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Political Conference Committee Proposes Constitutional Guarantee of Access to Information

 

The National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) Committee on the

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chairman of the Africa Union

Executive has proposed the inclusion of a provision in the new Constitution granting individuals, including the press, “unfettered access to information.”

 

The Committee said such a provision will more effectively expose the excesses of politicians and political parties in order to sanitize the electoral system, if the country is to achieve the goal of conducting free and fair elections.

 

The recommendation is one of the several transparency provisions proposed by the Committee in its 93-page report to the full Conference.

 

The Committee, headed by Alhaji Femi Okunnu (SAN) with Dr. Umaru Dikko as Deputy Chairman, is one of the 19 Committees set up by the Conference to examine various aspects of the work of the Conference.  It was charged with reviewing the system of government and structure of the Executive arm and making recommendations on the system of government to be adopted by Nigeria and other issues related to the Executive.

 

The Committee, which recommended the retention of the presidential system of government, noted that the large scale corruption and absence of transparency and accountability in the body polity today is inimical to good governance and can threaten Nigeria’s young democracy.  It suggested that efforts to eliminate or reduce these vices or problems must be intensified if democracy is to endure.

 

It recommended that there must be public declaration of assets by public officers before, at mid-term, and after the office holder leaves office, saying:  “This is to discourage inflated assets declaration by politicians in the Executive branch of the Government, both at Federal and State levels, who declare funds loaned to them by friends as their own in order to fraudulently swell their assets base, only to withdraw such funds from their accounts immediately after they have been sworn into office.  The asset declarations must be published in the news media and on the internet.”

 

The Committee proposed that all candidates for election to a public office, including those of the President or the Governor, must openly declare their assets at the High Court of Justice before assuming office, at mid-term and on leaving office and that such assets declarations must be made public in the newspapers and on the Internet.

 

It suggested that every Nigerian citizen should have the right to challenge in the High Court or the appropriate tribunal the assets declarations submitted by any public officer, including the President, the Vice President, the Governor or the Deputy Governor of a State.

 

The Committee recommended that the Code of Conduct Bureau established under the Constitution and charged with receiving assets declarations from public officers, should be constitutionally empowered and obliged to publish assets declarations in national newspapers and on the Bureau’s website.

 

According to it, there should also be a National Assets Investigation Panel or Commission to which complaints can be brought against public officers, including the President and the Governors, and the Panel should be constitutionally empowered to investigate the assets of any public officer and make its findings public.

 

It also proposed that the assets of any public officer, especially the President, the Vice President, the Governor or the Deputy Governor of a State in the form of stocks and shares “should be held in blind trust” while he or she is in office.

 

The Committee also recommended that the report of the Auditor-General of the Federation or the Auditors-General of the States should be made public through a publication in the media at the time of their presentation to the Legislatures.

 

It noted that “It is instructive to note that the 1960, 1963, 1979, 1995 (ill-fated) and 1999 Constitutions all failed to include free and unfettered access to information as a right under the chapter on fundamental human rights.  Similarly, there is no reference to accountability and transparency in governance under the Executive arm in the 1960, 1963, 1979 Constitutions.  The ill-fated 1995 Constitution and that of 1999 gave limited recognition to accountability and transparency in governance.”

 

It said it considered the issue of transparency and accountability by public officials as very important features that must be put in place if Nigeria is to attain good governance.

 

According to the Committee, “The near total absence of the twin features over the years and by successive administrations have been the major impediment to the development of a mature social, political and economic climate in Nigeria.  They have sustained the seeming perpetual levels of underdevelopment and poverty.”

 

It identified essential features of transparency and accountability to include issues such as free and fair elections, access to information, recall mechanism, the rule of law, institutional safeguards such as the Independent Corruption Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Code of Conduct Bureau, and the Auditor-General.

 

The Conference will reconvene in plenary sessions from May 23 when it will begin consideration of the reports of the various committees.

 

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