By Suleiman Umaru
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who incidentally was a former governor of Lagos state appears to have won the heart of the fifteen member – countries of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, in Bisau, Capital of Guinea –Bisau, to be elected unanimously as the Union Chairman at a first meeting.
Diplomatic analysts had said that his emergence as the Chairman of the sub-regional body may not be unconnected to some of the tough economic decisions taken in the early stage of his Administration: Removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Sprit, PMS, popular, Petrol importation into the country and unification of the counry’s multiple exchange rats which past Admirations had failed to do.
The ECOWAS Leaders may have followed every steps taken since his inauguration on May 29, 2023, including the recent suspension of the five percent taxes on Telecommunication facilities, Green tax, escalation of tax on locally manufactured products to reduce the suffering of Nigerians as well as the suspension of the Import Adjustment tax and levy , IAT, on imported vehicles to have found him worthy to leady the economic bloc and give it a direction .
Former President Muhammadu Buhari and a –one time Chairman of the ECOWAS Sun-region had approved the implementation of the 2022 Fiscal Policy Measures made up of the Supplementary Protection Measures, SPM, for the implementation of the ECOWAS, Common External Tariff, CET, 2022 -2026 and Excise duties on non- alcoholic, alcoholic, Cigarettes and Tobacco products .
The former Katsina state born Nigerian President may have damned the consequences of the economic policies which gave rise to’’ the introduction and implementation of the Import Adjustment tax and levy on 172 tariff lines of the extant ECOWAS CET’’. He could do that because it was what was said to have been agreed by the ECOWAS leaders in their 2020 meetings.
Many of the West African Leaders believe that if the Nigerian Leader could take such a bold economic initiatives which the World Bank, in the past had consistently said that ‘’it impeded investment and undermanned efficiency of Monetary and fiscal policies in the most populous African country and there was o uproar,, he could do much better at the sub-regional level to improve trade among the 15-member states.
Recall that the authority of Heads of States and Government of the ECOWAS Sub-region, had agreed ‘’to launch a new currency, ECO, in January 2020 that will ‘’free cross-border traders and travelers within the sub-region from the hassles of exchanging currencies, and to boost intra-area trade and an integrated and prosperous region’.
The argument in both official and unofficial quarters was that a monetary union with a single currency for the 15 member states would mean that the countries would transfer their political authority to ECOWAS institution but the member states, according to informed sources were not willing to subordinate their national and regional interests to the ECOWAS Institutions because of ineffective and weak Leadership.
The Lagos state born Nigerian President had succeeded Umaro Embalo Guinea –Bisau to pilot the affairs of the West African sub-region for the next one year is expected to introduce some innovations as obtained in Nigeria and ensure that the ECO currency become a reality.
The new ECOWAS Chairman, is expected also to ensure the full implementation of the Economic bloc Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS. The ETLS, which according to a retired senior Customs officer, who spoke to The Value News on condition of anonymity had said that the objective of the scheme is ‘’to liberalise trade within the sub-region by abolishing of Customs duties levied on imports and exports and the elimination of non-tariff barriers among member states for the establishment of a free trade area at the Cmmunity level.
The ECOWAS protocol which was said to have been first implemented in 1979, had remained a major as member-states had failed to implement it. As a prelude to giving the ember States a soft landing to implement the scheme, the union had adopted in 2022, a new agreement on rules of origin initiated by the Ngozi Okonjo-Iwala, a former minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy, during Goodluck Jonathan’s Administration led World Trade Organisation, WTO.
The Union was said to have agreed to comply with the same rules of origin under the ETLS but that was how far it could go. The ECOWAS protocol of January 31, 2023, had defined ‘’the concept of originating products and criteria applicable to ease the process for approval of industrial products.
It was not surprising why a National Approvals Committee, NAC, responsible for examining application for approval of companies and their products traded within the sub-region was established to ensure that the products actually meet the originating criteria. Notwithstanding, the moves by past Chairmen of the ECOWAS sub-region to ensure the implementation of the Economic bloc protocols, trade between the 15-member states was not encouraging.
Take for instance, trade between Nigeria and the neighbouring country of Benin Republic is was sad to be as low as two percent. The Nigerian President, who could not hide his feelings had said that for trade between the member States to be improved, he had told his Beninois Counterpart, Patrick Talon, in Paris, Capital of France, during the New Global Financing Pact signing summit that he has appointed Wale Adeniyi, as the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, NC, for the countries to relate with him. This an indications that he meant well for union, even when he has not been elected as Chairman.
As the Chairman of the sub-regional economic body, the Nigerian President may have come to come to the conclusion that improved trade among the 15- member States could only be achieved by embracing Democracy which he has described as ‘’very tough but remained the best form of government’’.
Talking tough, he has warned that ‘’the threat to peace in the sub-region had reached an alarming proportion with terrorism and emerging pattern of military takeover that now demand urgent and concerted actions’’.
Tinubu, the new ECOWS Chairman, was said to have called for a collective action from member- States , pledging that giving the responsibility of the office and his desire to run an inclusive administration of the sub-regional organization, all ‘’frameworks to actualise the dreams of the economic bloc would be harmonised’’.
He HAD SAID that without a peaceful environment, ‘’the much expected progress and development within the sub-region would continue to be truncated’’. This may have informed why he has urged member –states ‘’to remain committed to the utilization of all regional frameworks and proposals to address the menace of insecurity’’. He may have alluded to the security challenges in Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Niger Republic and Nigeria, his home country.
Acoording to the Nigerian President, the Sub-regional body has no reason to fail because it had developed a security architecture, which covers a wide range of areas that involve kinetic and non-kinetic operations, including preventive diplomacy. He was said to have to have made areference to ‘’the regional plan of action against terrorism 2020-2024 as well as the operationalization of the ECOWAS Standby Force on Fight Against Terrorism’’.
He may have gladdened the heart of the West African countries Leaders when he declared that he will hit the ground running by going ahead to harmonize all the plans , mobilise available resources as well as muster the political will towards the actualization of the ECOWAS, initiatives.
He had asserted given that terrorists do not respect boundaries,the authority of ECOWAS Heads of States and Government must work collectively ‘’to have an effective regional counter-terrorism measure’’. While decrying the emerging pattern of coup-d’etat in the sub-region where soldiers have truncated the popular mandate of the people, the Nigerian President was said to have charged the ECOWAS Leaders ‘’to stand firm in defence of democracy ‘’, insisting that ‘’there is no governance , freedom and rule of law without democracy’’.
He may have sent a message to the coup plotters who had succeeded in truncating democracy in their respective countries that’’ the region will no longer accept coup after coup’’. This is bad news for the coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Hear him: We didn’t give our soldiers resources, we didn’t invest in them, in their booths, in their raining to violate the freedom of the people to freely vote for their leaders in elections He asserted that ‘’to turn their guns against the civil authorities is a violation of the principles upon which they were hired, which is to defend the soverignity of the nations’’. We must not sit in ECOWAS as toothless bulldogs but must bark and bite’’, he insists.