By Ifeanyi Nwoko
A professor of law, Chijioke Nwoke has faulted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for not doing enough to hold member states to their obligations to the bloc.
With specific reference to the ECOWAS Commission, Nwoke said that the flagrant disregard for community court ruling as well as the lackluster attitude to other obligations, was due to the fact that ECOWAS was doing little to compel adherence.
Nwoke told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that there were certain sanctions that could be meted to erring member states, and that such sanctions must be triggered by the ECOWAS Commission.
The don was speaking on the heels of the International Conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the ECOWAS Court.
The conference sought to appraise the court’s performance and seek solutions to the non-implementation of its rulings by member states, among other things.
He said although the Authority of Heads of State was the highest decision making body, issues of adherence to the court’s rulings and other obligations could only be decided on when triggered by the commission.
Nwoke, a former Justice of the Community Court, said, “It is the responsibility of the Heads of States as the highest authority of the community to take that decisions, but of course, it is the political arms of the institution of the community, the commission.
“In this case, the commission is the political arm and it is the Commission that triggers the imposition of political sanctions on erring member states of the community.
“Without a trigger, there can be no process to facilitate the imposition of sanctions, because the Heads of states themselves are not generally part of the day to day running of the community.
“So it is the president of the Commission, who is like the Secretary General of the United Nations that oversees and report to the Security Council,” he said.
He said that the ECOWAS protocol also makes provision for judicial sanctions, which he said comes from the court, but cannot be implemented by the court.
He said that the power to implement the judicial sanctions also resides with the ECOWAS Commission headed by a president.
According to Nwoke, it is the commission that writes the authority for the imposition of such sanctions which he said could vary from suspension, denial of certain rights and sometimes entire withdrawal of membership for a certain period of time.
“So the bottom line is that the bulk ends at the table of the Authority of Heads of States on application of the Commission.
“So that even if a state has violated, or is in violation or it is in continuous violation of its obligations, nothing can be done unless the process of sanctions is triggered by the political arm of the community – which is the Commission,” he said.
Recalling actions of previous leaderships of the commission, Nwoke said the actions of the commission depended on the person occupying the leadership position.
“When we had an executive that was headed by Ibn Chambers, it was his force, a strong force to reckon with, and he sits one on one with the Heads of State and speak to them in the eyes.
“Even though then the community was not as organised as it is in the present time, disobedience then was an exception rather than the rule.
“That was the time those decisions, intervention in Liberia, interventions in Sierra Leone was concretely undertaken.
“If it was this time it will be politically destroyed, nothing will be done, and the state will begin to politicize it.
“So we need a strong political force as the head of the commission,” he said.
While taking cognisance of the fact that the President of the Commission is appointed by the Authority of Heads of State, Nwoke pointed out that the office enjoyed administrative independence.
He therefore stressed that the president of the Commission had the power to drive the community forward. (NAN)