By Dennis Agbo & Chinedu Adonu
ENUGU— Political office seekers, who have outstanding election petitions hanging over them, would not be sworn into office under proposals being championed by the Senator Ken Nnamani-led Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee, it emerged yesterday.
Senator Nnamani made the disclosure even as Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, blamed the dwindling fortunes of Nigeria’s democratic experiment on inability to conduct a free and fair elections over the years.
Nnamani spoke at the South-East zonal public hearing on proposed amendments to the Constitution and Electoral Act conducted by the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee.
The hearing, which was attended by political stakeholders from the South-East heard strong proposal for amendments and reforms of both the Electoral Act and the country’s constitution.
Setting the stage for presentations, Chairman of the Committee, Senator Nnamani, said the proposed reform would discourage swearing-in of office holders with cases pending at election tribunals.
Nnamani said the measure would discourage attempts by politicians to win at all costs, noting that politicians were in the habit of deploying unwholesome means to be declared winners following which they would dare their opponents to go to the tribunal.
Nnamani said: “We want to come up with a new system whereby no one can be sworn into office if they have election petitions hanging on their necks. Politicians are fond of fighting to win and saying ‘let us go to court.’
“Experience has shown that majority of the cases in our courts are either pre-election or post-election matters and we want to find a way out of this.
“We want to ensure that after a candidate had spent time to campaign and given the mandate by electorate, such mandates will not be dropped at the court by way of losing in the case.”
Ugwuanyi callsfor reforms
Earlier at the Government House, Governor Ugwuanyi had called for reforms to strengthen the country’s democracy.
He said: “It is a well known fact that our inability to conduct free and fair elections had impacted negatively on our efforts to deepen democracy over the years. Necessary reforms must, therefore, be carried out to resolve all the issues required to be carried out to promote peace and stability in the country,” he said.
Ugwuanyi commended the committee for giving the South-East zone the opportunity to send their views on how to entrench credible, acceptable, violence and rancour-free election in Nigeria.
Stakeholders at the hearing were drawn from the judiciary, political party groups, civil society organizations, the academia and the executive arm of government.
Speaking on the electoral challenges faced by the judiciary in handling both pre and post electoral petitions, Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Ngozi Emehelu, demanded extension of 21 days time lag for filling of petitions after elections and the 180 days statutory period within which election petitions are given to be decided upon.
On it part, a civil society group, Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, demanded that the appointment of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and its board members should no longer be left solely to the discretion of the President but should involve the input of the National Assembly, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders, adding that section 221 of the constitution should be amended to give room for independent candidacy.