The ECOWAS Parliament, also known as the Community Parliament,
is a forum for dialogue, consultation and consensus for representatives of the people of West Africa with the aim of promoting integration. It was established under Article 6 and 13 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty of 1993.
The Protocol relating to the Parliament was signed in Abuja on 6th August, 1994 and entered into force in 14th March, 2002. It provides for the structure, composition, competence and other matters relating to the Parliament.
STRUCTURE OF THE PARLIAMENT
The Parliament is divided into 2 wings
- Political wing
- Administrative wing
The Structure of the Political wing are;
- The Plenary
- Bureau of Parliament
- The Conference of Bureaux
The Plenary -; This is the highest body of the Parliament and its decisions are binding on other structures. As an advisory Parliament, the Plenary adopts all Resolutions of Parliament which are to be forwarded to the decision – making bodies of the Community.
The Bureau -; This is the governing organ of the Parliament. The Bureau consists of the Speaker and all the Deputy Speakers of the Parliament. They determine the draft agenda and all programmes or business of Sessions amongst various other functions
The Conference of Bureaux -; This consists of The Speaker, Chairmen or Deputy Chairmen and the Rapporteur of each of the Standing Committees. They work with the Bureau of the Parliament to prepare the draft annual work-plan taking into account the priority Community programs amongst other functions. They also work in close collaboration with National and other Regional Parliaments.
SEAT OF THE PARLIAMENT
At its 25th session held in Dakar, Senegal on the 21st and 22nd December, 2001 the Authority of Heads of State and Government decided that Abuja should be the headquarters of the Parliament.
The Parliament is composed of 115 seats. Each of the 15 Member
States has a guaranteed minimum of five seats. The remaining seats are shared on the basis of population. Consequently, Nigeria has 35 seats, Ghana 8 seats, Cote d’Ivoire 7 seats, while Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Senegal have 6 seats each. The others – Benin, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo have 5 seats each.
The Parliament is empowered to consider issues concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens; interconnection of energy networks; interconnection of communication links between Member States; interconnection of telecommunications systems; increased cooperation in the area of radio, television and other intra and inter-Community media links; as well as development of national communication systems.
The Parliament may also be consulted on matters relating to public health policies for the Community; common educational policy through harmonisation of existing systems and specialisation of existing universities; adjustment of education within the Community to international standards; youth and sports; scientific and technological research; and Community policy on environment.
Other areas for consideration include any issues affecting the Community, especially as they relate to the review of the ECOWAS Treaty, citizenship and social integration. On these issues, the Parliament may make recommendations to the appropriate institutions and/or organs of the Community.
ELECTION AND TERMS OF OFFICE
Representatives and their alternates are to be elected by direct universal suffrage by citizens of Member States. Pending when Members of Parliament are thus elected, the National Assemblies of the Member States or their equivalent institutions or organs are empowered to elect members from among themselves. The duration of the transitional period is subject to the approval of the Authority of Heads of States and Government.
Representatives are to be elected for five years from the day they are sworn in during the transition period, representatives who are not re-elected at the national level will remain in office until the new representatives from their respective Member States take their positions.
The Parliament which transition at present, functions in an advisory capacity. This means that it does not, as of now, have specific decision-making powers, and its members are not directly elected.
Vacant seats will be filled by the first non-elected candidate registered on the same list containing the name of the out-going Member of Parliament.
Before assuming duty, Members of Parliament sign the following declaration: “I declare on my honour that I will faithfully serve the interest of the peoples of the Community and that I will not submit to any direct or indirect pressure from any Member State or group”.
Members of ECOWAS Parliament (MP’s) will enjoy Parliamentary immunity in all Member states. Thus, they may not be prosecuted, summoned, arrested, detained or sentenced, except in case of flagrante delicto, whether Parliament is in session or on recess. Before any Member of Parliament is apprehended in a case of flagrante delicto, duly established, suits or confirmed sentence, clearance must be sought from the Bureau of the Parliament. The Parliament can, through a two-thirds majority, request from the competent authority the suspension of a detention order on or a suit against a Member of Parliament.
The Protocol forbids any Member of Parliament, while in office from being a member of government, the constitutional council, the supreme court of a Member State; or a member of Courts and Tribunals of a Member State; a judge, lawyer or registrar in the Community Court of Justice and the Court of Arbitration.
SESSIONS OF THE PARLIAMENT
The Parliament has two ordinary sessions every year, each of which may not exceed three months. For now, the sessions are limited to two weeks each. The first sessions are to be held in May and the second, in the first week of September. The Parliament adopts its budget during the second session. Extra-ordinary sessions can be held at the initiative of the Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government or at the request of an absolute majority of its members decide to hold it somewhere else, within the sub-region.
The inaugural meeting was convened by the then Chairman of the Authority and President of Mali, His Excellency, Alpha Oumar Konare in November, 2000. The meeting was chaired by the oldest member – Mr Oumarou Sidikou of Niger; and the youngest member, Mr. Assan Seibou of Benin, acted as its secretary.
The Speaker directs the business of the Parliament and its organs. He presides over meetings and conducts the debates in accordance with the provisions of the Rules of Procedure. The incumbent Speaker is Hon. Moustapha Cisse Lo from Senegal.
The Bureau comprises a Speaker, Deputy Speakers, Treasurers and Parliamentary Secretaries. The number of these officers is determined in accordance with the Rules of Procedure. Besides the Speaker, members of the Bureau are elected for one year, and are eligible for re-election. The First session of the Parliament, held in Abuja on 21st and 26th
January, 2001adopted the Parliament’s Rules of Procedures (which determines all matters not provided for in the Protocol) and elected its 16 Deputy Speakers, three Treasurers and six Parliamentary Secretaries. It also established 13 standing committees, the Chairmen of which together with the Speaker and Deputy Speakers constitute the Conference of Chairmen.
The Administrative wing of the Parliament is run by the Secretary-General. The current Secretary General of the Parliament is Dr. Nelson Magbagbeola from Nigeria, and a former staff of the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja.