By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has called for a visa-free regime for Commonwealth among the Commonwealth member states.
He emphasised that the quest for stronger ties in the Commonwealth should “transcend the realms of lip service, insular, and protective tendencies” for the organisation to remain relevant.
Ekweremadu made the recommendation on Monday in a lead presentation on “The Role of Parliamentarians in Building Stronger Ties Within the Commonwealth: Including New Trade Issues, Visa Issues, Travel Restrictions, and Non-tariff Restrictions” at the ongoing Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
He said: “Free movement of citizens across Commonwealth borders is key to building stronger ties amongst member states. National parliaments should, therefore, champion visa-free regime for Commonwealth citizens.
“This may begin with certain categories of passport holders. Presently, Nigeria has a visa-free regime with South Africa for citizens with diplomatic and official passports”.
Throwing more light on his recommendation, which was well received and endorsed by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, Ekweremadu also explained that citizens of Commonwealth in West Africa were already enjoying a visa-free regime among member nations, though as a general policy of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.
He urged national parliaments of Commonwealth nations to do more in ratifying travel and trade agreements entered into by the executive arm of their countries, especially where Commonwealth countries were involved.
The lawmaker said since sovereignty resided with the people, it was only natural for the people’s representatives to be at the centre of building the principles, modalities, legal frameworks, institutions, and international partnerships for providing and promoting mutual socio-economic and political development of member nations.
“Parliamentarians should push for relevant legislations to create environments that guarantee smooth and seamless trade agreements amongst member nations.
“Economic restrictions against any Commonwealth state for any reason should be subject to confirmation by parliament, not by Executive Orders.
“It is also time to push for economic partnership protocols among Commonwealth nations”, he said.
He also called on national parliaments of Commonwealth nations to establish specialised committees on trade issues, visa issues, travel restrictions, non-tariff restrictions, among others to make parliamentary inputs more effective in these areas.
Ekweremadu further canvassed stronger parliamentary diplomacy and friendship groups among Commonwealth countries.