The Presidential Candidate for the New Patriotic Party has set out his vision for the integration of the West African region. He did this on Wednesday, March 26, when he addressed a high profile annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, in Abuja, Nigeria.
Giving the keynote address for the 3rd Business Law Conference of the NBA, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo shared his thoughts "on the leadership role Nigeria and Ghana can play in the West African region, in Africa and in the world at large in today's globalised economy."
Describing the two countries as siblings with a shared history and renewed confidence, he envisaged Nigeria and Ghana doing for West Africa"s quarter of a billion people what Germany and France did for Europe after World War II, in pursuing what has now become the European Union with a market of half a billion people.
"As someone remarked recently, ECOWAS has been around half-as-long as the EU, but we are far from attaining half-as-much as they have achieved," he stressed.
He spoke strongly against "half-hearted commitment" on the part of West African leaders in the process of putting up the building blocks of integration.
He told the conference that "peace and security, founded on a strong commitment to developing shared values based on democratic accountability, respect for the rule of law and genuine regard for human and political rights" must form the bases of "our integration and development efforts if they are to succeed."
Outlining what, in his mind, can bring prosperity to the people of the region, Nana Akufo-Addo mentioned, "addressing security, human and drug trafficking problems that make the lives of ordinary people precarious; ensuring 'food security' by encouraging the year-round production and storage of basic foods; making our people more productive through an educational system focused on Science, Technology and Business that offers opportunities for life-long learning; facilitating the free movement of people, goods and services; and improving the investment climate in West Africa."
On agriculture, he called for an "aggressive pursuit of our Common Agricultural Policy." Besides, "We must have irrigation in our savannah belt from Nigeria right across West Africa to Mauritania, coupled with storage facilities and the development of agro-processing industries. These measures will make West Africa a net exporter of food rather than an importer of food."
On education, he called for cross-border collaboration to increase the capacity for technical, scientific and business education.
Commenting on the establishment of West African College of Physicians and Surgeons based in Accra the NPP Presidential Candidate, called for the establishment of a "West African School of Public Health as well as one in Petrochemical Engineering that will both be centres of renown and excellence in their respective fields."
To anchor the process of bringing prosperity to West Africans, Nana Akufo-Addo called for the recognition that the "foundation of business is the existence of strong and independent institutions. Such institutions will reduce the evil of bureaucratic harassment, especially in the areas of regulation and taxation. We must harmonise our respective legal and regulatory frameworks," he said.
He called for Anglophone West Africa to rapidly embrace the OHADA initiative (L'Organisation pour l'Harmonisation en Afrique du Droit des Affaires) to harmonise business laws in its member countries. is welcome.
"Together, we must work to create West African and African winners in the global village of trade and commerce. As these winners advance and build their fortunes, they will create, with their ideas and capital, well-paying jobs for thousands of others," he said.
"Let there be an era in which, in the context of a more collaborative West Africa, these wealthy West Africans will collaborate to build refineries, petrochemical plants and modern farms. As these giants of West Africa emerge, let their capital be welcome in any country in the region. Wherever they choose to go, let them create jobs and wealth. In the process, they will need and, therefore, create work for lawyers like you, engineers, technologists, skilled artisans and ordinary people."
But, the man who believes economic empowerment is not complete unless it touches the greatest number of people, was quick to emphasise, "even while we talk of the big winners, shakers and movers, let us remember the small businessmen and the petty traders who are in the informal sector. They are invaluable cogs in the wheel of development."
Nana Akufo-Addo summed up the ills that afflicted the integration process which led to the formation of the Economic Community of West Africa 33 years ago as failed leadership:
"Our problem," the NPP Presidential candidate told the gathering of lawyers, "I suggest, has been leadership. Too much of the implementation of these plans has been left to technocrats and bureaucrats. Our region cannot make the bold transforming changes it needs to make without visionary political leadership."
