Where will the current Nigerian political players and leaders be in 60 years from now? Not even the writer of this piece will likely still be around then.
Interestingly, that is when Nigeria, as a country, will have the opportunity of producing another Speaker to head the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS Parliament. Senator Ike Ekweremadu has just completed his four-year tenure, as Speaker of the Community Parliament.
Ironically, following Senator Ekweremadu’s emergence as the Deputy President of the Senate, in June, last year, one of the strongest points being canvassed by those opposed to his emergence was that he was going to deny the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, the opportunity of producing another Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament. But if they had done their home work well, they probably would have known that the position would not be available to Nigeria again, at the expiration of the Third Legislature of the Community, which officially lapsed on Thursday, February 4, 2016.
Before Ekweremadu’s emergence as the Speaker of the Parliament, in 2011, there was a power rotation arrangement, based on alphabetical order of the names of member States. Therefore, the journey, which Ekweremadu started, on behalf of Nigeria, on August 11, 2011, came to an end February 4, 2016. And until about 2076, before any other Nigerian could start another of such journey, on behalf of the country.
Interestingly, Ekweremadu’s tenure, as Speaker, ended with the Community, marking its 40th year of existence, just as the Fourth Legislature was inaugurated on the same occasion, with Hon. Moustapha Cisse Lo of the Republic of Senegal, emerging as the new Speaker, to lead the Fourth Legislature.
Delivering his valedictory speech, Ekweremadu described his tenure as Speaker, as one, which repositioned the Parliament. He described the adoption of the Supplementary Act on the Enhancement of the Powers of the ECOWAS Parliament by the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, as the greatest achievement of the Third Legislature of the Community Parliament, under his leadership.
This is even as he seized the opportunity to appeal to The Authority to have the Act signed into Law in earnest, so as to enable the Parliament exercise legislative powers and also carry out oversight functions.
Hear him: “By far, the most important objective and success recorded by the Third Legislature of the Community Parliament remains the adoption of the Supplementary Act on the Enhancement of the Powers of the ECOWAS Parliament by the Community Decision Making bodies.
“It is important to note that the Supplementary Act enjoyed the inputs of all necessary organs and institutions of the Community. On its part, ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government adopted the Act during its 46th Ordinary Session in Abuja on December 15, 2014”.
He was, however, quick to add that his only regret was that the Act was not signed into law during his tenure, adding that it was nevertheless “gratifying that we brought this age long quest from nothing to a point where this institution is just signatures away from evolving into a true Parliament.”
According to him, the ECOWAS Parliament remains the only regional parliament in the world, without legislative powers, adding that it was normal for regional legislative bodies to exercise legislative powers and carry out oversight functions.
While emphasizing the need for the Act to be signed into law, Ekweremadu further said: “From the European Union Parliament to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), which is a year younger than the ECOWAS Parliament, it is normal for regional parliaments to exercise legislative powers and carry out other fundamental functions of a parliament such as oversight function.
“For emphasis, today, the ECOWAS Parliament regrettably remains the only regional parliament anywhere in the world without legislative powers. This should be a big embarrassment and reproach to us as a sub-region.”
He also reiterated that the enhancement of the powers of the Community Parliament was in tandem with the fundamental principles of democracy, international best practices, the ECOWAS Revised Treaty, and the New Article 13 of the Supplementary Protocol.
He added: “It is common knowledge that true democratic governance rests on the tripod of the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary. The enhancement of powers is not for competition, but for the good governance of ECOWAS. It is to build strong institutions necessary for running a balanced and transparent ECOWAS. Importantly, it was the vision of our founding fathers to give expression to voices, challenges, and aspirations of the peoples of West Arica in a true and vibrant Parliament.”
Ekweremadu said his regime brought it closer to the people, by delocalising Committee meetings in and outside the various capitals of the Member States, a thing, that saw the Parliament converging, for the first time, in its history, on a venue-Accra, Ghana, in 2012, outside Abuja, the seat of the Parliament, adding that “it was also been replicated in various Member States such as Praia and Dakar, taking into cognizance the three lingual blocks of the Community.”
Ekweremadu listed other major achievements of the Third Legislature of the Parliament, under his leadership to include the bequeathing of a befitting parliamentary complex, while also handing over a grant of about N1 billion, secured by him, for the construction of an office complex. He urged the new leadership to ensure that the grant was strictly used for the purpose for which it was received.
Other efforts at repositioning the Parliament, he said, included ensuring that the 115 seats of the Community Parliament were fully occupied for the first time, in the history of the Parliament, with the coming of Cote d’Ivoire and rejoining by Guinea; elaborate capacity building for members and staff of the Parliament; creation of visibility and awareness for the Parliament, and revival of the Conference of the Speakers and Presiding Officers of Parliaments of West Africa.
