Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Video - Why has Nigeria banned Shia Muslim group

Government labels Islamic Movement of Nigeria a 'terrorist' organisation. Nigeria's main Shia Muslim group has had a tumultuous few days. The Islamic Movement of Nigeria has been banned and labelled a terrorist organisation. Its leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, as been in jail since 2015, when 350 of his followers were killed in confrontations with security forces. More supporters were killed in protests last week demanding his release. Observers say the government is handling the group in a similar way to Boko Haram, which turned violent a decade ago when its leader died in police custody. Could this latest crackdown provoke a new conflict?

Related story: Shia group in Nigeria banned after deadly clashes

Nigerian dies during deportation process from Canada

Calgary police say Canada Border Services Agency officers are not to blame for the death of a Nigerian man during his deportation last year.

The passenger on a Calgary-Amsterdam flight had an altercation with two CBSA officers before takeoff on Aug. 7.

The plane returned to the gate and police responded to find Bolanle Alo in medical distress.

The 49-year-old was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police say an investigation found the death was not caused by the border service officers, who were acting in a reasonable and appropriate manner.

The chief medical examiner also determined Alo died of natural causes.

Alo’s relatives have demanded information in the case.

Their lawyer, Elias Munshya, has said they want to know what happened when Alo was detained, what happened in detention and what happened on the airplane before he died.

Documents from the Immigration and Refugee Board said Alo, whose first name is listed as Bolante, came to Canada in 2005 and made a refugee claim on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

He was, however, denied at every stage and ordered removed from Canada in February 2018.

The documents said he had been co-operative with the CBSA but didn’t want to return to Nigeria.

“Mr. Alo is adamant that he will face harm if he is returned to Nigeria and has consistently told officers that he will not return to Nigeria on his own and that he would only return if he is forced to,” stated the documents.

Once he was ordered removed, Nigerian High Commission officers interviewed Alo and raised concerns that he could become violent.

By Lauren Krugel

City News

Dangote Refinery has World's largest atmospheric tower built by China for Nigeria

 China’s leading energy and chemical company, Sinopec, on Monday, said that it had built the world’s largest atmospheric tower for Nigeria’s Dangote Refinery. On its verified Twitter handle, the company shared photos of the tower and revealed that it (tower) had already left its port in China and was traveling to Nigeria.

It tweeted: “On July 29, the world’s largest atmospheric tower built by Sinopec slowly left a wharf in Ningbo. Following the Maritime #SilkRoad, it will travel to #Nigeria and be installed at the world’s biggest single-train facility – Nigeria’s Dangote Refinery.”

The piece of equipment is designed to process crude oil for Dangote refinery.

Citac analyst, Jeremy Parker, told Reuters on Monday that for the type of refinery the company is building, the atmospheric tower is the primary unit processing crude oil into fuels. The company expects the refinery to start producing fuels in 2023.

It will likely take at least a month for the shipment to reach Lagos, it was gathered.

The 650,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery is set to be Africa’s largest, with potential to transform the country from an importer of fuel to a net exporter. The refinery is situated on a 6,180 acres (2,500 hectares) site at the Lekki Free Zone, Lagos.

In 2018, Aliko Dangote disclosed that he planned to complete the $12-14 billion refinery project in 2019, with additional plans to start production in early 2020. Analysts have however suggested that the project would take longer in order to begin pumping out fuels such as diesel and gasoline.

Reuters reported last year that the refinery was unlikely to start production until at least 2022, two years later than the target date. “This is a major milestone, but there is still much work to be done, both in terms of sourcing the other units and in terms of interconnection at the site,” Mr. Parker said of the atmospheric tower shipment.


Task Force set up in Nigeria to recover $15 billion Amcon Debt

Nigeria has set up a task force to recover about 5.5 trillion naira ($15 billion) of bad loans taken over during a banking crisis more than a decade ago.

The loans are owed to the Asset Management Corp. of Nigeria, known as Amcon, which bought them over during the 2009 banking crisis, the Abuja-based presidency said on its Twitter account Tuesday. The group includes the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, it said.

