By NBF News

At the 37th ordinary summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that took place recently in Abuja, Nigeria's Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan replaced ailing President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua as Chairman of the sub-regional body.

In his first assignment as an international leader, Dr. Jonathan stated categorically before the leaders of the sub-region that the need for strong democratic structure in the sub-region couldn't be over-emphasized. He made reference specifically to the challenges of democracy, peace, and security that threaten many countries within the sub-region.

It is appropriate to state here that the former military Head of State of Nigeria, General Jack Yakubu Gowon and his Togolese counterpart, President Eyadema, jointly conceived ECOWAS. Consequently, ECOWAS Treaty was signed on the 28th of May, 1975. Lagos was selected as the Administrative Headquarters while Lome was selected as the headquarters for the funds of the organization.

The aims and objectives of the ECOWAS include the following, promotion of cooperation and development in all fields of economic activity among member states; elimination of customs duties and tariffs in respect of importation and exportation of goods among member-states; the abolition among member-states of the obstacle to free movement of persons, services and capital; the harmonization of agricultural policies and common projects in the fields of marketing and research of agro-industrial enterprises; and the implementation of joint schemes in respect of development of transport, communication and energy requirements.

However, important steps have been taken by the member-states of the organization towards the realization of the objectives mentioned. One major difficulty of ECOWAS is that of political instability which has made it not to realize its objectives. Another difficulty is that of finance. ECOWAS finds it difficult to compel member-states to make their financial contributions promptly.

It is therefore clear that lack of funds may impede the progress towards the realization of the objectives of the organization. Despite the difficulties, the out-going boss of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, has affirmed that as a result of the prudent macroeconomic management of the national economies the sub-region should experience recovery from the current 4.4 percent growth rate in 2009 to about 4.7 in 2010.

It is also gratifying to state that the ECOWAS sub-region in 2006 recorded a growth rate of 5.1 percent when there was increased demand for key export commodities of the community and high export prices, especially for crude oil, metals and minerals. As a result of the global economic melt down in 2009, the region's growth rate declined to 4.4 percent In addition, Chambas happily announced that in the area of peace and security no single territory of member-nation is experiencing armed conflict at the present. To support his claim, he categorically said that the guns have long fallen silent in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau.

Towards this end, the processes of national reconstruction, restoration of institutions and infrastructure as well as national reconciliation are fully under way. It is also necessary to add that considerable progress has been made in resolving local conflicts and ending criminality and impunity in several parts of the region.

In spite of the above, there are still work to be done especially to boost regional integration and development such as regional poverty reduction strategy, a community development plan, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) plan, the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme, and the creation of an effective customs union which is fundamental to the establishment of a free trade area in the region.

I think and believe that there is also the need to implement fully ECOWAS Common Agricultural Policy (ECOW AP) within the framework of the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (AADP) to ensure availability of food and its security in the region. Also full implementation should be Regional Agricultural Investment Programme (RAlP) including the National Agricultural Investment Programme (NAIP).

The special representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa, Ambassador Said Ndinnit, specifically said that the growing challenges for the sub-region are having significant impact on the population and these include floods, crisis of insecurity, impact of climate change on environment and populations, drug trafficking, organized crime, concerns of good governance and unconstitutional changes of power. He further said that the UN was in close partnership with international partners as well as the ECOWAS mediator, President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, on the security and political problems in Guinea and Togo as well as that of Niger.

It is abundantly clear that the current chairman, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Ag. President of Nigeria will bring his wealth of experience into ECOWAS so that issues of common currency, transportation and proper integration among others need to be adequately addressed.

•Charles Ikedikwa Soeze, Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, Delta State, Nigeria.