Fourteen West African countries Monday made representations at the 36th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government at the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
Welcoming Heads of State and delegates at the opening ceremony Nigerian President Musa Yar Adua, said both the sub-region and the world face enormous challenges, for which “we have an abiding obligation to provide strong and focused leadership within the ambit of ECOWAS.” He said the summit presented an opportunity to collectively work out sustainable solutions to issues.
The Nigerian leader and ECOWAS Chairman said, “It is sad to note that 30 years after the signing of the Protocol on the free movement of goods and services, we are yet to significantly remove the bottlenecks” that would allow free movement in West Africa, emphasizing that the reality of the current global situation required a recommitment of ECOWAS leaders to focus on social and political stability with efficiency and effectiveness. “We should re-commit and re-direct resources towards development,” he maintained, commending priorities placed on energy and infrastructure, and recalling the pledges of the G20 countries.
On regional solutions to conflicts, President Yar Adua said “our efforts are paying off” as elections have been slated for 28th June in Guinea Bissau, while Guinea Conakry and Cote d’Ivoire would follow suit later this year.
He insisted that political stability is imperative in the sub region and “we should collectively collaborate to consolidate democracy in West Africa to mitigate or completely eliminate conflict.”
Before formally declaring the summit open, President Yar Adua said the scourge of drug trafficking, for which West Africa is being used as a transit route, must be tackled head-on. He commended the work of the ECOWAS Commission President Mohamed Ibn Chambas for making the organization functional and effective. He ended by saying that ECOWAS leaders must “steadfastly demonstrate strong leadership and focus in the interest of our people and for the continued support of development partners and the international community.”
In his remarks, ECOWAS Commission President Mohamed Ibn Chambas said “words are not enough to describe President Yar Adua’s positive contribution to regional integration efforts.” He took his audience down memory lane to the heinous and brutal assassination of President Nino Veira of Guinea Bissau “to make us reject violence and impunity,” whilst calling for a full investigation into the circumstances that led to the assassination including that of the Chief of Staff “so that such tragic events do not recur and do not go unpunished.”
Mr. Chambas said the economic prospects of West Africa are at the moment gloomy, characterized by the global crises and internal strife, resulting to a reduction of remittances and exports. For these reasons, “strengthening regional integration therefore becomes imperative … and we must continue to seek mutually beneficial projects,” adding that no investor would come to a country of instability, as ECOWAS leaders seek for an effective West African common market, and collaborate to meet set bench marks.
”Today, you have an opportunity to deliberate on how to handle the fragile peace and nurture young democracies… and I hope our collective resolve will lead sooner rather than later to the attainment of a single West African currency,” he declared.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in a message delivered by his Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, commended ECOWAS “for continuing to deepen integration and addressing socio-economic and political issues facing the region.” He however noted that West Africa is faced with tremendous challenges including food security, climate change, drug trafficking, organized crime, global crises, and unconstitutional changes “affecting good governance and the rule of law.”
Notwithstanding, perhaps as a result of that, “the UN remains convinced on the need to help consolidate ECOWAS’ achievements.” He expressed an admiration for the regional body in efforts to bring “your people together for peace and unity.”
The Fourteen countries present include Sierra Leone, represented by President Ernest Bai Koroma, while Ghana, Senegal, and Ivory Coast were represented by Presidents John Atta Mills, Abdulai Wade, and Laurent Gbagbo respectively.
Other countries, including Liberia, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin and Mali were represented by Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Blaise Campaore , Faure Eyadema, Thomas Boni Yayi and Toumani Toure in that order.
Gambia is represented by.Vice President Isatu Njie Saidy, while Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, and Niger were represented by senior Government officials from their respective countries.
Conspicuously absent was the Republic of Guinea, which was suspended from the body as a result of the usurpation of power by the military.
After the opening session, the Heads of State and representatives went into a closed-door session for the presentation and discussion of detailed reports.
The summit ended yesterday.