Femi Falana, SAN, a human rights attorney, has urged ECOWAS leaders to “obey the rule of law, and uphold the principles of democracy and good governance.”
This was stated by Falana yesterday in a paper he presented at the international conference held in Banjul, The Gambia, and sponsored by the Community Court of Justice.
Falana claims that “the establishment of the rule of law in the sub-region requires the development of a relatively autonomous institutional legal and judicial structure at the national level to counterbalance the political power of the authorities across the sub-region.”
According to Falana, “the national judicial systems of member states should be strengthened to render justice to all aggrieved individuals and corporate bodies.”
In addition, Falana stated that “it must be understood that the rule of law in a normative sense is impossible without judges who can act independently, solicitors who are free to vigorously defend their clients, and legal academics who can conduct research and teach students without interference from political parties.”
As stated in the paper, Rule of Law, Democracy and Good Governance in ECOWAS, “As far as ECOWAS leaders are concerned, democracy and good governance are guaranteed once elections are conducted even if the national constitutions have been manipulated.”
The judicial system is not independent, impunity is institutionalised, and bad laws are made to subvert human rights instead of good laws that are in compliance with the provisions on human rights, all while neoliberal economic policies encourage poverty and deprivation in the member states of ECOWAS.
Governments disregard decisions made by domestic courts upholding citizens’ human rights.
Despotic regimes “victimise opposition figures, media outlets, and civil rights activists who expose oppression of the people and exploitation of the member states.”
“Regional court rulings are disregarded without consequences. Sadly, this is what Africans go through when they are under a ruler.
It has been challenging for ECOWAS to maintain political stability in the region in light of the undeniable fact that some powerful leaders are involved in the manipulation of national constitutions.
In most member states, victims of human rights violations are generally without an effective remedy.
Citizens are compelled to look for alternative means of overthrowing authoritarian civilian regimes because they no longer have faith in the legal systems at the national and regional levels.
People feel “liberated” and typically take to the streets to celebrate their newly discovered “freedom” when such regimes are overthrown or overthrown by opportunists wearing military uniforms.
The military dictators, however, turn around and impose a brutal dictatorship on the populace as soon as they have a chance to relax. Leaders of ECOWAS must strictly uphold constitutionalism, respect for human rights, and control of member state resources in the best interests of community citizens if they are to break the vicious cycle.
“Although civil and political rights are recognised as human rights in the Constitutions of ECOWAS member states, other rights are not included. As a result, the majority of those living in poverty are unable to exercise any of their legal rights.
“The implementation of neo-liberal programmes mandated on member states by imperialism has exacerbated the marginalisation of the people. Good governance has thus eluded the populace despite the region’s pervasive and grinding poverty.
Progressive forces should mobilise and organise the populace to demand the dividend of democracy because the rule of law, democracy, and good governance are meaningless to the majority of citizens living in poverty.
The amendment to the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance that allows for a maximum term of two terms for elected President should be passed by the Authority of Heads of State despite the objections of Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo.
“Coup planners ought to be punished and prevented from transforming into presidents of the United States.”
“Trade unions and other progressive forces should mobilise community citizens to put pressure on governments to implement Article 21 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which calls for the free distribution of wealth and natural resources in the interest of the people rather than for imperialism’s benefit.”
“Civil society organisations should be strengthened to protect human rights and popular democracy.”
“The trade unions should mobilise the workforce to oppose the privatisation of public assets, layoffs, and the transfer of the commonwealth to a group of domestic and international investors.”
“Workers should fight against the distribution of mineral resources, including oil blocks, to private individuals who become overnight billionaires. Otherwise, governments won’t be able to afford social services due to inequality and poverty.
Progressive civil society groups ought to organise local residents to defend democracy and human rights in ECOWAS member states.
Instead of relying on the selflessness of a few civil rights activists and the generosity of foreign donors, the human rights community and the legal profession in the member states of ECOWAS should mobilise local citizens to defend their human rights.
“The collective approach is the most successful way to defend human rights and address impunity in any society,” according to history.
“In the 1990s, the military regimes that controlled politics in the majority of ECOWAS member states were forced to cede power to civilian regimes.”
The region “has witnessed official impunity, abuse of human rights, economic mismanagement, grand and systemic corruption, flagrant disregard for national constitutions, and grinding poverty as democracy was handed over to autocrats.”
Other legal and constitutional violations include the unconstitutional alteration of national constitutions in order to maintain political leaders in office and the manipulation of electoral and other laws in order to disqualify political rivals and increase the incumbent’s electoral success.
The leadership of ECOWAS has consistently failed to take a proactive and preventive approach to addressing these threats to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, which has significantly contributed to the region’s recurrent coups and unconstitutional change of governments.