Stakeholders have called on ECOWAS leaders to address the declining capacity of the regional bloc to manage conflicts in member states.
The views were expressed by different panelists at a debate in Abuja on Friday organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a political think-tank with ties to Germany’s Social Democratic Party.
Jibrin Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Center for Democracy and Development, observed that in the past ECOWAS had achieved a lot of successes on conflict management.
He cited the successful interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone as defining moments in the capacity, history and political will of ECOWAS to intervene in crisis situations.
“When we intervened so successfully in these countries, there was a leader for the region and that leader was Nigeria.
“Today we find ourselves in a situation where Nigeria itself is facing its own challenges.
“Last month, the National Security Adviser made a point that Nigerian troops were currently deployed in 32 states out of 36. In addition to those deployments, the country is facing active insurgencies in some parts of the country,’’ he said.
Ibrahim lamented that capacity question of ECOWAS member states had also been exacerbated by the paucity of funds to finance military operations.
According to him, the crisis of governance in several ECOWAS member states has also dented their capacity to intervene in conflict situations in the region.
On governance issues, Istifnaus Zabadi, the provost of the National Defence College, Abuja, said strengthening democratic institutions was a crucial step to prevent politically motivated crisis in the region.
“The tendency to have constitutional amendments to elongate terms of presidents in power, deprive or defraud people during elections needs to be addressed,’’ he said.
He called for concerted regional action to address security problems in the region and noted that the issue of terrorism must be confronted as a “common problem.’’
“Democratic governance of the security sector is key to having a stable region so that we can develop.
Zabadi said in spite of opinions accusing western countries of meddling, ECOWAS leaders must also allow the international community to make its “positive contribution’’ to the region.
The Ambassador of France to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, said ECOWAS leaders had done well in peacekeeping and conflict prevention, particularly in Mali.
He, however, said “the issue of conflict has changed and we need to adjust ourselves.’
France is an active player on security in West Africa and has led the military assault in Mali and the Central African Republic.
However, France is winding down its deployment in Mali from a peak of around 5,000 soldiers but will keep 1,000 troops in Mali.
The French ambassador reiterated that the former colonial power would continue to be active in the continent in conflict management.
Evaluating ECOWAS intervention in Mali, Hassan Lai, the Chief of Staff of ECOWAS Standby Force, said the initial deployment was complex.
He said the UN Security Council resolution 2085, which authorised the deployment of troops into Mali, was fraught with several challenges.
“The resolution said we would not deploy till all the AFISMA troops were trained and it was said that after training the UN Secretary General would send an evaluation to team to certify the troops.
“The Security Council also mandated Secretary General to provide the logistics and the questions we asked will the rebels in the northern part of the country wait till all these niceties are attained before we start the offensive,’’ he said.
He said the inclement terrain and the intra-political problem in Mali also posed serious challenges to ECOWAS intervention.
Mali was thrown into chaos in 2012 when Tuareg separatist rebels launched an offensive in the northern desert, after the country’s president was toppled in a coup.
The rebels took control of northern Mali, ruling it under a brutal version of Islamic law until former colonial ruler France sent in troops to flush them out in January 2013.
UN peacekeepers took over security in July last year from the African-led AFISMA military mission, which had been supporting the French troops.
Earlier, Saheed Akinade-Fijabi, a member of the ECOWAS parliament, admitted that the role of the legislative body to manage conflict was weak because it lacked the power to authorise troops deployment.
He said the parliament’s role was mainly to advise national governments and to encourage treaties to encourage peace and stability in member states.