By NBF News

The Federal Government on Monday linked the unabated food, energy and financial crises in the Economic Community of West African States to haphazard implementation of agreements reached by member states.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Dr. Aliyu Idi Hong, said this at the 64th Session of the Council of Ministers of ECOWAS in Abuja, the News Agency of Nigeria reported on Monday.

Hong said the haphazard implementation of the 1979 ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services and the Right of Residence and Establishment by member states was retrogressive.

Hong said, 'Despite efforts and structures put in place to fast-track the integration process within the sub-region, the lack of political will by member states to implement this agreement has further undeveloped us.

'Citizens of the region have continued to face harassment, intimidation, torture and extortion in the hands of the security agencies manning our borders.

'These unfortunate trends have no doubt constituted serious barriers to trade and development within the sub-region.'

He said that he hoped the construction of the five joint border posts, including that of Nigeria-Benin border post, under the auspices of ECOWAS and the European Union, would reverse the trend.

Hong stressed that it was expected that when border posts were completed, all the impediments to trade would have been removed.

The minister also noted that the establishment of a Customs union in the sub-region remained one of ECOWAS' top priorities.

He added that the establishment of a Customs union would make the free trade area function effectively.

According to him, it will act as a lubricant to the establishment of the Common External Tariff and eliminate all impediments to the free movement of persons, goods and services.

Hong, however, lauded the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.

He expressed satisfaction on the sincere steps taken by the organisation to assist states undergoing challenges of enthroning constitutional democracy.

Hong said President Goodluck Jonathan, in conjunction with ECOWAS, had engaged the relevant stakeholders to ensure workable election time-tables in Cote d'Ivoire and Niger.

'It is hoped that through this process, we will be able to consolidate the gains of democratic governance and development in our sub-region,'' he said.

President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr. James Gbeho, expressed happiness that the global financial crisis that worked against economies of member states was now under control.

'Our success in the face of the ongoing global economic recession will be measured by how effective we adapt and respond to the measures put in place by global financial institutions,' Gbeho said.