ECOWAS: Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso Withdrawal Raises Security Concern In Nigeria

ECOWAS: Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso Withdrawal Raises Security Concern In Nigeria

Stakeholders have described as disturbing the recent withdrawal of Mali, Niger Republic and Burkina Faso from the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, saying it raises serious concerns about Nigeria’s security.

The development comes amid alleged infiltration and inferences from Western powers, especially the United States of America, USA, and Russia, with a huge presence of Wagner Brothers fighters in the region.

Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso on Sunday announced that they were withdrawing from ECOWAS due to what they called illegal and inhumane sanctions imposed on them following the coups in their countries.

The three countries also notified ECOWAS, the African Union, A.U., and the United Nations of their withdrawal from the regional economic bloc, citing concerns about ECOWAS’s divergence from its founding principles and influence from foreign powers.

Before now, the three countries were suspended from ECOWAS, with Niger and Mali facing heavy sanctions following the military take-over of power that took place in Mali (2020 and 2021) Burkina Faso (2022) and Niger (2023).

Military leaders of the three nations disclosed in a joint statement on Sunday that it was a “sovereign decision” to leave the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, “without delay”.

“After 49 years of existence, the brave people of Burkina, Mali and Niger note with much regret, bitterness and great disappointment that their Organization has moved away from the ideals of its founding fathers and Pan-Africanism terrorist hordes.

“Furthermore, ECOWAS, under the influence of foreign powers, betrayed its founding principles and has become a threat to its member states and populations whose happiness is supposed to ensure.

“Indeed, the Organization has not provided assistance to our States in the context of our existential fight against terrorism and insecurity; worse, when these States decided to take their destiny into their own hands, it adopted an irrational and unacceptable posture by imposing illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions in violation of its texts, all things which have further weakened populations already bruised by years of violence inflicted by instrumentalized and remote-controlled”, part of the statement read.

They also accused the regional body of failing to help them tackle the jihadists who swept into Mali in 2012 and then on to Burkina Faso and Niger.

Recall that, under pressure from the military regimes, France had removed ambassadors and troops and watched Russia fill the void militarily and politically.

The French army’s withdrawal from the Sahel – the region along the Sahara desert across Africa – has also heightened concerns over the conflicts spreading southward to the Gulf of Guinea states of Ghana, Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast.

Niger, for instance, known for its production of uranium, is a hub for military and humanitarian activities and a strategic partner in the fight against insurgency and terrorism in the Sahel.

The country’s importance in the fight against terrorism has earned significant support from various development partners, such as the United States, which has praised Niger as a model of democracy.

Many believe that military rule may disrupt ongoing peace initiatives and empower terrorists’ groups to regroup and expand their activities in the Sahel region.

However, some stakeholders believe Nigeria and the West African bloc will be the greatest losers in the latest impasse.

Also, many have decried the inability of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the West African Community led by Nigerian President Bola Tinubu to resolve the crisis, while others have exonerated him.

Widely seen as West Africa’s top political and regional Authority, the 15-nation bloc of ECOWAS – formed in 1975 to “promote economic integration” in member states – has struggled in recent years to reverse rampant coups in the region where citizens have complained of not benefitting from rich natural resources.

ECOWAS, currently led by Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, said on Sunday that it had yet to receive any notification of withdrawal from either of the states.

The statement said, “The ECOWAS Commission is yet to receive any direct formal notification from the three member states about their intention to withdraw from the Community.

“The ECOWAS Commission, as directed by the Authority of Heads of State and Government, has been working assiduously to restore constitutional order in those countries.

“Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali remain important members of the Community, and the Authority remains committed to finding a negotiated solution to their political impasses.

“The ECOWAS Commission remains seized with the development and shall make further pronouncements as the situation evolves”.

However, the Nigerian government reacted on Monday expressing sadness over an announcement by three ECOWAS member states.

In a statement signed by the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Francisca Omayuli, the Nigerian Government recalled that ECOWAS has worked to promote peace, prosperity and democracy in the region.