He further explained that the Third Legislature built elaborate and beneficial partnership with other regional and international legislative bodies, while also launching the ECOWAS Parliament into the realm of parliamentary diplomacy for the economic development, peace, and security of the sub-region.
“As the people’s Parliament, the Third Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament contributed its quota towards regional peace and security and the consolidation of democratic governance, rule of law, peace, integration and development. We were consistent and loud in our stand against forceful and unconstitutional takeover of government, terrorism, insurgency, and militancy. We variously deployed the weapon of parliamentary diplomacy to rally international and local support against such enemies of progress. “Importantly, we physically visited most flashpoints to understudy the real issues and made suggestions, which the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government and other ECOWAS institutions and organs have found useful in resolving various political crises and challenges of insecurity in the sub-region. Furthermore, we treated with dispatch Referrals regarding to peace and security, youth employment, joint border posts, among others.
“It could also be recalled that I made a strong case for an Inter-regional Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, CEMAC, and the ECOWAS in my closing remarks at the 2013 1st Ordinary Session of the Community Parliament in May 2013. I stressed the need for greater cooperation, strategy, and capacity to fight terrorism and insurgency. I am happy that the Government of France, a key ally in the war against terrorism and insurgency in West Africa, saw the need for such dialogue as it hosted several Heads of State and Government of the two regional blocks in Paris a year later, to activate inter-regional dialogues on terrorism and insurgency in both sub-regions,” Ekweremadu, added.
In his goodwill message, President of the Nigerian Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, described the ECOWAS Parliament, as one that has done “creditably well, in fulfilling its mandate.”
Particularly, he recalled that the Parliament blazed the trail in 2006, when it rendered popular opinions on certain issues that have direct bearing on the promotion of the standards of living of citizens of member States, adding that “this is especially noted on infrastructural development, migration, public and investment, to mention but a few.”
He further said:”the role of the Parliament was further enhanced when in 2009; the Niger Republic political crisis emerged. Indeed, it was on record that the Parliament’s input largely informed the decision of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government to impose sanctions on Niger Republic over the attempted tenure elongation of the then incumbent President of that country. We can with pride state that this Parliament has done creditably well in fulfilling its mandate.”
While reiterating the commitment of the National Assembly under his leadership to support and work with the ECOWAS Parliament, to realise its objective of evolving as a true Parliament, with legislative powers, Dr. Saraki, commended the Third Legislature of the Community, under the leadership of Ekweremadu, for driving the process of transforming the Parliament from “its current advisory and consultative status,” to one of “co-decision and lawmaking.”
To Ekweremadu, Dr. Saraki said: “I want to congratulate you for your eventful leadership of the Parliament. I also congratulate you for the completion of a successful tenure. You have done us proud, and we are proud to be associated with you. We will support the new Speaker, the way we supported our own, Ekweremadu.”
On his part, President of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, urged the new Speaker of the Parliament to emulate his immediate predecessor, Ekweremadu, and follow in his footsteps, so as to help him (new Speaker) build on the gains recorded by Ekweremadu, especially as it concerns relationship between the Parliament and the Commission.
According to him, the working relationship between the Commission and the Parliament, under Ekweremadu’s leadership, was such that it made the Commission’s tasks seamless.
He added that: “I would like to commend the contribution of the members of the Third Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament to the Community’s efforts over years. While agreeing that, just as in other institutions, the conditions have not been easy, but, under your (Ekweremadu) leadership, the Parliamentarians have demonstrated requisite devotion and wisdom, which have enabled them attain the heights, they attained”.
To the Fourth Legislature, Ouedraogo, further said: “I have no doubt that, as in the past, you can count on the positive orientations and active support of our Heads of State and Government, who have high expectations for regional integration.”
Speaking shortly after his election as the new Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Senegal-born Moustapha Cisse Lo, who paid glowing tributes to his predecessor, Ekweremadu, for laying a good foundation, pledged his commitment to build on the legacies of his immediate past predecessor, just as he promised to preserve the goals and ideals of ECOWAS, adding that as he was taking over from Ekweremadu, he would complete the task started by him.
He expressed the desire for ECOWAS to have a Parliament with full legislative powers and not one, which could only bark, but lack the powers to bite, saying that “if we have decided to stay together, then together we must defend the ideals of ECOWAS, and together we will build a strong and united Parliament. ECOWAS gave no powers to the Parliament. But it is high time it becomes a Parliament with full powers”.
To his predecessor, Ekweremadu, the new Speaker, said: “we will continue with the work you started, and push it to the end. We are counting on you. We will always consult you; so that we can tap from your experiences, so as to enable us overcome the challenges of the Community and those of our various governments.”
Omipidan is the Special Assistant (Media) to the Deputy President of the Senate, and the immediate past Speaker, ECOWAS Parliament