The Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari has advised member countries of the regional body to maintain sustained efforts towards achieving sustainable socio-economic development.
This is to address some of the challenges confronting West Africa.
He said this on Saturday in his remarks at the opening of the 55th ordinary session of the ECOWAS authority of Heads of State and Government, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He expressed optimism that the Abuja summit will go a long way in addressing some of the problems affecting the West Africa sub-region.
He said: “As we strive to create a secure, stable and prosperous environment in West Africa, we must also intensify our efforts to ensure sustainable economic and social development in our sub-region. By doing so, we will be able to tackle poverty and youth unemployment and contribute to our sustained stability.
“Several issues relating to different policies, programmes and projects are itemised for discussion during today’s meeting. As is our custom, the 55th ordinary session will also consider these matters from the reports on today’s agenda.
“Considering the high level of interest you all attach to regional cooperation and integration, I am confident that our Summit will witness robust discussions and produce sound decisions.”
President Buahri used the opportunity to draw the attention of the leaders of the countries in West Africa to the dangers posed by terrorists and illicit crimes.
The ECOWAS Chairman solicited for the use of collaborative strategies that would lead to the defeat of terrorism and other forms of threat.
“Taking into account the transnational nature of the threats confronting us, the need for the adoption of a common strategy at the national and regional level to combat them, has become imperative. By so doing, we will reinforce our actions and resources for a more effective response to protect our citizens and secure our common space.
“While I acknowledge that several initiatives and measures have been taken in our respective countries recent developments have shown that we must cooperate more effectively to achieve our goals. We should send a strong and unified message to the perpetrators of violence that we are resolute in our collective determination to confront and defeat them,” he stated.
He noted that despite steps being taken by governments of member nations, West Africa has suffered a lot, culminating in the loss of lives and property.
He, however, condoled with the families of victims of insurgency and similar security challenges.
“Despite the overall appreciable progress we have made, particularly in the field of political governance, our sub-region continues to face considerable security challenges. We are all witnesses to the recurring incidents of inter-communal clashes, herders-farmers conflicts, banditry and terrorist attacks in all our countries.
“These threats, you will agree with me, have consequences on the peaceful co-existence between our communities and peoples as well as their livelihoods. This unrest also undermines all our efforts in achieving full regional integration. It is, therefore, necessary that we act collectively to end this menace in the interest of regional stability and wellbeing of our people.
“Let me offer, on behalf of all of us, our sincere sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims of terrorist attacks, banditry and inter-communal clashes perpetrated by some misguided elements in our societies. We shall not relent in our efforts to protect our peace loving people and their properties, while vigorously sustaining the war against terrorism and criminality,” the ECOWAS Chairman said.
President Buahri noted with pride, successes recorded by ECOWAS member nations in the area of entrenching democracy and good governance in West Africa.
He said: “The fact that we have reconvened here today, to discuss developments in our sub-region, bears testimony to our sustained commitment to the consolidation of our integration as a Community. I acknowledge and commend the giant strides made by ECOWAS in this regard.
“I also commend our individual and collective efforts towards the promotion of good governance, peace, stability and socio-economic development in our sub-region. We must remain focused on our collective endeavour to make the sub-region an area of peace and security.
“This is an essential prerequisite if we are to attain the primary objective of our organisation which is, to “promote cooperation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic and monetary union in West Africa, in order to raise the living standards of its people and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent.”
The ECOWAS Chairman appreciated the African Union, the United Nations and other bilateral and multilateral partners of ECOWAS for their sustained cooperation and assistance to the region.
Similarly, he thanked his counterparts for the confidence placed on him to lead the sub-regional organisation, as chair of the Authority during the last one year.
“I sincerely thank you for the valuable support extended to me throughout the period,” he said.
UN scribe’s message
Also speaking at the opening ceremony, the Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohammed Ibn Chambas, noted that West Africa has continued to make strides to consolidate peace and democracy.
According to him, several successful elections have been held in the sub-region since the last 54th Ordinary session of the meeting.
He also assured that UNOWAS will continue to support free, credible and peaceful presidential elections in Burkina Faso, Cote d’ Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger and Togo next year.
Chambas pointed out that other challenges in the area including accountability, adherence to rule of law, climate change, maritime piracy, drug trafficking, need concerted, national, regional and international efforts.
The Nigerian-born President of the International Criminal Court ICC, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said the existence of the ICC has brought about a lot of positive changes across the globe.
He said the ICC was already collaborating well with the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
“The fact that we have today the permanent International Criminal Court has changed the way the world looks at atrocities. The world expects accountability, demands justice and detests impunity.
“But the ICC cannot do it alone. First, the court relies on the cooperation of States for all of its operations. Second, the ICC is a court of last resort; in the first place, justice must be done at home by national institutions. The ICC is there to step in if justice cannot be done at home but that should not be the default solution, it should be the exception that the ICC steps in.
Regional bodies too are very important and I’m glad to report in that respect that we recently received judges of the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS court of justice and we are exploring ways of building relationships between that court and the ICC,” he said.
The Abuja summit had the Presidents of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra-Leone and Togo in attendance while those of Cape Verde and Senegal were absent.