According to the statement, Nigeria has worked sincerely and in good faith to reach out to all ECOWAS family members to resolve their difficulties.

“Nigeria expresses its sadness over the pronouncement by the Military authority in the Republic of Niger indicating that the Republics of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have withdrawn membership of their countries from the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.

“Nigeria has worked sincerely and in good faith to reach out to all members of the ECOWAS family to resolve the difficulties being faced. It is now clear that those seeking to quit the Community do not share that same good faith,” part of the statement read.

Nigeria further said it remains open to engagement with Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger so that all the people of the region can continue to enjoy the economic benefits and democratic values that ECOWAS embraces while appealing to the International Community for continued support for ECOWAS.

Reacting to the development, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the last general election, Atiku Abubakar, expressed concern over Nigeria’s security.

He described it as “concerning” and “serious diplomatic meltdown.”

Atiku, a former Vice President, called on Nigeria to secure national security interest as it relates to terrorism and banditry while appraising the situation.

“Reports about the withdrawal of three countries from our sub-regional body, @ecowas_cedeao,is concerning ” he wrote on his X handle.

“It is a matter of serious diplomatic meltdown. We must keep the country’s national security interest, especially the fight against terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, and others in focus while we appraise the situation.”

On his part, a former lawmaker and social critic, Senator Shehu Sani, described Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso’s exit from ECOWAS as a severe setback to West Africa, adding that the development signified the failure of diplomacy and dialogue.

Sani stated that Nigeria has lost its African blood brothers because of Western conditional friends.

“The Withdrawal of Mali, Niger Republic and Burkina Faso from Ecowas is a serious setback for West Africa.

“It signifies the failure of diplomacy and dialogue. We lost our African blood brothers because of our Western conditional friends.

“We sacrificed our hands to keep our wristwatches,” Sani wrote on his X handle.

Also, speaking about the matter when he appeared on Arise Televion’s Morning Show on Monday, a former Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi, stated that the ECOWAS has turned into a battlefield between Russia and the USA.

Akinyemi explained that the decision of the three countries is worrisome for ECOWAS.

He said, “We have a crisis at hand, and I call it a crisis because, in terms of landmass, that’s about half of ECOWAS, so we’re not dealing with just a little hiccup on our hands.

“ECOWAS is being turned into a confrontational field between Russia and the USA. The fact that this statement came just after U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken left Nigeria is significant, and we should pay attention to it.

“Another issue is that Guinea has a military regime, but the country is not going along with these three, whether in their alliance or kicking out the French.

“They said they’re leaving immediately; however, ECOWAS protocol says one year, and you carry out all your responsibilities during that one year. With their decision to leave immediately, will you force them to stay or use the confusing situation to try to bring palliative into it?”

Akinyemi further noted that Nigeria has a role to play and must call on Russia to stop its intervention in the West African bloc.

“There must be a role for Nigeria. Nigeria does not have a hostile relationship with Russia. Therefore, there should be some tough talk between the foreign ministry and the Russian embassy.

“Nigeria, which shares a common border with Niger, does not want a topsy-turvy diplomatic situation.

“We don’t want to be victims of the confrontation going on between Russia and NATO, and we see the hand of Russia in these people leaving, and we’re going to hold Russia responsible for bringing them back.

“I don’t believe that what is happening is going to be solved easily because we now have this confrontation between Russia and the Western countries and NATO. We should have that at the back of our minds,” he added.

Speaking on the matter, Dr Michael Ugwueze, a Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, said the recent development in ECOWAS should be a very serious concern to everyone.

Ugwueze lamented that the style of leadership among West African countries has given the military the impetus to return to power.

He said, “The development in ECOWAS is a very serious concern to all the watchers. One critical thing is that if you check the three countries – Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, you will find out that, in terms of land mass, they constitute over half of ECOWAS land mass.

“It’s also very critical to the countries because they are landlocked. Therefore, they will be needing the services of neighbouring countries, although they can have Guinea as a friend from the other end.

