Reflection on ECOWAS Parliament, expectations for the 6th Legislature

12 Apr 2024, 12:00 am
Kanayo Uwajei
Reflection on ECOWAS Parliament, expectations for the 6th Legislature

Feature Highlight

The 6th ECOWAS Legislature must sustain the initiated dialogue and sensitisation effort for the Direct Universal Suffrage desired by the 5th Legislature.

A view of ECOWAS headquarters, Abuja

At the recent inauguration of the Sixth Legislature of ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, His Excellency President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, Chairman, ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, gave a very timeous charge while declaring his commitment to ECOWAS regional aspirations and reaffirming the imperative of West African unity.

Coming against the backdrop of the myriad of challenges in the sub-region, many see Nigeria’s leadership of the Community, at such a time as this, as a golden opportunity to re-set West Africa on a trajectory of not only democratic growth but economic development. Nigeria’s immense contribution to ECOWAS, over the years, and her influence comes into marked focus.

As the curtain was drawn on the four-year tenure of the Fifth Legislature, expectations are high for the new legislature consisting of 115 members.

The ECOWAS Parliament was established under Article 6 and 13 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty of 1993. The initial protocol establishing the Parliament was signed in Abuja on August 6, 1994, and entered into force on March 14, 2002.

Following the establishment and inauguration of the First Legislature in Bamako Mali with a five-year mandate, a Supplementary Protocol reviewed the life span of the Legislature and terms of office from five to four years. On March 9, 2020, the 5th Legislature of the multi-country Parliament was inaugurated. Thus far, the ECOWAS has witnessed five successive legislatures.

With the 5th Legislature taking a back-seat in history, it is fitting to take stock of the stewardship of that Assembly, reflect on what it set out to do and weigh in on some of the challenges and enduring legacies that marked the term of the Members of Parliament in the last four years. It is also important to set an agenda for the newly inaugurated legislature.

The ECOWAS Parliament was primarily envisioned to strengthen representative democracy, contribute to the promotion of peace, security and stability, promote and defend the principles of human rights, rule of law, transparency, accountability and good governance. The Parliament has overtime played a pivotal role in providing a guide on the path of economic prosperity, cooperation and fostering the regional integration agenda among Member States.

In the last four years, the ECOWAS Parliament has stayed focused, using various mechanisms to build cooperation and beneficial partnerships that have enabled considerable development. The region, during this period, witnessed increased social cohesion and good neighbourliness among Member States. It has remained a beacon of hope, unity, progress, relative peace, prosperity and development in the sub-region. The mission of the 5th Legislature was clear from the outset: promotion of the living standards and well-being of its citizens and strengthening of democracy and the regional integration process.

The Parliament was able to hold the statutory eight Ordinary Sessions and the nine Extra-Ordinary Sessions, which include the virtual sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic. The outcomes include the significant strides recorded in critical spheres such as mitigating the pattern of unconstitutional change of government, a phenomenon that poses existential threat to not only the Parliament but also danger to political stability and democratic growth in West Africa. It is in this light that the new Members of Parliament, particularly the Nigerian delegation, must pay very close attention to the charge by the Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government.

Despite the tale of setbacks in a few countries, the Community has witnessed successful democratic transitions, in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia among other Member States through the Early Warning mechanism, fact-finding and study tours, oversight visits, and observer missions of the ECOWAS Parliament.

Through concerted efforts and support of Community institutions, involving Parliamentary Diplomacy Missions, the Republic of Senegal was able to eventually hold a successful election that has ushered in renewed hope with the election and inauguration of one of the youngest Presidents in the sub-region, Bassirou Diomaye Faye as President of Senegal.

The 5th Legislature played a crucial role, using several mechanisms, like the community texts, resolutions and sensitization, and Parliamentary Seminars in fostering regional development and steering the course towards democratic stability and deeper cultural integration in the sub region.

While the Parliamentary, through the Early Warning and Diplomatic missions of the Fifth Legislature, may have considerably contributed to the recoded  impact in terms of increased growth in education, health, infrastructure, strategic agricultural interventions, and social and cultural integration, the economic trajectory, particularly  in conflict-prone Member States, were minimal due to the challenging, turbulent democratic experience characterised by coups and political instability. The much needed and overarching development that would guarantee real regional growth in such climes remained stagnant.

