President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to leave a legacy of free and fair elections in Nigeria and the West African sub-region at large.
The Nigerian leader will finish his second term next year and has reiterated his desire to conduct a hitch-free election, adding that the country is committed to a stable West Africa.
He said this on Monday at the 2022 second ordinary session of the ECOWAS parliament in Abuja, according to a statement from presidential aide Femi Adesina.
“We are convinced that the sustenance of democracy and the rule of law should remain the norm in this promising region,” he said.
“There will be multiple political activities in some ECOWAS member states, including Nigeria, where general elections are due to be held in February and March 2023. Let me seize this opportunity to reiterate my commitment to free, fair, and transparent elections and smooth transitions. This is one legacy that I want my administration to bequeath, not only to Nigeria but to the region as a whole.”
Buhari said threats to peace and security, political instability, and the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war are the biggest challenges facing West Africa.
‘‘It is on record that the region has not rested on its oars as we have always striven to evolve effective regional mechanisms to address these challenges. ‘‘For example, at the height of the pandemic, Heads of State of ECOWAS appointed me as the ECOWAS champion on COVID-19,” he said.
‘‘Working with three Ministerial Committees comprising Member States’ Ministers of Health, Finance, and Transportation, we developed an effective response by mitigating the effect of COVID-19 on our citizens. Our efforts yielded positive results as the ECOWAS region became one of the sub-regions least affected by the pandemic, in terms of mortality rate.”
President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday in Abuja commended collective efforts of nations towards tackling security challenges across the globe, and within Nigeria, urging more collaboration to check terrorism, banditry and insurgency.
Receiving Letters of Credence of Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ambassador James Kingston Christoff and Ambassador of Mexico to Nigeria, Juan Alfred Miranda Oritz, President Buhari told the diplomats that successes in taming insecurity had been recorded through collaboration across borders, and more could be achieved.
“The devastating effect of global insecurity, climate change and the post COVID-19 era has devastated global economies. Nations continue to struggle to recover from these multiple global challenges.
“The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has undermined the progress countries have achieved in tackling food security in the last decade. While, the political instability in Libya continues to fuel terrorism in the Sahel, as well as scuttle democratic sustenance in both West and Central African regions.
“Nigeria is not left out of the equation, as we are fighting to rid our country of banditry, kidnapping, herder/farmer crisis and insurgency. We are, however, making meaningful progress with the support of friendly countries like yours to sustain these fights until we overcome these challenges,’’ he said.
At the regional level, President Buhari said Nigeria had been working with other Member-States of ECOWAS and other regional blocs, to deal with the problems of terrorism, trans-border crimes, maritime crimes such as piracy and illegal fishing on our waters, illicit drug and human trafficking, banditry, as well as unconstitutional changes of government.
“I believe that matters of security have become the business of all nations as these challenges go beyond the abilities of any single country to effectively contain. The world must, therefore, work closely together and Nigeria counts on your support in cementing the relations between our countries at both bilateral and multilateral levels to surmount these global threats to civilization,’’ he added.
The President urged diplomats to monitor political developments in the country, leading to the 2023 elections, but remain true to their professional ethics of non-interference.
President Buhari noted that Nigeria was drawing closer to its national elections and candidates representing their parties at different levels were beginning to build consensus within their respective parties in preparations to the launching of campaigns across the country soon.
“As the drums of campaign begin to rise, I urge you to be guided by diplomatic practice to ensure that your activities remain within the limits of your profession as you monitor the build-up to the elections and the conduct of the general elections,” he said.
The President also advised the diplomats to focus on building on the successes of their predecessors.
“The task before you require you both to build on the successes of your predecessors and further make efforts in the expansion and advancement of the cordial bilateral relations and cooperation between Nigeria and your respective countries. These relations as you all know, span across political, socio-economic and cultural spheres, that have overtime benefitted our peoples.
“I am confident that, in carrying out your diplomatic responsibilities in the course of your tour of duties, you will spare time to appreciate the uniqueness and strength in our country’s cultural diversities, in terms of both human and natural resources, as well as the flora and fauna across the country,’’ the President noted.
He said the cultural diversity of Nigeria “represents our pride as a nation and identity as a people,’’ while urging the diplomats to also build friendship and acquaintances in the course of their stay in the country.
In his remarks, on behalf of the ambassadors, the Canadian High Commissioner thanked the President for the ceremony of accepting the Letters of Credence.
“Today marks formal beginning of our engagement with the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We will work closely with ministers and officials to start a progressive relationship,’’ Christoff said.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has travelled to Ghana for the 61st Ordinary Session of the Authority of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, which is scheduled to hold on Sunday.
