Falana Writes ECOWAS Chair on Preventive Measures against Coup in West Africa

Femi Falana SAN

Following recurring reports of unconstitutional change of government in the West Africa sub region, civil right activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Femi Falana has written to the Ghanaian President, Nana Addo Akufo-Addo, who is also the chairman Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on how to prevent the recurring unconstitutional change of governments in the region.

In a letter dated February 1, 2022 with the title, “Request for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on how to take preventive measures to stop coup and unconstitutional change of government in the sub-region”, Falana said, “I am writing to urge you to provide the leadership necessary”.

According to the letter, made available to THISDAY, the Civil Right Activist said, “In light of recent developments in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in the subregion, I am calling on the ECOWAS to show leadership and strong political will in this matter, and that you should, in your position as Chairman of the ECOWAS, convene an extra-ordinary session of the Authority of the ECOWAS in order to discuss the matter, and the recommendations proposed in this letter.”

Felana said that the ECOWAS should also make the meaningful and effective implementation of its treaties and protocols on democracy and human rights, and obeying the rule of
law a condition for retaining the membership of the institution.

He suggested, “To prevent members of the armed forces from hiding under the pretext of fighting insecurity to sack constitutional governments the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), (a combined multinational formation, comprising units of the armed forces from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria) should be revived, expanded and funded to fight insurgency in the region.

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” I also urge you to use your position to ensure that the ECOWAS is able to assert its mandates under its treaties and protocols to immediately push for full and effective respect for democratic principles, human rights, transparency and accountability, as well as the rule of law in each of its member states.”

In view of the recurring cases of unconstitutional takeover of governments in the sub region, Falana said, “I am concerned that for many years, official impunity, abuse of human rights, grand and systemic corruption, flagrant disregard for the rule of law and grinding poverty arising from economic mismanagement have been pervasive throughout the sub-region, and indeed the African continent.

“Other legal and constitutional infractions include unconstitutional revisions of national constitutions to keep political leaders in power, and manipulating electoral and other laws to disqualify political opponents and enhance electoral success for
the incumbent.

“The persistent failure of the leadership of ECOWAS to take a preventive and active role in dealing with these threats to democracy, human rights and the rule of law has continued to contribute significantly to recurring coups and unconstitutional change of governments in many countries”.

He further stated that, “Unlawfully amending national constitutions to remain in office is acting above the law, and contrary to ECOWAS treaties and protocols, and other international standards, as well as seriously undermine member states’ democratic systems. It is unsurprising that many of these political leaders continue to act with impunity and do not fear condemnation and sanctions from the ECOWAS”.

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According to the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, “It is disturbing to note that poverty is on the ascendancy in spite of the abundant resources of the member states of the ECOWAS”.

In view of this, he suggested that to address the economic crisis every member state should end the foreign domination of their economy in accordance with Article 21(5) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which has imposed a duty on all Governments in Africa to “eliminate all forms of foreign exploitation particularly that practised by international monopolies so as to enable their peoples to fully benefit from the advantages derived from their
national resources.”

He stated that despite the treaties and protocols on democracy and human rights, the ECOWAS has continued to tolerate member states with significant democratic and rule of law deficits, adding that “These member states regularly conduct elections that are neither fair, credible, nor free.”

Falana further stressed. “More worrisome is the fact that political opponents and activists who oppose illegal constitutional amendment and other infractions are either jailed or killed.

“Despite the illegality and grave human rights violations in many of these member states, the ECOWAS has continued to send election observers to these countries who usually endorse questionable and seriously flawed elections under purported
constitutional amendment.

“Furthermore, the lack of political will to respect human rights, reject impunity, and Obey the rule of law is exacerbated by the fact that to date only Six of the sixteen member states of ECOWAS have appointed ‘implementing authorities’ to enforce the decisions and judgments of the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja.

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“The obligation of ECOWAS leadership to take preventive and effective measures to address democratic and rule of law deficits in several member states is a central part of the responsibility to protect.”, he said.

Falana said that exercising the responsibility to protect would enable member states to address these deficits, as the responsibility to protect incorporates and embraces three important elements: firstly, the responsibility to prevent: to address both the root causes and direct causes of coups and unconstitutional change of government.

“Secondly, the responsibility to react: to respond to situations of leaders of ECOWAS countries unlawfully changing national constitutional to suit their personal ambitions, blatantly violating the human rights of their own people, and failing to obey the rule of law.

“Thirdly, the responsibility to rebuild a culture of respect for democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law.”

Falana said that the failure to take effective and meaningful preventive measures to address these democratic and rule of law deficits will continue to undermine the legitimacy and ability of the ECOWAS to consistently deal with military coups and unconstitutional
changes of government in the sub region.

He said that the primary responsibility for implementing human rights lies with Governments, adding, “But ECOWAS leaders can no longer use as pretext the ground of ‘national sovereignty’ for their failure to respond to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect community citizens, and reject impunity where States fail to perform their legal and constitutional duties.



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