The rapprochement of the Economic Commission of West African States, ECOWAS, with the three countries that recently quit the regional body namely, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, is such a welcome development. But many more rivers to cross before it will be once more uhuru with the once 15-member sub-continental body

Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu hardly took over as the ECOWAS chairman before he was greeted by the military coup in Niger and later by the exit of the three countries. The validity of Tinubu’s election as President of Nigeria was still at the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) at that time. So, the president was not even settled into his role as the president of the most populous black nation, let alone had a firm grip on the chairmanship of ECOWAS at the time of the Nigerien coup, which was quickly followed by the three countries’ exit.
Now, President Tinubu is settled in both and can fairly face the challenges with a finer frame of mind. This is evident from his meeting with General Yakubu Gowon, the former head of state of Nigeria and a ECOWAS founding father, who advised that steps be taken to bring back the three departing countries, beginning with the lifting of sanctions imposed on them by the Commission as a consequence of the illegal changes in their governments.
Gowon’s wise counsel was heeded and sanctions were lifted. For example, the electricity supply to Niger by Nigeria has been restored and similar bilateral and multilateral agreements between the three countries and the rest have been similarly restored. All that is left is for those nations to reciprocate, which would mean coming back into the fold and giving up on the notion of creating a loose confederation to compete with ECOWAS. When and how this will occur is still unknown.
Remember how the three nations accused ECOWAS in a joint statement of violating ECOWAS founding values, becoming a menace to its members, and being “under the influence of foreign powers”? The three nations additionally charged that the regional organisation was imposing “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions” on them and that it was failing to assist them in their battle against “terrorism and insecurity.”
The three-member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, announced their withdrawal from the Commission with immediate effect on January 28, 2024, sparking a massive diplomatic crisis at the centre of the organisation. Numerous responses have been elicited around the region by the rupture. Mali and Burkina Faso formally filed their departure from the ECOWAS on January 29. Niger followed on January 30.
Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger—all of which are currently under military rule and were sanctioned by ECOWAS—announced the formation of a military bloc known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AoSS, or AES in French) as a direct result of their exit from the organisation. If high-wired diplomacy is unsuccessful in reversing it, then all chances of a diplomatic cohabitation between the three governments and the remaining 12 ECOWAS members would be irreversibly destroyed.
Therefore, before the Commission and West Africa may experience calm once more, there are still other rivers to bridge. In their joint press release announcing their departure, the three nations brought out certain issues that urgently require attention.
Furthermore, the ECOWAS mediations have not been able to reach even a minimally sustainable agreement regarding the timeline for Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso to return to constitutional order. Perhaps the reconciliation difficulty would not have been as great if the mediators had been able to agree on the goal of the transitions and if the AoSS had never been implemented.
One concern is that Gowon and the other founding fathers’ intervention might have come too late in the game. The likelihood of the three counties coming back has decreased because they have advanced far from the fold.
It is instructive to note that 17 million residents of the recently established AoSS are content, many of who claim that ECOWAS has been torturing them for too long. The Alliance of States of the Sahel was forced to leave because of their accusations that they were betraying them.
Nonetheless, the fact that these Sahelian republics coexist alongside the other ECOWAS members raises grave concerns. As they have developed into identical twins, Nigeria and Niger will suffer greatly if they split apart. It is imperative that this division not occur for the strategic survival of both nations. To varied degrees, this also applies to the other ECOWAS nations.
This is the main justification for why additional work needs to be done to restore the three nations to ECOWAS. To stop military return in West Africa, the Commission should take advantage of this rare chance to confront the problems that arose and contributed to the military’s interventions in the West African nations. If not, the return of the three countries to ECOWAS will amount to two things: papering over the cracks and acquiescing to military rule.
Military rule is still unacceptable, but only after taking into account the justifications offered by the three nations during their joint press conference to withdraw. Among their claims, two things jump out: betrayal of the founding fathers of ECOWAS’s dreams and the Commission’s kowtowing to foreign interests at the expense of West Africans
Although quite serious, these claims are not ambiguous. Stated differently, the West African region remains underdeveloped and incapable of providing its oppressed population with the benefits of democracy, and ECOWAS has failed to fulfill its core goals. The central thesis of these claims is that democracy is a type of government that needs to be safeguarded, yet it hasn’t produced development, and can’t stand up to foreign dominance.
As a result, for ECOWAS to profit from the current crisis, the Commission must reconsider how democracy has been applied throughout the region and assist in establishing a consensus on the fundamental requirements that will guarantee that democracy is applied fairly and can simultaneously bring about development and democracy dividends. Establishing procedures for the free and fair election and term of office of the ECOWAS presidents are some of these issues; any violations of these procedures ought to result in harsh penalties.
If not, coups will keep occurring throughout West Africa and even throughout Africa, which means that ECOWAS has to go beyond bringing to three countries and work on basics to democracy and development is the real issues.
·Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; [email protected]; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor

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