The amount owed is almost 80% of the West African nation’s revenue target for 2019 and 62% of planned spending by President Muhammadu Buhari, amounting to 8.9 trillion naira.

Nigeria’s central bank will bear the loss if the loans are not paid back by debtors as it provided the cash Amcon used to repay holders of bonds that were issued to acquire the bad debts from banks.

About 67% of the outstanding debt is owed by 20 individuals or entities, the presidency said, citing Amcon Chairman Muiz Banire.

Modeled on organizations including Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency Ltd. and Korea Asset Management Corp., Amcon used bonds to bail out 10 lenders and buy more than 12,000 loans from industries including aviation, gasoline marketing and manufacturing after the 2008-09 oil price crash. It’s so far recovered 1 trillion naira, Amcon Chief Executive Officer Ahmed Kuru said last week.

By Anthony Osae-Brown


Super Falcon's captain demands equal pay for Nigeria's women's team

Super Falcons captain Desire Oparanozie has demanded that Nigeria's women's team are paid the same as their male counterparts

The Super Falcons are the continent's most successful national side with nine titles and remain the only African team to have played at all eight Women's World Cup finals.

Her side can expect US$3,000 for a win and $1,500 for a draw at major tournaments, while the men's team receive $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.

"We are the most successful female team in Africa, yet we have the largest disparities between men's and women's pay," Oparanozie said at the 2019 Ladies In Sports (LIS) Conference in Lagos.

"I think we deserve equal pay. This big gap tells a different story and a proper rethink of this mode of payment could also help the women's game."

Oparanozie, who plays professionally in France with En Avant Guingamp, believes the women's team are on the right track in their quest for treatment that reflects their achievements and contributions to the sport.

"We have done the nation proud and I think the results over the years are there for all to see," she added.

"With positive results and more success, I believe we will get there, it's one step at a time."

The team's impressive run at the 2019 Fifa Women's World Cup in France was marred by a sit-in protest at their hotel over unpaid bonuses and allowances following a last-16 defeat by Germany.

It was not the first time Nigeria have protested over unpaid bonuses - after winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2016, the squad staged a public demonstration in Abuja, while in 2004, they sat for three days in their hotel after winning the Africa title until allowances were paid.

Her demands reflect those of the USA women's team who began legal action against the US Soccer Federation over equal pay in March, four months before retaining the World Cup.

Norway's Ada Hegerberg, the reigning BBC Women's Footballer of the Year and the first women's Ballon d'Or in December, walked away from her national team in 2017 after growing increasingly frustrated with its set-up and what she called a "lack of respect" for female players.

By Oluwashina Okeleji


Google voice and Maps services in Nigeria has Nigerian accent

 Over the course of the past month, the voice on Google’s Maps service in Nigeria has sounded more, well, “Nigerian.”

Directions and local street names, previously mispronounced by a default American or British accent, were now offered in a familiar accent with a new “Nigerian English” option.

Novel as it is though, the response on social media has been decidedly mixed. But that’s not a surprise for Kola Tubosun, linguist and 2016 Quartz Africa Innovator honoree who led the Nigerian team that developed the voice for Google. “I knew it would be useful but I also knew that some people would complain when it came out,” Tubosun says.

One thing most users agree on however is that Google’s Nigerian voice is far more representative of how locals speak. And that’s fitting as the first step for Tubosun, once in the role, was to attempt to determine what a standard version of Nigerian English, or even a Nigerian accent, sounds like.

Given the popularity of Nollywood movie characters and Afrobeats pop stars around Africa—and increasingly the world—the idea of a Nigerian accent might feel very familiar. But for the average Nigerian there’s no such thing as a “Nigerian accent.” That’s because the country’s 180 million people speak over 200 different local languages and twice as many dialects. These languages with their different tones and vocal tics all produce very differing accents when locals speak English—the country’s official language. A local accent is often as closely tied to a Nigerian’s regional or local identity nearly as much as their name.

