The Director-General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management (WAIFEM), Professor Akpan Ekpo, has called on member States of the West African Economic bloc, ECOWAS, to fast track efforts to remove existing barriers to free movements of goods, services and finances, saying the move would hasten economic integration.
“Countries should respect protocols that they have agreed on. For example, you can travel to any country (within the sub-region) by air without a visa, but by road it is still very difficult. So there is the need to remove barriers that is impeding progress and separates governments should take that political decision,” Prof. Ekpo told PANA here at the weekend in an exclusive interview.
PANA recalls that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was set up in 1975 with the aim of promoting cooperation and integration in all fields of economic activities.
To achieve its noble objectives, members signed several protocols to enhance free movements of people, removal of barriers to trade, goods, services and capital.
However, despite signing the protocols by members, citizens of the region are still harassed by Customs and Immigration Officials who mount illegal road blocks on the highways, especially at border posts.
As parts of the economic integration of the sub-region, efforts are on to have a common monetary zone and currency.
Professor Ekpo said WAIFEM was involved in building the capacity of members in the Anglophone countries, as a prelude to having a common currency with the Francophone members.
WAIFEM was set up in 1996 by the Governors of Central Banks of The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and the international organisation, based in Lagos with diplomatic status in member countries, is involved in building the capacity of public and private sector agencies involved in macroeconomic and financial management.
Prof Ekpo said: “The whole idea of ECOWAS is to have a monetary union by 2020. What we are doing now is to fast track it. The idea is to have one currency called Eco which will eventually merge with CFA.
“There will be one currency. There will be one West African Central Bank, just like the European model. That is the plan.
“The idea is that once we train capacity at the time we integrate there will not be much gap among the countries in terms of skills in real macro management. You know some countries are more endowed than others, but when we finally integrate to become one monetary union, the skills gap will not be very much.”
Commenting on the Nigerian economy, Prof Ekpo wants the Nigerian government to give adequate attention to the issue of security, employment and infrastructure, as a way of achieving the desire economic development in 2013.
While noting that the Nigerian economy cannot be isolated from the global economy, he said “unless government act decisively in fixing the economy, 2013 might prove to be more difficult than last year because the economy was expected to grow at 6% less than the 7% recorded in 2012.”
According to him, “Now that we are going to even grow less it might even worsen the unemployment problems. So for me, this year doesn’t look good except the government makes an efforts to improve the power situation. If power improves everything else will fall in place, because no country develops by running a generator-driven economy.”