President Muhammadu Buhari has restated Nigeria’s commitment to regional integration, calling on West African leaders to join hands to fight the growing scourge of terrorism in the region.
President Buhari was speaking on Saturday as he welcomed regional leaders to the 56th Ordinary Session of the Authority Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, held at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
“It is always gratifying when our regional Bloc comes together in the determination to advance our agenda for regional integration and promote the socioeconomic development of our sub-region,” President Buhari said.
He stressed the need for West African leaders “to always channel our energies towards realising new strategies and initiatives, which will accelerate the attainment of our regional aspirations for sustainable peace, security, stability and inclusive economic growth.”
To achieve these, according to President Buhari, ECOWAS leaders must put their people at the heart of their policies.
Terrorism remains a major threat
The Nigerian leader said that terrorism has remained the major threat to the peace and progress of the region.
“Recurring attempts by terrorist groups remind us of the urgency to build an enduring security partnership to confront and defeat the evil of cross-border terrorism.
“It was with great shock and immense pain that I received the news of the tragedy last week in the Tilabari Region of Niger Republic, where over 33 valiant soldiers and other citizens of the country were brutally massacred in yet another cowardly terrorist attack by these enemies of peace and progress.
“As we mourn this enormous loss, our thoughts and sympathies go to the families of these heros and the entire people of Niger Republic.”
Concerted efforts towards conflict resolution
In his opening address, President of Niger Republic and Chair of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, Issoufou Mahamadou, urged West African leaders to continue in their efforts to resolve all conflicts in the region.
Mahamadou said that he has kept his promise to ensure the consolidation of democracy, economic integration and regional security since he assumed position as chair of the regional body.
He said that the intervention of ECOWAS has seen the successful conduct of the presidential election in Guinea Bissau on the 24th of November.
President Issoufou said that the year 2020 would offer an opportunity to affirm the political will of West African leaders to actualize common currency for the region.
According to him the economy of the region has strengthened within this year, growing by about 3.3% against 3% in 2018.
Location of ACfTA headquarters
While stating the region’s commitment to continental integration, the Nigerien leader expressed delight at decision to site the headquarters of the African Continental Free Trade Area, ACfTA in Accra, Ghana.
Speaking on the security situation in the region, Issoufou pointed out that Boko Haram has intensified its attacks in several countries in West Africa.
He called for the implementation of the recommendations made by the leaders in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, among which was the need to mobilize $1billion to aid security efforts in the region.
Promotion of inter-state trade
In his speech, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, noted the need to grow inter-state trade in the region.
While observing that terrorist attacks have increased by about 80% in the last one year, Brou said the recent attacks called for the strengthening of the resolve of the leaders to fight the scourge.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and Sahel UNOWAS, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, and President of the African Development Bank, ADB, Akinwumi Adesina, delivered statements at the event.
Adesina listed ADB’s interventions in developments of infrastructure, agriculture and economic growth in Africa, promising that the bank would continue to give its support to countries on the continent.
“We will accelerate Africa’s development. We will accelerate the integration of Africa. We will unlock the full potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). We will integrate the ECOWAS region. I see much hope ahead: transport corridors and highways.”
Chambas on his part said there was need to complement the military and security approaches with developmental approaches that address the root causes of insecurity in the region for the definitive defeat and eradication of terrorism.
He said the UNOWAS would continue to collaborate with ECOWAS and other regional bodies within the framework of the UN integrated strategy towards achieving sustainable development goals and long-term stabilization.
A minute silence was observed in honour of the 33 soldiers and other citizens that were killed in a recent terrorist attack in the Tilabari Region of Niger Republic.