Achieving the goal of figuring out a standard Nigerian accent first meant setting up a team with a “diversity of people who had spoken English in Nigeria and had different language backgrounds to be able to give perspectives when needed,” Tubosun says. Even further, the team was tasked with settling on an accent that would be considered acceptable by most users. To that end, Tubosun notes the importance of first recognizing the multiplicity of local accents based on region or ethnicity.

“If you watch a movie and you hear someone speak with a New York accent, you say that’s an American accent—you won’t say it’s a New York accent,” he says. In a similar vein, foreigners likely recognize accents from various parts of Nigeria as simply Nigerian, he says.

For the purpose of the project however, having a voice that’s widely understood without being seen as “biased” to a particular region was necessary. As such, the team settled on phonetic parameters that commonly apply to Nigerian English as part of guidelines for the project. “There are peculiarities that I can point out in standard Nigerian English and there are peculiarities that apply to regions, what we tried to do was stick with the standard as much as possible,” Tubosun says.

Once settled on the guidelines and local pronunciations, especially of streets with local names, an unnamed voice talent was brought in to record text. The next step saw machine learning employed as Google’s engineering team created synthesis based on the team’s guidelines which had been translated into code as well as the voice that had been recorded. As a result, going forward, unlimited amounts of speech can now be created by computing as Google continues to update the app with local addresses and locations.

Google’s use of the Nigerian English option also extends beyond Maps: at its annual flagship Google In Nigeria event last week, the internet giant confirmed the Nigerian voice option is also available on other products including Google Go, Google Lens—a tool that can translate text to speech, and Bolo, a new educational reading app for children.

The “English (Nigeria)” option is available under Google Maps settings alongside English for Ghana, India, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania.

In broader terms, the Nigerian English option is also part of Google’s efforts to create hyper-local products for users in Nigeria, which is home to Africa’s largest internet market. Google Maps has also added an “informal directions” interface adapted for public transport travel in Lagos and a motorcycle navigation mode as two-wheeler transport services increasingly become formalized. The motorcycle mode has now been made available in six African countries in the last 10 months.

The obvious play by Google is to offer more services customized to local needs to attract more users in the world’s fastest growing region for mobile subscriptions. For its part, Google also aims to boost online connectivity for these users with plans for an underwater internet cable.

As it eyes more customization, Tubosun, whose work as a linguist with Google remains ongoing, predicts indigenous Nigerian languages may also be adopted on the company’s products. In the meantime, he regards the digital Nigerian English option as “one small step in a larger direction” given possible application beyond Google’s products, including in English proficiency exams taken annually by thousands of Nigerians as part applications to foreign schools and for emigration purposes.

“Many Nigerians fail because the speaking and listening components of the exams are set in a British or American accent and that’s terrible,” he says.

By Yomi Kazeem


Monday, July 29, 2019

Shia group in Nigeria banned after deadly clashes

The Nigerian government has banned a Shia group after a spate of deadly clashes at protests in the capital Abuja, and following a court decision allowing authorities to call it a "terrorist" organisation.

The office of President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement on Sunday that the government "had to act" against the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), before the situation got out of control.

Tensions have risen between the authorities and IMN as demonstrations in Abuja to free pro-Iranian leader Ibrahim Zakzaky have descended into violence.

On Monday, a court in Kaduna State will decide on Zakzaky's application for bail to seek medical treatment abroad.

Punch newspaper reported on Saturday the government had secured a court order allowing it to prohibit the group's activities as "terrorism and illegality".

"Proscription of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) has nothing to do with banning the larger numbers of peaceful and law-abiding Shia in the country from practising their religion, instead it was to discourage wanton violence, murder and willful destruction of public and private property," the presidency said in a statement.

"The banned organisation was taken over by extremists who didn't believe in peaceful protests and instead employed violence and arson, driving fear and undermining the rights of others and constituted authority."

The authorities still need to publish the court order in the state gazette and two newspapers for it to come into force, Punch said.

