Withdrawal Of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso From ECOWAS Is Wake-Up Call, Could Worsen Insecurity In Nigeria – Groups

A group of civil society organisations and centres have written to President Bola Tinubu on the challenges of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), while expressing concerns over regional solidarity and Nigerian national unity.
The groups in the letter recalled that in a correspondence dated August 5, 2023, they expressed deep concerns regarding the potential dangers and implications of military intervention and the imposition of economic sanctions on Niger Republic by ECOWAS.
The groups included Arewa Research & Development Project; Centre for Democratic Development, Research & Training and Joint-Action Committee of Northern Youth Association.
“In that letter, we underscored the delicate balance required in addressing regional conflicts and the importance of diplomatic engagements over military actions or economic penalties.
“We emphasized the need for ECOWAS to pursue strategies that would uphold stability, encourage dialogue, and promote economic collaboration, rather than resorting to measures that could exacerbate tensions or lead to further destabilization of the region.”
The groups said that despite the well-thought-out suggestions they offered to prevent the disintegration of the regional bloc, it appears that ECOWAS, under Tinubu’s chairmanship, had not fully heeded the recommendations.
According to the groups, “Today, as we address you in this current open letter, it is apparent that the concerns raised previously resonate with the ongoing challenges within ECOWAS, particularly the recent withdrawals of the Niger Republic, Mali, and Burkina Faso from the bloc.
“The current trajectory of ECOWAS under your leadership, raises serious concerns. It creates the perception that ECOWAS might be implementing a script influenced by external, imperialist interests, particularly from former colonial powers like France.
“This is really troubling. Such external influences, if true, could compromise the integrity, autonomy, and objectives of ECOWAS, potentially leading to decisions that do not align with the collective interests of West African nations.”
The groups said that the perception that ECOWAS was being swayed by external, non-African influences undermined the confidence of member states in the organization’s ability to prioritise and protect African interests.
It stated that it is crucial that ECOWAS remains a body driven by the aspirations and needs of its member states, free from the undue influence of external powers.
“The strategic decisions and policies of ECOWAS should reflect the collective will of West African nations, aimed at fostering regional integration, peace, and security.
“One of the most pressing issues needing to be dealt with seriously is the fight against insecurity in Nigeria, a battle that is intrinsically linked to the stability and cooperation within the ECOWAS region.
“The withdrawal of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso poses a direct threat to the collaborative efforts required to combat regional security challenges.
“These countries, particularly Mali and Niger, are critical in the fight against terrorism and insurgency, given their geographic positioning and the nature of cross-border security threats.
“Their departure from ECOWAS not only weakens the regional security framework but also leaves Nigeria more vulnerable to the spillover of instability and terrorist activities from these neighboring countries.
“The decision of the Niger Republic, Mali, and Burkina Faso to withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) marks a critical juncture in the history of our region.
“It has significantly altered the political landscape of West Africa, with multifaceted repercussions extending far across political, economic, security, social and diplomatic spheres.”
The groups maintained that understanding the depth and breadth of these implications is essential for devising a strategic response that upholds the integrity and objectives of ECOWAS.
“Your Excellency, ECOWAS has long been a platform for political dialogue, conflict resolution, and the promotion of democratic principles.
“The departure of these three states weakens this platform, potentially leading to a reduced capacity for collective action and a diminished global voice for the region.
“The absence of these nations from ECOWAS deliberations creates a gap in representation, undermining the organization’s inclusivity and legitimacy.
“It also sets a concerning precedent that could encourage other member states facing internal or external pressures to consider similar actions, further eroding the unity of the bloc.
“Economically, the departure of these countries threatens the vision of ECOWAS as a unified market. The region’s collective economic growth has been underpinned by policies promoting free trade, harmonized tariffs, and economic convergence criteria.
“With their withdrawal, not only is the economic integration process disrupted, but the affected countries also risk losing out on the benefits of collective bargaining, shared infrastructure projects, and regional trade agreements.
“This disruption could lead to increased economic isolation for these countries, potentially exacerbating existing economic challenges and stalling development efforts.
“Moreover, the uncertainty generated by these withdrawals may deter foreign investment, both in the departing states and the region as a whole.”
“Their exit could lead to a fragmentation of regional security efforts, making it more challenging to respond effectively to security threats, and potentially creating safe havens for extremist and criminal groups.
“The social and humanitarian implications are also considerable. ECOWAS has facilitated cooperation in areas such as health, education, and human rights.
