Prominent Nigerian lawyer and former head of the West Africa Bar Association, WBA, Mr Femi Falana, has urged the Economy of West African States, ECOWAS, to lift the sanctions imposed on Niger after the regional bloc suspended its military intervention to end the coup in Niamey.
Mr Falana was delivering the keynote address at the West Africa Civil Society Week’23 on Tuesday, where he discussed the topic: Civil Society in West Africa: Reimagining the Role of the Third Sector in protecting civil space and consolidation democracy for regional development. He said that civil society organizations should play their role of defending and advocating for the rights of the people, and fostering and sustaining democratic values.
The event, which lasted for three days, was organized by the West Africa Civil Society Institute, WACSI, in collaboration with Ford Foundation, Civil Space Resource Hub, CSR-HUB, and West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network, among others. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, also warned that CSOs should resist the temptation of following the agenda of their funders that may contradict the principles of democracy. He added that: “The proper civil society attitude, NGOs included, is supposed to be voluntary, non-partisan. However, in reality, many receive monetary rewards for work that was supposed to be voluntary.”
“Many NGOs understand democracy only in the interest of their donors. Yet democracy that does not lead to good governance or dividends for the people is of no use. And such a democracy, the populace can not defend it; when it comes under threat.
“African civil society groups should be focused, identify the campaign against violations of human rights of the people by demanding compliance by ECOWAS on the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Urgent need to end tenure elongation in West Africa following the manipulation of the constitution by elected residents.
” ECOWAS should therefore approve the proposal for two terms for presidents. And since she has opted for dialogue in the military junta in Niger, as proposed to three-year military transition, the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS should be lifted as a matter of urgency and electricity should be restored by Nigeria,” Falana advised.
The former WAS chairperson proposed some measures to prevent uprisings and coup d’états in West Africa, such as ending the exploitation of mineral resources by imperialist powers and launching the eco as the regional currency without delay. He also mentioned other factors that he considered important. “We have an opportunity to use the political crises in West Africa as a catalyst for introducing the eco as our common currency.”
The executive director of WACSI, Ms. Nana Afadzinu, said that the conference aimed to create a new partnership between civil society organisations, CSOs, and ECOWAS that would foster good governance and resist coup d’ètats, among other challenges facing West African countries.
Her words:” To be very clear- We want democracy and good governance, we oppose coup d’états and prefer constitutional rule and good electoral governance- those are our principles and we have stood for and fought for them but even more fundamentally, we being West Africans ourselves are, stand for, and stand with the people- for our peace, security, prosperity and collective well-being.
“But, in a climate where citizens have demonstrated opposition to what seems ideal because they have not benefited from democratic dividends and even in countries that do not face these governance upheavals there is growing apathy the question stares at us – whose democracy has it been; who are those that are benefitting from the system we have; whose interest is it serving and what does it mean for us- our civic space? And really, whose side are we on?
“It is our firm belief that this week will afford us a rare opportunity for deep reflection; honest and bold discussions; sharing and also learning, finding ways to strengthen our solidarity; using current platforms like WADEMOS; enquire and deliberate on how to strengthen our engagement with ECOWAS and make functional already approved mechanisms like ECOWAS’ ECOSOCC; and look at ourselves again in the mirror as civil society in West Africa. “