Last week, at least six protesters, a trainee journalist and a senior police officer were killed during the latest clashes.

The IMN, which emerged as a student movement in the late 1970s was inspired by the Islamic revolution in Iran, and has close ties in the Islamic republic.

The sect is often treated with hostility in Nigeria, especially in the predominantly Sunni Muslim north of the country, where religious elites are allied with Saudi Arabia.

Zakzaky was detained in December 2015 after violence during a religious procession. Rights groups say some 350 mostly unarmed Shia marchers were killed by the Nigerian army.

Concerns on Zakzaky's health

In recent months there have been almost daily marches by the IMN in the capital as concerns rise over Zakzaky's health.

The IMN on Sunday condemned the move to ban it as a "dangerous development" and insisted it would push on with protests until its leader was freed.

"You can never stop an ideology, you can never stop an idea, you can never stop our religion," senior member Yahiya Dahiru told a press conference in Abuja.

The Nigerian police this week vowed to crack down on "violent protests" by the group, with a heavy security presence visible across the capital city.

Zakzaky and his wife Zeenah Ibrahim have been in custody despite the federal high court ordering his release in 2016.

The government refused and filed fresh criminal charges, including homicide that is punishable by death.

Al Jazeera

Video - Boko Haram attack on funeral death toll rises to 65

At least 65 people have been killed and 10 injured in a suspected Boko Haram attack on a funeral in Nigeria. It happened near the northeastern city of Maiduguri in Borno state. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the attack and ordered a military operation to hunt down those responsible.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Video - Femi Kuti still composing 'fiery' music similar to his late father's

Fifteen years after his first visit to Kenya, Nigerian musician, Femi Kuti, played an energetic set to an enthusiastic audience in Nairobi. The musician, son of the legendary Fela Kuti, practices for at least six hours everyday and continues to reinvent his sound. But the messages rebuking problems in society still remain.

Friday, July 5, 2019

A senator in Nigeria asks for forgivness after caught slapping a shop assistant on video

Nigerian Sen. Elisha Abbo has apologized after video of him slapping a female shop assistant in the capital city of Abuja emerged on the internet.

In a video shared on his party's Twitter account on Wednesday, Abbo said he had learned from the incident and pleaded for forgiveness from the Senate, his family and citizens who might have been offended by his actions.

"It is therefore with deep sense of remorse and responsibility that, I, Sen. Elisha Abbo, profoundly apologize to all Nigerians, the Senate, the People's Democratic Party, my friends as well as our mothers, the Nigerian women," he said in the video.

"I personally apologize to (the victim) and her family for my actions. No matter what you did to me, you don't deserve such treatment, I am sorry," Abbo added.

CNN made several attempts to speak to Abbo but did not receive a response. CNN also reached out to the woman, who authorities have not publicly named.

In a phone interview with a local TV station, the 41-year-old senator had previously said that portions of the video were cut out or compressed and promised to issue a statement. Later, in a video, he read out an apology: "I am not here to narrate my side of the story," Abbo said. "I am here to apologize to Nigerians for insulting their sensibilities."

Angry Nigerians and rights groups, including Amnesty International Nigeria, had called for the senator's arrest and prosecution after the footage was posted by an online publication on Tuesday.

The incident, according to the report, took place in May before Abbo was sworn in as a senator.
Police on Wednesday said in a statement they would conduct a forensic analysis of the video and ensure justice "irrespective of whose ox is gored," adding that they were in touch with the woman in the video.

The Senate said it had set up a committee to investigate the incident. Abbo's party, the People's Democratic Party said in a statement it was "shocked that the harmless victim of the unprovoked assault is said to be a nursing mother, who ought to be protected."

The statement also said the party had summoned the lawmaker and will conduct its own investigation.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Bodies recovered from capsized boat in Lagos, Nigeria

One more body has been recovered from the area where a boat capsized in Lagos on Sunday night. This brings the total number bodies recovered so far to eight. Three were rescued alive but others are still unaccounted for.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Fuel tanker explosion in Nigeria kills dozens

Dozens of people are feared dead after a fuel tanker flipped and exploded in Benue State in northern Nigeria on Monday.

