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‘ECOWAS needs to be proactive in tackling crisis’

A member of the Liberian Delegation to ECOWAS Parliament, Stephen Zargo, says the Commission needs to be proactive in tackling the crisis in the sub-region. In this interview with Linus Aleke, in Abuja, the Vice chairman of the Community Parliament’s Committee on Trade, Customs and Free Movement, added that the ECOWAS will spend less resources and time if it prevents tragic incidents from happening.

Are you satisfied with the explanation of the ECOWAS Commission on the effort to return Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso to constitutional democracy?

I think more need to be done, there is an effort being made by ECOWAS but when we look at it, case by case, the issue of Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, they are three different countries, though all in West Africa. I specifically ask the question about Burkina Faso, if Burkina Faso is making some progress, we need to treat Burkina Faso’s case differently from that of Mali and Guinea. And I am also concerned about Guinea because, Guinea is a next-door neighbour to Liberia and whatever happens in Guinea affects us in Liberia because of the proximity, the cultural tie, political similarities, and a lot more other things we have in common. So, I am concerned and ECOWAS needs to do more. We need to be more proactive going forward than allow tragedy to occur first before we start taking action. We spend less resources and time if we prevent tragic incidents from happening. Therefore, the ECOWAS Parliament and ECOWAS Commission need to do more. It is not time to apportion blame on one ECOWAS institution, it is all of the ECOWAS approach, the Parliament, the Commission, and the Court of Justice. They need to work together to ensure that these crises are nipped in the bud so that the issue of coup d’état can become history in the ECOWAS region. We should be in a new dispensation, coup d’état should not be happening. But to ensure that it does not occur again in our region, we must be deliberate in creating an enabling environment for all the political actors to operate. The oppositions should not be made to feel disadvantaged in such a way that they would conceptualize or hatch the idea of actualizing their political aspiration through the back channel, as had already happened in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso.

I understand the issue of the political crisis in Senegal came up during your committee meeting, what is the true situation now?

I think Senegal is one of the most flourishing countries in West Africa. Senegal and Cape Verde are the only two countries in West Africa that had not had a coup in their political history. So, we do not want to wait till the situation explodes. The indications in Senegal as it relates to the opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, and the real case against him is something that ECOWAS is getting involved in hugely, so, that the peaceful and progressive country is not put into chaos. An attempt is being made and we are been informed by the Commission. It is, however, pleasing to know that there are back-door channels that are been explored to resolve the crisis, tapping into the expertise of the Council of the Wise. We need the wisdom of the Council of the Wise to ensure that Senegal is safe and better. So that Senegal can continue to work towards the peace and stability of West Africa.

Do you think the advisory role of the Commission is necessary at this point?

Well, to say that the advisory role of the commission is unnecessary will be a huge disservice. I believe the engagement was good and we all went into the engagement with an open mind and complemented each other. The discussion was good, we informed each other of the challenges and prospects. It was a good engagement. Our opinions are not necessarily advisory, we can push further to ensure that we have engagement in other countries we visited. In some instances, actions are taken on issues, while we are still in the country. Remember when a member of Parliament in Senegal assaulted a lady, we swiftly dispatched ECOWAS female MPs to Senegal, and action was taken on the matter immediately. There are some cases that interventions were made and solutions are been sought, though not in all of them, the good news is that some progress is been made.

The previous Parliament before this one was more vibrant in terms of oversight functions as they visited most border towns to checkmate extortion by immigration officials, why is this Parliament not active?

Well, I am not happy about the situation, but that is my opinion. Our engagement is not commendable. We need to reach out, so, that ordinary men in Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, or Niger will know what we are doing here in Abuja. Even in Abuja here, we need to expand it to other areas in Nigeria, the far North, the West, and the East, and not just the northern town of Abuja. We have a huge challenge in terms of reaching out. We have a responsibility of reaching out to our people so that they will know our functionality, we are not doing that and that is a challenge. If we do a comparative analysis, we would discover that the era of the former Speaker, Rt. Hon Moustapha Cisse Lo was more engaging. Parliament reaches out more to community members than we are doing today. The outreach now is not holistic, we need to reach out more to measure up with the previous Parliament. People need to know about what we are doing.

It is an open secret that most of the political crises in West Africa are orchestrated by incumbent leaders’ refusal to allow opposition to thrive, have you, as a Parliament, looked the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government in the face and challenged them with this fact?

One Member of Parliament was specific in asking the question, especially as it relates to talking to the leaders in the open and we said, that it is time we need to call a spade, a spade. The inability to look at issues in the face and discuss it squarely has brought us to where we are. Let us take Guinea for example, did we not see it coming? Did we not see what Prof. Alpha Condé was doing? Did we not see it coming? What is happening in Senegal, I do not know, I need to check it up. I don’t know if the incumbent President is going for a third term or second term that was the question I asked the Commission but it was not answered. Again I agree with you that some of the problem we face in West Africa is our creation and we need to look at each other in the face and tell ourselves the truth for the survival of this region.

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