Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo Thursday called on ECOWAS member countries to focus more attention on youth employment and policies that will attract more investors to the region.
“The greatest threat to life and property in the region is youth unemployment. It is potentially threatening and must be addressed. It is a vicious circle that has to be addressed. Poverty breeds insecurity and insecurity drives away potential investors,” Chief Obasanjo told participants at the opening of the third ECOWAS Investment Forum in the commercial city of Lagos.
The forum, with the theme “The African Opportunity: Spotlight on West Africa”, has attracted participants from the 15-member economic bloc and beyond.
Its main objective is to bring to the attention of local and foreign investors the huge investment opportunities within the region.
Commending the gradual economic progress being achieved across Africa, particularly in West Africa, Chief Obasanjo said the region’s economic integration policy, which allows free movement of people and goods, had become a successful model.
He said: “But it is not all rosy. There is a need for good governance, there is a need for greater commitment to reduce corruption and there is a need to improve the electoral space. Infrastructure is another bane. Investment in West Africa comes with both challenges and opportunities.
“Leaders are aware of these challenges and therefore it is important to partner with the private sector to help address all the challenges. Hear it, see it, feel it and smell it, Africa’s moment is here and West Africa is the gateway,” the former Nigerian leader added.
The potentials of the West African region, as a great investment enclave, are not in doubt, given the comparative and competitive advantages it has over other regions, he said, adding: ”With a population of about 300 million, it has the largest population across Africa. It is the first Regional Economic Community (REC) that allows free movement of citizens and goods across the countries.”
Chief Obasanjo said the region is Africa’s largest producer of cocoa, groundnuts and cotton.
”In addition, the bloc has high deposits of strategic minerals such as uranium, gold and lime stones. It also has one of the highest returns on investments in Africa. An investment in one country rubs off with the other 14 countries,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the President of Cote D’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, the Ivorian Ambassador in Nigeria, Mrs Toure Mamam, stressed the need to accelerate the construction of major highways that link countries, such as the Abidjan-Lagos and Abidjan-Lome highways.
She also underscored the need to fast track the West Africa Gas Pipelines, sub regional electrification, telecommunication and postal services, adding that this in turn will create wealth, jobs and reduce poverty.
“Cote d’Ivoire is going through great reconstruction. The actions and policy embarked by my President has restored economic and political stability. The security situation has improved tremendously. The country has great potentials and huge investments opportunities.
“The country is the world’s largest producer of cocoa and the third for copper, it is a centre for modern infrastructure and government has put in place policies that will encourage private sector investments. We have created a one stop shop that can register businesses within 48 hours, put in place tax incentives and very generous land policy,” she said
The Gambia High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mrs Angela Colley Iheme, described West Africa as a region of family, which in spite of their differences and diversities, have come together to make it easy for citizens to live anywhere in the region.
In his address, ECOWAS Commission President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said the regional economic community had shown a lot of promise given the various reforms carried out.
He added that the investment forum, driven for the first time purely by the private sector, was a dream come true.
He said: “ECOWAS needs private sector establishment in reshaping the wrong perception about the region. The various initiative put in place such as free movement of goods, people and a common market have jump started the economies in the region. There is free flow of capital, skills and technology and these can create greater opportunities for the people.
“I see our region becoming a stronger economic union sooner than expected where boundaries that separate us will become irrelevant. In the next two days, there will be new initiatives, partners and networking.
“Why Invest in ECOWAS? The answer is that it boasts of arable land, emerging and stable democracy. There are opportunities in tourism, housing, infrastructure, aviation, agribusiness, hospitality and an emerging single market. It also has high human capacity, productive labour force and immense benefits for investors.”
The ECOWAS Investment Forum will end on Friday.