What can we expect from the mandate of Bola Tinubu, the new President of ECOWAS?

10 August 2023


Recently elected president of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu was appointed to the rotating presidency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at the 63rd session of the organisation's conference of heads of state and government, held on 9 July in the capital of Guinea-Bissau. He succeeds Umaro Sissoco Embaló, president of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. For his one-year term in office, the former businessman has made security one of his priorities, calling for regional collaboration to combat growing insecurity, particularly coups d'état and terrorism. What can we expect from Tinubu's mandate?

Niger, the big test for ECOWAS and its president

Two weeks after his election as head of ECOWAS, Bola Tinubu was confronted with the coup d'état in Niger that deposed Mohamed Bazoum. Having made the fight against coups d'état and the protection of democracy his priority, his credibility and that of the regional organisation will depend heavily on the results achieved in resolving the institutional crisis in this neighbouring country of Nigeria. After the failure of mediation in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger is the latest crisis that could definitively ruin the reputation of ECOWAS, an essential diplomatic tool in West Africa. Presenting himself as a man of action, Bola Tinubu reacted swiftly after the coup was announced by sending the Chief of Staff of the Nigerian army to Niamey. ECOWAS also adopted sanctions against the coup plotters and announced its intention to use force if the President was not reinstated by 6 August. An option of last resort, the broad outlines of kinetic military action are still being prepared by West African leaders, who are due to meet again on 10 August in Abuja. However, while the Nigerian president seems to be convincing his peers, he is encountering numerous obstacles at home, with the Senate and the opposition rejecting his request to send in the army and calling on him to resort to diplomatic solutions. However, these have reached an impasse, with Niamey refusing to host a joint delegation from ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations, whose aim was to negotiate to avoid a possible military intervention. The CNSP (National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland) also closed Niger's airspace sine die. If ECOWAS has decided to go this far, it is because its leaders fear the implosion of the region, which has been plagued for three years by repeated putsches and contained attempts (Sierra Leone 2023, Guinea-Bissau 2022). The absence of effective pressure mechanisms on the part of ECOWAS could be an aggravating factor, multiplying events of this type. By issuing these ultimatums, ECOWAS is exposing itself to several risks. The first is a total loss of credibility if Bazoum is not rehabilitated and the regional organisation does not intervene militarily. The second is the consolidation of the alliance of convenience between Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, and the risk of these countries turning their backs on ECOWAS. This would lead to the definitive break-up of the bloc, which is in fact less and less homogeneous, and would further slow down regional integration. The third is the formation of blocs of countries for or against the military intervention and any other use of force. Chad and Algeria have already spoken out against any military intervention by ECOWAS in Niger.  

Strengthening the influence of ECOWAS

In addition to Niger, Tinubu's mandate will focus on two areas: the challenges of peace and security, and economic governance. Weakened by politico-institutional crises and by the questioning of its diplomatic, political and security prerogatives, ECOWAS must reassert its place as a political and economic player. Regional security, the cornerstone of Tinubu's mandate, is by far the top priority. At national level too, the Nigerian has made this area one of the key themes of his presidential campaign, recalling his successes when he was governor of Lagos. Tinubu also intends to use his mandate to restore Nigeria to the central position it occupied within the regional organisation in the 2000s. He also wants to distance himself from his predecessor Buhari, who gave priority to national security issues to the detriment of the region's challenges, notably terrorism and transnational organised crime. Tinubu has announced that he will be very firm in monitoring the implementation of transition timetables and the transfer of power from the military to civilians in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali and now Niger.  

Regional economic integration through trade liberalisation

The economic dimension remains an important area for Tinubu, who wants trade to be the backbone of West African integration. Believing that intra-regional trade in West Africa is too weak, one of his priorities should be to speed up the implementation of the African continental free trade area, including the customs union and the common market. With his experience in the private sector, the Nigerian President should become the champion of the sector in his cooperation with ECOWAS and put pressure on the regional organisation to pursue its trade liberalisation agenda. To this end, Tinubu intends to support the construction of regional infrastructures, which should both foster development and economic integration and stimulate investment. The Lagos-Abidjan corridor motorway is one of the targeted projects. Tinubu's advocacy at regional level should echo its national policies, with the ambition of developing projects in the areas of transport, electricity, and water. These projects should be financed by foreign investment, but also by regional funds, following the example of the new national infrastructure support fund set up in Nigeria in July 2023.    

About the author

Carine Gazier is a project consultant at Concerto, she focuses on political-economic issues and the energy sector in Africa. For further insights and analysis, or to better understand how Concerto can support your business, please email