Tinubu’s Regional Turn The Potential Implication of Tinubu’s ECOWAS Chairmanship

President Bola Tinubu’s election as the ECOWAS chairman is a major win for Nigeria. How he navigates this early responsibility could redefine Nigeria’s image in the global arena.

On 9 July, at the 63rd Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, President Bola Tinubu was chosen as the next chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The significance of this election lies not just in Tinubu’s personal political ascendancy, but also in the broader implications for Nigeria and the whole of West Africa. It is a development that has the potential to recalibrate regional dynamics.

Established in 1975, ECOWAS comprises 15 member countries with the principal objective of promoting economic integration in West Africa across numerous fields. This regional bloc is a potent force, providing a platform for the facilitation of free movement, peace maintenance, and fostering economic collaboration among its members.

Tinubu’s ascension to the helm of ECOWAS underscores Nigeria’s substantial weight within the bloc. As Africa’s most populous country and largest economy, Nigeria has long been an influential player in West Africa. Tinubu’s chairmanship could further deepen this influence, with potential ramifications for regional power dynamics.

Tinubu’s track record, especially his focus on enhancing security measures, suggests that he could champion a stronger and more coordinated approach to addressing the region’s security challenges. The rise in militant extremism and piracy necessitates a collaborative approach, which Tinubu might drive during his tenure.


As a powerful force in West Africa, ECOWAS plays a crucial role in facilitating the free movement of people, goods and capital, maintaining regional peace, and driving economic integration. The ECOWAS chairmanship is administered by one of the member countries’ heads of state or government, who is selected on an annual rotation for a one-year term.

One of ECOWAS’s core objectives is to facilitate the unhindered movement of people, goods, and capital across member states. This seamless integration forms a cornerstone of the community, intending to create a region of inclusive growth.

ECOWAS plays a critical role in maintaining regional peace and stability, stepping in to mediate during political crises and conflict situations. Its mission is to build a peaceful region where democracy and the rule of law are upheld. The group also drives economic integration, promoting free trade among member states, coordinating agricultural policies, and establishing a common external tariff, among other measures. This approach is designed to encourage collaboration and synergy, fostering a thriving economic environment.

The election of a new chairperson, such as the recent election of Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, can significantly impact the bloc’s functioning and relationships. The chairperson’s national priorities, leadership style and diplomatic acumen can influence the bloc’s approach toward regional issues, its engagements with external actors, and the dynamics between member states.


A key element of Tinubu’s likely ECOWAS agenda is the prioritization of security. In his acceptance speech, he declared: ‘On peace and security, the threat has reached an alarming level, and needs urgent actions in addressing the challenges.’ He noted that, ‘Indeed, without a peaceful environment, progress and development in the region will continue to remain elusive. In this regard, we must remain committed to the utilization of all regional frameworks at our disposal to address the menace of insecurity.’ The rapidly intensifying security threat in the Sahel is being underscored by a roughly 70 per cent surge in violent events associated with militant Islamist groups, leaping from 1,180 incidents in 2020 to 2,005 in 2021. With a growing trend of militant extremism and piracy across West Africa, a collective, unified security strategy could be at the forefront of Tinubu’s focus.

Tinubu could bolster ECOWAS security forces’ interoperability and joint response capabilities, leaning on a regional approach to tackle shared threats. For instance, the ripple effects of Boko Haram’s insurgency in the North East primarily affect Nigeria, but also extend to neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Chad, and Niger in the Lake Chad Basin region. These nations, grappling with their own socio-political challenges, are now facing heightened security threats and severe humanitarian consequences, such as displaced populations and disruption to trade. The central Sahel saw a record surge in forced displacement in 2022, with violence, climate change, and economic challenges pushing over 2.9 million people from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger into refugee or internally displaced status. The transnational nature of this crisis emphasizes the need for a coordinated and robust multinational response. From intelligence sharing to coordinated interventions, one may expect a more unified ECOWAS under Tinubu’s chairmanship. Tinubu noted that the security architecture of ECOWAS covers a wide range of areas including preventive diplomacy. According to him:

There is also the Regional Plan of Action on Fight against Terrorism 2020-2024 as well as the operationalization of the ECOWAS Standby Force on Fight Against Terrorism. I will ensure that we immediately harmonize these plans and mobilize resources as well as the political will towards the actualization of the initiatives. As terrorists do not respect boundaries, we must work collectively to have an effective regional counterterrorism measure.