Professor Osinbajo left Nigeria on Saturday for Accra where he will be standing in for President Muhammadu Buhari at the summit.
His spokesman, Mr Laolu Akande, said in a statement that the VP will join other leaders to deliberate and take decisions on political, security, and humanitarian issues among others regarding the sub-region.
The regional bloc will also review the situations in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, particularly towards restoring democratic rule.
“At the summit tomorrow, the Mediation and Security Council of ECOWAS will update leaders on political developments in the region and in the Sahel region,” the statement added.
The Council will also provide updates on the issues of insecurity, challenges relating to youth unemployment, and the impact of diseases and pandemics on social tensions in the region.
On the sidelines of the summit, Professor Osinbajo will also attend a meeting of the five West African countries involved with “The Abidjan – Lagos Corridor Highway Development Project”, a flagship project of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).
The project connects the capitals of five West African states (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria) and stretches for approximately 1,028 km.
The Vice President will be accompanied on the trip by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Zubairu Dada and some other members of the Federal Executive Council.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had met in a bid to rule whether to keep, lighten or lift retaliatory measures on Mali, imposed in January after its military regime announced plans to stay in power for another five years.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo opened the summit, attended by the heads of state of most of the 15-member countries but without any representative from Mali, Burkina Faso or Guinea visible in the audience.
“This present summit will re-examine and assess the situations in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso in light of recent developments within the region and global context,” he said.
“Our objective has always been to find ways to help these countries return to constitutional order.”
Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali are currently suspended from ECOWAS bodies.
While Mali has already been slapped with sanctions, the other two countries risk further punitive measures from the bloc after ruling juntas in their respective capitals vowed to hold onto power for another three years.
West Africa has seen a succession of military coups in less than two years — two in Bamako, followed by Conakry in September 2021 and Ouagadougou in January.
ECOWAS, keen to limit political instability spreading further, has held summits and tried to pile on pressure to shorten the juntas’ so-called transition periods before a return to civilian rule.
But strongmen Colonel Assimi Goita in Mali, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya in Guinea and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba in Burkina Faso, have all resisted that pressure and since been sworn in as presidents.
They invoke the severity of domestic crises — that span jihadist insurgency to social problems — and claim they need time to rebuild their states and organise elections.
A UN report published last week said the West African sanctions had contributed to worsening living conditions, particularly for the poor.
One of the most volatile and impoverished countries in the world, Mali is battling a decade-old jihadist revolt, which began with a regional insurrection and then spread to Niger and Burkina Faso.
ECOWAS closed borders and suspended trade and financial exchanges, except for basic necessities.
In Guinea, the military overthrew president Alpha Conde in September and has vowed a return to civilian rule in three years.
Burkina Faso’s government was overthrown in January, when disgruntled colonels ousted elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore.
President Muhammadu Buhari says any decision to be taken by ECOWAS leaders on the political situations in Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea must consider the victims of unconstitutional changes of government and the adverse consequences of isolation on them.
The President spoke on Saturday in Accra, Ghana at the 6th Extraordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State on the political situations in the three countries.
According to a statement signed by presidential spokesperson Femi Adesina, the President expressed concern that since the last Summit of ECOWAS leaders on March 25 this year, not much has been achieved in terms of having an acceptable time table for the conduct of elections to restore democratic rule in the affected countries.
He noted that although the military leadership in Burkina Faso has released President Kabore in line with the request by ECOWAS leaders , further measures must be taken to ensure his safety and full freedom.
President Buhari warned that the security situation in both Mali and Burkina Faso has reached alarming levels with incessant attacks by extremist groups on the civilian populace and military facilities, aggravating the humanitarian condition in the two countries.
‘‘The deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Mali and Burkina Faso should be a source of serious concern to us as leaders in the region. As you may be aware, the world is still recovering from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, which wrecked the global economy.
‘‘While our economies begin to recover, the impact of the war between Russia and Ukraine has led to a surge in prices of many commodities including foodstuffs.
‘‘We are, therefore, left with no option but to devise means of sustaining our economies by becoming more creative and evolving in finding other channels of demand and supply, in order to ensure that we cushion the effect of the war and prevent our economies from collapsing, and our people remain productive.
‘‘We must, therefore, ensure that, in whatever decision we take, we must remember the mass of the populations in the affected countries, who are victims of the unconstitutional change of government and the adverse consequences of isolation brought about,’’ he said.
To this end, the Nigerian leader called on the Authority to revisit the report presented by former President Goodluck Jonathan, the ECOWAS Mediator on Mali, on a transition timetable for the West African country.
