The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (CCJ) opened for its 2015-16 last Thursday in Abuja, Nigeria.
The occasion afforded stakeholders an opportunity to receive the plans and programs of the Court for the new term, and its up-to-date cumulative judicial scorecard.
A dispatch from the Liberian Embassy in Abuja says officials of ECOWAS institutions, members of the Diplomatic Corps and senior officials of the Federal Government of Nigeria attended the opening ceremony at the Seat of the Court in Abuja.
The theme of the program was “Rule of Law, Democracy and Good Governance: Creating the Enabling Legal Environment for Regional Integration.”
The sub-theme was: “The Role of ECOWAS Court of Justice In Regional Integration: Consolidating The Human Rights Mandate of ECOWAS Court of Justice.”
All seven Justices of the Court were in attendance. They are Maria Do Céu Silva Monteiro of Guinea Bissau, President; Friday C. Nwoke of Nigeria, Vice President; Jerome Traore of Burkina Faso, Dean; Micah Wilkins Wright of Liberia; Yaya Boiro of Guinea; Hameye F. Mahalmadane of Mali, and Alioune Sall of Senegal.
In her opening address, Court President Monteiro bemoaned member states’ delay in setting up competent national authorities to execute the judgments of the Court, in keeping with Article 24 of the 2005 ECOWAS Protocol.
“Despite repeated requests, only three states have complied with this statutory requirement,” the President stated. She named Nigeria, Guinea and Mali, out of fifteen member states that have complied by setting up relevant institutions to enforce the Court’s judgments.
She added: “I wish therefore to seize this opportunity to thank the integrationist and diligent attitudes of the authorities [of Heads of State] and encourage the other twelve remaining members to follow suit. One cannot comprehend a timely and effective justice which is not binding. A strong court of justice, independent and respected will inevitably contribute to the promotion of greater regional integration.”
Regarding logistical challenges of the Court, Justice Monteiro appealed to the Nigerian government to provide resources for the extension of the Court to more spacious and decent premises than the current headquarters, in order to increase the productivity of the various departments making up the Court in processing cases.
According to the Chief Registrar of the Court, Mr. Tony Anene-Maidoh, a total of two hundred and twenty-seven cases have been lodged before the Court since 2003. Presenting the judicial statistics of the Court, Mr. Anene-Maidoh disclosed that the Court had delivered 208 decisions, consisting of 106 judgments, 87 rulings, twelve revisions of judgments and three advisory opinions since 2003.
He also revealed that since the inaugural sitting of the Court on January 22, 2004, it had held a total of 617 sessions.
“Currently, there are 58 pending cases before the Court. A few of these cases have already been adjourned for judgment,” the Chief Registrar said, adding that the Court, for 2015, had thirty cases that had been filed so far.
Mr. Femi Falana, a renowned Nigerian lawyer, who served as the guest speaker of the opening ceremony, stressed the need for member states to establish various Appellate Chambers of the Court in their respective countries. According to him, this would test the “infallibility” of the ECOWAS Court of Justice. Mr. Falana also appealed to ECOWAS authorities to expand the jurisdiction of the Court to handling criminal cases.
Earlier, several personalities delivered goodwill messages. Dr. Toga G. McIntosh, the Vice President of the ECOWAS Commission, reaffirmed the Commission’s commitment and determination to help ease the challenges faced by the Court.
Dr. McIntosh stated, “Among the challenges, we are working very hard to actually implement and execute the decisions, rulings and judgments of the Court. So within the package of our goodwill message is to see how to strengthen our collaboration and strengthen our support to the Court. This is not only the Court in Abuja, but all of our affiliate courts within the [ECOWAS] Community to see how we can execute those decisions and rulings that are in the interest of our sub-region.”
Other speakers included the Coordinator of the ECOWAS Ambassadors, Ambassador Abubacar Samba of Senegal, a representative of the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, and the Director of Civil Litigation and Public Law, Mr. Taiwo Abidogun at the Nigerian Ministry of Justice, who spoke on behalf of the Solicitor-General of Nigeria.
The mandate of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice is to serve as an unbiased arbiter of justice in the ECOWAS sub-region by interpreting Community legal texts, as well as arbitrating cases emanating from Community institutions, member states and Community citizens. The Court’s mandate is provided by the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, and its Supplementary Protocols and Regulations.