He had served meritoriously for over 30 years in the Nigerian Foreign Service. Having retired from the service, he was hired by the Economic Community Of West African States, ECOWAS, to serve as its Special Representative of the President of ECOWAS Commission in Liberia. Ambassador Tunde Ajisomo has so far proved his mettle. He has revamped and re-vitalized the ECOWAS mission in Liberia, which had been shut down for some time. More importantly, he played a key role toward the successful ECOWAS chairmanship bid of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. He spoke to ABUBAKAR HASHIM on ECOWAS’s role in Liberia as the country celebrates its 169th Independence Anniversary
Q: Liberia, is celebrating her 169th independence anniversary, how has been the journey so far, as far as ECOWAS is concerned?
The journey has been a very long one, especially for ECOWAS, which has been the regional organization that has been deeply involved in Liberia since her crisis days, which dated back to 1979 when we have what is popularly called the Rice Riot. The Rice Riot was a revolt by the people of Liberia in order to force out the government, when the government attempted to increase the price of rice. As you know, rice is the staple food of this country, but the then government of William Tolbert wanted Liberians to produce their own rice, unfortunately, it was perceived wrongly, so that created a genesis for the concomitant crisis that engulfed this country. But after 1979, there was also a coup of 1980 and the ECOWAS became more involved by way of ensuring that Liberia returned to a stable country.
Madam President, during my interview with her, mentioned to me that as ECOWAS chair, the issue of terrorism is paramount in the sub region, would you throw more light on this issue?
Good. As a matter of fact, if you look at Madam President’s four-point agenda, the first point is consolidating peace and security and what is paramount in this is the need for ECOWAS member states to strengthen activities in fighting terrorism, fighting insurgency within the sub region. And let me also explain to you why Madam President is concerned with this. It is because of the perennial terrorist treats starting from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the incidence in Mali. Just last week, we lost five Togolese soldiers in the Kidal province and also we had the same threat in Bukina Faso. Lately we had the same in Cote D’Ivoire.
So our Prsident felt that the next country could be anywhere, it could be Liberia, it could be Sierra Leone. Therefore, it is important for ECOWAS member states to get involved in the issues of strengthening their borders, on the issue of strengthening peace and security and also focusing on human security. Our concern is to have a stable West Africa
From my interaction with people around, government officers, people in the international community, what is going round is that your good work, since assumption of office, is a catalytic engine towards Madam President becoming the current ECOWAS chair, how true is it?
Well, I will agree with you, but will also say that Madam President is a very focused- minded administrator. For those who are familiar with ECOWAS activities, way back in 2014, Madam President actually wanted to be the Chair of the Authority at the summit. At that time, President Mahama of Ghana eventually became the Chairman, but Madam President explained her desire. She has what it takes to become the Chair but it turned out, there were three candidates, Madam President, President Mamhma of Ghana and then of course, the President of Gambia, Yaya Jammeh. Most of the Heads of States went for President Mahama.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, even if Madam President had been elected, Ebola came in, and Ebola now turned the whole atmosphere into a chaotic loss of over 5,000 Liberians. So, it has been destined that at the appropriate time, Madam President will be Chair. This is also coming in less than two years before she would leave the scene, because this is her second term. She is coming at an appropriate time. In terms of my role, I believe she is also opportuned, very opportuned. She is coming in at a time that I am also on ground and that also gives me a lot of satisfaction, that I have the opportunity to work with an experienced, international administrator and the First Female President in Africa.
How do you see the foreseeable future of ECOWAS, in relation to regional integration, common currency and free movement?
The future is very bright, but it is not going to be very smooth. We need a lot of education, we need a lot to do in the area of economic activities because it is only when member states’ economies get developed, that they begin to see the benefits of integration. For instance, look at the Common External Tariff, CET in ECOWAS member states, about 9 or 10 of them are keying in to the external tariff. Liberia is now ready to key in, Sierra Leone and Gambia have sent in a technical team and they have migrated their customs into the ECOWAS external common tariffs.
The same thing with Nigeria. In December last year, Nigeria also migrated, we are moving from free trade to custom union, to common market and then, from common market to common currency, which is the economic union. So it is going to take time, because you need to have what we called the convergence criteria, with respect to the rate of inflation, rate of exchange rate and so on.
For ECOWAS, we have this advantage, the Franco phone countries that are in ECOWAS, they already have a parallel organization, they have the same economic policies. So the Anglophone, we have in ECOWAS five Anglophone countries and eight Franco phones and what we are now trying to do is to ensure we have convergence, convergence of economic policies of the Francophone with the convergence of the Anglophone.
When you key into CET, it has advantages of larger economic activities. If goods that are produced in Ghana, for instance, are brought in here in Liberia, with the common external tariff, what you get particularly from products is a zero duty. It encourages production and industrialization and export to other countries, thereby promoting free trade. The customs department is working in harmony with member states to see that member states key into CET and also key into ECOWAS true liberalization scheme. I see the future of ECOWAS very bright.