New Telegraph

ECOWAS: Divided We Fall

W hile countries are uniting and progressing through strong regional ties, West Africa is facing disintegration through the withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Republic as from January 28, 2024. All three former member states are currently under military rule. President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria as Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) must not allow politicians to ruin his foreign policy. We say this because instead of waiting for the minister of Foreign Affairs to react to the withdrawal, the Presidency issued what could pass as a kindergarten statement. The Presidency was so undiplomatic in saying that the withdrawal was inconsequential since the three countries were under suspension and were not considered part of ECOWAS. The technicality applied in that press release made no sense at all.

The ECOWAS Commission put it better when it stated that Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Republic remain important members of the regional body and plans were underway for a negotiated settlement. The Presidency needed that education from the ECOWAS Secretariat which is also domiciled in Abuja. Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Yusuf Tuggar, tried to do damage control later by toeing the ECOWAS Commission’s line. Certainly, the minister was embarrassed by the initial reaction coming from the Presidency. While ECOWAS leaders condemn military dictatorship, they must also look at themselves and find out why democracy is becoming less attractive in West Africa. This is more important than imposing sanctions without considering the consequences.

Ghana was in the picture recently with reports that coup plotters in that country, whose mission proved abortive, were sentenced to death by hanging. If a perceived stable democracy like Ghana should be so threatened, there is everything to worry about. We agree with the ECOWAS Commission that the three countries mean a lot to the region. If they posited that the body had failed in its responsibility to protect member states, talks must continue, to arrive at an amicable solution. It should bother the ECOWAS Chairman that Morocco, a North African country which has shown interest to join the organisation, may be having a second thought following the apparent division. The import is that the proposed African – Atlantic Pipeline Project will be in jeopardy.

West Africa is full of poor countries. Opening up trade and investment with North Africa and Europe will boost economic development. With the suspension of landlocked Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Republic, there is no guarantee that insurgency cannot be exported to countries with coastlines waiting to tap from the Morocco initiated gas deal. Algeria is also ready to do business with West Africa. The Trans Saharan Gas Pipeline, worth $19 billion and running across 4,128 kilometres, from Warri in Nigeria to Hassi R’ Mel in Algeria, will pass through Niger Republic. Should ECOWAS allow Niger Republic to go, it is unlikely that Algeria will go ahead with the project. This explains why Algiers has remained opposed to military intervention in Niamey.

The trio of Col. Assimi Goita, Capt. Ibrahim Traore and Gen. Abdouhramane Tchiani, presidents of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic, respectively, must not be ostracised much longer. It is obvious that the military leaders are popular in their countries. They have agreed to conduct elections even if timelines have been extended in some instances. On September 15, 2023, their countries signed a mutual defence pact to ward off external aggression and jihadists. This development makes it quite difficult for ECOWAS to divide them. Terrorists are quite active in Nigeria. Making enemies with the Niger Republic and Mali is dangerous. With porous borders all over the North – West, invaders can launch attacks regularly through Jibiya and Ilela, carrying Nigerian passports.

The green passport will become useless without visas to Mali, Burkina Faso or Niger Republic. The Saki family from Oyo State will not have an easy ride anymore to Ouagadougou and back, without relevant travel documents. It is in the interest of ECOWAS to continue to work towards a negotiated solution. Tinubu has enough headaches at home trying to manage the economy. Dabbling into more crises outside, will further diminish his government and damage the economy.

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