President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday urged ECOWAS leaders to adhere strictly to the tenure prescribed in the constitution of their countries, saying given the prevailing economic crises in the subregion, they could not afford escalation of political disputes.
He also criticised the decision of the Francophone West African bloc of ECOWAS to unilaterally adopt the proposed ECO currency, describing it as premature.
Buhari, in a speech at the 57th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in Niamey, Niger Republic capital, said Nigeria remained committed to the implementation of a single currency plan.
He urged ECOWAS leaders not to elongate their stay in office beyond constitutional limits, saying they should respect constitutional provisions and ensure free and fair elections.
The president said: “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 Mali, Buhari commended President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic and the outgoing 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 a commitment to handling the political situation in that country.”
He said: “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.”
Buhari also spoke on the security situation in West Africa, noting that terrorism continues to be the greatest security threat in the sub-region, complicating other national security challenges.
According to him, “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 is concerned with the rapidity at which terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa are working together against all of us.
“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.”
He said the decision of the French-speaking West African countries to ambush their Anglophone counterparts on the proposed currency, without a meeting, stipulated criteria had created disaffection and mistrust among member-states.
“The premature adoption of the ‘ECO’ has unnecessarily heightened disaffection and mistrust among members of the emerging monetary union,” he said.
A statement by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said 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.”
The president urged all stakeholders to “bear in mind that those economic convergence criteria must be based on sound and sustainable macroeconomic fundamentals.”
He listed some key unresolved issues over a single currency plan to include: 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; stabilisation fund; policy harmonisation and exit strategy and reserve pooling.
The president appealed to his colleagues to provide African solutions to African problems.
“Foreign interference and so-called advice may not be in our best sub-regional interest,” he said, reiterating 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.”
Buhari also spoke on the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the summit was holding “under a very complex health pandemic, whose impact on the global health and economy has so far been devastating.”
The president, who is ECOWAS Champion on COVID-19, with the task of mobilising and coordinating regional efforts against the pandemic, said the “outlook for our sub-region with COVID-19 hovering over us is gloomy indeed.”
He added: “Like the rest of the world, our sub-region is witnessing an economic downturn with negative growth that is headed towards deep recession and the outlook continues to be uncertain.”
He also 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.
“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,” he said.
Buhari said he was confident 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 said.
Buhari also appealed to his colleagues to “embrace our collective vision for the future with greater determination and innovative thinking and creativity.”