SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY (DR.) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE AND CHAIRMAN OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE SECOND ORDINARY SESSION OF THE ECOWAS PARLIAMENT IN ABUJA – NOVEMBER 21, 2017.
On behalf of the entire members of the Nigerian National Assembly and the Nigerian Community Delegation, I bid you all welcome to the Second Ordinary Session of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament, holding here in our serene capital city of Abuja. It is a special pleasure to be here today with great parliamentarians from across the West African sub-region, as we gather to chart a new course for the greater development and prosperity of our Community. I greet you all.
Your Excellencies, Honourable Members of Parliament, this Ordinary Session is being convened at a most auspicious moment in the history of this Assembly. It is a time of renewed hope for the West African future, with new opportunities as well as challenges we must find the courage to tackle. There are a myriad of issues confronting our people, as well as many impediments to peace and economic growth. The resolutions to these, will be borne out of the hard work of committed ECOWAS parliamentarians, working in close collaboration with the regional Executive, in order that we can move West Africa and her peoples forward. I am confident that this Assembly comprises such visionary and committed parliamentarians as needed, to undertake the task.
It could be said that we have done a test run of this cooperation in our own national affairs here in Nigeria, and we are already seeing the benefits. The very good relationship between the Nigerian Executive and the 8th National Assembly was clear to see earlier this month, when President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2018 Budget in a joint session of the National Assembly. This cooperation of the two arms of the Nigerian government has drawn the commendation of the international community, and was pivotal to Nigeria’s emergence from a difficult period of recession. The country’s growing economic confidence is also expected to be boosted by an early passage of the 2018 Budget – another benefit of the cooperation between the Executive and the national Legislature. Cooperation is the gift that keeps giving, and we commend it to the Community Assembly, so that we can truly make strides towards the greater integration of the West African sub-region.
Your Excellencies, Honourable Members of Parliament, this Second Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament is holding at the dawn of a new era of regional governance. When I last addressed you, just over a year ago, my message was a strident call for greater institutional power and authority to reside in the regional Legislature, to enable the ECOWAS Parliament take its rightful place among comparative world bodies, and come into its legislative powers. What a difference a year or so makes. It gives me great satisfaction to note that this Assembly has now made the leap into the future, with its transition from an advisory Parliament to a legislative one. No longer a merely advisory or ceremonial body, this Assembly joins similar regional organisations around the world – including the European Parliament and the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) – in exercising legislative functions such as: Community lawmaking, the passing of the Budget and oversight responsibilities.
Finally, after nearly two decades of this Assembly’s existence, the ECOWAS Parliament has truly come into its own, and is further on the road to achieving its true destiny of proper representation for all West African citizens. With the adoption of the Supplementary Act on the Enhancement of the Powers of the Community Parliament, the ECOWAS Parliament presents us with the opportunity to further strengthen regional citizenship, with greater positive impact on the lives of people in the region. More comprehensive implementation of the provisions of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Goods is now within our sights, as is the Right of Residence and Establishment. Greater authorisation and oversight usher in a more decisive impetus regarding the enforcement of regional trade agreements and instruments, including the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) and the Common External Tariff Order.
Your Excellencies, Honourable Members of Parliament, I urge you to seize the opportunity of the newly acquired, and hard won, legislative powers of this Assembly to defeat forces that militate against the peace and development of West Africa. Let us use these enhanced powers to enthrone a regional governance framework whose foundations are laid on democratic principles.
We have much to be proud of in West Africa, particularly in our affirmation of the tenets of democratic governance. This region, through ECOWAS, led the way in the resolute rejection of change of government via the barrel of the gun. By so doing, we set the pace for the rest of Africa, such that today, a military coup dares not speak its own name.
And yet, we have many challenges still. Hunger and famine, terrorism and insecurity, environmental degradation, displacement and humanitarian crises – these are some of the challenges we face in the sub-region. The Lake Chad region is currently the scene of the most neglected humanitarian crisis in the world, with millions displaced and whole populations threatened by hunger and famine. Nigeria’s North East region has been devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency, West African citizens are being sold into modern day slavery, and desperate children of the sub-region are dying tragically on the Mediterranean Sea. The sooner we can deliver the Vision 2020 that will birth an ‘ECOWAS of the People’, the sooner we will restore hope to the West African citizenry.
In addition to the scourge of Boko Haram, the problem of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali – and recent flashpoints in Niger, amongst other menaces – underline the imperative of effective cooperation and partnership in the ECOWAS region, and the crucial role of this Parliament in helping to deliver people-oriented solutions.
I have called for an international conference on the situation in Nigeria’s North East, to bring succour to the region and alleviate the pain and suffering of those caught in the resultant humanitarian crisis. This would be in line with similar conferences held in London to find solutions to the situations in Syria and Somalia. But charity begins at home, as they say. Let us never lose sight of the need to find African solutions to African problems. It is my hope that, with this Assembly’s newly enhanced capacity and authorization, regional lawmakers can better work towards African solutions to the many challenges bedeviling the West African territorial space.
At this juncture, let me reiterate Nigeria’s commitment to the implementation of the various protocols aimed at achieving greater regional integration. We will also channel our energies to the effective utilisation of the ECOWAS Parliament’s legislative powers. Already, we are looking to amend the necessary laws that will smooth the path to elections of Nigeria’s 35 representatives in the Community Parliament. Our commitment to the integration, unity and progress of the ECOWAS region is unwavering.
On behalf of the Nigeria Group of ECOWAS Parliamentarians, and the 8th Nigerian National Assembly, I assure you of our continuing support. I trust that the proceedings of this Second Ordinary Session will be for the well-being and advancement of our beloved West Africa. I wish you fruitful deliberations.
Thank you for listening.
Long live the ECOWAS Parliament.
PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN SENATE AND CHAIRMAN OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.