By Victoria Ojeme
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was created in 1975 by the Treaty of Lagos (ECOWAS Treaty). The creation of an ECOWAS Parliament came almost 20 years later, when it was formed together with other Community institutions with the revision of the ECOWAS Treaty in 1993.
Established by Article 13 of the revised ECOWAS Treaty, the Community Parliament was created with the mandate to provide advice to the Community on a variety of integration issues, ranging from respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, passing through public health policies and the interconnection of telecommunications and energy networks, youth and sports, among other things.
Another six years passed before the first legislature of the Community Parliament was officially inaugurated in Bamako, Mali in November 2000.
Parliament is composed of one hundred fifteen (115) seats. Each Member State is guaranteed a minimum of five seats. The 40 remaining seats are shared on a population basis.
As noted above, the First Legislature of parliament was inaugurated in Bamako, Mali, with a five-year term (from November 16, 2000 to October 5, 2005). Professor Ali Nouhoum Diallo was elected first speaker. That same year, the Authority of Heads of State and Government ordered the ECOWAS Commission and Parliament to submit proposals on strengthening the powers of Parliament, in the hope that the next legislature would be the last with only one capacity. advisory.
Following the restructuring of the ECOWAS institutions by the Authority of Heads of State and Government in 2006, in which the duration of the legislature was reduced to four years, the Second Legislature was inaugurated on November 11, 2006, under the leadership of Mahamane Ousmane of the Republic of Niger. The Legislature lasted until November 10, 2010.
This legislature formed an ad hoc committee to work on proposals for parliamentary restructuring, including study visits to other regional parliaments, such as the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), which is one of the few regional parliaments in Africa with legislative powers, and the European Union. Parliament. Although reports and recommendations were made on the improvement process, the period of the second legislature ended without its implementation.
The Third Legislature was inaugurated on August 8, 2011 with Ike Ekweremadu of Nigeria as Speaker of Parliament. This legislature immediately established an ad hoc committee to, once again, work to improve its powers. After a year of work, the commission presented to the Plenary a Complementary Bill (DSA), which it proposed would replace all the previous legislation that governs the Community Parliament.
Ekweremadu, during his tenure, defended that Parliament should move to a higher status and asked the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government to accelerate the processes to turn the Community Parliament into a full-fledged legislative institution.
“The end of democracy must be the development of the Community and a better life for our people through good government,” he said upon being elected.
Ekweremadu, in his farewell speech, said that the adoption of the Complementary Law on Increasing the Powers of the ECOWAS Parliament by the Community Decision-Making Bodies remains the most significant achievement of the Third Legislature.
The Fourth Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament was inaugurated in its first session on February 4, 2016. Moustapha Cisse Lo of Senegal was elected President. The Legislature lasted until February 3, 2020.
On December 7, 2016, the ECOWAS Ministers of Justice approved the supplementary bill on the extension of powers of the ECOWAS Community Parliament. The purpose of the Increase in Powers Law is, among others, to allow the ECOWAS Parliament to participate in the budget process and in the supervision of the activities of the ECOWAS institutions.
Therefore, the ECOWAS Parliament is currently undergoing a transition from a merely consultative body, characterized by internal institutional inertia rooted in a lack of decision-making power, to a more assertive directly elected Community legislator with a certain amount of legislative powers.
This fifth and surviving Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament was inaugurated during its first session on March 9, 2020 by Issoufou Mahamadou, President of the Republic of Niger and President of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government. Sidie Mohamed Tunis from Sierra Leone is elected the new president.
Although the current legislature since its inception has been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, parliament has been actively involved in peaceful democratic processes in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali. Also on the table is how to fully maximize the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which, according to the President, holds the promise of prosperity for all Africans amid the coronavirus pandemic, for the benefit of the economic bloc.
However, one of the burdens for Sidie Tunis as the new president of the ECOWAS parliament is to ensure that the economic integration envisioned by the founding of ECOWAS becomes a reality through free cross-border trade.
A major blow to this ECOWAS dream is Nigeria’s indefinite closure of its land borders and that halted all trade relations with its neighbors (Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger), in August 2019.
According to President Buhari, the main reason for the closure was to reduce the smuggling of products such as rice and textiles to boost domestic production. The Nigerian government also aims to curb the illegal supply of weapons to the country. The implications of this border closure are far-reaching, not only for the West African sub-region, but also for broader regional integration on the continent.
