By Alieu Ceesay in Abuja, Nigeria
President Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana and Chairman of the ECOWAS on Thursday opened the 2021 First Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja. It is scheduled to last from 27th May to 12th June in Abuja, the Federal Capital of Nigeria, also the headquarters of the ECOWAS Parliament.
Also known as the Community Parliament, the ECOWAS Parliament comprises National Assembly members representing the 15 National Assemblies in the sub-region.
The Gambia’s delegation headed by Honourable Kebba K. Barrow comprises Honourable Touma Njie, Honourable Muhammed Magassy, Honourable Samba Jallow and Honourable Matarr Jeng.
In his opening address as guest of honour, the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo, current Chairman of the Authority of Heads State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said he was proud to witness the opening ceremony, describing the parliament as an important institution for the growth of the sub-region.
As someone heavily involved in the management of the major concerns of the moment (the fight against terrorism and COVID-19, regional integration, democratic governance and climate change among others, President Addo’s address delivered a strong solidarity message to the regional elected representatives, and centred on issues confronting the sub-Region.
The Chairman of the Authority of Head of State and Government, President Nana Akufo Addo, described Mali’s fresh political tension within a short period as “unfortunate”.
The Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo Addo, who is also the current Chairman of the regional bloc [ECOWAS] said the body has invested much of its political and material capital in ending the previous political tension in Mali, after the overthrow of Ibrahim Bubacarr Keita by the Malian army. Despite all the promise to put in place a democratic rule, a few days ago, there was a dramatic shift in the political situation, which led to the arrest of the transitional President and Prime Minister.
Mali’s former Junta leader Colonel Assimi Goïta, who led the coup that ousted President Keita has declared himself the country’s transitional president.
He made the announcement after stripping interim President Bah Ndaw and PM Moctar Ouane of their powers.
President Akufo Addo shared with the Parliament that he had authorized an ECOWAS delegation, comprising the high level mediator of the Mali crisis, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the Chair of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers and the President of the ECOWAS Commission, to immediately visit Bamako to assess the situation and report back to him.
On the issues of border closures within the community, he advocated a permanent opened borders despite what could be justifiable reasons such as the pandemic and movement of arms.
He called on the parliamentarians to always consider the viewpoints of the wider populace they represent.
Jean Claude Kassi Brou, President of the ECOWAS Commission, presented a report on the state of the Community. The paper gave the Parliamentarians the opportunity to follow the implementation of the Community programmes.
Brou informed the session that the Commission has embarked on an institutional reform process to improve performance to promote integration, targeting the socio-economic of the region.
On the COVID-19, he welcomed the arrival of the vaccine as he revealed the Commission’s plan to acquire adequate vaccines for the people. Jean Claude assured of the Commission’s commitment to supporting the parliament.
Sidie Mohamed Tunis, Speaker of the Parliament said the institution strongly condemned the seemingly unending political crisis in Mali, while renewing the parliament’s commitment to supporting efforts to restore peace and order in Mail. He also touched on the need for direct voting of members to the ECOWAS Parliament by a universal adult suffrage.
Justice Edward Amoako Asante, President, Ecowas Court of Justice, said the court plays a strategic role in the regional integration process. However, he was quick to add that enforcement of its decisions is one of its major challenges, which if not addressed could affect the Court’s capacity to deliver.
He called on member states to support and defend the integrity of the Court.
Justice Asante reminded parliamentarians that under the relevant protocol, member states are required to designate a competent national authority for the enforcement of the court’s decisions. However, only six of the 15 member states have implemented that so far, as he called for a holistic approach to defend the integrity of the Court and ensure its smooth operation.
The President of the Court is also worried by the reduced tenure of the judges from seven to five years at a time when there is a steady increase in cases filed before the Court, which currently stands at 149 pending cases.
Reacting to the statements, Honourable Kebba K Barrow, head of The Gambia’s delegation said the remaining countries, including The Gambia should consider implementing this aspect of the Court of Justice.
Honourable Kebba also expressed support for the idea of electing members of the Parliament rather than the parliaments deciding who represents a country.
For the Liberian Vice President, Jewel Cianeh Howard-Taylor, there is so much gender inequality in the national and regional politics, saying it is now time that women are involved in all governance frameworks.
Vice President Howard-Taylor also urged the parliamentarians to critically consider the challenges confronting the sub-region, particularly the slow or non-implementation of ECOWAS protocols, including the existence of many travel, trade and infrastructure barriers to the free movement of people and the pending implementation of the African continental free trade agreement, amongst others.
During the session, there will be individual delegation reports on the prevailing situations in the member states.
At the opening ceremony, new members of the Parliament and the third deputy speaker were sworn in. It is hoped that they will work in the best interest of the parliament.
Several referrals of key interest to the Community will also be submitted for the opinion of the Parliamentarians.