President Muhammadu Buhari has stressed the need for ECOWAS leaders to forge stronger solidarity in order to address the new challenges, including the current third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and its Omicron variant.
The president made the call at the 60th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday in Abuja.
He said: “Today’s realities remind us of the need to continue to forge stronger solidarity in order to address the new challenges, including the current third wave of the pandemic and its Omicron variant.
“I am glad that the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States and the West Africa Health Organization are continuing to work with our respective national disease control centers to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on our people and subregion
“At this 60th Ordinary Session, we have before us several issues of critical importance to the community as listed on our agenda.
“I would therefore, urge us to carefully consider the issues to be presented to us and take well informed concrete decisions for the welfare and well-being of our peoples and the future of our community.’’
The Nigerian leader noted that the subregion had continued to face socioeconomic, political, security, and environmental realities linked to Coronavirus pandemic.
“The challenges of Coronavirus and the catastrophic consequences posed on our socioeconomic environment continues to torment us.
“The regional resilience, determination and resolution of working together in solidarity with each other, assisted us greatly to lessen the burden of the pandemic.’’
He added that democracy was being challenged in Mali and Guinea, adding that threats were looming around environmental degradation and climate change on farming system in the sub-region.
“We are facing a network of criminals, including terrorism.
“All of these challenges require our collective action to work in concert with each other to programmatically address and provide our people better prospects in life.
“As a people, we aspire to create a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and where people have the capacity to access and harness its resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development, job creation and environmental preservation.’’
Buhari used the opportunity to pay tribute to President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and Chair of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government for “the purposeful leadership, commitment and energy he continues to exert on our behalf to resolve the challenges confronting our organization.
“Despite the enormity of these challenges, our chair has navigated us well and continues to do so. We owe him enormous gratitude.’’
In his remarks, Akufo-Addo noted that the 60th ordinary session was convened within the confines of a ravaging pandemic, and increased threats from terrorist groups.
He said the bloc must take decisions on political, socio economic insecurity issue, especially in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic, the threshold jihadism, violent extremists, and the military interventions in Mali and Guinea Bissau.
“As of Dec. 8, our region has recorded 674,556 cases of infections with some 10,000 deaths.
“This scourge has impacted our humanitarian, social and economic sectors, and it continues to rage with the emergence of a new variant and the risk of a new wave in our region.
“The new variant Omicron has already been found in three member states, and has led to unfortunate impositions of travel bans by some countries, which are unjustified and unacceptable.
“Meanwhile, the availability of vaccines continues to remain a problem. Despite our efforts, we have only 6% of our population receiving one dose, with 2% of the population fully vaccinated.
“Whilst we remain grateful for the support from friends of the community, you must continue to pursue national and regional efforts to fight COVID-19 and move rapidly into the domestic production of vaccines for the protection of our citizens and for the growth and development of our economy,’’ he said.
He noted with concern that the subregion had continued to be faced with security trials in the forms of deadly terrorist and kidnapping attacks, particularly in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
According to him, these have been causing numerous casualties amongst civilians and security forces, resulting in a significant number of displaced persons
He said: “Recent events in Burkina Faso are matters of the greatest concern. Increased coordination, however, on the part of coastal nation recently led to an improved maritime security situation in the Gulf of Guinea.
“Let me on behalf of the authority, condemn in the strongest terms, these attacks that continue to plague our region.
“Significant efforts are being made at both national and regional level to fight terrorism and extremism.
“We must step up our efforts to deal with these tasks which will be imposed upon us. And we must act in such a way that no one will doubt our resolve to protect our people.’’
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the event also witnessed award of excellence to some citizens within the ECOWAS sub-region.
The beneficiaries were honoured for doing the regional bloc proud in the fields of Science and Technology, Arts and Literature.
Prof. Bailey Kounouhewa from Benin was honoured with an award of excellence ln Science and Technology for the manufacture of a disinfecting booth.
Mrs Loukou Akissi Delphine, Director of a television production, from Cote d’Ivoire, won the award of excellence in Arts, for the quality and depth of her production which was broadcast and recognised in several ECOWAS countries.
Mrs Werewere Liking-Gnepo from Liberia, received the literature award of excellence for her contributions to peace in her country during 2003 civil war.
NAN observed that the awardees were also rewarded with cash, ranging between 10,000 and 15,000 dollars each.