ECOWAS was established in 1975, with the aim of advancing the socio-economic and political stability of the region. In pursuance of this objective, the parliamentary arm was also created in 1993. Decades down the line, ECOWAS is shifting emphasis from governmental integration to more people oriented engagement. OMONU NELSON writes.
Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS), was established on 28 May 1975, with the main aim of establishing a free trade zone in West Africa. The events that followed, particularly the political instability in some Member States, which led to the emergence of armed conflicts, made the Community to tackle political and security issues. The reasoning being that any cooperation and integration that will lead to development can only be achieved with an enabling political environment.
This reasoning forms the bedrock of the current vision of ECOWAS. Consequently, ECOWAS Vision 2020 envisages a transition from an ECOWAS of States to ECOWAS of People. The ECOWAS Vision 2020 is formulated with the view to among other things, “Creation of a borderless, prosperous, peaceful and cohesive region built on good governance, where the people have the capacity to access and harness its enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development and environmental conservation.” Experts in international cooperation and parliamentary affairs are of the view that, as a Community institution and the parliamentary wing of the integration and development process, the ECOWAS Parliament should play a pivotal role in the achievement of the ECOWAS Vision 2020.
They are also of the view that, there is need to embark on a deliberate and realistic advancement towards the transformation of ECOWAS into a more people oriented Community arrangement with the Parliament playing a leading role. Notwithstanding the fact that members of Parliament are yet to be elected by direct suffrage, they have remained the sole representatives of the people of the sub region in the integration process. In other words, if the current aspiration of an ECOWAS of people is to be achieved, there is the need for the Parliament to play a greater role within the Community. To put succinctly, ECOWAS Parliament, as a legislative body, exits for the promotion of democracy, to ensure that the populace is effectively involved in the integration process and take control of their destiny. So, on the basis of the objectives of the Community, as defined in the Revised Treaty, the mission of ECOWAS is:
“To promote cooperation and integration within the perspective of a West African Economic Union, with a view to raising the standard of living of its people, maintain and increase economic stability, strengthen relations between Member States and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent.” In correlation with the Mission of the Community, presently the Mission of the Parliament arm is mainly to contribute towards decision making process within the Community, through issuing advisory opinions on all matters relating to regional integration, and to transit to a full legislative body.
The strategic goals and objectives of the ECOWAS Parliament are formulated in line with the vision of Parliament within the Community. To this end, the strategic orientation, as contained in the Community Strategic Framework (CSF), will be used as a guide. The goals and strategic objectives are: Goal one is Socio-economic Development with strategic objectives of putting in place Institutions, frameworks and policies for enhancing sustainable development. Goal two is Economic and Monetary Integration with strategic objectives of achieving economic/Monetary integration in all its forms. Goal three is Political Integration with strategic objectives of ensuring peace, security and good governance. Similarly, goal four is Societal/ Institutional Support with strategic objectives of Enhancing Societal/ Institutional Capacities for building sustainable society Institutions. Goal five is Expanding and Improving Infrastructural Facilities with the strategic objectives of increasing access to the usage of infrastructural facilities.
In retrospect, the ECOWAS Parliament, also known as the Community Parliament is one of the Institutions of ECOWAS. It is a forum for dialogue, consultation and consensus for Representatives of the people of West Africa with the aim of promoting Integration. It was established under Articles 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. It provided for the Structure, Composition, Competence and other matters relating to the Parliament.
In 2006, a Supplementary Protocol was signed to amend certain sections of the initial Protocol relating to the Parliament, notably, the Life of the Legislature and Terms of Office, both of which changed from five to four years. However, following its further evolution, the Authority of Heads of State and Government adopted the Supplementary Act A/SA.1/12/16 relating to the Enhancement of the Powers of the Parliament in December 2016. The Supplementary Act came into force on 17 December 2016, consequently abrogating some sections of the previous instrument that hitherto served as the legal framework for the structure and competences of the Institution. At the 25th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government which held in Dakar, Senegal on December 21 and 22, 2001, it was decided that Abuja should be the headquarters of the Parliament. The Parliament is composed of 115 seats. Each of the 15 Member States has a guaranteed minimum number of five seats. The remaining seats are shared on the basis of population. Consequently, Nigeria has 35 seats, Ghana 8 seats, Côte d’lvoire 7 seats, while Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Senegal have 6 seats each.
The others -Benin, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo have 5seats each. The Parliament, as part of its competence and with its recent enhanced Powers is involved in the enactment of all Community Acts relating to ECOWAS Economic and Monetary integration policies. It is involved in the adoption of the Community Budget, exercises Parliamentary oversight over the activities of program-implementing bodies of the Community. Additionally, it considers any matter concerning the Community, in particular, issues relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and makes recommendations to the Institutions and Organs of the Community.
The foregoing necessitated a change in the Parliamentary Calendar of Ordinary Sessions from May and September to May and November to enable the Parliament consider the Community Budget. However, referrals to Parliament are Mandatory in some areas which include Revision of the Treaty and its annexes, annual Audit Reports of Community Organs and Institutions, and adoption or Review of all Community Acts relating to ECOWAS Economic and Monetary Integration including trade.
The economic and monetary integration areas include trade customs, free movement of persons goods and services, infrastructure, monetary cooperation, industry and mining, private sector and investment promotion, including other integration matters covered by the Technical Committees established under New Article 22, new paragraph (1.b) of the Supplementary Protocol A/SP 3/06/06 amending the Revised Treaty, and any other sectorial policy decided upon by the Authority. In the same manner, referrals to Parliament are Non-Mandatory in some areas which include: International Agreements affecting the Community Institutions Membership. Sanction, Suspension or Exclusion of Member States by the Community, Creation of Institutions, Community defense, peace and security policies. The Plenary: This is the highest body of the Parliament and its decisions are binding on other structures of the Parliament and the Representatives. The Plenary is however, guided by the provisions of the Treaty, the Supplementary Act, the Rules of Procedure of Parliament and all other legal texts of general application to Community Institutions. The Bureau: This is the governing organ of the Parliament. The Bureau consists of the Speaker and four Deputy Speakers of the Parliament. It proposes the preliminary draft agenda and all draft programmes or business of Sessions to the Conference of Committees’ Bureaux, amongst various other functions. The Conference of Committees’ Bureaux: This body consists of Members of the Bureau, Chairmen and Rapporteurs of each of the Standing Committees, and the Chairmen of Parliamentary groups. It works with the Bureau of the Parliament to prepare the draft annual workplan, taking into account the priority Community programmes amongst other functions. Representatives are to be elected by direct universal suffrage, by citizens of Member States. Pending when Members of Parliament are thus elected, the National Assemblies of the Member States or their equivalent institutions or organs are empowered to elect members from among themselves. The duration is subject to the approval of the Authority of Heads of States and Government.
Representatives are to be elected for a four-year term, from the day they are sworn in. Representatives who are not re-elected at the National level will remain in office until the new Representatives from their respective Member States take their positions. The Speaker directs the business of the Parliament and its organs. He presides over meetings and conducts the debates in accordance with the provisions o the Rules of Procedure. Also, he ensures regular interactions between Parliament and National Parliaments of Member States. The incumbent Speaker is Hon Moustapha Cissé Lo a citizen of the Republic of Senegal.