Disobedience of rule of law leads to military coup, Falana warns ECOWAS leaders

Ogunsakin Mustapha
8 Min Read
Femi Falana SAN

Human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN has urged Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders to “obey the rule of law, and uphold the principles of democracy and good governance.”

Falana said this on Tuesday in a paper presented at the International Conference hosted by the Community Court of Justice, at Banjul, The Gambia.

According to Falana, “the establishment of the rule of law in the sub-region requires the development of a relatively autonomous institutional legal and judicial structure at the national level to counter-balance the political power of the authorities across the sub-region.”

Falana said, “the national judicial systems of member states should be strengthened to render justice to all aggrieved individuals and corporate bodies.”

Falana also said, “It has to be realized that the rule of law in a normative sense is impossible without judges who can act independently, lawyers who have the freedom to represent their clients vigorously, and legal academics who can conduct research and educate students without political interference.”

The paper titled Rule of Law, Democracy and Good Governance in ECOWAS, read in part: “As far as ECOWAS leaders are concerned, democracy and good governance are guaranteed once elections are conducted even if the national constitutions have been manipulated.”

“Instead of making good laws that are in conformity with the provisions on human rights, bad laws are made to subvert human rights, the judicial system is not independent, impunity is institutionalised while neoliberal economic policies promote poverty and deprivation in the member states of ECOWAS.”

“Judgments delivered by domestic courts upholding the human rights of citizens are disregarded by governments.”

“Opposition figures, media houses and civil rights activists who expose oppression of the people and exploitation of the member states are victimized by despotic regimes.”

“Decisions of regional courts are disobeyed without sanctions. Sadly, this is the experience of the African people under the rule of rulers.”

“Having regards to the undeniable fact that some influential leaders are involved in the manipulation of national constitutions it has been difficult for the ECOWAS to maintain political stability in the region.”

“Generally, victims of human rights abuses are left without any effective remedy in the majority of member states.”

“Having lost confidence in the judicial systems at national and regional levels, citizens are forced to look for alternative ways of removing authoritarian civilian regimes.”

When such regimes are sacked or overthrown by opportunists in military uniforms, people feel ‘liberated’ and usually troop to the streets to celebrate their newly found ‘freedom’.”
“But, as soon as the military dictators settle down, they too, turn round to impose brutal dictatorship on the people. The vicious circle cannot be halted by ECOWAS leaders but by strict adherence to constitutionalism and respect for human rights and control of the resources of member states in the interest of community citizens.”

“Although human rights have been entrenched in the Constitutions of the member states of the ECOWAS they are limited to civil and political rights. Hence, majority of poverty stricken people are disabled from enjoying any of the guaranteed human rights.”

“The marginalization of the people has been compounded by the implementation of neo-liberal programmes imposed on member states by imperialism. Thus, in the midst grinding poverty that is prevalent in the region, good governance has eluded the people.”

“As rule of law, democracy and good governance mean nothing to the majority of poverty community citizens, progressive forces should mobilise and organize the people to demand for dividend of democracy.”

“The Authority of Heads of State should ignore the objections of Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo and pass the amendment to the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, which provides for a maximum term of two terms for elected President.”

“Coup plotters should be sanctioned and not allowed to metamorphose into civilian presidents.”

“Community citizens should be mobilised by trade unions and other progressive forces to mount pressure on governments to implement article 21 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which provides for free disposal of wealth and natural resources in the interest of the people and not for the benefit of imperialism.”

“Civil society organisations should be revitalised to defend popular democracy and human rights.”

“The trade unions should lead the workers to fight privatization of public assets, retrenchment of workers and allocation of the commonwealth to a group of local and foreign investors.”

“In particular, workers should wage a battle against the allocation of oil blocks and other mineral resources to private individuals which turn them into instant billionaires. Otherwise, inequality and poverty will make it impossible for governments to fund social services.”

“Progressive civil society organisations should mobilise community citizens to defend democracy and human rights in the member states of the ECOWAS.”

“The human rights community and the legal profession in the member states of ECOWAS should embark on the mobilization of community citizens to defend their human rights instead of relying on the sacrifice on a few civil rights defenders and generosity of foreign donors.”

“History has shown that the collective approach is the most effective way to defend human rights and address impunity in any society.”

“The military regimes which dominated the politics of the majority of the member states of the ECOWAS were compelled to hand over power to civilian regimes in the 1990s.”

“As democracy was handed over to autocrats the region has witnessed official impunity, abuse of human rights, economic mismanagement, grand and systemic corruption, flagrant disregard for national constitutions and grinding poverty.”

“Other legal and constitutional infractions include unconstitutional revisions of national constitutions to keep political leaders in power, and manipulation of electoral and other laws to disqualify political opponents and enhance electoral success for the incumbent.

“The persistent failure of the leadership of ECOWAS to take a preventive and active role in dealing with these threats to democracy, human rights and rule of law has continued to contribute significantly to recurring coups and unconstitutional change of governments in the region.”

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