The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has initiated moves to ban the wearing of full-faced veils in member states, in a bid to check activities of terrorist groups.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the 48th Ordinary Session of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in Abuja, Nigeria last Thursday, the regional bloc directed member states “to take, in line with their national realities, appropriate measures to ban any dress code that may make it difficult to identify people.”
“The Heads of State and Government are of the view that certain dress codes, which make identification of the persons concerned difficult, may considerably hinder actions geared towards protecting people and properties,” the communiqué, read to journalists by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, explained.
The directive comes at a time when Boko Haram terrorists have employed the tactics of using young women, especially those in veil, as suicide bombers and have succeeded in unleashing deadly attacks on people in Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger.
With the communique silent on the exact dress codes that ECOWAS was referring to, some observers were wondering whether it involves the Hijab, which is worn by Mulsim women.
Muslim men also sometimes wear a head-covering as a means of showing modesty.
Boko Haram militants are reported to have adopted the wearing of full-faced veil as concealment to launch series of attacks on some communities in Cameroun, Niger and Chad that share borders with Nigeria.
Earlier this year, Cameroun banned the wearing of Hijab in its border areas in a bid to curb Boko Haram insurgency as women, disguised as Muslims, launched suicide attacks on some communities in the border areas.
The authorities in Niger’s Diffa region, on the border with Nigeria, also banned the full Islamic veil as a result of suicide attacks by women wearing the veil.
Chad was not left out as the government banned the wearing of the Islamic religious veil after series of Boko Haram bombings
Peace and security crucial
Peace and security were at the core of the Abuja Summit, which also marked the 40th anniversary of the formation of ECOWAS.
President John Dramani Mahama participated in the two-day summit.
The regional leaders expressed deep concern over terrorism in the Sahel region and condemned in the strongest terms, the terrorist attack in Bamako on November 20, 2015 as well as Boko Haram activities in the Lake Chad Basin countries.
The communiqué reiterated ECOWAS’ commitment to the standards and principles underpinning the peace and security process as set out in the protocol relating to the mechanism for conflict prevention, violent trafficking and other forms of organised transnational crimes.
The summit further commended the efforts deployed by the Joint Multinational Force (JMF) against Boko Haram and welcomed the resources provided by troop-contributing countries to boost the operational capacities of the force.
It urged the participating countries to pursue and sustain their coordination and intelligence-sharing efforts in the conduct of their operations.
Touching on the principles of free movement of persons, the ECOWAS Authority emphasised the need to set up efficient information and intelligence-sharing mechanisms, and urged the ECOWAS Commission, in conjunction with member states to ensure the implementation of holistic programmes on free movement and secured border management.
The communique considered the democratic development in the sub-region and welcomed it, since its last ordinary session, of credible, transparent, free and peaceful presidential elections in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.
“The authority congratulates President Alpha Conde of Guinea and Alassane Ouattara, President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire on their re-election victories. The authority also heartily congratulates Mr Roch Marc Christian Kaboré on his brilliant election to the highest office of Burkina Faso,” it said.
It further urged all the member states that will go to the polls in 2016 to create a conducive environment for peaceful, free and transparent elections.
Guinea Bissau and Mali situations
On Guinea Bissau, the ECOWAS Authority stressed the need for dialogue to consolidate peace and democracy in that country and in that regard, urged all stakeholders, including political parties, to be resolutely committed to dialogue for the enhancement of the country’s political stability.
With regard to Mali, the regional leaders urged the African Union and the United Nations to endorse the creation of a Rapid Intervention Force aimed at ensuring best response to the terrorism challenges in northern Mali and the rest of the Sahel.
Following a critical examination of the regional integration process, the summit agreed to aggressively pursue measures aimed at creating an enabling environment for investment and facilitating the adaptation of their economies to external shocks to ensure sustainable inclusive growth.
Besides, the West African leaders stressed the need to step up the process for the establishment of the common market.
To that end, they agreed on the need to increase the volume of intra-community trade, make the free movement of persons and goods a reality and pay particular attention to strategic sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, energy and human capital.
BY Kwame Asare Boadu