Big Interviews

Nigeria signposts beauty of African culture – Snowe Jr, ECOWAS MP

The leader of the Liberian delegation to the Community Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe, Jr, says Nigeria signposts the beauty of African culture. In this interview with Linus Aleke, the Liberian Senator who spoke after the just concluded second extraordinary session of ECOWAS Parliament in Nigeria, further said ECOWAS Parliament cannot function outside a Supplementary Act

How realistic is the effort of ECOWAS to bring back Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger?

To be honest, it is a difficult task, but I think it is possible. For too long, the Parliament that represents the citizens of the community has been actively involved in this matter. However, it is been driven more by the ECOWAS Commission. Now that the Parliament is getting vigorously involved, I think it is not too late, but I believe the first step is to get the Parliament of the affected countries to come back to the ECOWAS Parliament as was done to Guinea to see if we can start the reunion and reintegration effort from that stage. The Speaker has intimated that hopefully in the next few weeks, we would have an Ad hoc committee that would be constituted to visit those countries, to see if we would be given entry, and to see if we would be allowed to meet them, then we can take it from there. The issue is very sensitive, as a matter of fact, during the session, I suggested to the Speaker that there are things that we cannot say in public. I have attended a summit of the Heads of State and a mediation meeting for the Chief of Defence Staff and the intelligence community and I have had individual meetings with different Heads of State and some things cannot be said there because it is very sensitive. But we have to go in there, formulate a strategy, and go in there to see how best to convince our brothers and sisters to come back to the Community Parliament.

There are insinuations, even amongst ECOWAS MPs that the Community Parliament is a lame dog, how independent is the ECOWAS Parliament?

If you remember during the inaugural session, the Chair of the Authority, President Tinubu, was very clear. He charged the ECOWAS Parliament to get more involved in mediation. The President of the ECOWAS Commission did likewise. During the April 29 election in Togo, I met with the President of Togo and he also lamented that the Parliament should get more involved because the Parliament is the true representation of the people. So, we have had numerous calls from numerous Heads of State, including the Chair of the Authority. I had a meeting with Nigeria’s permanent representative to ECOWAS, Ambassador Nuhu, and we both agreed that there are things that we cannot say in the open.

This current Parliament has shown seriousness and has also exhibited a lot of energy, are you going to sustain this positivity till the end?

I like the energy I am seeing so far, sustainability, yes, you are right. The fortunate part, I believe is that we have just elected a new speaker who was a member of the past Bureau. I think she has taken her time to see some of the weaknesses and the shortcomings and now that she is presiding, I hope that she would see those mistakes as a strength to see how best we can rebrand the Parliament, get the Parliament involved in mediation activities, get the Parliament involved in Parliamentary diplomacy and assert self as a relevant Institution in ECOWAS by building sustainable structures.

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During the session, you spoke extensively on the strategic plan and rules of procedure, how would these help the current legislature to succeed?

It would help the current legislature succeed. Again, as I said, there is a lot of energy and vigour, and the MPs are willing and eager to give their best. Things are changing, and people think we should have more rules to cover these changes, but as we settle in, fatigue will set in because this job comes with passion. Sometimes, if it is about the missions, or just wanting to be somewhere, you will get tired before you know it but we have the passion to ensure the Parliament succeeds. We will see more and I am very happy that I chaired the Committee on Political Affairs, Peace and Security. Even with the new rules that have given some of our powers to the Bureau, it is going to be short because Parliament doesn’t work through the Bureau, Parliament works through committees. Again, politics has been played and I am a sound politician, I have been in politics for many years. We would make sure the voices of the Parliament must be heard through the committees.

Why did you not speak out against the new changes, especially when some of your powers were given to the Bureau?