President Buhari noted that Jonathan had recommended 16 months transitional timeframe ‘‘as well as his further personal appeal and observation to us to give the military leadership in Mali up to 18 months for the conduct of election, starting from March 2022.’’
‘‘Furthermore, Nigeria is also calling on the Authority to consider the proposal earlier made for the Chair to personally visit Bamako and present this proposal. Nigeria equally welcomes the magnanimous offer by President Macky Sall, Chair of the Assembly of African Union to accompany H.E. President Nana Addo to Bamako for the purpose.
‘‘From our findings, we are certain that the high-level visit proposed would be welcomed by the military leadership and would achieve the needed consensus. At the same time, the region must be ready to provide the needed support to Mali to return to democratic rule as soon as possible.’’
On the situation in Guinea and Burkina Faso, President Buhari expressed concern that, till date, their proposed timeframes are not in tandem with the expectations of the regional leaders as well as their respective citizens.
He urged the military authorities in Burkina Faso and Guinea to renew their determination and immediately provide acceptable timeframes for the return to democracy in their respective countries.
He announced that Nigeria fully supports any action, including imposition of further sanctions that the Authority may adopt to compel the military leaderships in the two countries to submit an acceptable electoral timetable.
‘‘Nevertheless, there is need for ECOWAS to continue to engage the military leaderships and key stakeholders in Burkina Faso and Guinea in order to reach an agreeable understanding, especially on the transition timeframes,’’ he said.
Earlier, the Chairperson of the Authority and President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, thanked his counterparts for their strong commitment to democracy, peace and stability in the region and for staying focused on the situation in the countries.
President Akufo-Addo, who acknowledged the presence of African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said the Summit hopes to find lasting solutions to political instability and the resurgence of coup d’états in the region since August 2020.
As part of strengthening and enhancing security in the West African sub-region, the Nigerian Army has deployed 173 officers and soldiers to Guinea Bissau on an ECOWAS peacekeeping Operation.
The Chief of Operations, Army Headquarters, Major General Oluwafemi Akinjobi, announced this on Thursday at the graduation and pre-deployment training of the troops from the Martin Luther Agwai Peacekeeping Centre in Jaji Kaduna State.
The graduation comes ahead of their departure to Bissau, the Guinea Bissau capital as they are expected to leave Nigeria immediately after their induction.
While addressing the troops, the Chief of Operations, represented by Major General Zakari Abubakar, warned the contingent to abide by the rules of engagement, exhibit braveness as professionals, and also respect the cultural sensitivity of the people of Guinea Bissau.
“Nigeria remains the beacon of peace and gatekeeper of the ECOWAS sub-region. Consequently, the Federal Government of Nigeria is committed to the deployment of a contingent to maintain peace in the Republic of Guinea Bissau,” he said.
“The history of peacekeeping in Africa cannot be written without the commitment and sacrifices of Nigeria. The first contingent of Nigerian peacekeepers was deployed in 1960 shortly after our independence.
“Since then, Nigeria has contributed over 100,000 peacekeepers in over 40 peacekeeping missions in Africa and across the globe. I must say with pride that our peacekeepers have had to restore peace in many conflict areas around the globe which has earned Nigeria many national and individual commendations from several nations.”
Abubakar reminded the soldiers of the United Nations’ zero tolerance for drug trafficking and human rights abuse.
He also asked them to avoid indecent characters capable of tarnishing the image of the Nigerian Army and the nation in general.
In his remarks, the Commandant of the Martin Luther Agwai Peacekeeping Centre, Major General Auwal Fagge, also highlighted the importance of the pre-deployment training.
He said the training is in line with the Nigerian Army Headquarters’ desire to ensure that troops receive the needed robust and theatre-specific pre-deployment training prior to their induction into peacekeeping missions.
Fagge expressed confidence that the high level of enthusiasm and cohesion exhibited by the soldiers and officers will reflect on their operational conduct abroad.
The court of the West African Economic and Monetary Union ordered Thursday the suspension of sanctions imposed on Mali over delayed elections, according to a document seen by AFP.
Regional bloc ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) both slapped economic and diplomatic sanctions on Mali in January after the military junta proposed staying in power for up to five years.
The measures included a trade embargo and border closures against the impoverished Sahel state. Mali’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States have also been frozen as part of the sanctions regime.
It was unclear if the UEMOA decision would lead to the immediate lifting of the sanctions.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, former President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday allayed fears of Nigeria’s disintegration, saying the country will still remain.
