By Chuks Ehirim
Participants at a one-day town hall meeting on the monitoring of democratic governance and constitutional review for civil society groups and stakeholders in the South-East geo-political zone of Nigeria, have called for the removal of the immunity clause in the constitution which prevented political office holders from facing trial while in office.
They believed that the war on corruption in the country could not succeed if serving governors and others were not held accountable in their management of funds, stressing that removal of the immunity clause would check financial recklessness by politicians. The interactive session held at Villa Tuscana Enugu, was organized by Poverty in Africa Alternative POVINNA, with technical and financial support from the United Nations Development Program,[UNDP].
Describing the immunity clause as the greatest challenge of our democracy, participants accused some governors of mismanaging state funds with impunity and called for an end to the trend if Nigeria must move forward.
The stakeholders also agreed that political office holders should not be entitled to pensions and gratuity, as their few years of service should not be equated with thirty five or forty years put in by civil servants, while the tenure of Attorney-generals should end with the administration that appointed them, even as the forum recommended that their appointment should be based on seniority.
However, to ensure free and fair elections at Local level, without much interference from State power brokers, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, should be allowed to conduct elections at all levels namely, the National, State and Local Governments.
In addition, incumbent public office holders should vacate offices at least ninety days before the elections, pointing out that in the case of governorship position, the chief justice of the state should run the state affairs during the period of elections.
In his submission, the president of International Peace and Civic Responsibility Centre, Awka, Anambra State, Prince Chris Azor, said the best thing that could restore lasting peace in the country would be the amendment of section 8 of the constitution to allow new states to be created adding that creation of additional states in the country was imperative to check glaring inequality, especially in the South-East geo-political zone, which according to
him had been shortchanged in the number of states.
Speakers from Enugu State, Samuel Obiefuna and Onyebuchi Igboke, jointly suggested the expansion of Section 42, sub Section 1 of the constitution, which deals with disability and those living with HIV, to include orphans and other vulnerable groups and recommended the establishment of a National Welfare Commission to alleviate their sufferings.
According to them, “we also support section 100, sub section 56 and section 58, sub section 5a, as recommended by the constitutional reform team, as it will strengthen the legislative arm of government. Also, we support section 121, sub section 3 as recommended, as this will encourage the independence of State Independent Electoral Commission, House of Assembly, office of the Auditor – General, the judiciary and the office of the Attorney
Also speaking, the president of Disabled Persons Empowerment Foundation, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Mr Parkins Uzor, submitted that the 1954 Littleton constitution, which transformed Nigeria into federal states was, the worst constitution Nigeria ever had, because according to him, there was no federal presence in the entire South-East Zone of the country since then, and out of the 774 local governments in Nigeria, the zone has only 94, just as he
called for equity in the polity to justify the return of civil rule in 1999.
Earlier, while declaring the interactive forum open, the executive director of Poverty in Africa Alternative, POVINAA, a non governmental organization, the organizers of the event, Mr. Nebechi Ugwuozor, told the crowded audience that the forum was organized to strengthen the capacities of civil society and other democratic institutions such as the media, political parties, and national and state parliaments to help maximize public participation and confidence in the outcome of elections.
Mr. Ugwuozor, explained that the town hall meeting, sponsored by UNDP, was designed to provide an avenue for Civil Society organizations to monitor the process, and ensure that any amendment to the constitution reflects the true wishes of Nigerians.
He continued: constitutional review is an important process that requires sustained engagement by civil society bodies and the citizens in order to sustain the momentum and enhance the prospect of getting issues that affect the welfare of Nigerians Citizens into the amended constitution. In fact, it was the success of the constitutional review exercise in 2010 which partly accounted for the improvement in the credibility of the 2011 general election.
All four resource persons, who coordinated the brain storming sessions, Dr. Emma Ome, Mrs. Helen Agu, Mrs. Maureen Atuonwu and Clara Obi –Ochiabufor identified with submissions presented on the occasion by the various speakers, drawn from Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia, Imo and Anambra States, while the traditional of Imilike – Etiti, Udenu Local Government area of Enugu State, Igwe Adolphus Onah, showered his royal blessings and advice on the participants to bring deliberations to a close.