By Ragan M. Conteh
The Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Sidi Mohamed Tunis, has informed that, despite the remarkable achievements in the ECOWAS region, his people continue to yearn for help particularly under the current global pandemic of COVID-19.
He made the disclosure during the occasion of the commemoration of the ECOWAS Day, which falls on 28th May every year.
According to Sidi Mohamed Tunis, he wished to convey warm felicitations and best wishes to ECOWAS citizens on behalf of the entire ECOWAS Parliament, the Bureau and staff.
He revealed that, on Thursday, 28 May, 2020, they called to mind the creation of our Community of the current fifteen West African States, with the signing of the Treaty of Lagos on 28 May, 1975, a community whose founding fathers birthed the long-term vision, which inspired the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
In other words, according to him, they envisioned a regional community geared towards fostering interstate economic and political cooperation along the West African coastal and its landlocked zones, cutting across linguistic, geographic and colonial barriers.
The revision of the Lagos Treaty in 1993 assigned more mandate to ECOWAS, setting as economic objectives the achievement of a Common Market and Custom Union.
The Speaker reiterates that ECOWAS then began a new journey, with the adoption by Member States of the Revised Treaty, which also provided for the establishment of the ECOWAS Parliament and the ECOWAS Court of Justice. It also expanded the role of the ECOWAS to include conflict prevention and ensuring good governance and democracy.
Over time, Sidi Tunis maintained, Member States adopted ECOWAS as a main regional economic community, positioned for the realization of the African Union objectives.
In the course of its existence, he went on, ECOWAS has focused on numerous programs, with some of its flagship programs centering on the Trade Liberalization Scheme, which fast-tracked the adoption of the Common External Tariff (CET).
Other initiatives include the Free Movement of persons, goods, services and capital, on which platform ECOWAS modestly distinguished itself, amongst peers in the entire region of Africa, as the most successful regional economic community in the area of visa-free migration, right of residence and establishment for its citizens.
Yet others are the Monetary Cooperation Program and program on Peace and Security. To that extent, the Speaker said, forty-five years down the line of history, our States are better integrated, with citizens migrating more freely and goods and services more readily available across Member States.
Hon. Tunis further revealed that ECOWAS has remarkable records of success in maintaining peace and stability in Member States whilst upholding democratic values across the region. He cited that also worthy of note are its Common Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP), which aims to promote agri-business and agricultural practices that are modern and sustainable in Member States, the multi-faceted infrastructure program that fosters improvement of inter-state corridor roads, rails, air links and telecommunications, energy as well as the program on the single currency.
“We are mindful of the fact that this outbreak is like none in the past. Since it was first detected in December, 2019, within months, it eroded our normal ways of life, confined us within our respective borders, bringing our economies to a virtual standstill and triggering a possible recession for the year,” he said.
As at 24 May, Hon. Tunis revealed that the sub-region has recorded over 29,000 confirmed cases with over 11,000 recoveries and sadly, above 600 deaths.
He said these are not mere numbers or statistics of physical things but of human beings, citizens of West Africa whose lives were cut short by this rampaging virus.
“As I empathize with all citizens as we all are directly or remotely affected, the pain and agony of these needless loss of lives cannot be fully expressed by me on behalf of the Parliament; but rest assured of our constant support and prayers for the healing of the world and particularly, our beloved sub-region,” Hon Tunis said.
Nonetheless, on what ECOWAS is doing, “I am well aware that the ECOWAS Commission and the West African Health Organization (WAHO), two of our sister institutions, have initiated various responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Member States,” he continued.
These responses include the provision of training and essential supplies to strengthen the public health systems in Member States in order to foster the fight against the spread of the scourge.
On their part, Hon. Tunis opined, the 5th Legislature shall play its role towards the ECOWAS’ post COVID-19 recovery response strategies by collaborating with and enacting policies to support sister institutions in the execution of COVID-19 related programs for the benefit of the citizens of the sub-region.
“We are optimistic that, given the resilient nature of our people, there is no doubt that we will bounce back and make a full recovery in the no distant time,” he asserted.
However, Hon. Tunis reiterates, for that to happen faster, they urged governments of Member States to be mindful of the need to commit to protecting livelihoods and investments in key sectors of our economies and identifying ingenious ways of injecting liquidity as lifeblood to stimulate our economies.
Consequently, Hon. Tunis stated, he cannot over-emphasize the need for the redesigning of their budget and programs to reflect changes envisaged by the effects of the pandemic on the economies of Member States.
“I am cognizant of the fact that Member States will recover at different rates. For some it will come faster and others slower. Nevertheless, cohesion and convergence of policies should be of utmost importance than ever before in post COVID-19 recovery quest”.
These crises will no doubt redefine new norms for us as a people; in the way we think, live and even the course of our politics. It will be a long road to full recovery but in the spirit of African astute wisdom and resilience of purpose.
“I make bold to state that we shall emerge stronger and better to the delight of the rest of the world. I pray we all remain hopeful, as hope is a powerful force”.
Hope, he says, will pull us from the depths of despair and charge us to continue the march towards actualizing our West African dreams, as handed down to us by the founding fathers of ECOWAS, forty-five years ago.
He concluded that, armed with the tool of hope and faith in God, West Africans shall prevail against any obstacle.
By Ragan M. Conteh