Following the recent pullout of three member states, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, from the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and the indefinite postponement of elections in Senegal by President Macky Sall, amongst others, Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, led by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, West Africa Civil Society Forum, WACSOF, and Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, alongside media practitioners, recently met in Lagos to discuss the state of ECOWAS, the issues bedevilling it, while also calling on the body to embrace dialogue in charting course of regional integration among its members. Sunday Ehigiator reports
The stability of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a regional bloc of economic, human and political development has been threatened in recent years by political instability and security challenges in some member states.
Since August 2020, the region has recorded several coups where democratic governments have been toppled and constitutional procedures trampled.
To address these challenges, civil society organisations (CSOs) in West Africa, particularly in Nigeria, including the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the Transition Monitoring (TMG), the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP-Nigeria), Nigeria Network of NGOs (NGOs) and Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) organized a CSOs and Media Interactive Meeting on State of ECOWAS and Regional Integration in West Africa.
The meeting which was held in Lagos on Monday, February 5, 2024, centred on the state of affairs within ECOWAS and measures required to avoid further instability and possible disintegration of the regional bloc which before now had been regarded as the template for regional integration in Africa.
The CSOs and media organisations acknowledged the relevance of ECOWAS to the integration of the region with notable achievements among which include the free movement of persons, the trade liberalization scheme and, above all, the establishment of the Customs Union, with the entry into force of the Common External Tariff (CET) in 2015 which have contributed to furthering integration of the region.
Advocacy for a More Integrated West Africa
In his welcome remarks, the Executive Director, of CISLAC, and Chairman, of Transition Monitoring Group, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), noted that, among other things, a more integrated West Africa is required to defeat violent extremism, terrorism and other trans-border crimes currently bedevilling the ECOWAS region.
According to him, “There is no gainsaying that the measures undertaken by the Community to promote and consolidate cooperation among member states on criminal matters such as the protocol on mutual assistance on defence matters and the convention on small arms and light weapons have greatly contributed to a regional effort at combatting terrorism and crimes in the region.
“Therefore, having a united ECOWAS is important to defeating terrorism and other organised crimes in the region.
“As civil society organisations in Nigeria and the West African region, we are resolute in working to ensure ECOWAS stays focused on promoting genuine democratization processes in the region. It is against this backdrop that this CSO interactive meeting is holding to put out a common position which emphasizes more political, economic and security stability for West Africa.”
“On this note, CSOs urge politicians in the region to desist from truncating democracy at the detriment of the people. It is disturbing to see the trend of events where politicians abuse democratic processes and ascribe to themselves arbitrary powers over constitutional governance. These trends are against the critical pillars of ECOWAS Vision 2050.
“In line with this, the CSOs in Nigeria and West Africa condemn the indefinite postponement of the February 25, 2024 election in Senegal without consulting widely with the people. This type of action is viewed as an abuse of power and must be rejected in the region as it is the type of undemocratic behaviour capable of instigating a military junta. It is therefore important for the government of Senegal to immediately fix a new date for the election to be held.
“CSOs working in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa are interested in ensuring economic development that is capable of reducing the poverty and infrastructural deficit in the region. Therefore, we will continue to support regional stability to boost the economic viability of West Africa.”
Rafsanjani said the recent trend of events in the region can have a spillover effect on many countries and destabilise the peace and economy of the region.
“It is on this note that we reiterate the importance of dialogue in dispute resolution. Hence, whatever the disagreements are, ECOWAS must desist from the use of force given that it is operationally guided by the Protocol on Non-Aggression.
“It is our shared belief that every Member State of ECOWAS is at a greater advantage in not just belonging to the community but committed to implementing measures and mechanisms set out to achieve critical objectives of economic and social prosperity for every citizen of the community.”
In looking towards the actualisation of ECOWAS Vision 2050 which shifts the focus from ECOWAS of States to ECOWAS of the People, conclusively, Rafsanjani said it was important to activate the National Focus Persons of ECOWAS to intensify and coordinate CSO engagement towards the implementation and actualization of Vision 2050 to bring about peace and prosperity for all
ECOWAS Vision 2050
Speaking on ECOWAS Vision 2050, TMG’s Senior Program Officer, Solomon Adoga, said it started by taking stakeholders represented through an assessment of ECOWAS Vision 2020.
According to him, “The ECOWAS integration process is one of the most successful among all the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa.
“Adopted in 2007, and aimed at the eradication of poverty and the consolidation of regional peace and security as well as the promotion of sustainable social and economic development, the vision 2020 anchored on its slogan ‘moving from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of Peoples’, was based on five pillars.
“Peace and security, good governance, development of the region’s resources, economic and monetary integration; and promotion of the private sector.”
