Good governance, vital to avert coups – Gambian Leader
By Adoba Echono, Gambia
West African countries have been urged to entrench good governance and constitutional order in a bid to avert unconstitutional change in government in the region.
The President of Gambia, Adama Barrow made the call in Banjul, the Gambia at the opening of the 2023 International Conference of the Community Court of the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS, with the theme: ECOWAS Zero Tolerance for Unconstitutional Change of Government.
Mr Barrow, represented by the Gambian Vice President Mohammad Jallow, said zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes should not just be a slogan but a guarantee for the supremacy of the constitution by ensuring that every individual no matter their status is held accountable for any form of malfeasance.
“Zero tolerance for unconstitutional change in government should not just be a slogan, it should reflect in our actions in our policies and in our laws; it calls for strengthening our legal and institutional frameworks to guarantee the supremacy of our constitution, we must ensure that every individual irrespective of their position or status is subject to the law and held accountable for breaching the law.”
He said the ECOWAS stance on zero tolerance for unconstitutional change of government sends a clear message to every corner of our region that democracy is not just an option but an absolute requirement.
In his welcome address, the President of the ECOWAS Court, Justice Edward Amoako Asante, noted that the theme of this year’s conference was carefully chosen because of the several incidences of unconstitutional change of government in three ECOWAS Member States; Republics of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
“As we speak, these Member States are under military dictatorships and have been suspended from the Community by the Authority of Heads of State and Government.
“In a constitutional democracy, governance of a country is the exclusive prerogative of civilian leaders elected by the people in free and fair elections, and the military must be subject to the control of civilian authority.
“Therefore, the role of the military is to protect the territorial integrity of the nation, and it should not turn its guns against a government elected by the people.” according to Justice Asante.
The president of the Community Court of Justice explained that the focus of this year’s conference is on the need for participatory democracy and constitutional order in all ECOWAS Member States.
Justice Asante added: “We are concerned of the risk posed to the region’s fragile democracy by the unfortunate development and believe we all need to work together to address this drift.”
On his part, the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Dr Sidie Mohamed Tunis, stressed that unconstitutionality has no place within the African Region, while pledging the commitment and interventions of the Parliament to the course.
Dr Tunis noted that in addressing the advent of unconstitutional changes of government within the ECOWAS Region; there is the need to tackle the root cause of the impasse which entails lack of respect of constitutionality, term limits, mandates and respect for rules of good political and economic governance by leaders.
He said it is the time to put an end to the tampering with constitutions by leaders to deter perpetrators of unconstitutionality and safeguard the principle of the separation of powers.
The President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr Omar Alieu Touray, in a message who said coups must be prevented before the occur pledged the ECOWAS Commission’s commitment in promoting good governance and respect for constitutionality to deter unconstitutional change of government in the region.
Dr Touray represented by Miatta French, ECOWAS Resident Representatives in the Gambia, said the ECOWAS Commission remains firm on its stance of zero tolerance to unconstitutional change of government.
“While the ECOWAS Commission will continue to sanction and take other grave measures to ensure the return to democratic rule in three countries, the simple fact remains that prevention is always better than cure.”
The Guest Speaker Professor Chidi Odinkalu said tenure elongation by leaders has become one of the reasons for the resurgence of coups in the region.
Presenters at the event will also discuss the various dimensions of the ECOWAS security architecture as well as human rights as a factor for democracy, peace and security including the role of Member States to respect, protect and fulfill their human rights obligations.
The other presentations will examine the role of the national and the ECOWAS Courts in upholding human rights, rule of law and constitutional democracy; the enabling legal environment for ECOWAS integration with community law in perspective and undertake an appraisal of the judgment enforcement mechanism of the ECOWAS Court.
The conference is attended by the Chief Justices of the Supreme Courts of Member States, Attorneys General and Ministers of Justice of Member States, Presidents of regional courts, Presidents of the Bar Associations of Member States, international development partners and Heads of ECOWAS institutions.