ECOWAS was created to promote the ideal of collective self-reliance for its member states. As a trade union, it is also intended to create a single large trade bloc through economic cooperation. These are ideals that the new parliament must vigorously pursue.
It is also true that ECOWAS has had historical and more recent experiences with fragility and volatility in the subregion, including threats such as terrorism, transnational organized crime, piracy, coups, armed conflicts and environmental degradation.
The bloc has intervened in member states militarily or through political diplomacy in response to situations such as the military junta in Guinea and Niger, the attempted coup in Cote d’Ivoire, and the outbreak of the armed conflict in Mali. ECOWAS has several Protocols, Resolutions and strategies to address conflict and security issues, including the 1999 Protocol on the Mechanism for Conflict Management, Peacekeeping and Security.
Another critical debate for parliament has been the idea of a single currency for the region. On June 29, 2019, ECOWAS leaders formally adopted the name “ECO” for their single currency project. It was planned to introduce the coin in 2020.
The fifth legislature made concerted efforts to make the ECO a reality. Shortly before the pandemic, in an interview with journalists at the Extraordinary Session of the Fourth Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament in Banjul Gambia, a member of the Parliament of Liberia, Clarence Massaquoi said: “The legislators of the Fifth Legislature will intensify their functions of supervision to ensure that member countries comply with the convergence criteria of the region’s common currency ”.
The idea of a common currency for the West African region, which was proposed in the hope of boosting cross-border trade and economic development, has been postponed several times.
Mr. Massaquoi said that the Fourth Legislature did not sufficiently follow up as its oversight responsibility on the implementation of the common currency for the region.
Parliament has also voiced its condemnation of external influences on the sovereign states of West Africa.
The Speaker of Parliament, Mustapha Cisse Lo (as he was then), attacked French President Emmanuel Macron for threatening and dictating to the G5 Sahel countries of Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Chad over security concerns.
He said that “if the French-speaking subregional countries do not have the right to say what they think, then they are slaves.”
Mustapha Cisse Lo made the remarks at the close of the 2019 second ordinary session of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, where he urged African leaders to shed the vestiges of colonialism.
“We should have the freedom to express ourselves. How can Macron threaten our heads of state? That is not independence. Are the French the ones who would tell us what to do for ourselves? I wish the president of Senegal would tell Macron the truth to his face, ”he said.
Parliament also took steps to end the crisis associated with the seasonal migration of pastoralists in the region.
During the three-day ECOWAS Parliamentary Seminar on Transhumance and Inter-Community Conflicts in the ECOWAS region, held in Monrovia, Liberia in November 2019, the parliament agreed on viable plans to this end.
Stakeholders, including national governments, regional organizations such as the ECOWAS Commission, Regional and National Legislative Assemblies, Farmers and Ranchers Organizations, the Private Sector and Civil Society Organizations were urged to come together to resolve this threat that has devastated the region.
Parliament, after three days of interactions with specialists and extensive debate, declared that transhumance and conflict between herders and farmers is a very complex and intricate issue.
They added that the effect has been aggravated by the penetration of bandits, criminals, kidnappers and terrorists who have access to small arms and light weapons, which they use to carry out deadly criminal activities, resulting in deaths and destruction of property.
In light of that, parliament urged member states to create budget heads for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in the region.
International policy analysts Linda Boré and Felix Henkel, who wrote about the Rocky Road to Co-Decision of the ECOWAS Parliament, observed that ECOWAS is an institution strongly dominated by the Executive, arguing that the Community Parliament until the date has been unable to counter this power due to its weak mandate.
“One of the main criticisms, both within and outside of ECOWAS, is that from its birth, the Community Parliament was a rather weak institution and a Parliament only in name because it lacked legislative capacity and, with it, the capacity to influence the politics. Second, the advisory procedure is not mandatory. Therefore, the Community institutions could choose whether or not to adopt the opinions expressed by Parliament, ”said Boré and Henkel.
Of course, giving Parliament more voice, perhaps a challenging diplomatic effort as in the case of the European Union parliament, nonetheless serves what Immanuel Kant and Alexis de Tocqueville called “properly understood self-interest”, as it increases the transparency, accountability and legitimacy of the Community Parliament and ECOWAS as a whole.
A more effective parliament will help, in essence, to address the fundamental challenge in West Africa today, namely, bridging the gap between people and their institutions.