President Muhammadu Buhari, last week Tuesday July 1, 2018 emerged in Lome, Togo as the new Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
In his acceptance speech, the Nigerian leader who commended his colleagues for his election noted that although he did not offer himself for the post, “you refused to take my no for an answer”. He told his fellow leaders that “I am truly humbled and pledge to serve and work with all of you to deliver on peace, security, good governance and socio-economic development” of the sub-region, and “take our organization to greater heights”.
As the new chairman, President Buhari was presented with the ECOWAS emblem by the out-going Chairman, Togo President, Faure Gnassigngbe.
ECOWAS is a sub-regional economic union that consists of fifteen West African countries. The union was established on May 28, 1975 with the signing of the Treaty of Lagos. Integration across the West African sub-region was the principal mission behind the establishment of the union. ECOWAS creates economic opportunities for citizens of member states as it also expands relations for each country with its neighbours. English, French and Portuguese are the three official languages of the Union.
ECOWAS provides peacekeeping force in the region with member states occasionally contributing and sending joint military troops to intervene in member countries in times of political instability and unrest. On May 29, 1981, ECOWAS countries signed a protocol on Mutual Defense Assistance that provided for the establishment of an Allied Armed Force for the Community called Economic Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). Nigeria, more than any other member of ECOWAS, played significant role in the military operations that brought peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone when war broke out in those countries. This makes Nigeria a strategic member of ECOWAS.
As he takes over the leadership of the sub-regional union, President Buhari must ensure that all protocols of the union including those that relate to free movement of persons are preserved; ensuring that all sections of the protocol remain relevant and favorable to every member state. Where obstacles to trade exist, they should be removed through mutually agreed mechanisms. The new chairman of ECOWAS should equally work towards resolving all the grey areas that are impeding the introduction of a common currency for all member states of ECOWAS.
In order to make meaningful impact, ECOWAS new chairman must set an agenda for his tenure. This should include finding a regional solution that will halt migration of youth from this part of Africa across the Mediterranean in their blind search for greener pasture in Europe. Climate change is another concern that should form part of the new chairman’s agenda. As climate change pushes desert encroachment closer to many ECOWAS countries and taking over their farm lands; large population of people from affected counties will be forced to migrate from their present location to safer and cultivable lands. This would create conflicts over farm lands between “indigenes” and “settlers’. ECOWAS could seek collaboration and support from the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union to initiate a large-scale aggressive afforestation programme for the sub-region.
Although the aim of the free movement protocol is to enhance economic activities among ECOWAS countries, criminals have taken undue advantage of this initiative; leading to trans-border crimes within ECOWAS countries. Peace in the sub-region is critically threatened by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The new chairman must address this threat to security of lives and property of citizens in the sub-region. As President Buhari tackles these challenges, Daily Trust wishes him a fruitful and successful tenure as ECOWAS chairman.