The need to strengthen legal framework establishing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to the extent that its treaties and judgements of its court of justice are not only binding but enforceable, was one of the highlights of the Colloquium organised by the Epiphany Azinge Foundation, in Abuja last Thursday.
The Annual Colloquium, which had as its theme: “ECOWAS Treaty and State Sovereignty: Redefining Constitutional Parameters of Nationhood”, focused on issues ranging from the legal framework establishing ECOWAS to current issues of insecurity and terrorism, and suggested the way forward for the region.
Speaker after Speaker all agreed that the goal of the founding fathers of the regional block though, well founded, has not achieved much in the promotion of economic integration within the sub- region, despite the 1993 reforms of the organisation.
The Speakers however, agreed that if the dream of establishing the subregional block would be realised, member States must learn to cede part of their sovereignty to the ECOWAS treaties they are signatory to; and in addition, learn to speak in one voice, while at the same time, extricating themselves from the apron of their colonial masters.
In his keynote address, Director General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Professor, Muhammed Ladan, argued that an efficiently funded supranational Commission and Court of Justice will accelerate integration.
“The understanding of Supranationality as a situation where a regional organisation is empowered to take decisions that are binding on itself and on all its Member States, is quite clear.
“ECOWAS, with the support of an efficiently run and adequately funded Supranational Commission and Supranational Court of Justice, can facilitate and accelerate the process of regional economic integration in West Africa”, he said.
The Director General however, added that Member States must demonstrate greater commitment to their treaty obligations by addressing the fundamental operational and financial challenges facing the Community Institutions and the capacity deficits to implement Community Laws, Programmes and Decisions at National levels.
Other Speakers in their various contributions, identified factors such as clash of interest, mutual suspicion, rivalry between the anglophone and francophone countries that make up ECOWAS, insecurity, poor infrastructural linkages of Member States, as well as political instability.
According to them ECOWAS usually looks the other way or keeps mum while some States are amending their Constitutions to extend the President’s tenure in office or attempt to manipulate to occupy the office for life, only to turn around and find its voice when there was a coup d’etat in such a State.
In the area of economic integration, the stakeholders call for an effective price regulation of goods and services in the region, noting that ECOWAS cannot compete favourably with other regional blocks, without uniformity in price of goods and services.
They also remarked that Member States stand to gain more from other regional blocks and countries, when they learn to negotiate businesses and trade on a collective platform such as ECOWAS than doing so in their individual capacities.
In his remarks, Ambassador Musa Nuhu, who noted that Nigeria is a major benefactor from the sub-regional block, stated that institutional reforms when pursued vigorously, will further improve the living standard of citizens of ECOWAS. He argued that ECOWAS, despite challenges, has made some progress in the area of free movement as “Poor citizens can travel within West Africa without taking visas”, adding that Nigerian citizens are today residing and working in places like Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana because of the Right of Establishment.
However, Founder of the Foundation, Professor Epiphany Azinge, SAN, said it is high time some of the treaties and protocols guiding ECOWAS be re-examined, in the light of increase in light and small firearms proliferation and insecurity in some countries like Nigeria.
wHe said, “Redefining the parameters of statehood of nationhood for Nigeria, is to know whether we can call a meeting of ECOWAS and see which aspect of it we need to modify, in order to hold our sovereignty in such a way and manner we will even exist first as a nation”.
Mrs Onikepo Braithwaite, Editor of This Day Lawyer, moderated the Session.