By Abba Dukawa
Please accept my warmest greetings and prayers for more sound health and peaceful stewardship as the speaker of the federal Republic of Nigeria. I have had the unique privilege of watching speaker Femi Gbajabiamila activities as a floor member since 2009.
Currently there is a Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Extend Immunity to Cover Presiding Officers of Legislative Institutions’ being considered in the House of Representatives is uncalled for. The bill already passed for second reading a bill seeking to grant immunity to principal officers of the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly.
The bill sponsored by Olusegun Odebunmi, lawmaker representing Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere Federal Constituency of Oyo State. In fact its untimely bill as the lawmakers need no immunity either to presiding officers of the National Assembly and those of the state Houses of Assembly in each of the 36 states. I don’t think those at National Assembly and 36 state Houses of Assembly need any immunity.
It could be recalled that on January 27, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Legislative House Power and Privileges Act to provide protection for decisions taken by members of parliament in the country.
The law grants the Legislative Houses in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly immunity from litigation for actions taken in plenary or committee proceedings of the House or committee. The law also strengthens the power of the Legislators to carry out their Law making functions. These include power to summon any person to appear before her, give evidence, as well as power of an officer of the legislative House to arrest any person who commits an offense against the Act.
Already Section 308 and Subsection 3 of the section spells out specifically the persons to whom the privilege of immunity from prosecution applies as the president, the vice president, governors and deputy governors. Section 308 of the constitution provides that “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution but subject to subsection 2 of this section (a) No civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to who this section applies during his period of office; (b) A person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise and (c) No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies shall be applied for or issued.
I am not aware of anybody who has been sued for his activities on the floor as senator, member of the House of Representatives or member of the House of Assembly. May be the sponsors of the bill didn’t understand what happened to Saraki. If he remember, they were saying that he did not declare his assets at the end of his tenure as a governor not as a senate president. Base on that federal government dragged him Code of Conduct tribunal , chief Justice of Nigeria was dragged there; any judge can be taken there. Why the sponsors of the bill is saying now that the case should have waited until he finished serving as a principal officer of the National Assembly that is chiefly. So, to save any legislative officer from any pending case is misplaced completely. If it relates to his job as a legislator, he is already immune. If it relates to something he was doing outside there should be no immunity.
As we all knows this immunity has greatly contributed to the highest impunity committed by those elected leaders as the constitution shield them from any prosecution not matter the level of injustice muted to their peoples.
Instead of our lawmakers voted to strip this immunity like what Guatemala Congress has voted unanimously to strip their president of immunity from prosecution for corruption our own lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction trying to grant themselves an immunity.
Nigerians are against any act or any bill seeking to confer immunity on those people. A true legislator does not need that. All he has to do is to follow his conscience, speak conscientiously and he will be okay. it is an abuse of legislative privilege.
For long Nigerians have been clamouring for the removal of immunity especially on criminal matters on governors and deputy governors. And that much was overwhelmingly agreed on at the 2014 National Conference. It was one of those recommendations that attracted the consensus opinion of all the delegates from all over the country. And here we have our elected people without even consulting their constituents wanting to give immunity to their officers from criminal and civil actions for misconduct.
Mr speaker like you have said the present set of House of Representatives would be an agent of change through meaningful legislation toward combating security, poverty, corruption, and other problem facing the country.
I am actually intend to remind you the promises you made to Nigerians before and after your emerged as speaker of the ninth Assembly which ushered your speakership role. Its apt to quote you There Is Much Work To Be Done And We Must Now Pull Together, Roll Up Our Sleeves, Settle Down And Attend To The Peoples Business. Whatever Political Party Each One Of Us May Belong, We Must Be Conscious Of The Fact That Nigerians Are Truly Desirous Of Good Governance And Are Looking To Us To Be The Agents That Will Through Meaningful Legislation Combat Security, Poverty, Corruption, And Other Problems And Contradictions That Have Held Our Country Back And Stunted Our Development.
What further immunity are the lawmakers looking for? Is immunity for principal officers of legislative institutions a major concern of the country presently? I can only say It’s a setback for the rule of law and slap to the faces ordinary, powerless Nigerians. The bill is misplaced and yet some lawmakers want to establish elite immunity to protect themselves from any consequences for serious crimes of corruption and other related crime. Any Public officials who are genuinely committed to the well-being of the state and its people, and to the establishment of an effective and functioning system of administration of justice, should have absolutely nothing to fear.
In spite Nigerians not aware of anybody who has been sued for his activities on the floor as senator, member of the House of Representatives or member of the House of Assembly. So, providing immunity for presiding officers against crimes of corruption and other related is tantamount to ripping up the constitution. It’s a blatant assault on the rule of law and breach of public trust. It’s a form of political corruption for the parliamentarians to abuse their legislative powers, intended for use in the public interest but instead for personal advantage. This is an unacceptable proposition as it gives the impression that both the principal officers of the National Assembly want to be above the law like president, the vice president, governors and deputy governors.
Dukawa can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org