ECOWAS restoration task for Gowon

The first visit to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the State House by former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, on February 21, 2024, marks a watershed in the previously unstated desire by the Tinubu administration to slow down or even stop the unraveling of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Nigeria’s president was elected  Chairman of ECOWAS at the 63rd ordinary session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government on July 9, 2023. Following military coups in four of its member-countries, ECOWAS suspended and sanctioned those members, and even threatened military action against Niger Republic, to restore democracy  there. The authorities of  Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso reacted by exiting the regional grouping.

Gowon confirmed that he and President Tinubu discussed various matters, particularly “the ECOWAS problem at the moment which I think needs to be resolved. And being the surviving leader or founding father of the ECOWAS, I think we had to discuss some of his plans in order to see what can be done to bring the matter under control”. 

The former head of state had  on February 13, 2024, in  an open letter to ECOWAS Heads of State and Government said, “I have noted with deep concern and sadness, the past and recent development unfolding in the West African subregion, particularly the pronouncement by Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger of the intention to exit the  Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

“Since its inception, the regional bloc has made a number of major accomplishments, including trade liberalisation,  right of West Africans to live legitimately in any country within the community, as well as successful peacekeeping operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone. ECOWAS, despite its shortcomings, has become an example of regional integration for the wider continent.”

General Gowon appealed to leaders of the  countries to resolve the disagreements peacefully and called for the lifting “of all sanctions that have been imposed on Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Niger.“

He urged Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to withdraw their notices to leave ECOWAS and wants all the 15 leaders of the member-countries to participate in a summit to discuss the future of the community, regional security and stability; and the role of the international community given the current geopolitical context.

General Gowon and President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo more than other leaders then made tremendous efforts for the creation of ECOWAS. They jointly visited all the countries in the region promoting the idea of creating the regional body in 1972. ECOWAS  came into being on May 27, 1975, the day its establishment treaty was signed by the leaders in Lagos. The basic purpose of the organisation was the promotion of a full economic integration among  its 15 members.

The 49-year-old body has clearly achieved some of its objectives: free movement of persons and goods; intra-regional infrastructure such as the 4,000-kilometre Lagos-Dakar Trans-West African Coastal Road; the West African Gas Pipeline; trans-border investments and the deepening of sporting and cultural ties.

President Tinubu as chairman of ECOWAS would certainly be glad to see more worthy achievements recorded by the body under his watch. That is possible if he deploys his political acumen and reputation as an effective political engineer to weld the unraveling organisation together and make it whole again.

General Gowon along with other  former heads of government in Nigeria that are national assets and held in high esteem in West Africa and around the world, namely, Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, can can work with President Tinubu to use deep diplomacy and experience to restore harmony in the ECOWAS. 

Salisu Na’inna Dambatta is APC National Director of Publicity on leave