Stakeholders from various sectors of the Nigerian economy rose from a Town Hall meeting last week in Birnin Kebbi with a call for the urgent removal of immunity clause from the 1999 constitution in order to stem impunity in the governance of the country.
Participants at the meeting which was organized by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) with support from Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) office of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP), called for the immediate removal of immunity clause for President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor respectively.
The one-day North West Zonal Town Hall meeting which was focused on examining critical issues in the on-going constitution amendment from public accountability perspective, was attended by participants representing civil society organizations (CSOs), community based organizations (CBOs), faith-based organization (FBOs), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Disability groups, women organizations and the media. 62 participants drawn from seven states within the zone including, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano and Kaduna were in attendance at the meeting.
The participants lamented that the weaknesses in the Code of Conduct Bureau have given room for elected officials to continue to resist the declaration of their assets, thereby failing to maintain oath of office.
They also noted that the pervasive corruption in public revenue, expenditure and finance management and due process has adversely affected the accountability framework in the country, adding that lack of accountability in the budgetary process has resulted to weak policies implementation at both the state and federal level.
The forum therefore urged both the National and State Houses of Assembly to carry out more oversight on budget monitoring and avoid allocation penalties to ministry, department and agencies (MDAs) under any investigation, adding that this will further put public accountability to question.
In order to allow for the timely passage of the National/State budgets and discipline in expenditure, the meeting also resolved that budgets must be submitted by the executive to the National/State Assemblies for approval not later than 90 days before the expiration of the fiscal year.
The participants further observed that citizens are not well-informed of their roles and responsibilities to hold political leaders accountable for their constitutional mandates and suggested that CSOs should strengthen the fight against impunity by mobilizing and educating the people on areas to interrogate and do evidence- based advocacy as a panacea for sustainable development in the country.
On the current structure of local governments in Nigeria, the meeting said the weak nature of the existing laws establishing local government administration has paved way for governors to appoint sole administrators rather than elected officials into local government councils. To redress the situation, the participants recommended that local governments should have the first line charge for the strengthening of local council administrations and push for financial autonomy.
The forum also advocated for a clear distinction to be made between Accountant-General of the Federation/State and the Auditor–General to guarantee the independence of the Auditor General’s office.
The participants expressed their appreciation to CISLAC for convening the Meeting and to UNDP for supporting to the important programme, which according to them, is channelled towards deepening democracy as well as knowledge amongst stakeholders on Public Accountability. They equally noted that the engagement was revealing and it provided an opportunity to begin to create bigger conversation amongst players in the constitutional review process in Nigeria.