EKWEREMADU AT ECOWAS
The election of Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy President of the Senate as Speaker of the ECOWAS parliament at the same time Nigeria's President Jonathan is chairman of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government gives Nigeria an opportunity to consolidate its dominance of the sub-region
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Inalegwu Shaibu
Senator Ike Ekweremadu's success at last week's leadership election of the ECOWAS parliament may have created a little crisis of identity for his handlers. It is a problem of designation. Is he to be known as Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate or as Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament? That was the puzzle that immediately followed the inauguration of the third ECOWAS parliament and the election of Senator Ekweremadu as its new Speaker.
Ekweremadu clinched the position with the overwhelming support of Nigeria's sizeable delegation to the parliament which incidentally is hosted in Abuja, the Nigeria capital.
Nigeria has 35 out of the 115 seats in the parliament where seats are distributed among members of the regional body based on population. Togo and Gambia have the least seats with each of the tiny countries having 5 seats each.
It is, however, doubtful that Senator Ekweremadu would be surrendering any of his awesome powers as the deputy presiding officer for his new position as the ECOWAS parliament is presently a consultative parliament without any of the awesome powers that the Nigeria Senate has.
The body is mainly engaged in giving advice to ECOWAS Heads of State and Government on matters ranging from political stability to the political development of the West African sub-region.
Membership of the parliament mostly comes from national parliaments and in Nigeria an about equal number of Senators and members of the House of Representatives led by the deputy Senate President and the deputy Speaker form the national delegation.
Full fledged legislative body
There is now increasing opinion within the sub-region for the parliament to be converted into a full-fledged legislative body with lawmaking functions. There are also suggestions that election into the body should now come under universal suffrage as obtains with the European Parliament.
It is a challenge that should engage the mind of the new Speaker, Ekweremadu and other like minds in the sub-region.
Remarkably, that thinking was conveyed in the remarks of President Goodluck Jonathan who also doubles as the ECOWAS chairman and also in the speeches given by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Ambassador James Gbeho and the President of the Nigeria Senate, Senator David Mark at the inauguration of the new parliament.
Any movement towards empowering the parliament with legislative power would, however, require the concession of power by national parliaments.
For now the body has in the absence of any legislative functions restricted itself to such roles towards stabilizing democracy and promoting peace in the sub-region. It was in that direction that the body raised an ad-hoc committee to negotiate peace during the political crisis in Niger Republic and Guinea in 2009.
The ad-hoc committee remarkably, was led by Senator Ekweremadu who was at that time the deputy Speaker of the parliament.
President Jonathan during the inauguration noted the constructive role played by the parliament.
'The role of the Parliament was further enhanced when in 2009, the Niger political crisis emerged. This Parliament lived up to expectation by distinguishing itself as a major actor and player in seeking for solutions to the crisis.'
'By its show of commitment to the tenet of democracy in Niger, the Authority of Heads of State and Government tasked it further, to also consider and render the necessary advisory opinion on the then political crisis in Guinea, resulting from an unfortunate military coup in that country.
Jonathan while also commenting on the need to entrench democracy within the sub region said, 'the sub region needs to progress and move away from the point of political uncertainty, economic stagnation and social degradation, characterised by coups and other forms of forceful seizure of power.'
'We must end the culture of political impunity and established a society where transparency,
accountability and egalitarianism subsist. These and many more attributes of good governance can only accrue to us when we perpetually embrace democracy.'
Before Ekweremadu was presented for election a profile of his parliamentary accomplishments in the sub-regional parliament was given.
'Beside his solid contributions to parliamentary debates and as member of several Standing Committees such as Committee on Legal Matters, his leadership qualities and passion for democracy and good governance of the West Africa sub-region were best demonstrated during the political crises in Niger Republic and the Republic of Guinea in 2009,' according to the citation.
It continued: 'He Chaired the Standing Committee on the Political Situation in Niger Republic and the Republic of Guinea which carried out extensive fact-finding on the crises at the time. The incisive report guided the ECOWAS Parliament to make firm and far-reaching recommendations to the Authority of Heads of State and Government to checkmate the violations of democracy and constitutionalism in both countries. Today, both countries and indeed, the sub-region are completely free from military regime.'
Senator Ekweremadu's emergence as Speaker for a four-year tenure was through a unanimous endorsement by all the 87 members present.