Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has appealed to fellow leaders of the member-states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) not to extend their terms in office beyond their countries constitutional limits.
In addition to his call for restraint, the Nigerian president spoke on the need to guarantee free, fair and credible elections.
According to a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Mr Buhari made the call while presenting Nigeria’s General Statement at the 57th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in Niamey, Niger Republic, on Monday, September 7.
The President urged his colleagues to respect constitutional provisions and ensure free and fair elections.
According to him, it is ‘important that as leaders of our individual Member-States of ECOWAS, we need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits. This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our sub-region.
‘As it is, the challenges facing the sub-region are enormous; from socio-economic matters to security issues, the ECOWAS sub-region cannot therefore afford another political crisis, in the guise of tenure elongation. I urge us all to resist the temptation of seeking to perpetuate ourselves in power beyond the constitutional provisions.
‘I commend those in our midst that have resisted such temptations, for they will be deemed exceptional role models in their respective countries and the sub-region as a whole.
‘Related to this call for restraint is the need to guarantee free, fair and credible elections. This must be the bedrock for democracy to be sustained in our sub-region, just as the need for adherence to the rule of law.’
On the political situation in Mali, Mr Buhari said it is of serious concern to ECOWAS and commended President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic and out-going Chair of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government and the Leadership of the ECOWAS Commission, as well as the Chief Mediator, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, ‘for effectively demonstrating commitment in handling the political situation in that country.’
He declared that ‘Nigeria remains resolutely committed to ECOWAS decision for a civilian-led Transition Government not exceeding 12 months. This is important because of the circumstances surrounding Mali where violent non-state actors and other negative tendencies reside and who can take advantage of the unstable political situation to overrun the country, thereby plunging it into greater danger that will affect the political stability of the whole sub-region.
‘While Nigeria understands the current political realities in Mali, the sub-region’s commitment to the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, must never be compromised.
‘An early return to democratic governance which is transparent and civilian-led, will commend itself for Nigeria’s support for progressive relaxation of sanctions against Mali.’
On regional security, the Nigerian leader noted that ‘terrorism continues to be the greatest security threat in our sub-region, complicating other national security challenges. As a sub-region, we need to collaborate more by working hand in hand with each other, to combat the root causes of the different security-related manifestations in our countries.”
‘Nigeria,’ Mr Buhari said ‘is concerned with the rapidity at which terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa are working together against all of us,’ adding: ‘We must urgently review these ugly developments to guarantee the safety and survival of our sub-region.
‘Our national security apparatus and the relevant Units of ECOWAS must urgently be seized with these unfolding events across our sub-region and act decisively on the emergence of early warning signs.’
Dwelling on the long-standing single currency issue for the sub-region, the President said: ‘Nigeria remains committed to the implementation of the action plan towards the actualization of the monetary union and single currency programme of ECOWAS,’ and called on ‘Member States to show support to the resolution of the Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS on this matter.’
Cognisant of the ‘likelihood that many ECOWAS member states may not meet the convergence criteria over the next few years due to the impact of COVID-19 on our economies and which as a consequence, will affect the take-off date of the single currency,’ he said ‘notwithstanding this envisaged delay, we must remain collectively focused and resolute in working to achieve the objectives of the ECOWAS monetary union as a project for the sub-region.’
Insisting that ‘the premature adoption of the “ECO” has unnecessarily heightened disaffection and mistrust among members of the emerging monetary union,’ President Buhari encouraged ‘UEMOA (French acronym for the West African Economic and Monetary Union) to return to the roadmap on the common currency in the sub-region.’
Mr Buhari also urged all stakeholders to ‘bear in mind that those economic convergence criteria must be based on sound and sustainable macroeconomic fundamentals.’
Noting that some key unresolved issues still remained such as delinking the CFA franc of the UEMOA from the Euro; whether the UEMOA countries join as a bloc or individual countries; design of the exchange rate mechanism; Stabilization Fund; policy harmonization and exit strategy and reserve pooling among others, the Nigerian President called on his colleagues to provide ‘African solutions to African problems.’
According to him, ‘foreign interference and so-called advice may not be in our best sub-regional interest,’ as he stressed the ‘need for UEMOA to return to the agreed roadmap of the ECOWAS Single Currency by complying with the established framework under the roadmap and cooperate with other member countries in achieving the objectives of the programme.’
Observing that the Summit was holding ‘under a very complex health pandemic, whose impact on the global health and economy has so far been devastating,’President Buhari said ‘like the rest of the world, our sub-region is witnessing economic downturn with negative growth that is headed towards deep recession and the outlook continues to be uncertain.’
He charged his colleagues on the ‘need to continue to work in concert with each other on several fronts to ease the negative effects of the pandemic,’ adding that ‘we need to demonstrate our collective resolve to harness the opportunities that come with COVID-19, despite its overwhelming negative impact on lives and livelihoods.’
The Nigerian President, who is the ECOWAS Champion, charged with mobilising and coordinating the efforts against the pandemic, admitted that the ‘outlook for our sub-region with COVID-19 hovering over us is gloomy indeed.’
He expressed confidence that ‘where there are challenges, opportunities are also available to be seized upon through greater collaboration with each other.
‘We must pool our resources together in unity to save our generation and generations to come from multiple challenges, including COVID-19 and related health issues.
‘We need to redouble our efforts in preparing our national economies to withstand impending shocks against prospective multi-sector challenges that await us in the sub-region,’ he declared.
Acknowledging that it is no easy task, President Buhari appealed to fellow leaders to ’embrace our collective vision for the future with greater determination and innovative thinking and creativity.’