“So, it is an issue on both sides: on the side of the exiting countries and on the side of others. And then, it is also happening at a time when President Bola Tinubu is the Chairperson of ECOWAS, and conditions surrounding his emergence as president too did not go down well with so many people. It explains a lot the bashing he received during his approach to military insurrection in Niger Republic.

“The condition leading to the suspension of those three countries from ECOWAS should be a serious concern to ECOWAS as a body because what happened in those three countries could also happen to other remaining twelve countries.

“And what is happening in the name of democracy, because their suspension was on the condition that they forcefully took over power from elected civilians, what is happening with democracy within the ECOWAS sub region should be a source of concern to ECOWAS as a body.

“This is because if the people are not feeling the impact of what indeed is called democracy, and what they witness happens to be as a result of authoritarian democracy, then it gives serious legitimacy to military rule when they take place in countries.

“There’s nothing that will prevent the military from taking over power other than when they see that the people will never give legitimacy to them.

“But with the kind of things happening, with the kind of leadership styles most of these ECOWAS countries exhibit, they appear to give credence to military takeover of power. And that is bringing the sub region back to a wave of military rule.

“It should be a concern to ECOWAS that these countries, hitherto people thought that military takeover had become quite difficult, but the style of leadership has given them impetus to return to power.

“The other one is that Nigeria as a country, not just a member of ECOWAS, you know at the mention of ECOWAS, over fifty percent of the resources sustaining ECOWAS comes from Nigeria, which means if Nigeria withdraws from the body, it will almost appear a collapsed body.

“What happens in the international system is that such a country uses such an opportunity to get what it wants from the international system. That’s using the body (ECOWAS) to achieve the national interest of Nigeria; that’s what strong countries do in the international system.

“However, Nigeria is merely playing Father Christmas. Despite the resources it commits to ECOWAS, its decision doesn’t usually stand so strong.

“So, with the three countries exiting, it doesn’t stand very well with ECOWAS. It will indeed shake ECOWAS. One is that when they extended suspension to Burkina Faso, it didn’t force the military junta to relinquish power.

“The same thing happened in Mali, and now in Niger. And you can see that these three countries are already forming a bloc, which means that if anything happens to the remaining countries, they will easily find friendship with them and that’s how an organization collapses.

“ECOWAS should ask itself a critical question: ‘why is it that despite everything, Burkina Faso stood, followed by Mali and then Niger. And these three countries are now found sharing ideas, so that all the other sanctions and economic sanctions from ECOWAS may be continued to be weakened, given that they are now forming strong body and force that could even now challenge ECOWAS to now start to reconsider some of those economic sanctions because they appear not to be yielding significant results.”

Comrade Isaiah Adanu, a professional private security manager, said the development poses a huge concern as the military in Nigeria may take a cue from their counterparts in other countries.

Adanu, however, advised Nigeria and ECOWAS to prioritize real governance by placing premium on the welfare of the citizens and member states.

“The concern of Nigeria appears huge in the sense that military guys in Nigeria may take a cue from their counterparts in the aforementioned states to replicate same in Nigeria.

“Life may eventually be snuffed out of democratic rule perhaps on minor provocation after we have enjoyed uninterrupted transition from one civilian rule to another.

“There might be near or total absence of cooperation which will in turn encourage proliferation of light weapons and firearms.

“Foreign countries may take advantage of their exit from ECOWAS to sow seeds of disunity and discord among and between countries of the west Africa sub region,” he stated.

According to him, ECOWAS members “are encouraged to, among other things, intensify dialogue through its diplomatic shuttle.

“Nigeria and ECOWAS are also advised to prioritize real governance by placing a premium on the welfare of the citizens and member states.

“The duo of Nigeria and ECOWAS are expected to discourage corruption and primitive accumulation of wealth.

“Those fanning the embers of military rule through mindless accusation, shenanigan and unproductive opposition should be treated as enemies of Nigeria and the sub regional entity called ECOWAS.”

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