Federal Gov’t Seeks Reforms To Avoid Conflict Between ECOWAS, National Courts

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Nigeria’s Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) has called on the ECOWAS Judicial Council to initiate a reform-oriented review of the practice and procedure of the ECOWAS Court of Justice to avoid conflicts with national courts.

Fagbemi said the review is to make the court realise envisioned potential as a respectable regional court.

The AGF, while addressing the opening ceremony of the Statutory Meeting of the ECOWAS Judicial Council in Abuja, said the Council should also provide credible network for the promotion of uniform rules of practice and procedure in the administration of justice to reduce conflict of laws in the region.

He said the ECOWAS Judicial Council stands in a proper position to work towards the promotion of rule of law and democratic governance, which has come under intense pressure in recent times.

According to Fagbemi, as the ECOWAS bloc continues to work towards achieving uniform economic policies and institutions, the judiciary should not be left behind.

He said, the challenges confronting the judiciary or the justice system in general across the West African states are identical in terms of judicial autonomy, provision of funding and infrastructural facilities for the courts, among others.

In the same vein, he said member states also share the challenges confronting the region in terms of economy, migration, integration, insecurity and enforcement of fundamental rights.

The AGF enjoined the ECOWAS Judicial Council to utilise the regional platform as an avenue for peer review and cross-fertilisation of ideas to address these issues to achieve greater independence of the judiciary and a more prosperous and safer sub-region.

Speaking earlier, the Chairman of the Council and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola said the ECOWAS judicial body is working towards ensuring a just and equitable society.

He also charged member states to work towards
safeguarding the principles of justice, upholding the rule of law, and advancing the cause of peace and prosperity.

Ariwoola then called on members of the Council to reflect on the progress, challenges facing the Court, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

“Let us reaffirm our commitment to the protection of human rights, the promotion of regional integration, and the resolution of disputes through peaceful means,” he charged.

Justice Ariwoola urged participants at the meeting to contribute meaningfully to the deliberations for the two days ahead and develop concrete recommendations to be sent to the Authority of Heads of State and Government to improve regional justice delivery in the sub-region through the ECOWAS Court.

In his speech, the President of the Community Court of Justice, Eward Amoako Asante restated the commitment of the Council to upholding the principles of justice, equity and the rule of law within the ECOWAS Community.

Since its inception, he said, the ECOWAS Court of Justice has served as a beacon of hope for the people of West Africa by providing a platform for the resolution of disputes as well as the protection and enforcement of
fundamental rights.

He reminded that at the last meeting of the Judicial Council in Abuja in February 2024, two important Committees were set up with clear terms of reference and tasked to report to the plenary with their recommendations.

One of the committees was specifically tasked with exploring possible ways of enhancing the enforcement of the court’s decisions and the other to review the Council’s Rules of Procedure to better facilitate its operations.

He said the Court, as the beneficiary of all the innovative measures of the Council, deployed three senior staff members to assist the Secretariat of the Council in facilitating the proceedings of the committees.

While commending the Council’s efforts to secure the effective implementation of the Court’s decisions, he submitted that the current normative framework that allows citizens of the Community to access the Court without first exhausting local remedies is not, and should not be viewed that the ECOWAS Court does not have, or
pretend to have an appellate jurisdiction over, nor is it in competition with national courts.

“Parties have a choice as to which Court to access, and where they access both the ECOWAS Court and the National Court simultaneously, the ECOWAS Court stays its hands and order them to proceed to deal with the matter before the National Court,” Amoako said.

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