When ECOWAS, Judges, others met to strengthen court’s effectiveness

Non-enforcement of ECOWAS decisions’ among other issues topped the discourse at the just concluded dialogue in Abuja. KEHINDE OSASONA writes more.

Matters arising

Over the years, the Community Court has been a reference point for ECOWAS Institutions, individuals, entities, and governments in search of advice, arbitration, and adjudication.

Today, rights activists, NGOs, Judges and other stakeholders have renewed calls for the implementation of the decisions of the court which according to findings has remained a major issue in the effective delivery of the mandate and responsibility of the judicial institution to the community citizens.

As a way of discouraging the age-long trends therefore, a major stakeholder and President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court, Edward Amoako Asante had in 2023 raised an alarm that about 106 decisions reached by (representing 70 per cent) of its decisions, are yet to be implemented by the Member States.

To make matters worse, Asante, who made the disclosure during the first regular session of the 5th Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament in Abuja, Nigeria, added that 11 court rulings against ECOWAS have also not been complied with.

Asante while condemning the non-compliance with the judgments of the Court further expressed optimism that measures that will help raise the level of enforcement of the Court’s judgments is underway.

Before now, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, civil society organizations including human rights NGOs and bar associations has repeatedly expressed worry over non-implementation of ECOWAS and other regional court’s decisions.

Bothered by the development, over the years, the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) had at one time or another condemned the refusal of countries to implement the decisions reached by African regional courts.

Making an advocacy recently, Ms PraiseGod Millen Joseph, Programme Officer at PALU, stated that it was working towards ensuring that litigants and key stakeholders are equipped with the knowledge of the regional court, its jurisdiction and procedures of accessing the court and understanding of how they can advocate the implementation of decisions reached by the court.

She added: “Through this, we can strategize and discuss what initiatives as key stakeholders we can implement in our respective organizations and collaborate as partners towards enforcement of decisions of regional courts.”

PALU, according to her, has collaborated with the ECOWAS Court of Justice in the past in the area of capacity building and how litigants can access the ECOWAS Court smoothly.

The dialogue/concerns

Last year at a two-day capacity-building seminar held in Abuja, the Head of Legal Services and Research at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Apraku Nketiah, called on member countries to ensure prompt and comprehensive enforcement of the regional court’s judgments.

Such enforcement according to Nketiah would ensure adherence to the rule of law as well as bring about effective justice delivery in the region.

Nketiah, noted further that Prompt and comprehensive enforcement of judgments of the court is an indication of the adherence to the rule of law and effective justice delivery in the region.

Earlier, stakeholders from Raoul Wallenberg Institute, have reiterated the organisation’s readiness to support and encourage access to justice.

Gilford Kimathi, its representative said: “We hope to have litigants increased awareness and therefore strengthen their capacity to engage with the ECOWAS court.

“One of the challenges that we have is the limited awareness of this body by many advocates, we also have many other challenges like the low level of the implementation of decisions emanating from these bodies.

“We expect that through the seminar as well as the publication, litigants will be more able to litigate at the ECOWAS court,” he said.

AGF standpoint

While speaking at the Statutory ECOWAS Judicial Council (EJC) meeting in Abuja, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN urged the court to strengthen its jurisdiction while limiting unnecessary conflict with the domestic laws of member states.

Fagbemi at the meeting further called on the ECOWAS Court of Justice to refrain from issuing orders and judgments that were impossible to enforce.

He said, “It is important for the court to pay attention to the peculiarities of member states and refrain from issuing orders and judgments that are practically incapable of enforcement.

However, his contribution has stirred reactions from a human rights lawyer and a former President of the West African Bar Association, Femi Falana, (SAN) and Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), another human rights lawyer.

The duo, who accused the Nigerian government of shunning previous ECOWAS Court judgments, alleged that successive governments behaved as if the country is still under the military rule.

They insisted that the ECOWAS Court had not made orders outside its jurisdiction.

Presidential Intervention

As part of move signaling support for regional accountability therefore, President Bola Tinubu while meeting with the ECOWAS Judicial Council also joined in addressing the critical issue of unenforced judgments issued by the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

Tinubu, who chaired the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, reaffirms his commitment to advancing judicial reforms with determined support, emphasizing those integrous and accountable judicial systems will strengthen democracy across West Africa

”We are committed to transformative democracy because we believe the judiciary can protect democracy.

”We are ready to support you as learned minds who have the requisite experience and institutional memory to comprehensively reform our institutions.

“I assure you as Chairman of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government that the judiciary is one of the pillars to protect our democracy and it is only in this regard that we can make a difference on the continent,” the President said.

President Tinubu assured that their recommendations would receive utmost consideration by the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS.

”We will work with you to ensure that your expertise is employed to promote justice in our democratic experiences on the continent and in the region. You are truly the last hope of the common man across our sub-region,” President Tinubu added.

Going forward

Speaking on behalf of the ECOWAS Judicial Council, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, emphasized the Council’s commitment to facilitating the effective functioning of the ECOWAS judicial system.

The CJN, who chairs the council, presented their deliberations and highlighted the ongoing challenge of ensuring rulings translate into concrete action.

Moving on, the council at the end of its meeting in Abuja has agreed to establish two sub-committees to address pertinent judiciary-related issues in the region.

While the first sub-committee members from Benin Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone will look into the rules of procedure of the Council itself, the Council of Ministers has tasked the Judicial Council, in collaboration with the Commission and the Community Court, to address the enforcement of judgments issued by the community court.

”The members of this second sub-committee are: Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cabo Verde, and Togo.

He added that both sub-committees would present their findings to the Judicial Council, which would subsequently make recommendations to the Authority of Heads of State and Government.

Ariwoola assured that the Council, under his leadership, will continue to pay attention to addressing situations that threaten the judiciary system in West Africa and the organisation of the Community Court of Justice.

“By doing so, the Court contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region. 

“The various national judicial systems in member States are also expected to play these critical roles of nation and regional building”, he added.