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ECOWAS restoration task for Gowon, By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta

ECOWAS: The first visit to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the State House by former military 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 Bola Ahmed Tinubu was elected Chairman of ECOWAS at the 63rd ordinary session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government on July 9, 2023.

It can be recalled that following military coups in four of its members, ECOWAS has 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.

The former Head of State 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,” General Gowon explained.

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 from 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 Yakubu 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.

The 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 organization was the promotion of a full economic integration among its 15 members.

The 49-year old body had 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 Bola Ahmed 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 Yakubu Gowon along with other former Heads of Government in Nigeria that are national assets who are strongly 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 work with President Tinubu to use deep diplomacy to restore harmony in the ECOWAS.

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