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Nigeria President Is New Chair of Regional Bloc ECOWAS

FILE - Nigeria's new President Bola Ahmed Tinubu inspects honor guards after taking an oath of office at a ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria, May 29, 2023.
FILE - Nigeria's new President Bola Ahmed Tinubu inspects honor guards after taking an oath of office at a ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria, May 29, 2023.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu has been named to lead the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Tinubu said he would focus on fighting growing insecurity and terrorism in West Africa and promoting democracy among member states after a series of military coups.

The ECOWAS heads of state meeting held in Guinea-Bissau was Bola Tinubu's first engagement with counterparts in the region since he became Nigeria's president in May.

West African leaders chose Tinubu as the regional bloc's chair for the next year, taking over from Guinea-Bissau's Umaro Sissoco Embalo.

Senator Iroegbu, the founder of security magazine, The Global Sentinel, said Tinubu's selection was not a surprise.

"It's a good move because of the stature and role of Nigeria in the subregion,” Iroegbu said. “Nigeria provides more than 60 percent of the financial burden of ECOWAS. It will help strengthen the stance of the subregion and Nigeria has played significant role in keeping the peace in the region and stability."

However, Iroegbu said Tinubu's appointment as ECOWAS chief may be poorly timed, as the new president’s political opponents in Nigeria are still challenging his election victory in court.

"People had expected they should wait for the conclusion of the electoral petition tribunal,” Iroegbu said. “By law he's the president, he has been sworn in, but the legitimacy of the victory is still being challenged. These are the kinds of things that give room to instability because of disaffection, we know what happened in Guinea."

The Guinean military overthrew President Alpha Conde in September 2021, a year after opponents rejected his reelection.

Mali and Burkina Faso have also seen military coups in the last three years. In his remarks Sunday, Tinubu pledged to prioritize democratic stability, saying "we will not accept coup after coup in West Africa again."

Tinubu said the threat to peace and security in the region has reached an alarming level and called for joint regional counterterrorism measures.

In Nigeria, 36 villagers were killed by gunmen Sunday in the north-central Benue and Plateau states.

Tinubu also called for more private sector participation in order to unlock West Africa’s economic potential.

But Eze Onyekpere, an economist at the Center for Social Justice, said Nigeria needs to overhaul its own economy to benefit from the ECOWAS pact.

“Nigeria has a strategic position in the region but whatever you do in terms of political or economic diplomacy is the product of your home front — your economy, your politics,” Onyekpere said. “If the Nigerian economy is properly repositioned to become more productive, the ECOWAS market is ours for the taking, nobody should compete with us. But … with all the challenges we have and the potential ones that are coming, it's going to be very difficult for Nigeria to take advantage of all these opportunities."

Tinubu said Nigeria will host an ECOWAS summit on trade and investment in October, as part of his vision for regional economy recovery.