This Public-Private Sector dialogue was organized by NANTS with support from the European Union and the German International Cooperation (GIZ) under the Strengthening Nigeria’s Trade Support Institutions (SNTSi) Programme.
Participants were drawn from various stakeholders groups cutting across the relevant MDAs, regional institutions, private sector, cross border traders, legal profession, law students, media, etc.
The Dialogue was convened to examine avenues towards promoting redress for traders and other business actors in cases of violation of ECOWAS Treaty and Protocols relating to freedom of movement, rights of residence and establishment within the region. Specifically, the event focused on identifying possible strategies towards the expansion of the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court of Justice to cover issues relating to infraction of regional instruments regarding trade and other forms of business activities, especially the possibility of using strategic litigation in this regard. The event also explored strategies towards advocating for political action on the part of member States with a view to amending the Protocol setting up the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
The two-day event had presentations from various experts which focused on the practical experiences and issues that call for litigation along the ECOWAS border routes, the possible legal avenues for cross border business operators to obtain legal redress in cases of infraction of regional instruments and the limitations of these avenues, proposals for addressing the challenges, etc. Presentations were followed by lively debates among participants which brought to the fore some experiences and frustrations from the field, intricacies of the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, legal postulations on the applicability/enforceability of ECOWAS legal instruments in the Nigerian courts, etc.
At the end of the two-day event, participants arrived at some conclusions and resolved as follows:
- That the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the region is fundamental to the realization of collective prosperity within the region, therefore, national governments must take all necessary actions towards complying with the regional instruments aimed at achieving a common economic space within the region.
- That the current lack of enforcement of regional instruments by the member states occasion untold hardship for the community citizens who derive their livelihood from cross border business activities, hence the need for alternative strategies of enforcement.
- That since the domestic courts of member states are incompetent to adjudicate on contraventions of regional instruments, there is need to have an effective regional platform for the adjudication of those infractions/infringements.
- That the ECOWAS Court of Justice is a potential forum for the adjudication of trade related regional instruments. Therefore, there is need for advocacy towards the expansion of the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court of Justice (hitherto limited to human rights) to cover trade related issues as part of economic rights.
- That Stakeholders’ should advocate towards the amendment of the ECOWAS Treaty to allow for suprantionality of the body as obtained in the UEMOA system.
- That similarly, advocacy should be geared towards persuading member states to domesticate ECOWAS instruments in countries where domestication applies.
- That the Non-State Actors should explore the option of Strategic Litigation by bringing cases before the ECOWAS Court of Justice that seek to test the extent of the human rights jurisdiction of the Court, especially since some of the trade related infractions have human rights undertone.
- That Nigeria needs to play a more proactive role in shaping the regional integration agenda especially by complying with regional instruments and using its political and economic weight to ensure that other countries do the same.
- That Stakeholders should liaise with and seek collaboration of public interest lawyers to initiate cases at the ECOWAS Court of Justice on possible pro bono basis.
- That Stakeholders should also explore advocacy towards the establishment of specialised courts with trade law competence to adjudicate over trade related issues (such as customs valuation, certification, etc) at the national levels.
Download Full publication : Communique – ECOWAS STL Gaps PPD, Lagos – Nov 2015