He continued, "We need leadership, chosen by ballots and not bullets, and more focused on the region than their individual countries. We need leadership, not just in politics, but also in Medicine and Science, Technology and Industry, Business and Law. Visionary leaders in all these spheres will each eventually straddle our region like the proverbial colossus and through their activities weave West Africa together in the manner that constantly promotes and vindicates ECOWAS ideals and objectives."
Such leaders, Nana Akufo-Addo stated, will be required to "build confidence in our markets, create new ones where none have been before and put us firmly at the development centre of the global village."
The speech, which received a standing ovation, also drew some laughter. Nana Akufo-Addo reminded the gathering, "Since independence, our development has been extraordinarily similar - the first Nigerian coup took place on 15th January 1966, followed by the first Ghanaian coup six weeks later on 24th February 1966. (Even though in Ghana we like to think that we take the lead in African matters, clearly, in this case, you beat us to the punch.)"
Nana Akufo-Addo, who was Ghana's Foreign Minister until August 2007, commended ECOWAS for making some progress, especially in solving most conflicts in the region and in pushing the ideals of democracy, equality of opportunity and respect for human rights as the system of governance.
"We cannot deny the fact that the potential that our liberation from colonial rule brought was largely squandered on the altar of misplaced priorities, greed, and a cynical departure from the ideals we expressed in the anti-colonial struggle in the first place." However, he said, "West Africa is finally beginning to find its feet again. We must embrace this forward march, this renaissance, with all our strength and with the best of intentions," the NPP Presidential Candidate stated.
He regretted that still persisting are, what he called, "embarrassing relics of divisions" imposed on Africans at the Berlin Partition Conference in 1885. For example, he lamented the fact that as a result of airline availability and scheduling, it is quicker to visit some West African capitals by transiting through London or Paris than directly from West Africa. He also mentioned the system of telephone calls being routed through Europe, making them unnecessarily expensive."
Nana Akufo-Addo said the way forward calls for the politicians engaging the private sector to take commanding roles in integrating the economies of the region.
"Political leaders must encourage such visionary entrepreneurs to look first to our region and then to build transparent, competitive relationships that can and should accelerate our development."
He also called for political decisions at the national level to be always considered with the regional integration agenda in mind.
To tremendous applause from his audience, Nana Akufo-Addo said, "Just a small example: think with me for a moment about the prospects of Ghana selling $2 billion worth of salt annually to Nigeria and the ripple effects the trade in such a simple commodity, which Nigeria now imports from other continents, can have on our economies."
He added, "If we consider the benefits of the full implementation of ECOWAS protocols on trade, customs, taxation, statistics, money and payments, then surely both Nigeria and Ghana would benefit in far better ways than when Nigeria imports it salt from other continents."
Ghana's former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice also called for the creation of international law firms in the region. "We can and should look at creating platforms for cooperation that take advantage of economies of scale to further our regional development agenda," he stressed.
"As you may know, Ghana has recently discovered oil in commercial quantities and this means new legal regimes, both public and private. Right here in this room are some of the most distinguished lawyers practicing in the oil and gas sector. Ghana is going to have to get up to speed quickly in such matters and I know that her lawyers are all eagerly taking courses and immersing themselves in the subject. Imagine the kind of benefits that Nigerian legal expertise can bring to the Ghanaian oil and gas practice."
He called for a system of free movement of people so that criminals in one country cannot find safe haven in other countries in the region. "Those who travel to other countries in pursuit of commerce, rather than crime, must be welcomed and protected," he explained.
Other speakers at the event held at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja were Justice (Rtd) Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Andrew Holroyd, President of the Law Society of England & Wales, Michael Aondooka, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria, Muna Akere, President of the Pan-African Lawyers' Association, Ron Heinrich, President of the Commonwealth Lawyers' Association, George Etomi, Chairman, Section of Buisness Law, NBA, and Olisa Agbakoba, Chairman, NBA.