Omololu Ogunmade and Alex Enumah in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari saturday in Abuja challenged his colleagues and heads of governments in West Africa to drive aggressive economic growth and save the lives of youths who constantly perish in search of greener pasture in Europe.
Buhari who made the call while addressing the 52nd ordinary session of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government at Hilton Hotel, said the frequency of suicidal mission being embarked upon by West African youths, calls for creation of conditions of peace and security in their respective countries.
He lamented the dwindling economic growth in the sub-region and appealed to the leadership of ECOWAS Commission to promote probity and accountability in the management of resources.
He also advocated the consolidation of the current reform of ECOWAS institutions and the promotion of good governance, sound financial management, cost reduction and prudent optimisation of ECOWAS dwindling resources.
â€œEqually important is the need to consolidate the efforts made so far on the ongoing Reform of ECOWAS Institutions and Specialised agencies, and to emphasise the importance of good governance, sound financial management and cost reduction as the underlying factors for a successful reform.
â€œIn this regard, Nigeria welcomes the approved institutional reforms of our organisation, and we are looking forward to their comprehensive implementation. The gains and savings made should be invested on greater integration projects, as well as on security and development,â€ he said.
The president canvassed the creation of regional mechanism for the evacuation, resettlement and empowerment of stranded West African youngsters and the initiation of dialogue with their European partners to address the menace.
Buhari, who also lamented the adverse effects of violent extremism spearheaded by terrorist groups on the youths, observed that the situation had taken toll on West African economies and hence, the need to give it urgent attention.
Disclosing that Nigeria had commenced the evacuation of its own stranded citizens, Buhari lamented indifference to the trend from the regionâ€™s development partners, and called for cooperation among member states in the sub-region with a view to nipping the crisis in the bud.
â€œIn West Africa, we live in constant threat of violent terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, AQIM and Al-Qaida. Nearly every week we see and hear the horror of human trafficking perpetrated by trans-border syndicates, who lure our youths to slavery through irregular migration.
â€œWe see the consequences, on our young men and women and on our economies, of drug trafficking and capital flight. Accordingly, it is imperative that we take urgent action to address these challenges. In collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration, we, in Nigeria, have been evacuating our compatriots who are stranded in Libya.
â€œReturnees have been receiving needed support including from state governments and some non-governmental organisations. I have instructed the National Emergency Management Agency to speed up the evacuation of all Nigerians stranded in Libya and facilitate their resettlement.
â€œYour Excellencies, dear colleagues, in view of the enormity of this challenge, may I suggest that we look into the possibility of putting in place a well run regional mechanism for the evacuation, resettlement and empowerment of stranded ECOWAS citizens abroad. Meanwhile, we should step up dialogue with our European partners in our efforts to jointly address this challenge which affect us all.
â€œThe long term solutions to these challenges are to create conditions of peace and security in our countries and sustainable development of our economies. Only through this can we create jobs and other conditions in which our youths will have little or no excuse to embark on the suicidal venture of irregular migration.
â€œRegrettably, there is growing reluctance from our regionâ€™s development partners to be more proactive in support of our efforts. However, our shared challenges make it imperative for the cooperation to be developed and intensified,â€ he said.
Thanking their predecessors for what he described as their foresight in adopting the â€˜ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governanceâ€™ in 2001, Buhari said the region has since then â€œbeen steadily developing the culture of democratic practice, including good governance and respect for the rule of law.â€
He said the effect of the adoption has been visible in Liberia which he said enabled its people to conduct themselves well after the recent general election as he expressed hopes that the December 26 run-off would successfully usher in a new democratic tenure.
Buhari appealed to the Togolese to resolve their political stalemate through dialogue.
He also admonished the people of Guinea-Bissau to halt their continued political deadlock which he said had had adverse effects on the people, good governance and resources of member states, notably the troops from contributing states to the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea Bissau.
Meanwhile, President of the ECOWAS Commission, Marcel De Souza has put the cost of maintaining a peace keeping force in Guinea Bissau as at 30 November 2017 at $101,727,517 ($101.725 million).
He noted that the speedy resolution of the political crisis would not enable the region channel funds for maintaining peace to other developmental projects that would impact positively on the region. He urged the leaders to pursue peace in their respective countries so as to realise the visions of the founding fathers of ECOWAS.
Also speaking, chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, Moussa Mahamat, noted that the problem of peace and security on the African continent remains a major challenge particularly for the harmonious development of Africa, and urged the leaders to do everything to rid the continent of the scourge of conflicts by 2020.
He commended ECOWAS for taking decisive action towards a peaceful resolution of the Guinea Bissau crisis. He however pledged the commitment of the AU in tackling issues such as terrorism, circulation of illicit weapons, drugs and human trafficking.
â€œThe images that emanate from Libya, the inhumane and degrading practices, pose, very brutally, the issue of migration. We are deeply challenged to work urgently with our partners to find immediate solutions to cyclical events, but even more so, to structural solutions acting on the cause and not only on the effectsâ€, he said.
The security situation in Guinea Bissau and Moroccoâ€™s admission into ECOWAS are top priorities at the 52nd ordinary session of the ECOWAS leaders, but while extensive discussions were made and some decision taken as regards Guinea Bissau, no mention was made concerning Moroccoâ€™s admission into ECOWAS by the leaders in their various presentations.
Morocco had earlier made its request to be a member of ECOWAS while Tunisia requested to be an observer country.
The 51st Ordinary Session held in Monrovia, Liberia in June agreed in principle to Moroccoâ€™s membership of the sub-regional bloc and directed the ECOWAS commission to consider the implications of the countryâ€™s membership.
The commission confirmed that study on the impact of Moroccoâ€™s membership was carried out and the outcome would be submitted to the Authority. Morocco was, however not invited for the 52nd summit.