By John Okeke
The Speaker of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament His Excellency Honorable Sidi Mohamed Tunis has unequivocally stated that it is the position of the organization to employ dialogue in order for countries to open their borders following the COVID-19 disease outbreak and other inter-state issues.
The ECOWAS Speaker made known his position during a question and answer session with a contingent of sub regional journalists following a field visit and courtesy call on the President of the Beninese General Assembly held on Thursday, 7 November, 2020, in Cotonou, Benin.
H.E Hon. Tunis’ brief press interaction with journalists from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc, came on the back of the Fifth Legislature’s ‘Delocalized Meeting of the Joint Committee on: Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Macroeconomic Policy and Economic Research, Public Accounts, Administration, Finance and Budget’ engagements between Members of Parliament (MPs), Civil Society representatives held in Cotonou, Benin 3-7 November, 2020 on the theme, “ African Continental Free Trade Area: Prospects of its Achievement within a context of Cross-Border Threats (Terrorism and Insecurity, Pandemics and Protectionism).
The ECOWAS Speaker said that although the COVID-19 pandemic has posed serious and emerging challenges, the ECOWAS Parliament has been looking at the issues closely to achieve its desired results.
Asked about the purpose of the visit on the Speaker/ President of the Benin General Assembly/Parliament, H.E Hon. Tunis said they are on a working visit as a parliament because it is their belief that anywhere that they go, the national assembly is their host.
The Beninese National Assembly has eighty Members and its officers say plans are far off to construct a much bigger and spacious Assembly Building.
H.E Hon. Tunis noted that the courtesy call on President of the Benin National Assembly also touched on critical issues ranging from that of the border closure spat between Nigeria and Benin and other countries against the backdrop of the theme of their engagement.
“ The issue of the border closure is a concern to the ECOWAS Parliament. Our key reason for having ECOWAS is to have integration; so border closure will definitely not help. However, in this particular case, the ECOWAS Commission and Parliament definitely decided to work on dialogue,” the ECOWAS Speaker said, pointing out that their dialogue effort was thwarted by the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. This did not help the situation at all, H.E Hon. Tunis emphasized.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 almost every country in the globe has instituted measures key amongst which is the restriction of movement of people from one country to the other in a bid to curb the spread of the disease.
The ECOWAS Speaker however registered optimism in the fact that now that there is an easing of some of the COVID-19 restrictions, the issue of border closure among other things will be looked at with more efforts that will yield a positive outcome that is in the interest of all parties.
“Now that lockdowns are beginning to be lifted, we will now begin to seriously consider dialogue to ensure that these borders are all open,” H.E Hon. Tunis said.
Some Nigerian members of the delegation were not in attendance for the ECOWAS Speaker’s courtesy call but sentiments expressed by some of their nationals have it that some countries are using Nigeria as a frontier for illicit trading among other things considering the profitability and dynamism of their market.
Nigeria is an economic power house not only in West Africa but across Africa as a whole with an enviable GDP despite complaints by its citizens that the country’s natural wealth, particularly crude oil has not been trickling down to the ordinary citizens. The country also grapples with insecurity.