Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, on Monday called for more powers for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament, if the aim of the sub-region to achieve full integration is to be realized.
Saraki made the call in his speech at the opening of the First Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, according to a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President, Sanni Onogu, in Abuja.
The Senate President said that even though the ECOWAS parliament is evolving in the right direction, it was his fervent hope that members of the sub region will begin to invest in it, more responsibility and opportunity as a sure path to creating the right structure for closer integration of the sub-region.
Saraki said: “The ECOWAS sub-region has come a long way in pursuit of integration and development. However, what is clear today is that we need to do more. Other regional bodies including those who we inspired have moved faster towards integration than we have.
“Sadly, this has been due to our inability to add to the institutional building blocks and muster the courage to reorder our structures for the vision of a virile and integrated ECOWAS.
“The ECOWAS Parliament remains a critical place to start. We must as a necessity, give the parliament greater authorization and capacity to duly legislate on common areas and provide oversight on certain issues of common interest and interdependency.
“For as long as we are unable to, or fail to remit to this parliament more powers, the dreams for greater integration will remain a myth. This singular reason may be responsible for the lack of adequate cohesion in the fight against terrorism, cross border crimes and the implementation of agreed trade agreements and protocols.
“With greater oversight and authorization, it is possible that we would see greater inroads made in the areas of the enforcement of ECOWAS regional trade agreements and instruments especially the Common External Tariff Order,” he said.
He said that the ECOWAS Parliament has shown itself as a primer of integration and a key instrument for stability in the sub region having utilizèd “its instruments to provide opinions on various issues such as infrastructural development, migration, public health and investment referred to it by other Community Institutions, especially the ECOWAS Commission; with the aim to positively impact on the standards of living of West African citizens.”
He noted that there has been a significant increase in the level of cross boarder businesses in the sub-region – with investment criss-crossing regional boundaries by nationals of the ECOWAS region – as a result of the implementation of the free movement of goods and persons across the region.
While saying that the policy on free movement of goods and persons is beginning to bear significant fruits across the length and breath of the region, he lamented that “very little is being done to provide the right legal and institutional inter-ECOWAS-states frameworks that would guarantee and insulate these enterprising citizens from discriminatory practices, anti competition, human rights abuse and the possibility of host bias in the treatment of conflicts arising from their cross-border enterprise.
“This further underscores the need for us to act together to encourage this free flow of capital as a means to deepen our integration and avoid the possibility of recoiling our gains by enabling the parliament have more powers to make laws and fill in the legislative gaps where necessary to aid our regional development agenda,” he said.
He however reiterated the support and assistance of the nation’s National Assembly to the work of the ECOWAS parliament as it strives to provide the necessary legislative leadership for greater development of the ECOWAS region.
While the region is proud that the Parliament has done creditably well in fulfilling its mandate according to the Senate President, he noted that “in recent times, we have seen the scourge of terrorism cut through and expose the weaknesses of our regional integration efforts as our various governments scrambled to find a foothold for proper coordination of intelligence, resource mobilization and rapid response to terror threats.
“This weakness we also witnessed in the coordination of responses to the spread of Ebola virus in 2015. These are glaring cases in which we were severely examined and our imperfect union exposed.
“While these may have happened, we have also shown resilience and our leaders shown ingenuity in coming up with measures that have helped us contain these scourges.
“However, they remain stark reminders of the challenges ahead and the need for us to revisit our protocols and treaties in order to create a more virile union that can help us deal with the challenges of the 21st century.
“As we speak, the average citizen of the ECOWAS is yet to feel meaningfully the impact of the ECOWAS union beyond free movement of persons and goods. This is another reason I believe the enhancement of the ECOWAS Parliament remit merits deliberation,” he said.