Mixed reactions as Speaker of Parliament, others mark ECOWAS @45
…5th Legislature to initiate rapid response to post Covid-19 recovery
The Speaker of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Sidie Mohammed Tunis, and other stakeholders in the sub-region have said that despite the progress made in the 45 years of the formation of the regional bloc, enormous challenges still confront the region.
The Speaker in a statement he issued on Thursday to mark the ECOWAS Day celebration in Abuja said the bloc has made progress toward fostering interstate economic and political cooperation along the West African coastal and its landlocked zones, cutting across linguistic, geographic and colonial barriers.
ECOWAS was formed on May 28, 1975, when Nigeria’s former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, joined his counterparts to sign the Lagos Treaty to birth the vision which inspired the establishment of the regional body to foster regional integration and economic cooperation.
The revision of the Lagos Treaty in 1993 assigned more mandate to ECOWAS, setting as economic objectives the achievement of a Common Market and Custom Union.
ECOWAS then began a new journey, with the adoption by Member States of the Revised Treaty which also provided for the establishment of the ECOWAS Parliament and the ECOWAS Court of Justice. It also expanded the role of the ECOWAS to include conflict prevention and ensuring good governance and democracy.
The Speaker noted that “over time, Member States adopted ECOWAS as a main regional economic community, positioned for the realization of the African Union objectives. In the course of its existence, ECOWAS has focused on numerous programs, with some of its flagship programs centering on the Trade Liberalization Scheme which fast-tracked the adoption of the Common External Tariff (CET).
“Other initiatives include the Free Movement of Persons, Goods, Services and Capital, on which platform ECOWAS modestly distinguished itself amongst peers in the entire region of Africa, as the most successful regional economic community in the area of visa-free migration, right of residence and establishment for its citizens. Yet others are, the Monetary Cooperation Program and program on Peace and Security.
“To that extent, 45 years down the line of history, our States are better integrated, with citizens migrating more freely and goods and services more readily available across Member States.
ECOWAS has remarkable records of success in maintaining peace and stability in Member States whilst upholding democratic values across the region,” he said.
The Speaker also pointed out that ECOWAS Common Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) aims to promote agri-business and agricultural practices that are modern and sustainable in Member States, as well as the multi-faceted infrastructure program that fosters improvement of inter-state corridor roads, rails, air links and telecommunications, energy and the program on the single currency.
He however, lamented that despite these remarkable achievements as a region, people of the region continue to yearn for help particularly under the current global pandemic of COVID-19.
“We are mindful of the fact that this outbreak is like none in the past. Since it was first detected in December, 2019, within months, it eroded our normal ways of life, confined us within our respective borders, bringing our economies to a virtual standstill and triggering a possible recession for the year.
“As at 24 May, the sub-region has recorded over 29,000 confirmed cases with over 11,000 recoveries and sadly, above 600 deaths. These are not mere numbers or statistics of physical things but of human beings, citizens of West Africa whose lives were cut short by this rampaging virus.
“As I empathize with all citizens as we all are directly or remotely affected, the pain and agony of these needless loss of lives cannot be fully expressed by me on behalf of the Parliament; but rest assured of our constant support and prayers for the healing of the world and particularly, our beloved sub-region,” he said.
He noted that the 5th Legislature, which he presides shall play its role towards the ECOWAS’ post COVID-19 recovery response strategies by collaborating with and enacting policies to support sister institutions in the execution of COVID-19 related programs for the benefit of the citizens of the sub-region.
Also speaking a public Affairs analyst based in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, Majeed Dahiru, said the ECOWAS has made progress but not in significant proportion.
He noted that regional integration has been very slow and economic development has been distorted not because the ECOWAS is faulty but because the region has a preponderance of states that are bedeviled by domestic political challenges leading to economic disaster in some cases.
“We had Liberia and Sierra Leone for example practically torn by war for several decades. We had military coups and instability in a number of countries in ECOWAS. We even have currently a raging Islamist terror network around the Sahel with Nigeria being the worst-hit.
So we have challenges of weak states within the ECOWAS sub-region and the progress cannot be driven by multilateral arrangement alone. Individual states must show inherent capacity of their own areas of comparative advantage, which has not really been the case.
“ECOWAS countries have largely been bedeviled by poor political leadership that has hampered the prospects and potentials of the 15-member states.
He advised individual states to fix the challenges even as he called for urgent need to bring about internal reforms within the member-states to transform the potentials of the region into actual wealth otherwise ECOWAS cannot achieve much, adding that there are not so many good governance structures around the countries of the bloc.
Another analyst, who preferred anonymity, stressed that ECOWAS countries have largely been bedeviled some civilian dictatorship that have hindered proper democratic governance even as he urged the citizens of the region to take their destiny into their own hands.