OBANIKORO: ECOWAS, Doing Great At 40
Senator Musiliu Obanikoro is the minister of state II for Foreign Affairs. Speaking with JOHN OKEKE on the heels of 40th anniversary of the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS), he gave the sub-regional group a pass mark in sustenance of peace and stability in the region.
Looking at ECOWAS at 40, how well would you say the group has kept faith with the dreams of its founding fathers in terms of regional integration?
The commonalities that exist majorly are the welfare of the people. The essence of governance, be it at home, local or international, is to ensure the welfare of the citizenry. So, I will say unequivocally that the driving force and the spirit behind ECOWAS is the interest of the citizens of the community, which the leaderships are committed to serving and promoting.
How would you describe the role of Nigeria to the continued existence of this commission?
If I say ECOWAS is Nigeria and Nigeria is ECOWAS, it won’t be out of place . In a sub-region with total population of 260 million and a country has 170 million, out of the 260 million, we can firmly conclude that Nigeria is the father and mother of ECOWAS.
Now, if you look at our commitment to ECOWAS, you cannot but submit totally that Nigeria is truly the driving force in ECOWAS. We contribute 50 percent of ECOWAS revenue. We are the host country of ECOWAS with the sense of responsibilities and commitments. And over the years, and despite what we have suffered in the community, we have remained committed and faithful to the spirit and the letters of ECOWAS. I want to commend all the leaders of our country at one point or the other for the role they have played in nurturing ECOWAS to the stage that it is now.
As a very strategic member of ECOWAS, what lesson would you say Nigeria has demonstrated as part of the fallouts of the just concluded elections in the country?
As a nation, we remain the toast and the instrument of stability for the sub-region because nobody ever thought that the leadership demonstrated by President Goodluck Jonathan will ever come to play . People were thinking, ‘yes this is a breaking point for Nigeria,’ but the president turned that around to make it a melting point for Nigeria. So, we have now gone from a breaking point to a melting point. We thank God and we thank President Jonathan for the commitment and stability to peace in the country and to the sub-region. The last elections, despite the flaws and inadequacies, the president rightly felt that no sacrifice is too much for our great nation. It is highly commendable, highly exemplary and no doubt when we speak now, within this corridor and beyond, nobody can question our commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
What would you say are the specific achievements of ECOWAS in the last 40 years?
Well, if you look at the interventions that ECOWAS has done in member states over the years be it economic, political and what have you, there is no doubt in my mind that ECOWAS has made itself very relevant and I believe it will remain relevant. It is a platform that we must strongly promote and nurture with other members of the member-states.
In the area of peace, support operations and the fights against trans-national organised crimes, the group has not only recorded commendable results, but has also developed models that have remained point of reference for other Regional Economic Cooperations (RECs).
Furthermore, in the area of democracy and good governance, the group has continued to demonstrate, in practical terms, its zero tolerance to undemocratic ascension to power and further assisted member-states in ensuring that democracy and its processes are sustained.
In the area of conflict prevention, management and resolution, the commission has equally recorded great achievements. In fact, it has put in place functional mechanism in terms of legally binding protocols and institutional frameworks to understanding and addressing the ever-changing dynamics and trends of violent conflicts.
Some of this laudable initiatives and institutional capabilities include the protocol on the mechanism for conflict prevention, management, resolution, peace-keeping and security, the convention on small arms and light weapons, as well as, a conflict early warning and early response centre.
These structures have been deployed, at various occasions ,to help member-states in tackling related challenges, and have equally been utilised for preventing events that would have jeopardised peace, security and stability of the sub-region, in particular, and the integration efforts in general.
What do the citizens of ECOWAS stand to gain in the continued association?
There is a lot to gain. If we are able to manage ECOWAS, it will give us guarantee of free movement of persons, goods and services. We will definitely enhance the sub-region. There is no doubt in my mind that if we put together a more cooperative and collaborative efforts, the sub-region will grow at an accelerated rate, which will be beneficial to everyone. A market of 260 million people is not the same as that 170 million people. The benefit is limitless. And I think we should grab it and work with it.
What are the challenges of ECOWAS?
Oh, they are numerous. We still have problems of immigration among member-states. We still have the problem of customs among member-states and other issues that we may not need to mention here that are also challenges to the community, but is better to continually work at solving some of these challenges.