ECOWAS Leaders: It’s Time to Activate Counter-terrorism Standby Force

*Promise gradual easing of sanctions on Niger, sets up committee

*Tinubu stresses need to re-engage nations under military rule
*Says move key to fast-tracking return to civil rule 

*Hails Weah for conceding defeat in Liberian poll

Deji Elumoye and Michael Olugbode in Abuja

Heads of State and Government of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have agreed to review efforts to activate a standby force for counterterrorism operations in areas troubled by terrorist groups in the sub-region. This was one of the resolutions of the West African leaders in a communiqué read by President of ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Omar Touray, at the end of the 64th ordinary session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS on Sunday in Abuja.

The leaders, who reiterated their commitment to the eradication of terrorism and other threats to peace, security, and stability in the region, also promised to gradually ease sanctions on Niger Republic and set up a committee to that effect.

The decisions came as President Bola Tinubu, weekend, said there was need for ECOWAS to re-engage West African nations under military rule on the basis of realistic and short transition plans that could deliver democracy and good governance to the peoples as well as fast track the return to civil rule.
Tinubu also charged West African leaders to prioritise good governance and collective prosperity as essential tools to prevent authoritarianism and unconstitutional changes of government in the region.

Addressing the 64th ordinary session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government at the Conference Hall of State House, Abuja, on Sunday, Tinubu commended President George Weah of Liberia for conceding defeat during a recent national election.
Regarding the fight against terrorism and other related security matters, the leaders instructed the commission to expedite the convening of the meeting of ministers of finance and defence to agree on the modalities for the mobilisation of internal financial, human, and material resources on a mandatory basis to support the deployment of the regional counterterrorism force.

The communique read, “The Authority takes note of the commencement of assignment by the Special Envoy on Counterterrorism, Ambassador Baba Kamara, and directs the commission to facilitate his mission.
“The Authority directs the commission to intensify collaboration with sub-regional counterterrorism initiatives, such as the Accra initiative and MTJN, and urges member states to increase funding for joint maritime operations and exercises in the region and to improve coordination and collaboration among various ministries, departments, and agencies responsible for maritime security.”

The West African leaders also resolved to hold an extraordinary summit on unconstitutional changes of government aimed at promoting peace, security, and democracy in the region. They directed the commission to embark on deep reflection and explore the possibility of convening the extraordinary summit.
The commission immediately established a committee of Heads of State to engage with CMSP, the military junta in Niger Republic, on the need for a short transition roadmap and the emplacement of monitoring mechanisms.

The Authority promised a gradual easing of sanctions on that country based on outcomes of the engagement, and emphasised the need for the immediate and unconditional release of detained President Mohammed Bazoum.

The communique said, “The Authority deeply deplores the continued detention of President Mohammed Bazoum, his family and associates by the CMSP regime.
“The Authority further deplores the lack of commitment on the part of the CMSP to restore constitutional order. Consequently, the Authority calls on the CMSP to release President Mohammed Bazoum, his family, and associates immediately and without precondition.

