The Vice President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, has urged leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to step up their efforts at ensuring that integration in the sub-region is achieved, to make the region globally competitive.

“To get the full benefits of our integrated regional markets, leaders in West Africa will have to show more commitments in removing unnecessary and often illegal obstacles placed in the way of economic preserves in the sub-region. They also need to consider seriously, the opportunities that the large markets will offer for our private sectors in the ECOWAS sub-region.”

Mr. Mahama made this passionate plea when he addressed a large crowd, made up of diplomats, academia, business community, politicians and students, at Nigeria’s 51st Independence Anniversary Lecture held in Accra yesterday. The event was under the theme “Leadership Role of Nigeria and Ghana in Sub-Regional Integration of West Africa.”

According to Mr. Mahama, despite progress made towards integration in the sub-region, a lot still needed to be done to accelerate the transformation of the sub-region, especially, in the areas of trade and security.

“Economic cooperation and integration are difficult to pursue without peace and stability in the region. Conflicts cannot be seen as the only reason for our slow progress in integrating the various economies of ECOWAS member states. From the formation of the ECOWAS in 1975, implementation of the agreements, especially, with regards to trade, has been slow, and in any case, only a minority of ECOWAS member states have not experienced major conflicts.

“The most common complaints of traders in the sub-region have been the barrier on goods and services, as a result of obstacles often put in their way by various security check-points between our countries. Going by the ECOWAS protocols we have signed, these barriers should have disappeared by now. The implementation of the treaty on free movement of persons faces a number of problems on the ground, namely; harassment on the roads, the high number of road blocks and illegal barriers, and the problem of insecurity on the roads is a major constraint in implementing the treaty on free movement of goods and people in the sub-region, “the Vice President noted.

A recent study conducted on the state of road transportation in the ECOWAS sub-region, indicates that on the average in Ghana, there are 1.9 road blocks or tolls for every 100 kilometres when travelling, and the expenditure in terms of “Value Added Tax” charged by the illegal road blockers is US$2.15 per person. The anomalous indicator for Mali is 2.4 check points for every 100 kilometres covered, and expenditure of US$9.4. The story is not different from Cote d’Ivoire, as the average checkpoints, when travelling within that country, was pegged at 2.4 kilometres, with traders spending as high as US$14.2 on illegal road barriers.

As a crusader of regional integration during his days as a legislature, Mr. Mahama said the sub-region could not afford the signing of protocols and agreements anymore than to ensure that those signed already are put into action.

“Since the formation of ECOWAS, we’ve had many protocols; we’ve signed them; we have ratified them, and we’ve signed many agreements on governance; on free movement of goods and people across the sub-region, and several others of such. Indeed, we have more than enough protocols and agreements signed already, and we need no more of those. What we need now is action,” he noted to applause from the large crowd.

Despite tasking leaders in the ECOWAS region to be more committed towards regional integration, he was quick to recognise the giant strides the leaders have achieved so far in the areas of transportation, communications, power supply, and air services.

ECOWAS is a regional group of fifteen countries founded in 1975. Its mission is to promote economic integration in all fields of economic activity, particularly, industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial questions, social, and cultural matters.

The Paramount Chief of Assin Owirenkyi, Nana Prah Agyensaim, who chaired the occasion, tasked Ghana and Nigeria to spearhead the integration of the West African member states.

He bemoaned the rate at which the continent was lagging behind in terms of development, and therefore, called for the speedy implementation of policies and programmes to bridge the developmental deficit.

He said, with the fifteen countries in the West African sub-region, “only three member countries, namely Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, can sometimes be described as developed.”

He tasked member countries to revisit the objectives of ECOWAS and themselves thoroughly to know if they have done a lot in transforming the fortunes of blocs, aside the signing of protocols and agreements.

To that effect, he encouraged the various leaders in the West African sub-region to submit themselves to their peers to review their activities, whilst also working assiduously to ensure that the proposed one currency, ECO, and the West African Gas Pipeline come into effect, other than the lip services being rendered on a daily basis.

Also throwing more light on ECOWAS integration was the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament and Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.

According to him, the only way forward for West Africa was democratic governance, something, he noted, “is the single most important element in facilitating and smoothening integration and speeding up development in the sub-region.”

In ensuring democratic governance, Mr. Ekweremadu urged leaders in West Africa to build unity among the people, since it is “key in ensuring integration in the sub-region.”

He commended both Ghana and Nigeria for their efforts made in strengthening governance in the sub-region, a situation, he said, had become a beacon of hope for many states on the African continent.

“While it may honestly sound paradoxical on the face value, and while democracy has had rough times in both countries, the truth, however, is that Nigeria and Ghana have indeed, acquitted themselves creditably as bastions and propellers of democracy in the West African sub-region.”

“To me, one of the greatest contributions Nigeria and Ghana have made to democracy in West Africa is being democratised themselves.  One of the best things that has happened to democracy in the sub-region is that both countries came out of long years of military dictatorship, stronger and more committed to democracy. The Fourth Republics, currently being enjoyed by both countries, are by far the longest since their independence.”

“Before now, the longest Nigeria had enjoyed a stretch of uninterrupted democracy was six years, while Ghana’s was nine – the first nine years under Kwame Nkrumah. They have seen both worlds, and have come to the reality of the fact that democracy is far better.”

“Conversely, today, Nigeria has enjoyed twelve years of uninterrupted democracy since 1999, while Ghana has enjoyed it for a record eighteen years since January 7, 1993,” he explained.

He was full praise for the successful handing-over of mantle of leadership from one regime to the other since the countries returned to constitutional rule. With the level of commitment shown by the two countries since they turned to constitutional rule, Senator Ekweremadu noted that “democracy has come to stay in Africa.”

According to him, bad leadership in the West African sub-region had resulted in conflicts, thereby, thwarting efforts in integration.

To forestall this, Senator Ekweremadu tasked the leaders of Ghana and Nigeria to strive hard and pull their wealth and resources together, to ensure that the ECOWAS integration becomes a reality, where there will be a single currency to trade with, and one spoken language.

Former President John Agyekum Kufuor, also speaking at the event, tasked member countries to continue to strive for excellence in the sub-region, saying “our self-interest is our common interest.”

He urged leaders of member states to build on democratic institutions at the national level, while that those at the regional level are also strengthened.

That notwithstanding, he urged member countries to remain resolute, and foster unity among themselves. “If we stay united and stay resolute, the future indeed, is bright,” he said.

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