In a unanimous endorsement that signals the trust and confidence reposed in him by his counterparts, President Bola Tinubu emerged the new Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at the 63rd Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on Sunday in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau.
President Tinubu, who is the latest entrant into the exclusive club of Heads of State in West Africa, enthusiastically accepted the honour, on behalf of Nigeria, with a solemn pledge to bear the responsibility of the office and run an inclusive administration of the regional organisation.
The Nigerian leader, however, warned that the threat to peace in the sub-region had reached an alarming proportion with terrorism and an emerging pattern of military takeover that now demand urgent and concerted actions.
He said insecurity and creeping terrorism were stunting the progress and development of the region.
President Tinubu called for a collective action from member-states, pledging that under his leadership, frameworks would be harmonized to actualize the dreams of ECOWAS.
“On peace and security, the threat has reached an alarming level, and needs urgent actions in addressing the challenges. Indeed, without a peaceful environment, progress and development in the region will continue to remain elusive. In this regard, we must remain committed to the utilisation of all regional frameworks at our disposal to address the menace of insecurity,” he declared.
The President noted that ECOWAS had developed a security architecture, which “covers a wide range of areas that involved kinetic and non-kinetic operations, including preventive diplomacy. There is also the Regional Plan of Action on Fight against Terrorism 2020-2024 as well as the operationalization of the ECOWAS Standby Force on Fight Against Terrorism.
“I will ensure that we immediately harmonize these plans and mobilize resources as well as the political will towards the actualisation of the initiatives. As terrorists do not respect boundaries, we must work collectively to have an effective regional counterterrorism measure,” he further stated.
On his emergence as Chairman on his first participation at the summit, having just started out as the elected leader of Nigeria, President Tinubu stated that he was humbled and honoured by the trust to assume the leadership of the regional body, pledging his commitment to serve the interest of the community.
He said: “Indeed, I’m humbled and honored by this trust, and want to assure you of my unalloyed commitment to provide the necessary leadership with dedication to serve the interest of the community.”
To underscore his commitment towards regional integration, the Nigerian leader declared that he would prioritize political stability, peace and security, regional economic integration and strengthening of the ECOWAS institutions, declaring that democracy and good governance remain the abiding cornerstone of peace and sustainable development.
While decrying the emerging pattern of coup d’etat in West Africa where soldiers have truncated the popular mandate, President Tinubu charged ECOWAS to stand firm in defence of democracy.
“We must stand firm on democracy. There is no governance, freedom and rule of law without Democracy. We will not accept coup after coup in West Africa again. Democracy is very difficult to manage but it is the best form of government.
“There is no one here among us who did not campaign to be a leader. We didn’t give our soldiers resources, we didn’t invest in them, in their boots, in their training to violate the freedom of the people. To turn their guns against civil authorities is a violation of the principles upon which they were hired, which is, to defend the sovereignty of their nations.
We must not sit in ECOWAS as toothless bulldogs,” the President warned.
On political stability, he said: “You will all agree with me that democracy and good governance are the cornerstones of peace and sustainable development of every society. I’m fully committed to deepening democracy and good governance in the region.
“We must strengthen our democratic institutions and ensure the respect for human rights and the rule of law. I will enhance engagements with the countries in transition to ensure their quick return to democratic rule.”
The new ECOWAS Chairman called for improved private sector participation in the effort towards the economic development of Member States as well as their social integration.
“We would work collectively to pursue an inclusive economic integration, which will be significantly private sector driven, in order to unlock the vast economic potentials of our region. We would actively promote trade, investment, and business cooperation among Member States by addressing the barriers impeding intra-regional trade, as well as creating a conducive business environment.
“We must encourage economic partnerships to raise the level of trade and investments in our region, hence facilitating employment creation and sustainable development and prosperity for our citizens.
“To this end, we must look inward and work with our regional economic facilitation platforms such as the Federation of West Africa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FEWACCI) as well as ECOWAS Trade Organisation Network to attain our desired goals,” he added.
President Tinubu assured the regional leaders of the immediate implementation of his vision for the body, declaring that:
“In furtherance of my vision for our region’s economic recovery and growth, Nigeria intends to convene an ECOWAS Extra Ordinary Summit on Trade and Investment in October 2023.
“The event will provide opportunity for Member States to showcase their potentials and encourage match-making, in order to evolve business cooperation among the various organized private sectors within the region,” he added, while calling for the strengthening of the institutions of the body.
“In the area of strengthening our Organisation’s Institutions and ensuring effective performance, we underscore the need for the conclusion of the on-going institutional reforms of the organization.
“Given that Community Levy remained the biggest source of generating funds to run our organization, we must ensure that our citizens being taxed must be positively impacted by the programmes and projects of ECOWAS. This is in line with the shift of ECOWAS slogan from ‘ECOWAS of State’ to ‘ECOWAS of People,'” President Tinubu emphasised.
He appreciated the Authority of Heads of States and citizens of the Community for trusting him to lead the West African body, saying, “Your Excellencies, let me conclude by once again deeply appreciating the Authority of Heads of State and the citizens of the Community for your trust in me. Together, we can shape a brighter future of shared values of peace, democracy, and economic prosperity of our region.”