“The withdrawal of these countries could lead to reduced collaboration in managing public health crises, educational exchanges, and human rights advocacy.
“Additionally, the potential increase in security issues and economic challenges could exacerbate humanitarian crises, leading to increased displacement of people within and across borders, straining the resources and stability of neighboring countries.”
The groups stated that at the diplomatic level, these withdrawals represent a significant challenge to the authority and effectiveness of ECOWAS.
“In facing these challenges, ECOWAS, under your leadership, needs to adopt a multifaceted approach.
“This includes diplomatic efforts to address the concerns of the withdrawing states, institutional reforms to enhance the effectiveness and relevance of ECOWAS, and renewed commitment to the principles of regional cooperation and solidarity.
“The bloc must also intensify efforts to address the root causes of discontent among member states, whether they are related to perceptions of inequality, governance issues, or the distribution of the benefits of regional integration.
“The withdrawal of the Niger Republic, Mali, and Burkina Faso from ECOWAS is a wake-up call for the region.
“It underscores the need for a reassessment of the organization’s strategies and policies to ensure they are inclusive, equitable, and responsive to the needs and aspirations of all member states.
“The future of ECOWAS, and indeed the wider African integration project, depends on the ability to navigate these turbulent waters with wisdom, foresight, and a renewed commitment to the ideals of unity, peace, and shared prosperity.
“Your Excellency, alongside the concerns within ECOWAS, the domestic policy of relocating federal institutions from Abuja to Lagos warrants a thorough examination.
“This decision, while aimed at economic and administrative restructuring, touches upon deeper issues of national identity, unity, and the strategic role of Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory.”
According to the groups, Abuja’s establishment as Nigeria’s capital was a strategic decision made to foster national unity by providing a neutral, centrally located seat of government, distinct from the regional and ethnic biases associated with Lagos.
“Abuja’s development as the Federal Capital Territory has involved considerable investment, planning, and vision. The city has grown into a symbol of national pride and unity.
The relocation policy raises questions about the future role and identity of Abuja.
“There is a risk that such a move could lead to a decline in the city’s status and relevance, impacting not only its economic prospects but also its symbolic value as a center of national unity.
“In light of these concerns, alternative approaches could be considered. For instance, instead of relocating existing institutions, the focus could be on establishing new centers of excellence or regional hubs in various parts of the country.
“This would not only alleviate the pressures on Lagos and Abuja but also promote balanced regional development.
“Investments in infrastructure, technology, and human capital in other regions could help bridge the development gap and foster a more inclusive national growth narrative.
“It is crucial that such significant policy decisions are made through a process of extensive stakeholder engagement and public dialogue.
“Consultations with state governments, civil society, industry experts, and the general public can provide valuable insights and help in formulating a policy that is well-received and effective.
“This inclusive approach can also serve as a platform for addressing any misconceptions and building a consensus on the way forward.
“While exploring decentralization options, it is important to reaffirm the role of Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory.
“This could involve continued investment in the city’s infrastructure, promoting it as a hub for diplomacy, culture, and national events.”
They further stated that Abuja’s role as a unifying symbol should be preserved and strengthened, reflecting its importance in Nigeria’s journey towards unity and progress.
According to them, “Even if truly the intent behind the relocation of federal institutions to Lagos may be to stimulate economic growth and administrative efficiency, it is imperative to weigh these benefits against the potential risks to national unity, regional balance, and the constitutional significance of Abuja.
“A careful, consultative approach that considers the diverse perspectives and needs of all Nigerians is crucial in ensuring that such policy shifts strengthen, rather than undermine, our national fabric.
“Your Excellency, as we stand at this crossroads in the history of our region and our nation, the gravity of the decisions before us cannot be overstated.
“The challenges presented by the withdrawal of key members from ECOWAS and the significant shifts in domestic policies within Nigeria are more than mere policy issues; they are tests of our collective will and vision for the future.
“The actions taken in response to these challenges will define the trajectory of our regional and national development for years to come. For you personally, it will inadvertently define your place in history.
“As the President of Nigeria and the Chairman of ECOWAS, your legacy has the potential to be marked by a transformative era of regional integration and national unity.
“We look towards a future where ECOWAS stands as a beacon of regional cooperation and Nigeria as a symbol of unity in diversity.
“The decisions you make will shape this future, and Nigerians will stand ready to support you in this endeavor.
“We pray God Almighty to give you the wisdom to address these complex challenges facing our region and country and to give you the courage and wisdom to pursue peace, justice, unity, and solidarity among our peoples and nations.”