The Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has mapped out strategies to work with stakeholders and employ technology to tackle the unending security challenges confronting the sub-region including safe -guarding the cyberspace of the sub-region.
This was the crux of the just concluded de-localised meeting of the Joint Committee on Political Affairs, Peace, Security and African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), Legal Affairs and Human Rights and Telecommunications and Information Technology of the ECOWAS Parliament that ended in Winneba, Ghana at the weekend.
At the meeting that commenced on July 27, member nations were urged to embrace technology as a tool to tackle the increasing level of violent extremism and terrorism, humanitarian crises and global pandemics.
Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohammed Tunis, emphasized the need to harness the merits of the latest technological advancements, innovations and intelligence as viable tools to curb insecurity, adding that evidence shows that societies mired in violent conflict are often characterized by lack of development and shortage of economic opportunities.
“So, we must strive for the return of peace in our region as it remains the key component to sustainable development”, he said, adding that “as the world continues to witness innovations and changes in the ICT architecture, the judicial system and its policy makers now have the opportunity to bring justice, law and order closer to the people.”
Some countries of West Africa have suffered tremendous terrorist attacks resulting in thousands of deaths, displacements and disruption in economic activities in recent years.
Nigeria, the biggest country in West Africa, has perhaps taken the largest hit of the atrocities of the Boko Haram terrorist group and allied extremist organizations such as the Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP) threatening the integrity of the nation. In the last eleven years, the terrorist have killed over 30,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million, wreaking serious havoc on the socio-economic life of the north east region of Nigeria.
Much as the Nigerian government, in collaboration with ECOWAS and other stakeholders, have battled the terrorists, they have mutated into bandits and herdsmen militia, which have unleashed unparalleled violence on indigenous Nigerian farmers and have kidnapped hapless Nigerians many of them school children for ransom. This crisis has continued unabated and its magnitude may have questioned the potency and capacity of the ECOWAS member states to curb the scourge.
In Mali, terrorist allied to Islamic state, have continued to trouble the nation despite the presence of international military coalition. In Niger and Burkina Faso, the terrorists have ravaged parts of the countries killing scores of Civilians and soldiers.
It has therefore become incumbent on ECOWAS Parliament and leaders of member countries to intensify efforts and investment in acquiring latest technological advancement and innovation to bring the terrorists to their knees. West Africa can only move forward in an atmosphere of peace and security.
It was so heart-warming during the Delocalized meeting that through the rapid development of Telecommunications and Information Technology, the lawmakers also pledged to ensure that the growing threats and risks facing global cyberspace and digital networks, information systems and data in the region, are kept at bay.
However, for this project to become reality, the sub-regional lawmakers need to ensure they support national cybersecurity and anti-cybercrime organizations, critical digital services and infrastructure, as well as regional mutual assistance and international cooperation, which is necessary for achieving their objectives.
The theme of the Delocalised meeting “the role of Telecommunications and Information Technology (TIT) in Achieving Regional Development, Peace and Security and Human Rights’’.
It captured the efforts of the parliament at the forefront among those seeking solutions to the security crisis bedeviling the region and curbing cybercrimes as well as implement effectively the elimination of roaming charges in the Member States.
Some of the recommendations contained in the draft report of the delocalized meeting include those to be implemented at the level of the ECOWAS Commission, those to be carried out by Member States as well as those to be implemented by the ECOWAS Parliament.
For instance, the recommendation for implementation by Member States include, among others, “To implement effectively, the elimination of roaming charges as in the member countries; to abolish termination charges being levied by some countries in the region; inform, communicate to the public in their territories and cooperate to address cases of inadvertent roaming and ensure that service providers territories comply with the provisions.”
It noted that to prevent such risks, there is need to consider greater mastery of the technologies used, by adapting them to national needs and developing local expertise and adequate training of agents.
Under the general recommendations, it includes: “To ensure effective implementation of the roaming regulation by all operators and in all Member States adding that Member States need to step up the inter-sectoral efforts required for the removal of SIIT in compliance with the Regulation.”
It also noted that ‘’Communication to citizens, civil society and parliaments need to be stepped up to increase awareness of the benefits of the implementation of the regulation and the rights of consumers to this benefit.”
Also included in the recommendation is that “Administrative process (e.g gazetting) which are delaying the application of the regulation in some Member States need to be speed up; Cross-border TIT infrastructure interconnectivity needs to be promoted and Parliaments should play a role in holding the stakeholders (relevant government ministries and regulators) accountable for the effective implementation in the respective countries for the benefit of the citizens”.
However, the task of implementation remains Herculean for a region grappling with challenges of infrastructure and funding for these big programmes. The intention to curb the menace remains imperative but the growing threats and risks facing global cyberspace and digital networks, information systems and data in the region, are real and requires multifaceted efforts to address.
How ready the regional bloc is to face these arduous tasks remains to be seen in months to come. But they can demonstrate the needed capacity and leverage on their collaboration with advanced countries to achieve their objectives.