A toothless Bulldog it’s now being adjudged, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, has become the topic on the national and international scenes, for two reasons: the Niger Coup d’etat that led to the ouster of President Muahamed Bazoum on July 26; and the tenacity of a sagacious democratic leader, President Bola Tinubu, as the chair of the Economic Community of West African States.
The Coup in a landlocked state has come to check the relevance of the regional body of ECOWAS. More importantly, it has come to challenge Tinubu’s leadership as the ECOWAS chairman, with his foreign policy of promoting democracy and preventing a recurring coup d’etat in West Africa. Essentially, in the face of an opportunity to demonstrate his worthy ascension, President Tinubu has not been met with a series of opposition in his political trajectory, such as which he’s facing currently. The democrat and former governor of Lagos state has gained more recognition in the national and international scenes. But, the outcome of this conundrum would determine what form of recognition, going forward, he would keep.
The Niger coup has now, more than ever, exposed ECOWAS to the world. Many people now appreciate among other things: when the organization was formed; the key actors in its formation; and how the body reacts to issues—mainly between the mid to 1990s. It has helped many observers of the Niger Dilemma to appreciate among other operations: the peacekeeping mission ECOWAS undertook in Liberia in 1997; and Sierra Leone in 1998 and the huge military and economic burden Nigeria borne in those operations—what Faruq Boge refers to as a ‘Father Christmas Foreign Policy.’ ECOWAS missions in The Gambia, 1999; Cōte d’Ivoire, 2003; Mali, 2013; and The Gambia, 2017, have all been scrutinized in analysing the current Niger Coup.
While the organization has been garlanded for those operations it accomplished, the Niger coup has come to question ECOWAS’ tenacity in its response to the successful Malian Coup d’etat in 2021, and Burkina Faso in 2022. Its objective to promote free trade across member countries’ has also triggered the question of whether ECOWAS is active or passive. You would recall that Big Brother Nigeria closed her border recurrently, particularly under the immediate past government of Muhammadu Buhari. It’s just one of those things that regional powers do!
As I have noted in a recent article, the event has also poked analysts to reveal the militarised democratic rule of some ECOWAS leaders who manipulated their ways into offices either through fraud elections, or coup d’etat, which they are now immensely fighting against. It goes further challenging the ‘nice’ democratic rule some ECOWAS heads of state uphold while they illegitimately alter their state’s constitution to enable them to enjoy more tenure. Particularly, President Alassane Dramane Ouattara, of Ivory Coast changed the country’s constitution to allow him to run for two additional terms, after having ruled the country for six years between 2010 to 2016. The democrat would have ruled the country for a ‘cumulative of 15 years by 2025.’ Similarly, the Togolese president, President Gnassingbe Eyadema ‘got his party-dominated National Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment in May 2019 that now included a two-term limit for the president but without retroactive clause.’ Some critics of ECOWAS have also challenged President Tinubu’s ‘altruistic’ sagacity towards realizing a democratic Africa when he has not yet cleared the series of allegations he’s got with regard to his succession to the presidency. Do you challenge the oppositionality of the analysts? It is their time!
Although insignificant, a few analysts including this writer, have questioned the interests and the sagaciousness of the putschists. Was it altruistic? Is that the solution? The answer is now getting clearer, especially for the recent attack on Niger’s military officers, which left seventeen soldiers dead and twenty wounded(according to The Punch Newspaper). But, the kind of democracy being practised in Africa is the biggest examination here. Had it been a democracy where human rights to vote and be represented are protected; a democracy where there’s fair representation and fiscal distribution; one which respects the citizens’ voice; where there is, and not just consistent economic growth, but one which translates to economic development; the Nigeriens would not have blindly rally behind their putschists. Africa’s democracies have to revisit and rectify their practices.
It is not enough for ECOWAS to be cured; it has to take more preventive measures. No citizen of any nation prefers dictatorship, but people tend to be driven by irremediable circumstances; they just want to have a change.
Abdulkabir Muhammed is from Lagos State University. Twitter @abdulkabirm87/08142957061