The Federal Government of Nigeria on Monday celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja by paying homage to the founding fathers and reflecting on the achievements and challenges of the regional body over the past four decades.
According to a dispatch from the Liberian Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, the event, whose theme was “Nigeria, ECOWAS Celebrating The Economics of Unity,” brought together an array of former Nigerian luminaries, including one of the founding fathers of ECOWAS, former Nigerian Head of State General Yakubu Gowon, senior government officials of the Nigerian Government, officials of ECOWAS and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
The keynote speaker, former Nigerian Foreign Minister, Professor A. Bolaji Akinyemi, paid particular homage to former Liberian President William V.S. Tubman for his initial proposal in 1965 to form a West African Economic Community with Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
In this respect, General Gowon, told participants that the formation of ECOWAS should not just be attributed to him and former President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, as usually done, but to all the fifteen West African Heads of State who signed the Treaty of Lagos to establish ECOWAS on May 18, 1975. Referring to them as ‘founding fathers, he noted that their full cooperation led to the regional economic bloc’s decades of existence today. He also attributed the Community’s success to the strong will-power of Community’s leaders.
Other speakers praised Nigeria’s enormous contributions to ECOWAS including its leading role in ECOMOG, which successfully restored peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and Nigeria’s current interventions in Mali and Guinea Bissau.
ECOMOG’s interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone were the first time a regional Africa body imposed peace through military means. This subsequently encouraged ECOWAS leaders to revise the 1975 Treaty to include political matters that widened the scope of regional integration.
In his welcome remarks, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs II of Nigeria, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, reiterated his country’s commitment to ECOWAS by hosting of three important institutions of ECOWAS: the ECOWAS Commission, the ECOWAS Parliament and the Community Court of Justice.
For his part, the Foreign Minister of Nigeria, Ambassador Aminu Wali extolled ECOWAS as a pace-setter in the integration agenda which he said is manifested in the democracy, peace and security areas. The Nigerian Foreign Minister remarked that the adoption and use of a common passport and a visa-free regime made possible by the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Goods, the right of residence in Member States, and recently the Common External Tariffs by Member States should set the regional body above others in Africa.
In his remarks, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said the formation of the regional economic body was born out of the realization of the founding fathers that the domestic markets of the individual member states were not big enough to compete in the world market including large trade blocs like the European Community at that time. Mr. Ouedragogo noted that in spite of all the achievements, more work remains to be done.
The goals of ECOWAS are contained in Article Three of the Lagos Treaty which states: “The aims of the community are to promote cooperation and integration leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living of its peoples and to maintain and enhance economic stability; foster relations among member states and contribute to the progress and development of the African Continent.”