With Tinubu at the helm, ECOWAS might see a drive towards more significant economic cooperation. Despite a predicted dip to 3.4 per cent in 2023, Western and Central Africa’s economy is expected to rebound to 3.9 per cent and 4.0 per cent in the subsequent two years. Meanwhile, Nigeria, the region’s largest economy, anticipates a decline to 2.8 per cent in 2023, followed by an average annual growth rate of 3 per cent in 2024–2025. The current projections indicate a positive trajectory, but there’s still potential for increased economic integration. The possibilities of such cooperation include harmonizing economic and trade policies, removing trade barriers, and promoting shared infrastructure projects. By fostering increased economic collaboration, Tinubu could create an environment conducive for intra-regional trade and development.

Tinubu’s ECOWAS chairmanship might bring a push for stronger engagement with the international community, an engagement presently focused on consolidating democracy within the region. He could aim to establish more strategic alliances, such as ECOWAS’ recent partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, attract more foreign investment, and secure more aid for the region. The Nigerian president might drive efforts to make ECOWAS countries more attractive for foreign investment. As he noted,

We must encourage economic partnerships to raise the level of trade and investments in our region, hence facilitating employment creation and sustainable development and prosperity for our citizens. To this end, we must look inward and work with our regional economic facilitation platforms such as the Federation of West Africa Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as ECOWAS Trade Organization Network to attain our desired goals.

Tinubu’s chairmanship promises a stronger, more united ECOWAS. However, how he navigates the challenges of regional integration, especially in a region as diverse as West Africa, will define his leadership legacy.


Tinubu has a well-established focus on bolstering security forces, specifically through wholesale reforms in ‘security doctrine and its architecture,’ a stance that could permeate ECOWAS’ approach to regional security under his leadership. His reshuffling of Nigeria’s security chiefs hint at some of the structural changes that could be undertaken at the regional level. The escalating security crises across West Africa, from militant extremism to piracy, necessitate a more robust, coordinated regional security apparatus.

His push for increased intra-regional trade could enhance economic opportunities for all member states, thereby boosting the region’s overall growth potential. His intent to convene an ECOWAS Extra-Ordinary Summit on Trade and Investment in October 2023 to discuss private-sector-led economic growth initiatives for the region is an encouraging first step.

The impact of Tinubu’s chairmanship on West Africa will be shaped by how he manages security issues and drives economic integration.


President Tinubu’s election as the ECOWAS chairman could redefine the dynamics in West Africa, both politically and economically. While it boosts Nigeria’s influence, it also places heightened expectations and responsibilities on the country.

Tinubu’s foreign policy agenda, particularly his stance on security, economic collaboration, and engagement with the international community, will be under the spotlight. Stakeholders, both within and outside the region, will be keenly observing how he tackles regional challenges. Critics, including Senator Iroegbu, the founder of the security magazine, The Global Sentinel, argue that Tinubu’s assumption of the ECOWAS leadership position may be premature given the ongoing legal battles concerning his presidency. Though Tinubu’s presidency is official, doubts persist around the legitimacy of his victory. ‘People had expected they should wait for the conclusion of the electoral petition tribunal,’ Iroegbu said. ‘By law he’s the president, he has been sworn in, but the legitimacy of the victory is still being challenged. These are the kinds of things that give room to instability because of disaffection, we know what happened in Guinea.’

Tinubu’s election as the ECOWAS chairman is a pivotal development for Nigeria and West Africa. It offers an opportunity for new strategies and solutions in addressing the complex challenges of West Africa, underlining the significance of regional cooperation and solidarity. It is a juncture that sets the stage for what could be transformative years for the region

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