“The Authority decides to set up a committee of Heads of State made up of the President and Head of State of the Republic of Togo, the President and the Head of State of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the President and Head of State of the Republic of Benin, to engage with the CMSP and other stakeholders with a view to agreeing on a short transition roadmap, establishing transition organs as well as facilitating the setting up of a transition monitoring and evaluation mechanism towards this speedy restoration of constitutional order.
“Based on the outcomes of the engagement by the committee of Heads of state with the CMSP, the Authority will progressively ease the sanctions imposed on Niger.
“In the event of failure by the CMSP to comply with the outcomes of the engagement with the committee, ECOWAS shall maintain all sanctions, including the use of force, and shall request the African Union and all other partners to enforce the targeted sanctions on members of the CMSP and their associates.”
The regional leaders commended efforts by member states and the ECOWAS commission to work on the consolidation of democracy, peace, security, and stability in the region.
The Authority noted, in particular, the peaceful elections that took place during the year in Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. It welcomed the peaceful resolution of the electoral disputes in Nigeria, as well as the peaceful outcome of the dialogue between the opposition and the government in the Republic of Sierra Leone.
On The Gambia, ECOWAS leaders implored the government and stakeholders to expedite the adoption of the new constitution ahead of the 2026 general election, as well as implementation of the white paper on the recommendations of the Truth, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission.
They extended the mandate of the ECOWAS mission in The Gambia by one year and instructed the mission to continue to support the country in the implementation of the white paper and defence on security sector reforms.
On Guinea Bissau, the leaders condemned the violence that erupted in the country on December 1, and all attempts to disrupt constitutional order and rule of law in the country.
Condemning the attempted coup in Sierra Leone on November 26, the leaders expressed sadness over the loss of lives and destruction of property and called for a thorough and transparent investigation to identify and bring perpetrators to justice.
They applauded the signing of the agreement for national unity resulting from mediated dialogue between the government and the opposition in Sierra Leone, and called on all parties and stakeholders to implement the agreement in good faith within the specified timeframe.
On Senegal, the Authority took note of preparations for the February 25, 2024 presidential election in the country, and urged inclusivity and transparency in the electoral process.
The leaders also called on the Senegalese government and stakeholders to adhere strictly to constitutional norms, ECOWAS protocols, and the rule of law in managing all electoral processes.
Meanwhile, Tinubu, who is Chairman of ECOWAS, told the 64th ordinary session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, “The delivery of good governance is not just a fundamental commitment; it is also an avenue to address the concerns of our citizens, to improve their quality of life, and create a stable environment conducive to the achievement of sustainable development.
“By providing good governance that tackles the challenges of poverty, inequality and other concerns of the people, we would have succeeded in addressing some of the root causes of military interventions in civilian processes in our region.”
Recalling decisions taken by West African leaders to further strengthen the region’s democratic achievements and uphold the right of the people to elect the leaders of their choice, Tinubu said the bloc had outlined specific measures to be taken against any member state opting for unconstitutional change of government.
He said, “While the imposition of punitive sanctions may pose challenges, it is important to underscore that the struggle to protect the fundamental liberties of our community’s citizens must be upheld and respected.
“To this end, I would like to reiterate the imperative of re-engaging with the countries under military rule on the basis of realistic and short transition plans that can deliver democracy and good governance to the innocent populations in those countries.
“On our part, we should be prepared to provide them with technical and material support, to ensure the achievement of these strategic goals.”
The president applauded Weah for conceding victory and congratulating his opponent during the last presidential election in Liberia. He invited leaders at the summit and other participants to give a standing ovation to Weah while he also acknowledged the presence of former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, who in 2015, displayed a similar commitment to democratic ideals after losing his re-election to the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
“I would also like to seize this opportunity to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the people of the Republic of Liberia for the successful conduct of the presidential election, widely adjudged to be free, fair and credible,” Tinubu said.
He added, “Let me also commend my brother and colleague, His Excellency, George Weah, for his exemplary leadership and conduct throughout the electoral process.
“By accepting defeat and congratulating his opponent, President Weah has left a legacy to be emulated by politicians in our region and beyond.”
Tinubu further responded to the recent decision by some ECOWAS member-states under military rule to float a so-called “Alliance of Sahel States”, describing it as distracting. He emphasised his commitment to pursuing ECOWAS integration.
He stated, “The phantom pushback alliance appears intended to divert our attention from our mutual belief in and commitment to democracy and good governance that will impact the lives of our people.
“We refuse to be distracted from pursuing the collective dreams, aspirations, and the noble path of ECOWAS integration as it is laid out in our institutional and legal frameworks.
“I take this opportunity to also emphasise that despite the numerous challenges faced in our region, ECOWAS has achieved significant milestones for the betterment of our community.
“ECOWAS activities have always been people-oriented, with a future of raising the living standard of our people. We have to do that through a relentless focus on qualitative service delivery and good governance.”
On the recent disturbances in Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau, the ECOWAS chairman asked fellow leaders to pay attention to protecting democracy. He reiterated ECOWAS’ zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government.
The Nigerian president told the West African leaders, “I urge all of us to stand strong and be highly committed in the face of any challenge in Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. The message must go down clearly that we support a democratically elected government, not an unconstitutional exercise.
“The re-elected president of Sierra Leone is present here. We are saying loud and clear that we are with you. Without let or hindrance, democracy will win, if we fight for it, and we will definitely fight for democracy.”

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