He said, while ECOWAS made significant strides in various areas, especially in the advancements of regional integration, peace and security, economic cooperation, and infrastructure development, they were lacking in the area of peace, security and stability, with Cote d’Ivoire, Mai, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, and Niger as example.
He further explained that the ECOWAS Vision 2050, tagged, ‘ECOWAS of the Peoples: Peace and Prosperity for All’, has five pillars.
“Pillar 1, Peace, Security and Stability; strengthen human security through home-grown and sustainable initiatives bearing in mind the multidimensional security threats facing the region
“Pillar 2, Governance and Rule of Law; there is a need to ensure the establishment and effective functioning of strong and credible institutions that guarantee the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. The region will work to strengthen democratic governance, consolidate the rule of law, and enhance justice delivery
“Pillar 3, Economic Integration and Interconnectivity; This process is envisaged not only through the free movement of people and goods but also through the enhancement of trade and market integration as well as the achievement of the economic and monetary union.
“Pillar 4, Transformation, Inclusive and Sustainable Development; This pillar is based on the improvement of the living conditions of the population through the optimisation of quality of the education and knowledge building systems, the creation of decent jobs for young people and women as well as the strengthening of resilience to public health.
“This pillar is also based on the structural transformation of economies driven by the digitalisation of the economy, entrepreneurship, science and technology and structuring investments in growth sectors.
“And lastly, pillar five has to do with social inclusion. This pillar places the ECOWAS citizens, mainly women, children and youth, and all vulnerable people (including people with disabilities and the elderly) at the heart of development and the integration process.
“By 2050, ECOWAS will have to meet the challenges of social cohesion among its people, create the conditions of a sense of belonging that is characteristic of Community citizenship that would foster the emergence of a cultural identity based on shared values.”
ECOWAS Security Imperatives
Speaking on the imperative of ECOWAS security, 10th African Most Powerful Woman in Journalism, who also doubles as Group Features Editor, THISDAY Newspaper, Chiemelie Ezeobi, said the objective of the ECOWAS SSRG is to strengthen States’ capacities to respond to present and emerging threats and to deliver security and justice services to the State and its peoples.
However, while ECOWAS has also worked to address some security issues by developing a peacekeeping force for conflicts in the region, she lamented that they have not been able to address the issues of coups by some of its members as seen in recent years- eight coups since August 2020 and even twice in some nations.
According to her, “There are reasons why members of the ECOWAS may never be united. For instance, how can Africa come together when we don’t even believe they are one? North Africa is like another continent entirely. A Cape Verdean, Moroccan, Egyptian or even Sudanese do not believe they are Africans.
“But let’s even bring it closer to home. How can ECOWAS Member States come together and stop seeing each other as the enemy? They do not even trust each other. The cost of flight tickets to each ECOWAS state is too high, talk more about xenophobic attacks. They would rather foreigners thrive and prosper than a fellow ECOWAS nation.
“Also, where are we with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area? When this act was brought up, it was supposed to be the game changer like how we have that for the Schengen Nations.
“How far have we even gone to open up the AfCFTA region? Remember the Abidjan-Lagos corridor? The overreaching plan was for that corridor to serve as an emerging transnational on the coast of southern West Africa.
“Stretching from Abidjan to Lagos, it crosses five independent states (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria) from west to east, and includes two political capitals and many regional economic centres.
“It is what is to serve over 40 million commuters travelling to Ivory Coast, while one of the flanks of the Abidjan–Lagos corridor, the construction of the Lagos-Badagry expressway was sectioned off into three independent contracts.
“While section one was constructed by the Lagos State government and kicked off from Eric Moore to Okokomaiko, the second section by FERMA involves rehabilitation from Igboelerin to Agbara and the last part is by the Federal Ministry of Works from Agbara to Seme Border.
“When I joined the former Minister of Works Fashola for an on-the-spot assessment in May last year, the remaining flank was from Agbara to the Badagry border, which is about 22 kilometres left. Mind you, this is just one lane. The other lane is still untouched from Okokomaiko.”
Ezeobi noted that language barrier remains another major issue in integrating ECOWAS members’ security apparatus.
According to her, “I was part of Operation Safe Domain 11 involving the ECOWAS ZONE E comprising Benin, Nigeria, Togo and Niger. Niger didn’t come because of the coup. While Nigeria spoke English, the rest spoke French. At sea, it was a Herculean task to communicate, thus, somewhat defeating the aim of the exercise.”
She concluded that too much allegiance to world powers and taking orders that favour them as against Africa, difficulty in localising most of ECOWAS laws, the perception that ECOWAS is a ‘toothless bulldog’, partiality when it comes to intervention, and ECOWAS weak leadership, remains a major barrier in the growth of the body, and by extension, the members state.
She therefore noted that ECOWAS members needed to remain united for the region to thrive, to be a force to reckon with, to take its place at the global comity of nations and stop being subservient, and to strengthen its member’s passports, and respective currencies against the dollars, pounds, yen, and euros of the rest of the world.
