ColumnsNigeriaOpinionPolitics“ECOWAS of the State” to “ECOWAS of the People” – A Significant Shift

“ECOWAS Commission now has a direct interface with projects they sponsor and also, they monitor progress closely” —Ebuka Onyekwelu

In the last week of March 2024, the ECOWAS Commission team led by Mrs. Massandje Toure-Litse, Commissioner for Economic Affairs and Agriculture at the Commission, visited Anambra State to witness the graduation of 150 Anambra youths sponsored for training on table fish production by the Commission. During this visit, the ECOWAS Commission’s team took the liberty to see some important agro investments that are relevant to the Commission’s drive for shared prosperity for the people of the ECOWAS Community. They also paid courtesy calls to some crucial government officials.

This move by the ECOWAS Commission is significant and signaled a profound swing that is hugely consequential. Mrs. Massandje had said during the visit that the ECOWAS Commission under its current leadership is moving from the ECOWAS of the State to the ECOWAS of the people. A simple statement it would appear, yet, encapsulates the entire new worldview and vision driving the Commission. To begin with, the visit to Anambra is an obvious demonstration of that significant move. Traditionally, such visits would have been deemed unnecessary and needless as relevant Anambra government MDA would have been fully in charge and then submitted a report to the Commission. The ECOWAS coming to witness it signposts the Commission’s interest to impact directly, the people of the Community.

As an International Governmental Organization, the ECOWAS Commission’s objectives, agenda, vision, and plans are usually subsumed under the available state structure. This is because a sovereign state remains the single most consequential entity. Therefore, supra nationalities like ECOWAS are not bigger than sovereign states as they have no real population, and territory to administer except through the established member state structures. The challenge is that these structures in Africa and West Africa to be precise, are subjected to the time-honored difficulties of lack of skilled personnel, corruption, institutional weakness, and chaos. In perspective, the pattern is that the ECOWAS Commission would have supported the training of 150 youths in a few Nigerian states through the federal ministry of youth, or other relevant ministries, Department and Agency of Government – MDAs. At best, they deal with sub-national governments- State and Local Governments. In this particular instance, the ECOWAS Commission would have dealt with the Anambra State Ministry of Youth or other relevant MDA. But this would mean that the training may not happen because of corruption or red-tapism associated with government bureaucracies. It also means that the quality of output might be inferior, among others. But things are changing and the Commission is finding ways to effectively bypass those difficulties, through reaching the people directly by other means.

As a result of this crucial shift under the leadership of His Excellency, Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, the organization has shown interest in reaching the people directly. This enables them to assess needs and provide straight solutions to the people, relying on their strong and capable network. What this implies is that ECOWAS needs reliable contact with the required capability to execute a funded program. This is what the Commission did in Anambra State leading to the training of 150 youths on table fish production. It should however be admitted that this approach has its challenges. But it is understandably a good and pragmatic approach to the Community’s difficulties in meeting people’s real needs. In Anambra State, for instance, the Commission is in contact with Mr. Emeka Iloghalu, a passionate fish production value chain expert. With that, it was not difficult to execute the Commission’s mandate in this regard. Although, in most places, the funding provided by ECOWAS for similar training had not been duly accounted for. However, in places where it worked, the results have been exceptional because the people benefitted directly. The empowerment would now help them grow and become relevant stakeholders in an economic sector, as they take full advantage of industrial benefits in their areas of training.

During their visit and tour, the ECOWAS Commission saw firsthand existing infrastructure that was abandoned at various stages. They will, as expected, proceed to do a proper evaluation and be certain of what is needed to get to a point where the project can move to the next level of profitability for the populace. Over the years, funding in loans or grants from International Governmental Organizations has been construed as some kind of ‘free money’ that corrupt government officials fleece at will, with absolutely no intention to account for them and absolutely no consequence. It has become the pattern for governments especially struggling African countries, to be unable to account for foreign assistance or funding, leaving the people far more impoverished and deprived. The solution, ordinarily, would be for the funds to be deployed from source to identified needs. However, the challenge is that there are no alternatives to the existing government structures or trusted channels through which the funds can be adequately disbursed. But with growing political consciousness and the desire by the huge young population of the ECOWAS Community for a better-governed society, there is no better time for real and impactful governance, whatever it may take. Although there is still the risk of funds mismanagement with the shift, this time around, it would be far more difficult. This is because the ECOWAS Commission has a direct interface with the program or project which they have sponsored and they monitor progress closely. This approach is more efficient and most likely to deliver more programs and projects than the alternative of merely providing funding to the home government, with wobbly supervision, believing that the funds would be deployed for the exact purpose they were provided.

This shift might signify an end to abandoned multinational projects of remarkable economic significance to the people of the ECOWAS Community. It might indeed signify an end to “free money” from foreign sources which crooked government officials fleece at will.

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