The driver of the tanker lost control of the vehicle after trying to dodge a pothole, eyewitnesses said.

An 18-seater bus collided with the burning tanker and also caught fire.

At least 10 bodies have been recovered while more than 50 people have been taken to hospitals, Benue State officials said.

The petrol tanker did not explode immediately after it flipped, eyewitness said, and security personnel in the area warned residents to stay away from the vehicle.

But the warnings fell on deaf ears and some local residents even hit the tanker in attempts to scoop fuel from it, the witnesses said.

Unconfirmed reports from an emergency official put the death toll at 40, with 50 more were injured, while the local authority said 50 died and 70 were injured. The injured were receiving treatment in four local hospitals.


Gunmen kill 4 police offers in Nigeria

Gunmen attacked a police station in Nigeria’s southern oil region, leaving four officers dead and two injured, a spokesman said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack the police said was launched just before dawn on Monday on a station in the southern city of Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state in the oil-rich Niger River delta. Members of the public should “avail the police with credible information that will help the law enforcement agencies toward apprehending the criminals,” the police spokesman Frank Mba said in an emailed statement.

Various armed groups, including criminal gangs and militants, are active in the southern delta region that is home to Nigeria’s oil industry, with attacks sometimes disrupting crude exports from Africa’s biggest producer.


Turkish club Trabzonspor sign John Mikel Obi on two-year deal

 Turkish Super Lig club Trabzonspor have signed Nigeria captain John Mikel Obi on a two-year deal with the option of an additional 12 months.

The 32-year-old, who won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2012, was a free agent after leaving Championship side Middlesbrough in May.

Mikel, who has made two appearances for his country at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, has previously played in Norway and China, but achieved success in England with Chelsea.

"A two-year and an additional year agreement was signed with the free captain of the Nigerian national team," the Turkish club announced on their website.
Nigeria players' strike averted after payment.

The midfielder made 249 Premier League appearances for Chelsea in an 11-year spell, which ended when he left Stamford Bridge two years ago.

He also won two league titles, three FA Cups and the Europa League in 2013.

The Black Sea Storm already have compatriots Ogenyi Onazi and Anthony Nwakaeme in their squad and will compete in next season's Europa League after finishing fourth in 2018-19 season.

Mikel has won a total of 89 caps for Nigeria, playing for them in the past two World Cups and helping the Super Eagles win the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

He was also one of Nigeria's three over-age players as the African side won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.


Nigerian officials state trafficked women can return “wealthy from prostitution”

Home Office officials have provoked outrage by stating that trafficked women from Nigeria can return to the country “wealthy from prostitution” and “held in high regard”.

The comments are found in an official policy and information note on the trafficking of women from Nigeria, which is used by Home Office decision-makers handling protection and human rights claims.

The guidance has been updated to include a paragraph on the prospects of trafficked women if they return to Nigeria, citing EU and Australian reports that make similar observations, which was not in the last version published in November 2016.

The paragraph reads: “Trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return. They are often held in high regard because they have improved income prospects.”

Dr Charlotte Proudman, a human rights barrister who represents women and girls in cases of gender-based violence, particularly female genital mutilation, said: “The Home Office’s deplorable policy on the trafficking of women in Nigeria shows the hostility that women victims face in claiming asylum in the UK. Suggesting that trafficked women are wealthy and enjoy a [high] socioeconomic status is fundamentally wrong.

“The women that I represent in immigration courts often suffer from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and are always destitute. They have usually been raped repeatedly and beaten and their family have disowned them. Some even face the risk of violent reprisals on return home. The abuse they experience is akin to slavery.

“The picture painted by the Home Office is far from reality and serves only to further myths about prostitution and sex trafficking. The policy will no doubt encourage decision-makers on behalf of the home secretary to refuse even more asylum claims.

