The Minister of Defence, Dominic Nitiwul, has urged military forces in the ECOWAS sub-region to protect the will of the people by halting incidents of military insurgency and overthrow of governments.
He said the role of the military was to protect the legitimate interest of the people by allowing them to choose their leaders.
"It is your duty to guard and protect the people to choose their leaders and not attempt to derail the efforts of democratic governance in the region," Mr Nitiwul urged military chiefs at the opening of a two-day extraordinary meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff (CDSs) in Accra on May 5, 2022.
The meeting is a follow-up to an earlier one held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, in November last year on the state of insecurity in parts of the region.
The Accra meeting, therefore, seeks to deliberate on a road map for the implementation of strategies aimed at enhancing capacity building, as well as personal and logistics deployment, particularly within frontline countries such as Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger where issues of terrorism and military intervention in governance continue to be a challenge.
The meeting is being attended by the CDSs of all ECOWAS member states, including those from Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea-Bissau, who have been granted a special dispensation to be part of the meeting, in spite of the suspension of those countries from ECOWAS-related activities.
Related terror attacks
Mr Nitiwul indicated that the activities of violent extremist organisations, terrorist armed groups and organised criminal networks had been on the ascendancy, despite efforts at the regional and the national levels to combat the trend.
Terrorist activities, the Defence Minister stressed, had assumed cross-border dimensions, with far-reaching consequences on civil societies and regional and global peace development.
Throwing more light on what he said were worrying statistics, with 2022 alone recording 840 attacks, resulting in 2,482 casualties, the minister stressed the need for the military to forge collaborations with various national intelligence agencies to address the challenges.
"In the land domain, our region is confronted with environmental degradation caused by illegal mining and lumbering, the development and expansion of slums, kidnappings and drug trafficking, chieftaincy disputes, among others, while coastal states are faced with incidents of piracy, illegal bunkering, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, among others," he observed.
Mr Nitiwul said although the sub-region was endowed with natural resources and presented investment opportunities that could serve as a leverage for poverty reduction through increased access to education and employment for young people, the failure of the military forces to collaborate with economic and national defence and intelligence agencies could negatively impact the economic potential of the region.
"One of the expectations this meeting must achieve is a common understanding of the threats that confront us, and in this regard, I urge you to come to an agreement on social interventions needed to be implemented side by side to bring lasting peace to the various troubled areas in our region," he said.
The Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security of the ECOWAS Commission, General Francis Behanzin, indicated that recent events had necessitated the Committee of CDSs in the region to review proposals for the implementation of personnel and logistics support for the fronting countries.
The meeting, he pointed out, would enable the committee to receive an update on the stabilisation mission in Guinea-Bissau, as well as reports on the joint border cooperation.
He expressed the hope that deliberations at the meeting would provide platforms to enhance peace and security in the region.
Ghana’s CDS, Vice-Admiral Seth Amoama, who chaired the meeting, in his welcome address, said the Committee of CDSs of ECOWAS had fruitful engagements with the military junta of the frontier countries on the need to return their countries to democratic rule.
He reported that the situation in Guinea Bissau had stabilised.
Vice-Admiral Amoama, however, expressed worry that the security situation, particularly along the borders of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad, continued to remain volatile and unpredictable.
"Reports of terror attacks against UN personnel going about their normal activities within the Sahel are still being recorded. It is, therefore, important that we all continue to put our shoulders to the wheel to address the situation. This requires greater collaboration among us, as CDSs, to succeed," he urged his fellow CDSs.