Since the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) about 40 years ago, stakeholders in the diplomatic circle have been agitating for greater unity and integration among member-states.
ECOWAS was founded on May 28, 1975 with the signing of the Treaty of Lagos for the sole aim of strengthening regional integration among its 15-member states.
However, perceptive observers insist that whether or not the dream of ECOWAS’s founding fathers has been achieved is debatable.
This observation, perhaps, underscores the decision of the ECOWAS Heads of Government to converge on Abuja recently for an extra-ordinary summit to appraise and reflect on the successes and challenges of the regional body.
Addressing the summit, President Muhammadu Buhari commended the wisdom, vision and courage of the founding fathers for setting up the regional economic community in Africa.
“This occasion provides us all stakeholders, the opportunity to reflect on the progress so far made towards achieving the objectives of ECOWAS.
“We have gone beyond the protocol on free movement of persons and goods, realising the harmonisation of trade and our customs codes.
“The achievement of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff and Trade Liberalisation Scheme is a vital signpost in the convergence criteria required for our Common Currency regime.
“Our people can now reside and freely move from one country to another in our region without stress while the region’s infrastructure deficit has been substantially reduced.
“These and many other achievements are clear indications of the community’s resolve to shift emphasis to economic integration while still keeping focus on peace and security.
“It would be recalled that ECOWAS demonstrated commitment and leadership in the successful resolution of the crises in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali and Guinea-Bissau,’’ Buhari stressed.
He praised the past and current leadership of the regional body for their contributions to the development of the sub-region.
Buhari, however, stated that the community had a lot to do in the realisation of the community’s integration processes as well as attracting foreign capital to the region.
He enjoined the member-states to boost power supply in their respective countries to create additional employment opportunities for unemployed youths.
He also urged them to accelerate the provision of critical infrastructure such as the West African Gas Pipeline project among others.
Buhari stressed the need to encourage intra-regional trade among member-states to generate more employment opportunities in the region.
“Urgent steps need to be taken to encourage intra-regional trade among-member states in order to boost employment generation and trade relations,’’ he said.
On mitigating the effect of climate change in the continent, Buhari spoke of the need for the community to continue to synchronise its actions with those of other African countries through the African Union.
He urged member-states to work closely with the rest of the world to reduce global warming without compromising their industrial development drives.
Besides this, Buhari assured the participants at the summit that Nigeria would remain steadfast in its commitment and support to democracy and good governance in Africa.
“Let me recall that the election in Burkina Faso completed the cycle of 2015 presidential elections in the region successfully conducted in Nigeria, Togo, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.
“This remarkable achievement reflects our collective resolve to entrench democracy and good governance in the region.
“As we prepare for more general elections, I assure you that Nigeria will remain steadfast in its commitment and support to democracy and good governance,’’ he said.
He said that the convening of the summit in Abuja was a great honour and privilege for the government and people of Nigeria.
Buhari said that ECOWAS had recorded concrete achievements which had made it a universally acclaimed regional economic community model.
Irrespective of this, Buhari opined that the community faced numerous challenges on integration drive, peace, security and political stability.
“There are also structural and administrative challenges in running the commission that equally require serious attention.
“Security challenges persist in our region as we continue to be confronted with the daunting scourge of trans-national organised crime including arms and drug trafficking as well as piracy and criminality at sea.
“Equally worrying is the rising scourge of violent extremism and terrorism. All these constitute serious threats to peace and security in the region that require our urgent and concerted actions,’’ Buhari noted.
He expressed optimism that the ongoing reforms in ECOWAS institutions would be concluded and firmly entrenched to ensure greater effectiveness in leading the integration process.
He also expressed the hope that the resources of the community would continue to be devoted to the implementation of economic programmes that would enable member-states to build a prosperous region.
“I remain confident that under the leadership of the Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government, Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, our community will continue to make steady progress towards achieving the goals for which it was founded,’’ he said.
In a message to the occasion, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged continuous support of the UN in the ongoing fight against religious extremism and terrorism in the region.
In the light of its consistent integration and development programmes, observers express the hope that ECOWAS has the capacity to promote unity and regional integration among its member-states.(NANFeatures)
ECOWAS: Promoting Unity, Development, Integration Among Member-States