The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, has advocated full integration in Africa using the legislative instrument to have a common passport, market and a single customs and monetary union.
Speaker Gbajabiamila, who spoke at the opening of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Africa Region 51st Conference in Abuja on Thursday, said there was the need to “agree to use the instruments of trade and common markets to set us irreversibly on the path to a future of honourable peace, abiding prosperity and brotherhood amongst the nations of Africa.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, declared the 51st CPA Africa Region open.
Gbajabiamila, in his welcome address, noted that the CPA Africa Region had and would continue to play an essential role in advancing democracy in Africa, noting that it provided an opportunity for parliamentarians across Africa to engage with and learn from each other about the challenges they shared and the strategies for overcoming them.
He said: “…let us commit ourselves to using the tools of parliamentary diplomacy and authority to enable the achievement of a common Passport, a common market and a single customs and monetary union that will make full African integration possible. Let us agree to use the instruments of trade and common markets to set us irreversibly on the path to a future of honourable peace, abiding prosperity and brotherhood amongst the nations of Africa.”
The Speaker lamented a situation where Africa witnessed a reversal of the democratic gains made over the past two decades in Sudan, Mali, Guinea, Niger and Chad, amongst others.
“It is, therefore, apt that we have chosen to make addressing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic the theme of our Conference this year. This will allow us to critically examine the present conditions across Africa, consider options for building political and economic resilience using the tools and powers of parliament, and affirm our shared commitment to the goal of a democratic, free and prosperous continent,” he said.
Through annual conferences, seminars, workshops, parliamentary visits and exchanges, Gbajabiamila said, the association had helped build and expand parliamentary expertise and capacity for legislators and legislative staff across the continent both at the national and sub-national levels.
He said the work of the CPA Africa Region was sustained by innovation and the creative use of limited resources, citing the Investment Board as one of such innovations, which allowed it to venture into a commercial activity that saw plans for the construction of a 5-star multipurpose hotel in Dodoma, Tanzania hatched.
Despite that, however, Gbajabiamila said challenges still abound, and that they were working to overcome them.
He added, “For one, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is a Charity organisation registered under the laws of the United Kingdom. Over the years, we in the Africa region have championed the campaign to change status from a Charity to an International Association. A Bill has been introduced in the Parliament of the United Kingdom to effect this outcome.
“However, the process has been slow. Therefore, there is an obvious and urgent need to rethink our strategy. In this regard, we will be seeking the support of the Heads of Government to intervene at the level of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to enable us to resolve this matter as soon as it is possible.”
He noted with delight how “the Commonwealth Youth Parliament continues to help deepen the appreciation for democracy amongst Africa’s young people by allowing them to see how parliament works and learn the values of debate, negotiation, and principled compromise that sustains the collaborative framework of democratic governance.”
Gbajabiamila said he, alongside the Speakers of Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa, convened the Conference of Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments (CoSAP), born of the recognition that the Covid-19 pandemic would impose fundamental alterations in global politics, economics and the relationship between nations.
“We believe that increased collaboration between African Speakers is necessary to protect our shared interests in this new paradigm. Our principal objective is to facilitate increased collaboration and cooperation between Speakers, Heads of Parliament and National Assemblies across Africa to advance African development. We are working on expanding the membership and participation of parliaments across the continent”, the Nigerian Speaker stated.
He thanked both President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo for their support in honouring the CPA’s invitation to declare the conference open.
Gbajabiamila also encouraged delegates at the conference to take the opportunity to consider the prospects for collective advancement and shared prosperity that existed in the free movement of people, goods and services across Africa.
In a remark, Rep. Zainab Gimba, who is the chairperson, Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, Africa Region, said women were constrained from achieving the highest leadership position, noting that issues pertaining to women shall be at the front-burner during sensitization workshops at the conference.
There were goodwill messages from Mr. Stephen Twigg, the Secretary-General, CPA; Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger, the acting chairperson of the CPA International Executive Committee, and the Chairperson, CPA Africa Region Executive Committee and Speaker of Kenyan National Assembly, Rt. Hon. Justin B. N. Muturi, represented by Vice Chairperson of the Executive Committee, Dr. Christopher Elila.