The resolve by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to lift some of the sanctions imposed on Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, following the unconstitutional change of government in the countries, is a welcome development. The move came on the heels of the three nations announcing their decision to quit the regional bloc in a joint statement issued by their leaders on January 28. It is hoped that the rapprochement by ECOWAS would make the three countries to come back to the organisation.

President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr Omar Alieu Touray, who announced this while presenting the communique issued at the end of an Extraordinary Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS, however clarified that political and targeted sanctions are still in force against the countries. Guinea is the other country that benefitted from the clemency. The country has been under military rule since September 2021.

Touray said while the political and targeted sanctions on Niger Republic remain, the regional bloc lifted some financial and economic sanctions on Guinea and some targeted sanctions on Mali. The decision, he said, was based on humanitarian considerations, especially because of the month of the Lenten season and Ramadan.

Based on this development, the closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Niger will be lifted. The ‘no fly zone’ of all commercial flights to and from Niger is to be lifted. Also, suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger is to be lifted.

ECOWAS also resolved that the “freezing of all service transactions including utility services to be lifted; freezing of assets of the Republic of Niger in ECOWAS central banks to be lifted; relaxation of sanctions against assets of Niger State and the state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks.

“Suspension of Niger from all financial assistance and transactions with all financial institutions particularly ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) and BIRD is to be lifted. Travel ban on the government officials and their family members is also to be lifted”, the statement added.

ECOWAS suspended the countries following military coups that overthrew their democratically elected governments in Niger, 2023; Burkina Faso, 2022; Mali, 2020 and 2021.

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In response, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, accused the regional bloc of drifting from the ideals of its founding fathers and pan-Africanism after nearly 50 years of its establishment. They further accused ECOWAS leaders of not assisting them in their existential fight against terrorism and insecurity. In consequence, they moved to form an Alliance of Sahel States.

Lifting of the sanctions against Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, is in order. We urge the military rulers in the countries to reciprocate the good gesture by designing exit plans and fashioning out transition programmes that will ensure constitutional democracy in these countries. Let them come out with realistic transition programmes to be monitored by ECOWAS.

We commend the ECOWAS leaders for lifting the sanctions and urge the affected countries to return to the economic bloc without delay. The dismemberment of the bloc will not benefit the region. Their exit will affect trade and services in the sub-region. It may weaken the $277.22billion trade of ECOWAS with other countries. Besides, the exit will affect imports and exports of the economic region, which is one of the pillars of the African Continental Free Trade Area, with the rest of the world.

For the three countries in particular, pulling out of ECOWAS will halt all ECOWAS projects and programmes worth more than $500 million in their countries. Also, various regional projects being executed by the region’s financial institutions, worth about $321.6 million may be halted. They will also be removed from the regional electricity market, known as the West African Power Pool project. In addition, citizens of the countries, who are employees of the ECOWAS, will lose their jobs to the exit of their countries from the organisation.

There is need for Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso to realise that they stand to gain more as members of ECOWAS. Subsequently, ECOWAS leadership should adopt more diplomatic ways in approaching issues that are essentially internal affairs of member nations. There is no need running into hasty decisions when political and diplomatic options can be explored.

Beyond insisting on democratic governments in members states, ECOWAS should canvass for good governance in the region. Doing so will help significantly in enthroning sustainable democracy.