President Muhammadu Buhari has urged Commonwealth member countries to work closely on defence interoperability and mutually support each other in the fight against global terrorism, which, he said now centres on Africa.

This was contained in an opinion piece titled ‘We can make the Commonwealth a real global power,’ released ahead of this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting which will hold in Kigali, Rwanda, from June 20 to June 26, 2022.

The President argued that despite assertions from various quarters that it was impossible for member nations to work in tandem because they belonged to various regional blocs with differing interests along trade and security, “it is possible to prove these people wrong – but only if we attempt to do so”.

Making a case for greater cooperation among member states, the President said, “…it is right to debate the Commonwealth’s future. Though perfectly sustainable in its current form, it would be a disservice to its members should current levels of co-operation be the limit of our aspirations.

“For a start, we should strive to reduce trade barriers, given the unity nearly all of us hold through the English language, jurisprudence and education systems.

“We might explore grouping more readily together at intergovernmental forums such as the United Nations to deliver outcomes for one member individually or all collectively. We should work closer on defence interoperability and mutual support in the fight against global terrorism – now centred on Africa, and which threatens new waves of refugees into the West.

“Some will point to factors such as Commonwealth countries’ membership of regional trade blocs, UN ballots with members voting in opposite ways and a lack of military compatibility as proof that closer cooperation cannot be achieved. It is possible to prove these people wrong – but only if we attempt to do so.”

He noted that the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting should be a moment when the potential for the “club” is re-imagined.

Suggesting areas of emphasis ahead of the week-long meeting, Buhari advised that the commonwealth widens its scope of vision and consider the far-reaching, long-term consequences of Brexit on its member states.

With the UK signing the world’s first memorandum of understanding with the AfCFTA last year, the President said greater trade should attract greater defence cooperation.

“African Commonwealth members are active in many theatres across the continent, whether battling ISIS-affiliated militants across the Sahel region in the West, the Horn of Africa in the East, or Mozambique in the South. Arms and defensive equipment are part of the solution.

“There is no reason why one of the world’s foremost military manufacturers should not sell more widely to our association when it is a group of allies. When Britain does not, they must look elsewhere.

“Today we have a mosaic of incompatible systems. But particularly in Africa, where members find themselves on the same missions, interoperability would make a material impact on the ground,” he said.

Buhari urged member states to look out for each other in a similar manner as EU members who defend each other’s interests.

According to him, “When trade and defence ties are drawn closer, so too do geopolitical interests. The EU’s 27 members tend to have each other’s backs in, for instance, UN votes. Why should the 54 Commonwealth partners not similarly organise, lending weight to each other in such bodies and wielding more influence?

“At CHOGM, these new opportunities can be grasped. What holds us back is only the limit of our ambition. For those who say this cannot be done, I say we will never know until we try.”

Punch/Cynthia Akere

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