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Minister tasks ECOWAS legal experts on freedom of expression, tenders code

By Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS)
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ABUJA, Nigeria, March 8, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Nigeria's Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, has urged legal experts from ECOWAS Member States to work towards bequeathing to the Community an acceptable common legal regime with regard to freedom of expression and right to information, as fundamental rights in the region.

Speaking in Abuja on Monday, 5th March 2012 at the opening of the meeting of the ECOWAS Technical Committee on Legal and Judicial Affairs, the Minister represented by Federal Attorney, Mrs. Victoria Umoren, described as “a step in the right direction,” the Draft Supplementary Act on the Uniform Legal Framework on Freedom of Expression and Right to Information in West Africa, submitted for the adoption of the legal experts.

“There is no doubt that this (Draft Act) would greatly enhance the right to information and freedom of expression which are fundamental human rights issues enshrined in our respective National Constitutions and varied International Treaties and Conventions,” the Minister affirmed.

The Draft Supplementary Act seeks to provide a uniform framework to protect freedom of expression and the right to information within the context of improving the environment for democracy and good governance in the region.

It provides common expansive and libertarian legal framework for free expression including media freedom, and for the right to information thereby setting the condition for the reform/repeal of anti-free expression legislations in ECOWAS Member States.

The document is one of the two legal texts being considered by the meeting. The other text is the Draft ECOWAS Tenders Code, which the Minister said “is important in ensuring that Member States share a common responsibility in the overall modalities taken by the ECOWAS Commission to put in place an enabling Tenders' Code.”

He expressed confidence in the commitment of Member States to the ideals of ECOWAS with respect to Ethics infringement, adding that envisaged sanctions would be meted out to defaulters under the legal text.

The Vice-President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Toga Mcintosh, said the draft Tenders Code when adopted will replace the existing one which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 1999, and which governs all contractual obligations related to procurement within the Community institutions and between the Community and Third Parties.

“The new Procurement Code, if adopted, will indeed avail the institutions of the Community with a more efficient and effective procurement system for their procurement requirements,” said Dr. Mcintosh, who represented the President of the Commission, His

Excellency Kadre Desire Ouedraogo.

The Uniform Legal Framework on Freedom of Expression, he said, would ensure that Member States maintain the standards agreed to and set in many international Conventions as well as serve to entrench the independence of the Media and Media Professionals within the legal jurisprudence, and regulate operations of the Print and Broadcast Media in the region.

In her opening remarks, the ECOWAS Director, Legal, Mrs. Henrietta Didigu, noted that the meeting was the first under the Commission's new management team.

Cote d'Ivoire, the current chairman of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, later took over chair of the Technical Committee from Nigeria.