BREAKING: Tinubu Re-elected as Chairman of ECOWAS: A Year of Challenges and Achievements

President Bola Tinubu has been re-elected for another one-year tenure as Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Government. Tinubu, whose first tenure is set to elapse on July 9, 2024, was elected by a unanimous decision of fellow Heads of Government at the 65th Ordinary Session of the Authority held at the State House, Abuja, on Sunday.

In his acceptance speech, Tinubu expressed gratitude and commitment to continuing his service. “I have accepted to continue to deliver on this service with the great men and women on this democratic journey, to serve our interest and build democratic values on the structure we inherited,” he said.

Presidency sources had indicated the possibility of Tinubu's re-election, noting the divided opinions among stakeholders. “Some people say he should hand over, and others say he should continue. But they will decide tomorrow,” said an anonymous source on Saturday night.

Tinubu was initially elected Chairman of the Authority at the 63rd Ordinary Session of the regional bloc held last July in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau, shortly after his election as President of Nigeria.

Challenges and Controversies

Tinubu's tenure as ECOWAS Chairman has been marked by significant challenges, particularly the political instability within the region. The Sahel region has experienced multiple coups, with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea seeing five coups in three years. These events have created a complex geopolitical landscape for ECOWAS to navigate.

A viral video of Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo being shunned by Burkinabe ministers at the Ouagadougou airport, while their leader Ibrahim Traore looked on smugly, highlights the tensions within ECOWAS. The video underscored the strained relations following Burkina Faso's alleged cooperation with Russian mercenaries, complicating the regional war on terror.

Upon assuming the role of ECOWAS Chairman, Tinubu faced the immediate crisis of these coups. His first major challenge came just two weeks into his tenure, when General Abdourahmane Tchiani led a coup in Niger, toppling the government of Mohamed Bazoum.

ECOWAS' Response to the Niger Coup

ECOWAS, under Tinubu’s leadership, responded decisively to the Niger coup. The bloc issued an ultimatum demanding the junta step down and return Bazoum to power within seven days. Tinubu's strong stance was evident in his rhetoric, emphasizing that military coups could not be tolerated.

ECOWAS imposed severe sanctions on Niger, including closing land and air borders, instituting a no-fly zone on commercial flights, suspending financial transactions, and freezing assets in ECOWAS Central Banks. Nigeria also cut power supply to Niger, and ECOWAS threatened military intervention, referencing the Community’s 2001 Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

This firm stance garnered praise from the African Union, European Union, United States, and other international bodies. German ambassador to Nigeria, Annett Gunter, commended Tinubu’s approach, stating, “President Tinubu had made it clear that ECOWAS will not tolerate such actions and I think that is the right approach. Democracy is a fundamental principle of ECOWAS and it is essential to uphold it.”

The Complexities of Sanctions

However, the sanctions had unintended consequences, exacerbating the suffering of the people of Niger more than their leaders. Food security deteriorated, inflation soared, and the closure of borders with Nigeria disrupted significant trade, impacting livelihoods on both sides.

The plan to deploy an ECOWAS Standby Force met with resistance, as many feared a military conflict would worsen the humanitarian crisis. The historical and cultural ties between northern Nigeria and Niger further complicated the situation, making the prospect of military intervention unpopular.

In February 2024, ECOWAS lifted the sanctions on humanitarian grounds, a decision aimed at alleviating the suffering of the Nigerien people. President Tinubu called for a re-examination of the approach to restoring constitutional order in the affected Member States, urging Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso to reconsider their decision to withdraw from ECOWAS.

Diplomatic Achievements

Despite the challenges, Tinubu's tenure also saw notable diplomatic successes. In December 2023, he facilitated the relocation of former Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma to Nigeria amidst treason charges, preventing a potential crisis. This move showcased Tinubu’s ability to employ both diplomacy and strategic intervention.

Furthermore, ECOWAS played a crucial role in the successful Senegalese election of March 2024. Tinubu's proactive engagement, including deploying fact-finding missions and observer groups, helped ensure a smooth electoral process amidst initial unrest.

Tinubu also spearheaded efforts to reduce the cost of elections in the region, implementing measures to cap campaign finances and establish logistic depots for election materials. These initiatives aimed at strengthening democratic processes and ensuring transparency in future elections.

Aligning ECOWAS with Tinubu's Foreign Policy Vision

Tinubu’s leadership of ECOWAS has aligned with his broader foreign policy goals for Nigeria. His “4D doctrine,” emphasizing Democracy, Developments, Demography, and Diaspora, has resonated with his mandate at ECOWAS. Tinubu has consistently advocated for democracy, rule of law, and inclusive economic integration within the region.

As ECOWAS continues to engage with the juntas in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, the organization also faces the challenge of addressing constitutional manipulations by some Member States. Tinubu has called for the use of peer review mechanisms to sanction undemocratic practices, emphasizing the need for good governance to address the root causes of military interventions.

Looking Forward

As Tinubu’s tenure as ECOWAS Chairman extends into another year, the regional body faces both opportunities and challenges. His re-election reflects confidence in his leadership and the recognition of Nigeria’s significant influence within ECOWAS.

Analysts believe that Tinubu’s continued leadership will be crucial in navigating the complex political landscape of West Africa. His ability to balance firm action with diplomatic sensitivity will be essential in addressing ongoing crises and fostering stability in the region.

In his acceptance speech, Tinubu reaffirmed his commitment to serving the interests of ECOWAS and building democratic values. As he continues his role, the international community and the people of West Africa will be watching closely, hopeful for a more stable and prosperous future under his leadership.

The next year will undoubtedly bring new challenges and opportunities for ECOWAS and its Chairman. Tinubu’s experience, vision, and diplomatic acumen will be critical in steering the region towards greater unity, stability, and development.

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