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Published On: Wed, Apr 23rd, 2014

Confab c’ttee wants President, govs stripped of immunity

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jonathan-sadBy Patrick Andrew

Members of the National Conference’ Committee on devolution of powers have advocated for a partial removal of immunity clause to allow for all elected officers found wanting to come under the hammer of the law.

By inference, a sitting president and state governor found wanting of corrupt dealing or any criminal offence will be prosecuted and if found wanting, face the wrath of the law.

Also, zonal structure heavily canvassed by South West delegates yesterday in the Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government received knocks from members of the committee who wondered what modalities will be adopted to restructure the federating units into zones.

Members of the committee, who debated on several items under the devolution of power, insisted that the efficacy of the immunity clause has been severely abused by elected officers, most of whom, they argued, have hidden under the clause to perpetrate atrocities against the state and Nigerians.

The delegates, therefore, insisted that the clause be carefully considered to ensure that areas that mischievous officers had taken advantage of should be removed to make it possible for the law to take its full course where necessary.

According to an insider, the Chairman of the committee, Obong Victor Attah, had tactfully sought to divide the house on the matter and was overwhelmingly confronted with ‘yes, remove it’, while those in opposition barely raised their voice subsequently.

Accordingly, the members resolved that immunity be retained in the Constitution on only civil matters but that any elected officer found to have been involved in criminal matters should not enjoy any such immunity.

“At this point, immunity clause must go. Though we have a need to be cautious, so that it will not be abused by unnecessary litigations against an elected officer, the clause should rephrased. Instead of holistically expunging immunity clause from the constitution, we should adopt partial removal of immunity so that elected officers enjoy some immunity on civil matters.

“But in serious cases criminal in nature, and indeed criminal cases, where an elected officer is found wanting there should be no immunity for such officers, the full weight of the law should take its course. This will serve as deterrent to all those who may want to abuse the immunity clause,” a delegate and member said.

Peoples Daily recalls that not a few delegates had during their three minutes each contribution on the March 17 inauguration speech of President Goodluck Jonathan, spoken against the constitutional provision of immunity clause noting that the clause had been severely abused by elected officers who hid under it to perpetrate acts inimical to the interests of the state and people.

Stalemate on new federal structure

Co-Chairman, Mohammed Kumalia, had informed the committee that three ideas were dominant: federal government, zonal structure, the federal government with zonal structures without states but administrative units, and thirdly, the existing three tiers of government.

However, South West delegates Basorun Seinde Arogbofa, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Yinka Odumakin had taken strong positions in favour of dissolving the present federating units in each respective political zones as presently constituted, which are unconstitutional, into legal structures.

They argued that this will allow the zones to create states and local government areas as they so desired and used it to correct the current imbalance, for instance like the South East, which has the least number of states.

But Dr. Sam Egwu, a delegate from Ebonyi state, distanced Ebonyi from the position of South East, which the South West said were in favour of the zonal arrangement, noting that returning to the zonal arrangement would be returning the people of Ebonyi state to slavery of the South East region.

In the same vein, Sen. Mohammed Aruwa, Sule Yahaya Hamma and Adamu Maina Waziri all spoke strongly against the return to Zonal administration, stressing that it lacked convincing modalities. They also contested that the suggestion that the United States, where Nigeria draws it federalism from, states have separate constitutions noting that none of the states has laws that runs contrary to the federal laws.

They also wanted to know how resources accruing to the zones from the federal coffer will be distributed and therefore requested for the South West to bring up superior arguments and not attempt to force their positions on others.

Others also wondered how the interest of the minorities in other regions will be adequately addressed in view of the fact that, unlike the South West which enjoys uniform language, others have multi-language settings and quite difficult to administer in the manner the South West have canvassed.

Waziri, in particular, reminded the delegates that federalism as practised by the United States, Australia, India were made possible because the federating units were either conquered, purchased or negotiated with stressing that the case of Nigeria was different as it was more of a forced union.

Co-chairman General Nwachukwu urged members to ponder over the arguments and ensure that questions raised during contributions are adequately addressed today.

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