The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State and Government rose from their meeting yesterday stating that civilians must lead the transition government in Mali.

The leaders during the virtual meeting also declared that the return to constitutional order in that country must be concluded within 12 months.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who joined the meeting in Abuja, charged the military junta in Mali to set an acceptable timetable for the return to the democratic government since the country could not afford to stand alone in the sub-region.

This is as the President has declared that Nigeria would continue to provide support for the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) based in N’djamena, Chad Republic, despite being at “the low ebb of resources caused by COVID-19 and fallen oil prices.”

In his remarks at the third Extraordinary Summit of ECOWAS on the socio-political crisis in Mali, President Buhari said from the briefings presented by the Special Envoy, former President Goodluck Jonathan, it was clear that the regional body’s engagements with the new military leadership in Mali were yet to achieve the desired results in several key areas.

“I am, however, personally happy to hear of the release from detention of the former President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who is reported to be in good condition.

The disposition of the new leadership to free the remaining senior officials is noted, as this should contribute to the renewed sense of belonging to the Malian people.

“With regards to other areas being negotiated, Nigeria believes that the people of Mali and the military leaders need to appreciate the fragility of their country and the imminent danger which it poses to the citizens of Mali as well as the ECOWAS sub-region,” the President said.

He added that the military leadership should be flexible in negotiations by putting the interest of all Malians and the harmony of the sub-region into consideration.

For the people of Mali, specifically, the leadership, embracing democracy and good governance is crucial to the country’s political stability. Mali cannot, therefore, afford to stand alone, hence the need to come to terms with the realities of an acceptable and workable transition compact that inspires the confidence of all Malians.

“Meanwhile, I urge the military leadership to consider: the immediate release of all the remaining senior government officials in detention, without pre-conditions; a transition process to be completed in not more than 12 months, and which shall include the representatives of Malian stakeholders.

This is a critical consideration for the new government to enjoy the cooperation and collaboration of regional and international community, and to allow the easing of sanctions imposed on Mali,” he added.

President Buhari also emphasised the need for Mali’s Constitutional Court to work hand in hand with all the Malian stakeholders to ensure an early and hitch-free return to a democratic government through a free, fair and inclusive election.

According to the President, “in this connection, Nigeria will, alongside ECOWAS, provide necessary logistics support to facilitate the conduct of elections to re-establish democratic governance in Mali.

“As I conclude this intervention, let me thank once again, the Mediator, Dr Jonathan, as well as my colleagues in the sub-region, who have continued to demonstrate a sincere commitment to the resolution of this crisis. Nigeria stands in solidarity with the good people of Mali,” he added.

Among the Declarations adopted by the ECOWAS leaders were that civilians must lead the transition government in Mali and that the return to constitutional order should be concluded within 12 months.

Malian military was also encouraged to focus on securing the country, faced with severe security threats from its northern part, instead of an incursion into governance.

It could be recalled that the government of President Ibrahim Keita was recently toppled in a bloodless coup, earning the country sanctions from ECOWAS and other international organisations.

While receiving the Executive Secretary, Lake Chad Basin Commission and Head of Mission, MNJTF, Ambassador Mamman Nuhu, at the State House, Abuja, Buhari said that despite the paucity of resources, the security of Nigeria and that of her neighbours must have pride of place, “so I will consult with all the relevant officials, and we will do our best.”

Ambassador Nuhu gave the President updates on the proposed recharge of Lake Chad, which he said was one of the priorities of Lake Chad Basin Commission, “and for which you have great passion.”

He noted that the governments of China and Italy had been of great support, adding that positive action would commence soon. He also commended countries that have contributed troops to MNJTF, adding, however, that kinetic military approach alone would not eradicate insurgency. “Emphasis must also be placed on the root causes, particularly poverty,” he added.

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