A gathering of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and media representatives took place in Lagos on Monday, February 5, 2024, in a concerted effort to confront the mounting challenges confronting the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Spearheaded by leading organizations such as the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP-Nigeria), Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGOs), and Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), the meeting aimed to address critical issues relating to regional integration and stability.
The discussions delved into the current state of affairs within ECOWAS, emphasizing the imperative to avert further instability and the looming threat of disintegration within the regional bloc. Recognized as a beacon of regional integration in Africa, ECOWAS has faced significant challenges, including security threats and the recent withdrawal of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger from the organization.
Participants underscored the critical role of ECOWAS in fostering regional integration, citing achievements such as the free movement of persons, trade liberalization, and the establishment of the Customs Union. However, the withdrawal of key member states threatens to undermine these accomplishments and jeopardize peace and security efforts, particularly in combating terrorism and transnational crime.
Furthermore, concerns were raised regarding the fragility of democracy in West Africa, with instances of unconstitutional changes of government, fraudulent elections, and governance failures eroding trust in democratic institutions. The culture of impunity among political elites exacerbates these challenges, weakening state institutions and undermining the rule of law.
In light of these developments, urgent calls were made for ECOWAS to convene an emergency summit to address the current crisis and engage in dialogue with the withdrawing countries to facilitate reconciliation and prevent further fragmentation.
Additionally, stakeholders emphasized the need for transparent, inclusive, and credible electoral processes, urging ECOWAS to uphold its principles of good governance and democratic norms. The adoption of ECOWAS Vision 2050 was highlighted as a pivotal opportunity to strengthen regional cooperation and empower grassroots engagement in decision-making processes.
Moving forward, civil society and media organizations pledged to support peace initiatives and advocate for the restoration of democratic order in affected countries. Calls were made for ECOWAS to enhance its capacity to respond to emerging threats and activate early warning systems to mitigate potential crises.
In the face of mounting challenges, stakeholders emphasized the importance of collective action and solidarity to safeguard the integrity and resilience of ECOWAS as a cornerstone of regional integration and stability in West Africa.