Involvement of CSOs in Regional Integration in West Africa
Speaking on the role and involvement of civil societies in regional integration in West Africa, the General Secretary, of the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), Kop’ep Dabugat said because all the regional integration initiatives and processes in West Africa were driven by states, they never gave any explicit reference to the need for civil society engagement in the official sense of the word.
“However, one thing that the ECOWAS revised treaty of 1993 has done is to introduce new principles and institutional changes whose realization require meaningful involvement by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, specifically civil society, in the regional integration project.
“These new dimensions to the ECOWAS regional integration project include the following; Adoption of a set of fundamental principles to guide the integration agenda and processes. The principles in the revised Treaty include Non-aggression among ECOWAS states and maintenance of regional peace, stability and security.
“This also includes peaceful settlement of disputes, recognition, promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with the African charter on human and peoples’ rights, promotion and consolidation of a democratic system of governance in member states.
“The prominent feature of issues of peace, security and stability of Member states, which was silent in the 1975 Treaty. It included an obligation on Member states to honour their obligations agreed to under the treaty.
“Introduction of additional community institutions to especially focus on implementing different aspects of the treaty provisions, such as Community Parliament; Economic and Social Council; Community Court of Justice (a transformation from Tribunal under the earlier Treaty); and Fund for Cooperation, Compensation and Development.
“Achieving these objectives requires serious involvement of civil society in the process. It is from this point that definitive civil society engagement began in the ECOWAS Regional integration process.”
In a communique issued at the end of the event, the stakeholders recommended that “Given the security challenges in the region, the withdrawal of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger from the ECOWAS will cause set back to the gains of peace and security efforts under the direction of regional authority especially in the fight against terrorism.
“The withdrawal defeats the purpose of regional economic cooperation within the ECOWAS bloc including the establishment of an African Continental Free Trade Area. It will adversely affect the life and livelihood of the citizens of West Africa.
“It will further exacerbate corruption, illicit financial flows (IFFs) and drug and human trafficking across the borders
“Democracy in West Africa has become more fragile despite the principles of zero tolerance for unconstitutional change of government, tenure elongation, fraudulent elections and bad governance contained in the 2001 ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance
“The culture of impunity and disregard for the rule of law by political elites in West Africa has continued to weaken state institutions.”
They therefore recommended the following; “ECOWAS should urgently call for an emergency extraordinary summit to look into the state of affairs in the region to prevent further threats of disintegration.
“Immediate dialogue must be pursued with the affected countries and all sanctions be removed to pave the way for genuine reconciliation. The Authorities of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso rescinded their decisions to withdraw from ECOWAS because of obvious beneficial reasons. State and non-state actors in the region should intensify engagements towards ensuring a more united ECOWAS.
“ECOWAS should work with the authorities in these countries to urgently adopt transition plans with a clear roadmap for a quick restoration of democratic order.
“We urge the military authorities in the affected countries to refrain from attempts to transform themselves from military to civil rulers.
“ECOWAS should work with the Authorities in these countries to ensure free, fair, and credible elections. We urge CSOs and media to engage positively and ensure electoral transparency, popular participation and inclusion in the electoral process.
“In the spirit of the ideals of ECOWAS VISION 2050, we call on ECOWAS to speed up the review of the ECOWAS supplementary protocol on good governance to prevent tenure elongation, electoral manipulation and rigging, and curb unconstitutional changes of government.
“With the adoption of Vision 2050, ECOWAS Parliament should begin to have elective representatives rather than appointive representation. This will contribute to making it a truly ECOWAS of the peoples.
“ECOWAS should operationalize the consultative aspects of the functions of the ECOWAS National Units to ensure connection with the citizens of Member States in the implementation of ECOWAS Agreements at the national levels, in line with the spirit of the ECOWAS Vision 2050
“Civil society and media should embark on peace missions to consult key stakeholders in the affected countries to provide support towards a quick return to constitutional democracy.
“ECOWAS, Civil society and media should demand for quick, transparent, inclusive, free, fair and credible elections in Senegal as earlier scheduled. They should also condemn the arbitrary arrest and banning of political opposition from contesting the election.
“After successful resolution with the aggrieved countries, ECOWAS should support the member countries to strengthen their capacity in responding to present and emerging threats including activation of early warning and response capabilities.”
While ECOWAS has also worked to address some security issues by developing a peacekeeping force for conflicts in the region,they have not been able to address the issue of coups by some of its members as seen in recent years- eight coups since August 2020 and even twice in some nations
The culture of impunity and disregard for the rule of law by political elites in West Africa has continued to weaken state institutions. ECOWAS should urgently call for an emergency extraordinary summit to look into the state of affairs in the region to prevent further threats of disintegration