L-R: Rafsanjani, Singhatey and Ajibewa during the interactive session held at the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja…recently

The West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) held an interactive session with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recently in Abuja, to ensure a better working relationship for the collective development of the region. Abimbola Akosile captures the outcome of the meeting

Setting the Tone
The West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) under the leadership of the acting General Secretary, Mr. Auwal Ibrahim (Rafsanjani) has been making concerted effort to see that the regional body is revamped to better engage the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission.

Thus, an interactive session was fixed for June 23 in Asokoro, Abuja to meet with the ECOWAS Vice President, Mr. Edward Singhatey, to rub minds on achieving this set goal of WACSOF. The meeting was well attended by various Directorates of the Commission as well as the Vice President.

The ECOWAS team included Mr. Singhatey; Principal Programme Officer (PAPS), Dr. Eyesan Okorodudu; Director of Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Dr. Remi Ajibewa; Director of Strategic Planning Unit, Mr. Essien Abel Essien; Principal Programme Officer, Relations with Member State, Presidency, Mrs. Bennetta Tarr; Principal Programme (Gender and Social Affairs), Mrs. Violet Ukpanyang; Publication Officer (Communications), Mr. Amos Lungu; Ag Head of Unit, Relations with other ECOWAS Institutions, Mr. Franck Afanyiakossou, and Mr. Yahuza of Legal Affairs Unit.

The WACSOF team comprised Mr. (Rafsanjani); Programme Officer, Emile Bela; Administrative Officer, Muna Mangga; Programme Officer, Mame Bousso N’diaye; Programme Officer, Olusola Folayan; Finance Officer, Olumide Fatukasi, and the Media Relations Officer, Uche Madueke.

WACSOF Overtures
After being welcomed by Dr. Ajibewa, Rafsanjani made a presentation. The Acting General Secretary briefly gave a quick history and recalled that WACSOF was created jointly by the ECOWAS in 2003 and endorsed by the Heads of States and Government as well as ECOWAS Council of Ministers in 2005.
He noted that the ECOWAS Commission adopted WACSOF as the premier officially-recognised institution and platform for civil society coordination in the West Africa region; following the dismantling of the Forum of Associations Recognised by ECOWAS (FARE) in 2008 for purposes of feeding-in civil society perspectives into the direction, mechanisms, programmes and activities of the organs of ECOWAS.

Rafsanjani said this necessitated the meeting and the need to reinforce WACSOF’s working engagement with ECOWAS. He stated that the meeting was basically to welcome and congratulate the new Vice President; and to re-strategise for a better working relationship with the ECOWAS Commission.

He said WACSOF has faced some challenges over the years in carrying out its mandate to play a complementary role to ECOWAS, and disclosed that efforts are being made to address these challenges. He stressed the need to overcome the lack of institutional support as this is one of the prerequisites to overcoming the challenges of WACSOF.

He sought the Vice President’s support in this aspect, and also informed him that despite the fact that WACSOF was created by ECOWAS, the former has been faced with the need to have a MoU with ECOWAS.

This, he stated, has been drafted and the Commissioner for Gender and Social Affairs as well as Mrs. Ukpanyang have been championing this process to ensure that the MoU is signed. On this, he also implored the Vice President to use his good office to facilitate the process.

In terms of the governance structure of WACSOF, Rafsanjani informed that he has intensified the commitment to ensure that WACSOF organises a credible Peoples’ Forum (PF) in the months of July and August 2016 after having successfully worked with the Gender and Social Affairs Commission of the ECOWAS to reactivate its national platforms and the strengthening its thematic working groups in the 15 ECOWAS member-countries.

He said at this PF, there will be an election of new Executive Committee members where ECOWAS representation will be re-introduced as it was at the creation of WACSOF. He also stated that having ECOWAS representation in the WACSOF Executive Committee would ensure inclusive and collective decision making process. He also used the opportunity to seek for the support of the VP towards this determination.

On behalf of the Executive Committee and the entire CSOs in the region, the acting General Secretary thanked the Vice Present for making this meeting come to fruition. He also presented the draft MoU and some WACSOF publications to the Vice President.

ECOWAS Response
Before Singhatey spoke, he asked Dr. Ajibewa and Mr. Essien, who had been interacting with WACSOF to speak.

Ajibewa, in his remarks, said he was not sure if there was any need for WACSOF to sign a MoU with ECOWAS as WACSOF was created within the structure of ECOWAS to carry out a certain mandate, and asked the legal unit to advise on this.

He also stated the need for WACSOF to reinforce its efforts in playing its advocacy roles and better engaging with ECOWAS and governments within the region specifically as it relates to countries’ ratification of all the ECOWAS protocols and treaties in the region. He also emphasised on the need for WACSOF to cover all the programmatic thrusts of ECOWAS and to reactivate its National Platforms to better function within its mandate.

Ajibewa stated that the only way WACSOF can play its role within the ECOWAS structure is for WACSOF to prioritise its credibility, accountability and its governance structure. He also emphasised on the need to ensure that all bodies that needs to be under the umbrella of WACSOF are better incorporated, therefore creating the linkages with other regional CSOs in the ECOWAS space.

He said the Commission for Gender and Social Affairs is the entry point for WACSOF, once WACSOF is better organised, financial assistance can then be channelled to WACSOF through that Commission. He added that there are opportunities for better future engagements between WACSOF and ECOWAS as regards the ECOWAS Vision 20:20 and as ECOWAS has transformed from the ECOWAS of State to the ECOWAS of People.

Dr. Singhatey, in his remarks, mentioned the relevance of WACSOF to ECOWAS, and the need to meet with WACSOF. He stressed the fact that CSOs have a very strong voice in the region which is very important.

He recalled when he was a Minister representing The Gambia in ECOWAS in 2003, when there was a plan to establish a CSO platform that would serve as a hub for CSOs in West Africa under the leadership of Dr. Ibn Chambas the then Executive Secretary of the ECOWAS. He said he was impressed that the platform, WACSOF was still working and striving to achieve its role within the ECOWAS structure despite its challenges.

He noted that WACSOF is an important link to CSOs who can raise their voices and play the watchdog role specifically on the government, to always remind them of their responsibilities when they are found lagging in their duties. He also emphasised the need for WACSOF to organise its PF as soon as possible, and spoke of support for this forum once the resources are available.

He made a commitment on behalf of the ECOWAS to ensure WACSOF gets this support from the Commission. He also enjoined WACSOF to work closely with the Commission to ensure this comes to a reality.
The Vice-President assured WACSOF of a cordial working relationship with ECOWAS and the possibility of expanding the engagement to cover all the thematic thrusts of ECOWAS.

QUOTE

“WACSOF is an important link to CSOs who can raise their voices and play the watchdog role specifically on the government, to always remind them of their responsibilities when they are found lagging in their duties”