Sometimes you give people a chance to hear from them. The first thing is to understand ECOWAS Parliament and to understand ECOWAS Parliament, you must understand the Supplementary Act. The Supplementary Act of the ECOWAS Parliament is the constitution, so we cannot do anything outside the Supplementary Act. Once we begin to do that we are going to derail the Parliament. During the session, I pointed out the fact that we are not sovereign. The situation in ECOWAS Parliament is different from what we have in our individual national Parliament. The Supplementary Act is the guiding principle of the ECOWAS Parliament. By and large, you would not want to be seen as filibustering or having a monopoly over knowledge. Sometimes, you allow things to flow and during the quiet moment, you go in and set the record straight that is how I look at it.

What in your opinion is stalling the direct election into ECOWAS Parliament?

I think that there is still some lip service being played. I think the space, the sovereignty, and the independence of the Parliament so to speak is not well received yet. Sometimes that is why we try to guide our colleagues, especially the new ones on the floor. Again if you don’t understand the Supplementary Act and you think that this is your National Parliament, so be it. But sometimes, when the Heads of State get the feedback, they become alarmed. They will say for instance, that they have not given full legislative powers to the sub-regional Parliament yet, and this arrogance and inventiveness is thrown at them, what if… So we have to be very diplomatic about some of these positions that we take or canvass. But like I said, it takes some quiet moments, sometimes, when the cameras and microphones are there, we all try to be territorial and show off our turf but we have the quiet moment to move in and advise ourselves appropriately on how we can achieve our aims. My late father used to say to me that ants have many sides, and when you try to kill it, you will see all those parts, so, let us take our time and we will begin to see all the positive parts of the ants.

What is your opinion on bringing ECOWAS Parliament closer to the people through sessions and delocalised meetings?

If there is any ECOWAS Parliament meeting in Liberia, it is certainly going to be outside Monrovia, like it was in Ghana and Nigeria where the sessions were held in Winnba and Kano respectively. I am very impressed with what we saw in Kano, and I was also very impressed with the meetings in Winneba on two occasions. I am jealous, as a person, and I believe that what Nigeria has done, is exceptional. Nigeria is noted for hospitality, they are hospitable and nice people. The kind of hospitality we have received here in Nigeria signposts African culture and we would continue to replicate that in other member states. If Liberia is given an opportunity, to host the meeting soon, rest assured you will see the other side of the beauty of African culture.

Will it be in Bomi County, if Liberia is given the opportunity?

To be honest with you, Bomi still has some shortcomings in hosting such all-important meetings. The issue of accommodations is there but there are some other nice places. There is a county called Grand Cape Mount County, very close to Bomi County, there are very nice accommodations there. It is just 45 minutes’ drive from my farm in Bomi County. There are other places like where Senator Price Johnson and the current vice President come from. The current Vice President, my very good friend. In 2019, we were at pal politically, now he has gone ahead of me but we have a very good relationship. I have been in talks with him on his county hosting the ECOWAS major event. We have a lot of areas we are exploring, but rest assured that if we are given the next opportunity to host the ECOWAS meeting, it will be outside Monrovia.

What is ECOWAS Parliament doing to have its full powers, especially now that its resolutions are not being respected by member states?

We have been pushing for it, but it is something that we still need to do cautiously. The Heads of State have their concerns, legitimate concerns as it were. But don’t forget that even in our respective countries the national assemblies and the executives are always clashing. So, are our Heads of State ready for a regional clash? We have to nurture this process, we have to assure them that we are not demanding legislative powers because we want to rub shoulders with them. But we want to enhance the tenants of democracy, work with them, and project a good image of ECOWAS as being done in the European Union (EU). We are going to work on it and again I am happy that we have a new speaker who was a member of the past Bureau. So, those shortcomings, that the past Bureau could not address, I hope that she will put it on the front banner so that she will be able to achieve them as the current speaker of the Parliament.



Do you see better days ahead for ECOWAS?

Yes, I see better days ahead for ECOWAS, it may be a little challenging, but don’t get me wrong, it is challenging, but I am very optimistic that we are heading in the right direction. Like the speaker said in her inaugural address she chaired the selection committee and one of the rules that she laid down in that selection committee was that as a parliament we would make provision for Mali Niger and Burkina Faso in the different Committees. So, they still have slots there and those are some of the things that we would take to them when we meet them to encourage them to return. So I am very hopeful.

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