He stated this during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)’s Council of the WISE strategic retreat and planning workshop which held in Lagos.
“When elections are coming, there is always this fear that the country will implode. But you see that the country has remained stable,” he said.
“When I was in office, (during) the 2015 elections, some people were sending words out of the country, but nothing happened at the end of the day. So 2023 will come and go and this country will remain.”
The former Nigerian President also expressed confidence in ECOWAS ability to solve the numerous challenges confronting the sub-region.
There has been series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso and some other West African countries leading to sanctions from the regional bloc as well as the African Union.
But Jonathan, who chairs the forum, reiterated the commission’s determination to restore peace in the troubled countries.
“The tasks ahead of us may seem dauting given the current challenges in our sub-region but it is not insurmountable. I implore all of us to give the assignment her best shot.
“We will be seen to have done justice to this assignment if we succeed in catalysing processes towards institutionalizing systems that will deepen democracy, people-oriented governance and sustainable growths in our sub-region.”
This is the first-ever non-state structure that forms part of the council’s peace and security architecture with Jonathan expressing confidence that the region can surmount its challenges.
Mali’s lawmakers on Monday approved a plan allowing the military junta to rule for up to five years, AFP journalists said, despite regional sanctions imposed on the country over delayed elections.
After staging a coup in the impoverished Sahel state in August 2020, the country’s military rulers initially promised to stage a vote in February 2022.
But in December last year, the junta proposed staying in power for between six months and five years, citing security concerns.
In response, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) last month imposed a trade embargo and closed its borders with Mali. The bloc has called the potential length of the transition unacceptable.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has faulted recent coups in West Africa, insisting that democracy is the only acceptable way to change governments.
Osinbajo made the comment after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) emergency meeting held in Accra on Thursday.
“I think it has been fruitful,” he said about the meeting at the Ghanaian capital. “The Heads of State again reiterated the firm position that had been taken earlier that there is absolutely no excuse for a change of government by coup d’etat.
“So, what happened in Burkina Faso was considered and has been condemned by all of the heads of state and we do not think there is any excuse for it whatsoever. But at the moment, of course, engagement is going on with the military junta and also we condemned the attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau and congratulated President Embalo and the people of Guinea-Bissau for resisting that unconstitutional attempt to change the government.
“All in all it has been fruitful and we are very hopeful that lessons had been learnt and we will not see a repeat of this.”
The Vice President, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the event, condemned the coup in Burkina Faso and the attempt to do the same in Guinea-Bissau.
There is absolutely no justification for a coup de’tat as a means of changing governments, VP says as ECOWAS Summit concludes Extraordinary session in Accra regarding the situations in Burkina Faso, Mali & Guinea. VP also virtually launched Nigeria Integrated Energy Planning Tool pic.twitter.com/lokUareskI
On the situation in Mali, he said he expects the country’s authorities to respond to the sanctions imposed on them by ECOWAS. Osinbajo said, “We expect that at some point, the Malian authorities themselves would begin to speed up the process of transition. We expect that they would do so. We are looking forward to that engagement”.
The vice president has since returned to the country following the meeting.
“So, what happened in Burkina Faso was considered and has been condemned by all of the heads of state and we do not think there is any excuse for it whatsoever,” the Vice President told reporters in Abuja.
“I think it has been fruitful, the Heads of State again reiterated the firm position that had been taken earlier that there is absolutely no excuse for a change of government by coup d’etat.
“But at the moment, of course, engagement is going on with the military junta and also we condemned the attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau and congratulated President Embalo and the people of Guinea-Bissau for resisting that unconstitutional attempt to change the government.
“All in all it has been fruitful and we are very hopeful that lessons had been learnt and we will not see a repeat of this.”
Emergency talks in the Ghanaian capital Accra were triggered after Burkina Faso on January 24 became the third member of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to be overtaken by the military.
Burkina followed Mali, where a coup in September 2020 was followed by a second in May 2021, and Guinea, where elected president Alpha Conde was ousted last September.
Adding to the region’s turmoil was a gun attack on Tuesday on the president of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, stoking fears that years of efforts to steer West Africa towards stability and democracy are failing.
Already, the African Union said Monday it had suspended Burkina Faso in response to the January 24 coup that ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.
The bloc’s 15-member Peace and Security Council said on Twitter it had voted “to suspend the participation of #BurkinaFaso in all AU activities until the effective restoration of constitutional order in the country”.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, had already condemned the coup the day it happened and before it was clear who was taking charge.
The West African bloc ECOWAS suspended Burkina Faso on Friday and sent a delegation to meet with the ruling junta Saturday.