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ECOWAS: Nigeria’s crucial role in driving regional progress

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is widely recognised as a highly successful regional organisation in Africa and the developing world. The recent…

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is widely recognised as a highly successful regional organisation in Africa and the developing world. The recent appointment of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) as its new chairman during the 63rd Ordinary Session, following President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure (2018-2019) signifies Nigeria’s continued leadership in the region.  

Nigeria, with its vast potential and capabilities, has long been regarded as a natural leader in the West African region, particularly in terms of development and regional governance. The nation’s instrumental role in establishing a task force that effectively brought an end to the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone further reinforces these expectations. Realistically, given Nigeria’s substantial population, economic stature, and untapped potential, there is no doubt about its capacity to meet and even surpass these expectations.  

ECOWAS governance holds profound significance for a multitude of reasons. As a regional organisation, ECOWAS plays a pivotal role in fostering regional cooperation, economic integration, and political stability among its member states. The organisation’s impressive track record in successfully implementing initiatives aimed at promoting peace, security, and development underscores the criticality of effective governance within ECOWAS. By ensuring robust management and informed decision-making processes, ECOWAS can effectively address pressing regional issues and enhance the overall well-being of the region.  

As the newly appointed Chairman of ECOWAS, President Tinubu assumes a significant responsibility in leading the organisation towards continued success. His role entails guiding ECOWAS in addressing pressing regional challenges, promoting economic growth, fostering regional trade, and facilitating cooperation among member states. President Tinubu’s leadership will be instrumental in navigating obstacles and capitalising on the vast potential for progress within the region. He should, however, be aware of the following challenges:  

The Challenge of Military Coups  

One pressing challenge that continues to plague West Africa is the prevalence of military coups. With 53 successful coups and 40 failed attempts since 1950, the region surpasses others globally in this alarming category. In fact, since 2018, West Africa has witnessed three successful military coups in Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali. These incidents underscore the need for member countries to consolidate democratic governance, which is essential for the region to collectively move forward.  

Promoting democratic governance  

Addressing the issue of military coups requires a collective effort from ECOWAS member countries. Strengthening democratic institutions, promoting transparent electoral processes, and fostering a culture of good governance are crucial steps in consolidating democratic governance. ECOWAS, under the leadership of President Tinubu, must play acentral role in encouraging and supporting member states in their democratic endeavours.  

Transnational security threats  

The West African region faces significant challenges when it comes to transnational security threats. According to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), it is one of the most affected regions in the world in terms of the presence and activities of terrorist groups. Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, and Niger rank among the top 10 countries globally that have experienced the most significant impact from terrorism in the past five years. Moreover, in 2018, Aaron Karp estimated that there were approximately 10.1 million firearms in the possession of civilians in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.  

The proliferation of firearms in the hands of civilians poses a grave regional challenge that ECOWAS members must address both individually and collectively. It is evident that the current ECOWAS Action Plan for the

Eradication of Terrorism has not shown significant progress. Perhaps ECOWAS should expedite the activation of its kinetic force under the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF) to effectively combat the prevalent terrorist activities in the region. Failing to do so will only exacerbate the already overwhelming displacement of people, both internally and externally, and further contribute to the loss of thousands of lives that the region continues to endure.  

Trade challenges  

Despite economic integration persistently being on the short and long-term agendas of the regional body, economic integration within ECOWAS has remained stagnant for years. In the past two decades, trade among member states has shown little to no significant progress. Intra-regional exports/imports account for only around 7-10 per cent but only 4-5.5 per cent in proportion to total trade of the region. These figures place ECOWAS far behind other regional bodies on the continent, particularly the Southern African Development Community

 (SADC). This highlights the immense task that lies ahead for the newly elected Nigerian president and the rest of the ECOWAS member states in revitalising and boosting trade within the region.  

Developmental challenges  

When it comes to sustainable development, ECOWAS member countries are facing significant challenges. It is deeply concerning that, with the exception of Cabo Verde, which is ranked 89th, none of the other ECOWAS member countries is ranked within the top one hundred. In fact, Nigeria, as the supposed leader of the region, disappointingly holds the 146th position out of a total of 193 countries on the list. This underscores the herculean tasks that lie ahead for Nigeria and its newly elected president in spearheading substantial improvements within the region.  

The challenges outlined above are just a fraction of the issues that demand strong governance within ECOWAS. As the de facto regional leader, Nigeria must go beyond its previous efforts to tackle these challenges and position the region for global competitiveness. By leveraging its influence, resources, and expertise, Nigeria can play a pivotal role in driving the necessary changes and fostering a prosperous future for the entire West African region. It is through collaborative and effective governance within ECOWAS that the region can overcome obstacles, unlock its full potential, and emerge as a formidable player on the global stage.  


Usman is a Research Fellow, Asia Middle East Centre for Research and Dialogue (AMEC) 


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