President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has urged the political leaders of countries within the ECOWAS bloc to place the interest of the entire West African community ahead of their individual countries.
President Akufo-Addo's comment comes in the wake of a decision by the Nigerian government to close its ground borders to neighbouring countries within the region.
"We need leadership that is focused on the region and not individual countries," the President said when he opened the 2019 Conference of the ECOWAS Court in Accra yesterday
The conference, on the theme, 'Economic integration of West Africa, challenges and prospects', brought together some top judges of the courts in the ECOWAS member states among other dignitaries.
President Akufo-Addo said the 350 million citizens in the region would realise the full benefits of ECOWAS if there was the political will to push the agenda of regional integration.
He said the European Union had been central to the lives of Europeans since its formation due to the political will of leaders in countries like France and Germany.
"While the EU is central to the lives of Europeans, ECOWAS is still, somewhat, peripheral to the lives of most West Africans."
"And it is not for the lack of plans or even rules and regulations. It is simply that the political will to make the integration real has been less evident than in Europe."
"Once the political will is evident, we can then work together to make ECOWAS a true regional community," he said.
President Akufo-Addo said the process of integration could be expedited if ECOWAS states mainstreamed the rule of law, democracy and good governance in the development of the project of integration.
He said the ECOWAS Court of Justice must be empowered to play the role as a principal legal organ of the community since the integration process involved the provision of the necessary normative framework and the regional dispute resolution mechanism.
The Chief Justice, Ms Sophia Akuffo, said for the economic integration of Africa to be cardinal, certain legal issues must be addressed and stressed the need for a judicial structure that would address transparency and help resolve conflicts to avoid impunity.
The Chief Justice also underscored the need for member states to amend their internal laws to reflect the ECOWAS instruments, laws and protocols.
That, he said, would enable judgments from the ECOWAS courts to be carried across the entire region seamlessly.
Ms Akuffo indicated that the free movement of people across the boarders also meant the free movement of crimes such as money laundering, drug and human trafficking.
The Chief Justice believes that the ECOWAS Court would be in a better position to address civil and criminal cases and come out with judgments that could be implemented across the region if member states aligned their laws to the ECOWAS instruments and regulations.