by Olatunji Saliu
ABUJA, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- West African leaders on Saturday discussed regional issues of common interest and concern including security, trade liberalization, and how to foster peaceful co-existence in the sub-region.
Muhammadu Buhari, chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), praised the African leaders for their efforts to promote sustainable peace, development and stability in the sub-region at the bloc's 54th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government held in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
In his welcome address, Buhari, who is also the Nigerian president, paid tribute to some leaders who had participated in the resolution of the recent political crisis in Togo and institutional crisis in Guinea-Bissau.
"Within the framework of our regional solidarity, we have assisted the governments of Togo and Mali in tackling political and security problems while also addressing food challenges in parts of the sub-region," Buhari said.
The Nigerian leader commended the ECOWAS Authority for its electoral assistance to several countries, saying it had neutralized some potential conflicts through preventive diplomacy.
Buhari, who was elected ECOWAS chairman in July, noted that in spite of the successes, the regional organization was still confronted with difficulties regarding the economy, governance, peace, security and humanitarian aid.
He said that the lofty ideals of ECOWAS, including the promotion of cooperation and integration, the establishment of an economic and monetary union in West Africa, as well as the creation of a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and cohesive region, would be unattainable without peace and security.
This is why he decided to make the issue of peace and security the major focus of his chairmanship, Buhari said.
He also said that terrorism and violent extremism had continued to threaten peace and security in the sub-region, which was a cause for concern.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, special representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, called for more efforts to prevent and mitigate election-related violence and human rights abuses, as well as promote respect for the rule of law.
"Upcoming elections in the sub-region will present opportunities for further consolidating democracy," he added.
At least 10 presidents of the 15 countries which are currently member states of ECOWAS attended the Abuja summit.