ABUJA (Reuters) -Nigeria on Monday said the "unelected" military authorities in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso were letting their people down with their joint decision to leave the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Nigeria, which is the current chair of the political and economic bloc, was commenting for the first time on the three junta-led countries' Sunday announcement that they were immediately quitting the nearly 50-year-old regional alliance.
The Nigerian foreign ministry in a statement said those seeking to leave ECOWAS were not acting in good faith.
"Instead, unelected leaders engage in a public posturing to deny their people the sovereign right to make fundamental choices over their freedom of movement, freedom to trade and freedom to choose their own leaders," it said.
ECOWAS has so far declined to comment on the move, which could further weaken the bloc as it struggles to contain a democratic retreat in the West Africa region.
Mali and Niger's foreign ministries earlier informed the ECOWAS Commission of their decision in written notices dated on Monday, which were seen by Reuters.
Nigeria said it remained willing to engage with the three nations.
Their exit decision, announced in a simultaneous joint statement on national television channels, is a blow to the bloc's regional integration efforts after it suspended the three following coups.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, Fadimata Kontao in Bamako, Boureima Balima in Niamey; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)