‘Why ECOWAS Parliament Can’t Make Laws for the Community’

By Alex Enumah in Abuja  
The dream of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament to assume full legislative powers and thereby begin to legislate laws for the good governance and development of the region may continue to remain a mirage, until the laws establishing the parliament are ratified by Heads of State and Government of member nations.
The Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Rt. Hon. Moustaffa Cisse Lo, gave this indication yesterday at the on-going Second Session of the Fourth Parliament of the ECOWAS Community in Abuja.
Cisse Lo, reacting to newsmen questions on why the parliament cannot make laws for the region, just like its counterparts in the continent, particularly the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), puts the blame on the doorsteps of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, in what can be likened to the saying, ‘He who pays the piper dictates the tune.
He said, “The heads of states have said that for it to become a Legislative Assembly, the members have to be elected by direct universal suffrage that is what the treaty says and until that happens it is going to be a consultative assembly”.
While stating that the members as presently constituted are elected representatives, he pointed out that it was the Heads of State and Government who at one stage decided that an ECOWAS Parliament should be established.
He said the parliament is willing to go along with that vision and would do everything possible to achieve its set objectives. “That is the phase we are now, we agree it has gone on for too long. This is the fourth legislature under which it has gone on as a consultative assembly, so we agree that there should be progress. However, we know that it’s not possible to grab the powers, so that is why we are working in consensus with the Heads of States, Council of Ministers and the ECOWAS Commission”, he said.
Adding that, “For the time being we are not yet a legislative assembly, it is going to be a gradual process to get there.  We are asking at the moment that we have the right of mandatory advice on the budget and if we get that it is already good, after that we can now discuss with the Heads of State and know at what stage we become a legislative assembly.
“There are laws that say it is a Legislative Assembly, but the problem is at the level of ratification of those laws by member states. So what we are doing now is to continue to discuss and come up with the best formula that would be in the interest of the people of the community”.
Speaker after speaker at the occasion had continued to call for the enhancement of the powers of the parliament, stating that Africa cannot afford to behave like a bird that lays eggs but cannot hatch them.
According to the Speaker of the Sierra Leone Parliament, Rt. Hon. Sheku Dumbuya, “A parliament that only advises or only exists to be consulted ceases to be a parliament in the traditional sense of the word”, adding that, “Unless the ECOWAS Parliament is vested with full legislative powers, it would be a misnomer to refer to it as a parliament”.
Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, represented by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yusuf Lasun stated that poverty, small and light arms proliferation and poor quality healthcare have continued to pose challenge to the development of the region.
He therefore called on ECOWAS to fast tract the integration of the region by dismantling all barriers to intra-regional trade.