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Barely 41 days after his inauguration as Nigeria’s president Bola Tinubu, has also been elected as the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

President Tinubu emerged as the new Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), at the end of the organisation’s 63rd Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS held in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau.

The ECOWAS Chairmanship is a position held by one of the heads of state or government of the member countries, chosen on a rotating basis for a one-year tenure.

 President Tinubu, in his inaugural speech told the members that the situation in the west African sub region demanded urgent and concerted action.

“We will take democracy seriously, Democracy is very tough but it is the form of government,” the Nigerian leader said after he received handover documents from the outgoing chairman who is Guinea-Bissau’s President, Umaro Embaló.

The Nigerian leader maintained that insecurity and creeping terrorism were stunting the progress and development of the sub-region. He sought private sector-led economic growth, and called for collective action from member-states, pledging that under his leadership, frameworks would be harmonised to actualise the dream of ECOWAS.

The new Chairman also warned against the threat to peace in the West African sub-region noting that this had reached alarming proportions, with terrorism and an emerging pattern of military takeover as major contributors.

He said, “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.”

President Tinubu noted that ECOWAS had developed a security architecture, which he said, “covers a wide range of areas that involved kinetic and non-kinetic operations, including preventive diplomacy.”

He also pointed out the Regional Plan of Action on Fight against Terrorism 2020-2024 as well as the operationalisation of the ECOWAS Standby Force on Fight Against Terrorism.

He promised to “ensure that we immediately harmonise these plans and mobilise 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.”

On his emergence as ECOWAS Chairman in his first participation at the summit, Tinubu stated that he was humbled and honoured by the trust to assume the leadership of the regional body, and pledged his commitment to serve the interest of the community.

The president said, “I’m humbled and honoured 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 president declared that he would prioritise political stability, peace and security, regional economic integration and strengthening of the ECOWAS institutions, declaring that democracy and good governance remained the abiding cornerstone of peace and sustainable development.

While decrying the emerging pattern of coup d’etat in West Africa, where soldiers toppled the popular mandate of the people through the barrel of the gun, Tinubu charged ECOWAS to stand firm in defence of democracy.

He stated, “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 added, “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.

He stated, “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 Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FEWACCI) as well as ECOWAS Trade Organisation Network to attain our desired goals.”

President Tinubu assured the regional leaders of the immediate implementation of his vision for the body, declaring, “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 organised private sector within the region.”

He called for strengthening of the ECOWAS institutions, stressing, “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 organisation.

“Given that community levy remained the biggest source of generating funds to run our organisation, 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 appreciating the Authority of Heads of State and Government and citizens of the Community for trusting him to lead the West African body, said, “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.”

In his welcome address, the immediate past ECOWAS Chairman and President of Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Mokhtar Sissoco Embalo, saluted his fellow leaders for sustaining the vision of the organisation despite the global economic headwinds and trouble spots within the region.

Embalo cited Mali, Burkina Faso, and Republic of Guinea as countries, where the constitutional order had been distorted. He congratulated Nigeria and Sierra Leone for sustaining constitutional order through democratic process with the recent successful elections.

Former Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari had occupied the position from 2018 to 2019.

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Julius Adegunna, a writer, and publisher of good news and reports. He is also a trainer in Writing and Publishing, a Media Consultant and an Entrepreneur. A 1987 Graduate of International Relations of the University of Ife, (Now Obafemi Awolowo University) with Post Graduate Diploma in International Relations, and Master in Communication Studies of Lagos State University. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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