of Justice: A Study in Legal and Diplomatic History” in Journal of Research and Contemporary Issues (Vol.5; Nos.1&2 January-December, 2009), 16-28. 56Ibid…, 18-19. 57J. R. Bassey, Impact of International Laws and Diplomacy on Pre-Colonial Africa, 1807-1913: The Nigerian Experience (Calabar: University of Calabar Press, 2016) Chapter Nine dealing with “The Trust System and the Court of Equity”. 58 J. R. Bassey “The Evolution of ECOWAS Court of Justice: A Study in Legal and Diplomatic History” in Journal of Research and Contemporary Issues, (Vol.5, Nos. 1&2, January-December, 2009), pp.16-28. 59Edem Edem, “How Fire Wrecked Court Of Appeal in Calabar” 

Leadership, Monday, 02/01/2012. 60Jude Okwe “Fire Razes Court of Appeal, Calabar” This Day, Friday, 

31/ 12/ 2011. 

Published inNumber 1Volume 4