Tired of presidents in West Africa changing their constitutions to run for third term in office and creating instability, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is planning to enact a new clause that will prohibit presidents of member countries from staying beyond two terms.
This clause will be tabled at the next ECOWAS meeting this week. Reliable ECOWAS sources told The Finder that when adopted, the clause will bind all member states, even though proponents are not sure if member states will abide by the clause.
Political analysts say a situation whereby elected presidents who swear to protect the constitution often end up messing up the same through kangaroo referendums to remove term limits and run for third, fourth and as many terms as they want amounts to ‘civilian coup,’ which should equally be condemned as military coup d’états.
Examples are the cases in Togo, Niger, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.
To enforce the new clause that prohibits third term as well as all protocols, conventions, declarations and directives, ECOWAS is also considering the adoption of a new legal regime for Community Acts that will make all ECOWAS decisions immediately applicable and binding on member states and eliminate parliamentary approvals.
Information on ECOWAS website indicates that the new legal regime for Community Acts is part of the transformation of the Secretariat into a Commission.
Until now, obligations of member states were captured principally in Protocols and Conventions which are subject to lengthy parliamentary ratification processes by each member state.
These processes delayed the entry into force of the legal texts, thereby paralysing the integration process.
Decisions of the authority were, however, immediately applicable and binding on member states whilst those emanating from the Council of Ministers were only applicable and binding on the Community Institutions.
Under the new legal regime, the principle of supranational becomes more pre-eminent and there is now a de-emphasis on the adoption of Conventions and Protocols.
Community Acts will be Supplementary Acts, Regulations, Directives, Decisions, Recommendations and Opinion. Thus, the authority passes Supplementary Acts to complete the Treaty.
Supplementary Acts are binding on member states and the institutions of the community.
The Council of Ministers enacts Regulations and Directives and makes Decisions and Recommendations.
Regulations have general application and all their provisions are enforceable and directly applicable in member states.
They are enforceable in the institutions of the community. Decisions are enforceable in member states and all designated therein. Directives and their objectives are binding on all Member States.
The modalities for attaining such objectives are left to the discretion of states.
The commission adopts Rules for the implementation of Acts enacted by the Council.
These Rules have the same legal force as Acts enacted by the Council. The Commission makes recommendations and gives advice. Recommendations and advice are not enforceable.
Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe has been re-elected for a third term. Last year, opposition protests failed to bring about constitutional changes limiting the president to two terms in office – a move that would have prevented Mr Gnassingbe from standing.
Cameroon’s Paul Biya has become a Life President for the country after removing term limits; the same in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
None of these civilian coups have been sanctioned by AU or any Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
In Burkina Faso, long-ruling President Blaise Compaore attempted to scrap limits last year and was driven out of power by protests.
In Benin, opponents allege a secret bid to scrap term limits so President Thomas Boni Yayi can run for a third term from 2016, but in reaction, the President has promised to leave power when his mandate expires.
In Niger, former President Mamadou Tandja used the parliament to rubber stamp the outcome of a discredited referendum and was only stopped by a counter military coup.
In Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo’s attempt was only foiled by a resilient Nigerian population.
In Senegal, a new President Macky Sall emerged after a failed ‘civilian coup’ staged by outgoing President Abdoullaye Wade, 85, to have a third term.
Throughout his 12-year reign, President Wade amended the constitution 14 times with the acquiescence of a weak parliament that acted in cahoots with Wade as a rubber stamp.
Wade also used the discredited Constitutional Council to validate his candidacy and disqualify Youssou N’dour and others four weeks before the February 2012 election, throwing the country into major violence that resulted in at least six deaths, disruption of work and destruction of properties.
In June 2011, Wade proposed an amendment to replace the constitutional requirement of 50% plus 1 with 25% in order to win presidential elections.
It was the 15th amendment after the previous 14 that passed swiftly.
It did not seem like a big deal that the 15th would pass, but a previously disinterested Senegalese public suddenly awoke to stop the amendment, where the parliament had become thoroughly compromised.