“The Home Office needs to issue an apology and immediately amend the policy.”

Kate Osamor, the Labour MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Nigeria, which has looked at the impact of trafficking, said among all the stories of trafficking they heard “there was no happy ending”.

“It’s very concerning,” she said. “It shows the Home Office doesn’t trust people who go through these experiences. You’d expect authorities to take them in, listen and unpack their experience and not treat trafficking like it’s a job.

“This is advice to civil servants who don’t even meet the people, it’s all done by form. They should be told if they say they’ve been trafficked, they should meet them in person and unpack the experience.”

She added: “[According to] the reality and the data, and the people we met, no one ‘makes it’. They get caught up in trafficking and spiral. People are sold on the internet. Those people get caught up in prostitution and should be looked after. They’ve been beaten, their mental health is poor, they’ve been raped.”

Kate Garbers, managing director at Unseen, the modern slavery and trafficking charity, said the updated guidance underlined the contradictory nature of the government’s response to protection of slavery and trafficking, adding it “potentially shows that a hostile environment is still alive and well within the Home Office”.

She said: “We find it astounding that the Home Office has felt the need to include such a statement in its country guidance for Nigeria, especially as the reference points for this claim are unclear.

“We must be mindful to not conflate issues of prostitution as an economic migration activity and trafficking into the sex industry whereby all control has been taken away from an individual.

“The guidance notes that treatment upon return to Nigeria for those who have been trafficked is limited, and accepts they may face discrimination and marginalisation as well as persecution.

“Including the statements that trafficked women from Nigeria can return to the country “wealthy from prostitution” and “held in high regard” is likely to put doubt into a decision-maker’s mind and has the potential to justify poor decision-making about the risks faced upon return rather than focusing on assessing and understanding the individual for whom they are making a decision.”

The Home Office assessment states that a woman who has been trafficked for sexual exploitation and returns to Nigeria is unlikely to be at risk of reprisal or being re-trafficked from her original traffickers, but acknowledges they may be at risk of abuse or being re-trafficked depending on their particular vulnerability.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Sadly, modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking are not evils of the past. Through the Modern Slavery Act, the government is committed to ensuring victims get the support they need and perpetrators are brought to justice.”

The Guardian

Related stories: Video - Nigerian women trafficked to Europe for prostitution at 'crisis level'

The illegal sex trafficking trail between Nigeria and Europe

Pastor in Nigeria Biodun Fatoyinbo steps down after rape allegations

A flamboyant pastor in Nigeria has stepped aside from his church after a celebrity photographer accused him of raping her twice before she turned 18.

Biodun Fatoyinbo denied the allegation by Busola Dakolo, who is married to popular musician Timi Dakolo.

He said he was taking "leave of absence from the pulpit" because it was the "right thing to do".

Ms Dakolo's allegation went viral on social media, with some saying it had triggered Nigeria's #MeToo moment.

The social media campaign has led to thousands of people sharing their stories of sexual abuse and harassment since 2017.

But women in socially conservative Nigeria have so far avoided speaking out, fearing a backlash or stigmatisation.

Nigeria has a huge Pentecostal Christian population and Pastor Fatoyinbo is the head pastor of the popular Commonwealth of Zion Assembly church in the capital, Abuja.

His church is one of the biggest and fastest growing in the country, especially among young people, says the BBC's Joshua Ajayi in Lagos.

In a video circulating on social media since last week, Ms Dakolo said she was raped by the pastor at her father's house early one morning, and the second time on a secluded road.

Her allegation led to protests on Sunday at different branches of Pastor Fatoyinbo's church. Protesters held placards saying: "Thou shall not rape."

The pastor said he was "absolutely innocent", but had decided to step down from the church after seeking "spiritual counsel" from Christian leaders around the world.

"This step enables me to submit to the concerns of my spiritual mentors as they consider all the issues that have been raised against me," he added in an Instagram post.

The development has caused shock and anger amongst followers of the pastor and supporters of Mrs Dakolo, our reporter says.


