•Parliamentarians call for lifting of penalties
Michael Olugbode and Sunday Aborisade in Abuja
The ECOWAS Court of Justice has fixed December 7 to rule on the interim measures in a case between the State of Niger and seven others, and the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS and two others.
At the same time, a group of ECOWAS parliamentarians, at the opening of the Second Ordinary Session of ECOWAS Parliament for 2023 in Abuja, appealed to the Heads of State and Government in the region to lift the sanctions imposed on Niger Republic.
The court fixed the December date after hearing both parties during its sitting on Monday, November 21, in Abuja.
At the hearing, the applicants, represented by their lawyers, Mr Moukaila Yaye and five others, argued that the sanctions imposed by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS had had adverse effect on the Nigerien people, including shortage of food, medicine and electricity, due to the closure of borders and cutting off of electricity supply by Nigeria.
They asked the court for interim orders that would compel the Authority of Heads of State and Government to immediately suspend the sanctions.
Furthermore, the applicants said the respondents overreacted by imposing the sanctions, which were not successive. They added that Niger was treated unequally and unfairly compared to the other three member states (Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea) that also experienced coup d’état in recent years.
The applicants, therefore, asked the court to declare its competence to examine the case and declare the application admissible in accordance with the court’s texts.
In initiating application, the applicants – the State of Niger, six Nigerien organisations and a Nigerien national – asked the court to declare the measures taken by ECOWAS during its extraordinary sessions of July 30 and August 10, 2023, allegedly aimed at restoring constitutional order in Republic of Niger, illegal.
They requested the court to nullify all decisions of the ECOWAS organs imposing sanctions, including the decision to resort to military intervention in the Republic of Niger.
But the respondents, namely the Authority of Heads of State and Government, the Mediation and Security Council, and the ECOWAS Commission, represented by Mr François Kanga-Penond, raised an objection of inadmissibility of the application and asked the court to reject the request of the applicants.
Kanga-Penond told the court that coup d’état was not recognised in a democracy and that the junta did not have legal capacity to bring a case before the court. It added that the democratically elected president had a pending case before the court in which he was challenging the legitimacy of this same junta.
The respondents’ lawyer emphasised that the lack of legal capacity of the junta to approach the court restrained it from examining their request for interim measures.
The panel of three judges on the bench was composed of Hon. Judge Edward Amoako Asante, President; Hon. Judge Gbéri-bè Ouattara, Judge Rapporteur/Member; and Hon. Judge Dupe Atoki, Member.
However, a group of ECOWAS parliamentarians, concerned about the turn of affairs in Niger, appealed to the Heads of State and Government in the region to lift the sanctions imposed on Niger Republic.
Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, who is also a member of the ECOWAS Parliament, Senator Ali Ndume, while addressing journalists after the opening session of the parliament, said the sanctions were biting hard on the masses, including Nigerians in the border states.
Ndume said, “Niger is bordering about eight states in Nigeria, namely Borno, Yobe, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, and Kebbi. Since the closure of the border and the imposition of sanctions, poor people, especially children and women, have been exposed to untold hardship and no meaningful progress has been made in terms of resolving this issue.
“We are, therefore, using this opportunity of the Second Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament to appeal to the ECOWAS Heads of State to intensify the resolution of the political impasse in Niger by first lifting the sanctions and opening the closed border of Niger and Nigeria.”
Similarly, Hon Abdullahi Balarabe Salame, from Sokoto, said his people were suffering from the sanctions on Republic of Niger. Salame lamented that thousands of trailers loaded with food items to be transported to Niger were stranded at the border, adding that the food items are already decaying.
Meanwhile, President of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Alieu Touray, called for concrete actions to safeguard democracy and restore the region as the bastion of democracy in Africa.
Touray made the call in his address at the opening of the fifth Parliament’s second ordinary session for 2023. He said the Republic of Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea had all experienced coups recently, creating fears that democracy could be in danger in the region.
He said, “The resurgence of coup d’états has challenged us all in more ways than one and led us to reflect on what is not working in our process of consolidating democracy. As politicians, you are best suited to guide us on what we must do to tackle the root causes of all these unconstitutional changes of government.
“We count on your wisdom to help in safeguarding the rights of our people and for the preservation of peace, security, and stability, which are necessary for our socio-economic development and regional integration process.”
At the political level, Touray said ECOWAS was engaging in dialogue with the member states in transition, namely Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea, in order to support them to return to normal constitutional order through the organisation of free, transparent and inclusive elections.
He stated, “As far as the Republic of Niger is concerned, we adhere to the guidance of the current Chairman of ECOWAS to resolve this crisis through dialogue and negotiation.
“On the security front, the region continues to suffer from attacks by armed groups and terrorists, who seriously threaten the territorial integrity of Mali and Burkina Faso, resulting in loss of life, material damage and millions of displaced persons and refugees.
“In this regard, we continue to provide multifaceted support to help these countries face these challenges, despite the sanctions.”
Earlier, Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Dr Sidie Mohammed Tunis, noted that the region’s prosperity and security were inextricably linked to members shared responsibility to look out for one another.
“Only a foolish neighbour goes to bed when his neighbour’s roof is on fire,” Tunis said.
He added, “In a region of interconnected threats and challenges, we can only address our issues effectively through broad, deep, and sustained cooperation among states.”
Tunis called for greater self-reliance from ECOWAS member states, saying the region cannot rely on outside help to solve its problems.
“We need to be more self-reliant. Each member state must take on more responsibility for the development and advancement of the ECOWAS region,” he said.