July 28, 2013 by LEKE BAIYEWU and ALLWELL OKPI
Human rights and civil society groups have said the partial removal of immunity clause by the House of Representatives in the ongoing constitution review will not check the spate of corruption in the country.
The groups said impunity was the bigger challenge facing the country and not corruption, adding that more emphasis should be placed on implementation and enforcement of existing criminal laws.
The House had on Wednesday, while passing 85 new clauses to the 1999 Constitution (as amended), rejected immunity for the President, Vice-President, state governors and their deputies facing criminal charges.
With the amendment, the beneficiaries of the clause would vacate office, if convicted of any criminal offence.
Of the 339 at the plenary session, 306 had voted to remove the clause, 17 opposed it, while 14 abstained. The House has 360 members.
Reacting to the amendment, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project said what the country needed was the political will to enforce existing criminal laws without fear or favour.
The Executive Director, SERAP, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, told SUNDAY PUNCH in an interview that only 74 Nigerians enjoyed the protection for a maximum of eight years.
He queried why many public officers found to be corrupt and who did not enjoy the constitutional protection had not been prosecuted.
He expressed concern over the failure to prosecute corrupt former heads of government that had stopped enjoying immunity from prosecution.
He warned against executive cover for criminal suspects because they were associates of those in power.
Mumuni said, “The immunity clause covers only 74 people in Nigeria – the president, vice-president, 36 governors and their deputies. What has been done to all those that do not enjoy the immunity? Some (former) governors no longer enjoy immunity but what has been done about their investigations, which show that they stole and embezzled state funds?
“The issue is not about removing the immunity clause. While I agree that it is a step in the right direction, I don’t think it will solve any problems. The question is, ‘Where is the political will and the seriousness to take on anybody that has carried out corrupt activities headlong, no matter who they are?’
“It is not about the National Assembly making or amending laws; there are sufficient laws to tackle corruption in Nigeria. The challenge is implementation and enforcement of those laws. The laws should be applied even-handedly not selectively. Two plus two must not be four for some people, nine for another, and 13 for others.”
The Executive Chairman, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, in a separate interview, described the removal as tricking the public into believing that the House was responsive to their needs.
Adeniran said, “What they (the House) need to do is to get themselves busy with carrying out their oversight functions over the other arms of government, ministries, departments and agencies. If they had got themselves busy with this, all the criminal acts committed by governors and others would have been nipped in the bud. At the end of the day, they would have been seen to be proactive.”
The Save Nigeria Group, however, said the removal was necessary to remove the shield covering the beneficiaries from prosecution.
The spokesperson, SNG, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said, “It is the best thing that ever came out of the House of Reps because the immunity is an irregularity in our constitution. It shields criminals from prosecution and encourages the culture of impunity.
“We have had leaders who did wonders in this country without immunity. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo carried out all he did in the Western Nigeria, did he enjoy any immunity? If anybody needs immunity to function as a governor, it means he’s a criminal.”
He disagreed that frivolous petitions would lead to distraction.
Odumakin noted that the judiciary was competent to strike out frivolous petitions, adding that filing such was a punishable offence.
The President, Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Odumakin, equally said the removal of the clause from the constitution would help in the fight against corruption.
She added that the judiciary should also be strengthened to give the anti-graft war more bite.
She said, “The removal of immunity clause is long overdue. It is going to help in fight against corruption because those big time thieves have always shielded themselves under the immunity clause. With this removal, they will know that there is no hiding place.
“They will know that they will be held accountable by the law for any of their actions. It is not proper for some people to be above the law.”