Between 2020 and 2024, the 5th Legislature adopted 94 resolutions, comprising: three in 2020, 34 in 2021, 18 in 2022, and 39 in the year 2023. These resolutions are Parliamentary initiatives, recommendations, and policy interventions through which the Parliament applies its mandate in accordance with Article 15 of the Supplementary Act. These community texts reflect  a holistic and collaborative approach of Parliament in providing pragmatic and sustainable solutions and helping to shape regional agenda and integration aspirations.

One of the longstanding goals of the ECOWAS Community has been economic integration and trade facilitation. The efforts of the 5th Legislature in strengthening trade and deepening ties have considerably sustained growth in economic activities within the sub-region. However, Africa’s contribution to global trade has only accounted for less than 3%. Despite global economic challenges, the new leadership of the Parliament should, as a matter of urgency, galvanise the 14 Parliamentary committees to prioritise development, redress disproportionate investments and industry-neglect in the sub-region.

These have occasioned a renewed demand and prompted call for equitable trade relations that would emphasise trade, rather than aid, between the sub-region and the global community-West. It is in this regard that we urge the new Legislature to make economic integration, reduction of trade barriers, harmonisation of trade, and promotion of cross-border investments a top agenda-item in its programmes and strategic plan.  

The commitment of the 5th Legislature to ECOWAS Vision 2020 and ECOWAS Vision 2025 was highly commendable. This was aimed to evolve from an ECOWAS of states to an ECOWAS of peoples, a fundamental element of democracy. With considerable alignment with ECOWAS Vision 2050, notable results were achieved through high-impact community programmes, including education. Since illiteracy has been identified as a driver of terrorism, Parliament must as matter of priority and urgency, and in line with African Union’s flag off of year 2024 as the “Year of Education”, show more commitment towards increasing educational opportunities and accessibility in the region.

As part of the inclusivity initiative, the immediate-past Parliament encouraged more female participation in politics, leading to the establishment of the ECOWAS Female Parliamentary Association, (ECOFEPA) and the introduction of the Youth Parliamentary Initiative within their 4-year term.

On climate resilience, adaptation, and environmental sustainability, we urge the 6th Legislature to engage constructively with the global community and forge deliberate and constructive collaboration that would not only promote renewable energy but also bring West Africa to a negotiating table with the rest of the world. The overall benefit for Member States across the sub-region must be the card to play in such fora.

While the 5th Assembly could be said to have managed to maintain fragile democratic stability, of great concern is the usual setback for democracy in the sub-region, each time there is an unconstitutional change of government in a Member State and Parliament is suspended or dissolved. The consequence is that the Members of Parliament representing that country cease to be Members of ECOWAS Parliament, denying such a country of adequate representation at the regional level and robing the citizens of democratic dividends.

Another concern of the past 4 years was the lack of a robust framework for intelligence sharing and collaboration to combat transnational threats like, terrorism, banditry, illicit trafficking, and organised crimes.  The adoption of 94 resolutions within the term of this Legislature was an eloquent demonstration of commitment to addressing multi-dimensional political, security, and economic challenges facing the West African sub-region. We urge the new Parliament to pay attention to these.

Given the chairmanship of His Excellency President Tinubu, and since Nigeria plays a crucial role within ECOWAS, it behoves on the Nigerian Legislative Delegation (2024 – 2027) of ECOWAS Members of Parliament to seize this golden moment of their nomination to ECOWAS Parliament as an important opportunity to show the light to other Member States.

All said, the 6th ECOWAS Legislature must sustain the initiated dialogue and sensitisation effort for the Direct Universal Suffrage desired by the 5th Legislature.

Going forward, the onus should be on the 6th Legislature to not only pick up from where the ad-hoc Committee of the outgoing legislature stopped, but also sustain the initiated dialogue, President Tinubu’s endorsement of the initiative, engagement, and sensitisation of the Authority of Heads of State and Government as well as other critical stakeholders on the merit, benefits, and the imperative of a Direct Universal Suffrage for ECOWAS Parliament.

Producing the legal text for the actualisation of this vision must be of utmost priority on its legislative agenda/Strategic Plan. The realisation of this noble vision would not only bring the ECOWAS Parliament closer to the citizens but also guarantee that the needs and aspirations of the citizens are key and in line with ECOWAS Vision 2050.

Kanayo Chizea Nwajei (PhD), a policy and engagement strategist, and an advocate for responsive governance, is a consultant for ECOWAS Parliament.

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