The first effort at integration in West Africa dates back to 1945 with the creation of CFA franc that brought the francophone countries of the region into a single currency union. Then in 1964, Liberian President William V.S. Tubman proposed an economic union for West Africa leading to an agreement which was signed in 1965 by the four states of Cote d’Ivore, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
However, nothing concrete emanated from these consortiums until 1972 when Nigerian head of state General Yakubu Gowon and his Togolese counterpart Gnassingbe Eyadema toured the region in support of the integration idea. Thanks to the drafts that emanated from their efforts as they formed the basis for the emergence of the Treaty of Lagos in 1975, ECOWAS was born. The Treaty of Lagos was initially limited to economic policies but emerging political events led to its revision and therewith the expansion of its scope and powers in 1993.
ECOWAS is meant to foster interstate economic and political cooperation. History is on its side in this regard. Dating back to pre-colonial times, West Africans have been among the world’s most mobile populations although much of the migration had been intraregional.
About 7.5 million West African migrants (3 percent of the regional population) are living in ECOWAS countries other than their own. The 1.2 million other migrants are dispersed mainly in North America and Europe.
Estimated at about 149 million in 2013, women constitute over 50 percent of the region’s population. The cross-border migration of women as traders and business persons places them as potential champions for promoting integration, even though this is a reality that is yet to be fully exploited.
Refusing to take all the credits for the formation of ECOWAS in 1975 and for chairing the Group of Eminent Personalities that revised the organization’s Treaty in 1993, Gen. Gowon, who is 80 this year, paid tribute to all his peers, especially the late Togolese President Eyadema, government ministers, diplomats and senior civil servants of member States for their roles and contributions to the birthing of ECOWAS.
H. E. Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire
H. E. William Tolbert Jr., Liberia
H. E. General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria
H. E. General Gnassingbe Eyadema, Togo
H. E. Dawda Kairaba Jawara, The Gambia
H. E. Ahmed Sékou Touré, Guinea
H. E. Moussa Traoré, Mali
H. E. Lt-Col Seyni Kountché, Niger
H. E. Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegal
H. E. General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, Ghana
H. E. Mathieu Kérékou, Benin
H. E. General El hadj Sangoulé Lamizana, Burkina-Faso
H. E. Luis Cabral, Guinée Bissau
H. E. Moktar Ould Daddah, Mauritania
H. E Dr Siaka Stevens, Sierra Leone