Video - Invasive foreign plant species choking rivers and dams in Nigeria

The water hyacinth is a foreign weed introduced in the early 1990s to Nigeria, Since then it has spread rapidly to two-thirds of the country's rivers. It has caused immense damage to boatmen’s and fishermen’s livelihoods as it blocks waterways and sunlight to aquatic life. But despite its bad reputation, some scientists have discovered other ways it can be put to good use.

Monday, July 1, 2019

West Africa bloc come together to adopt 'ECO' shared currency

Leaders of a 15-nation West African bloc have called for greater structural reforms as they step up efforts for the introduction of a shared currency, aimed to be launched in 2020.

In a statement issued late on Saturday at the end of an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, the leaders said they had adopted ECO as the name of the planned currency.

The bloc, which represents an estimated population of about 385 million people, said it acknowledged a 2018 report which underlined "the worsening of the macroeconomic convergence" and urged member states to do "more to improve on their performance" as the deadline for the establishment of a monetary union approached.

The 2018 report called, among others, for the promotion and liberalisation of regional trade, the consolidation of the customs union and the creation of a free trade area - all of which are yet to be met.

Mahamadou Issoufou, ECOWAS chairman and Niger's president, said there was "a real firm political will" to increase efforts ahead of the January 2020 deadline.

"We are of the view that countries that are ready will launch the single currency and countries that are not ready will join the programme as they comply with all six convergence criteria," Issoufou said.

Analysts sceptical

Leaders in the bloc have for decades held discussions and meetings on issuing a common currency amid efforts to boost regional trade and investment, without, however, making significant progress.

Currently, eight ECOWAS countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo - use the CFA Franc, while the other seven - Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone - have their own currencies.

Adewunmi Emoruwa, a policy analyst with Gatefield, a public strategy and media group, said he was not convinced that the introduction of a single currency would solve the region's economic problems.

"The common currency on its own will not necessarily make doing business any easier than it is now. If policymakers see the single currency as the magic wand for boosting intraregional trade, they will be disappointed," Emoruwa told Al Jazeera.

"The ECOWAS bloc is particularly volatile, both politically and economically. It means countries might need to create unique responses to shocks which would be limited by the common monetary policy control.
Moreover, it's uncertain that regional economies are strong enough to back bailouts in the event of a crisis among participating member states," he said.

According to the African Development Bank, regional inflation has stood at double digits since 2015, way above the five percent target outlined as one of the convergence criteria for ECO's implementation. Meanwhile, Nigeria, which controls two-thirds of the regional economy, has struggled to meet its growth projections

Security challenges

Separately, in his address welcoming the leaders to the summit, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed concerns about increasing violence and attacks in the region.

"Despite the overall appreciable progress we have made, particularly in the field of political governance, our sub-region continues to face considerable security challenges," Buhari said.

"We are all witnesses to the recurring incidents of intercommunal clashes, herder-farmer conflicts, banditry and terrorist attacks in all our countries," he added. "The need for the adoption of a common strategy at the national and regional level to combat them [Insecurity], has become imperative".

In recent years, several countries in the region have been dealing with both internal and external security threats.

Ethnic clashes in Mali have left hundreds dead and thousands displaced, while armed groups operating across the Sahel have been attacking targets in Niger and Burkina Faso.

Nigeria has long tried to effectively deal with threats from the Boko Haram armed group, while clashes between herders and farmers have also increased insecurity concerns in the country.

Violence between the groups over access to grazing land and water, which is becoming scarce in the face of rapid population and drought, has left thousands dead.

"In Nigeria, there is an underlying dishonesty in tackling the issue, and that dishonesty has fuelled mistrust, which worsens the problem, and makes it to metastasise," Cheta Nwanze, security analyst with SBM Intelligence, told Al Jazeera.

"In most other West African states, their problem is a straight up lack of resources to tackle the issue, but they are more honest about it than Nigeria, hence the problem will probably not go away," Nwanze added.

Al Jazeera