As the Nigerian government battles to find a solution to its protracted insecurity problems, the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), said on Monday in Abuja that no fewer than 700,000 Nigerians were displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Mr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN for West Africa, said this at the 46th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government (HOSG).
Chambas, who put the number of refugees and returnees in Chad, Cameroon, and Niger at about 142,000 persons called on all parties concerned to intensify efforts at ensuring the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals were met.
“The Boko Haram insurgency continues to create mayhem as innocent civilian populations are being killed and entire communities are living under very challenging security situations.
“The regional dimension of this violent extremism is more than ever visible.
“The number of refugees and returnees in Chad, Cameroon, and Niger is estimated at about 142,000 persons.
“In Nigeria Internally Displaced Persons are estimated to be about 700,000.
“Efforts need to be stepped up to globally and comprehensively combat the insurgency.
“The issue of youth unemployment needs to be urgently addressed and the attainment of the objectives of the MDGs which has been shadowed by the many security challenges we’re facing, not only on the African continent but the entire world, needs to be refocused.
“The nexus between peace, security and development cannot be over emphasised,” he said.
The UN representative also commended ECOWAS for restoring political stability in Burkina Faso.
He said: “UN will remain actively engaged jointly with ECOWAS to prepare for transparent, free, and fair elections that will mark the end of the transition period in 2015.
“Events in Burkina Faso should be viewed as a call for improved governance and especially participative democracy which allows the driving force in our region.”
Chambas also called for concerted efforts at ensuring violent-free elections in member-states preparing to hold elections in 2015.
Such countries include Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Togo, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire.
He also called for coordinated efforts at stopping the spread of the Ebola virus and reiterated the UN’s continued support in the implementation of developed mechanisms.
In his address, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Amb. Kadre Ouedraogo, said the combined efforts of ECOWAS and the international community had led to the development of mechanisms to tackle the scourge.
“The mobilisation of the entire community for the member-states affected by the Ebola disease has led to the setting up the Regional Solidarity Fund and mechanisms to coordinate the activities to be conducted in the various member states,“ he said.
He said that decisions taken by the HOSG at its summits held in July and November were being implemented to facilitate integration in the sub-region.
“I am hopeful that the launch of construction works at the Seme joint border post between Benin and Nigeria would ensure free movement of persons and goods within the community.
“We have also continued to support Guinea Bissau in its post-electoral reconstruction phase for the success of the programme for development in unity, peace, and stability embarked upon by the new authorities.
“These and more are all reasons we should consider the future with peace of mind,“ he said
He also assured of the continued support of the commission in the transition process in Burkina Faso.
News Agency of Nigeria reports that Ouedraogo, who later inaugurated the ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET), said the CET would help promote investment and establish closer political and cultural ties between the member countries.
He said the meeting would consider the annual report of the ECOWAS Commission.
The meeting is also expected to be briefed on the situation in Burkina Faso and the political security situation in the sub-region.
However, President Goodluck Jonathan has assured that Nigeria remains steadfastly committed to supporting peace and stability in the West African Region, in the belief that a politically stable West Africa will safeguard the vital interests of all our peoples and be a viable partner in the search for global peace.
President Jonathan gave this assurance at the 46thOrdinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government here in Abuja.
Though he said it was gratifying that West Africa today is one of the fastest growing regions in Africa, recording an economic growth rate of an average of 7% in 2013 compared to 6.6% in 2012. The President, however, admitted that the region continues to face many security challenges
His words,” acknowledging that many achievements may have been recorded in the area of democracy and economic growth; I must also admit that our sub-region continues to face many serious challenges. Prominent among these challenges before us today is the ravaging Ebola epidemic. The last six (6) months have witnessed the negative impact of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) on the region.”
“Equally worrisome, Your Excellencies is the rising scourge of terrorism which now threatens the peace and security of our sub-region. In the Sahel Region, we have witnessed the increasing proliferation of small arms and light weapons. As a result, countries in the region are today threatened by insurgents and terrorists. Their actions have dire consequences for the continuing peace, stability and prosperity of the region.
“In the Gulf of Guinea, the increasing incidence of piracy has reached a worrisome dimension. This is compounded by drug trafficking, oil bunkering and human trafficking. All of these require urgent and concerted actions from all of us. Nigeria calls for stronger and more effective regional, continental and global alliance to rid our region of terrorism, piracy and violent extremism.
“As we prepare to mark the 40th anniversary celebration of our community in 2015, we must not forget that beyond politics, the economic development and integration of our region must remain the fundamental objective of our Organisation. We must, therefore, accelerate our efforts toward monetary union by striving to meet the convergence criteria and achieving the harmonization of tariff regimes.
“Internally, within the Community Institutions, there is an urgent need for structural reforms in order to enhance capacity and improve transparency. Activities of our Organisation must conform to global best practices to strengthen confidence and assure growth. More importantly, we must diversify our revenue base and reduce our imports in the face of rapid changes in the global arena. It cannot continue to be business as usual, if our Organisation is to fulfill the vision of our founding fathers.
“Our Organisation has been universally acclaimed as a model in regional integration. It is my hope that we would be able to sustain this standard and continue to demonstrate our cohesiveness. We must act and continue to speak with one voice as a region. Of the five regions of Africa, West Africa has the highest number of Member-States of our continental organization, the African Union. This is an important leverage for us. We must utilize it and exploit it to advance the overall interest of the region.”
Indeed the security situation in Nigeria and the sub-region is worrisome, as the insurgency problem has led to the withdrawal of several Delta children from Adamawa yesterday. Peoples Daily gathered authoritatively that more students, especially those of eastern origin, including businesses are in the verge of being closed down in the Boko Haram affected states.
A report reaching the Peoples Daily yesterday also indicated that there is a mass exodus of Nigerians from the country, arising from fears that the 2015 elections will be marred with violence. These developments, expert say will have negative effect on the economic drive of the federal government, if urgent steps are not taken to address the anomalies.