Immunity from fraud: Matters arising

  • Friday, 29 March 2013 01:10


For a National Assembly that is fast losing credibility in the sight of many, the demand for immunity for the lawmakers was indeed another unpopular move. Many Nigerians were taken aback a few weeks ago when a bill seeking to extend the immunity powers to the lawmakers passed second reading in the House of Representatives.

The  bill suggest no member of the National Assembly, state  and even  local government councilors will ever be prosecuted no matter what ever they do as long as they are in office.
Members of the House who spoke on the general principles of the bill recently argued that granting of immunity to lawmakers would strengthen democracy and allow members to speak freely without fear of molestation or litigation.

The lawmakers explained that the intent of the proposed amendment was to alter the provisions of Section 4(8) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)
The lawmakers said if the immunity is granted, it will not be alien to Nigeria as even established democracies such as U.S and other African countries have entrenched it in their constitutions.
The countries in which lawmakers enjoy immunity, according to members of Green Chamber, include Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Ghana, Tanzania, among others.
However, the Senate distanced itself from the proposed legislation which many political analysts have seen as demonic which is capable of move the nation democracy backward.
Fielding questions from journalists, Senate Committee Chairman on Information, Eyinnaya Abaribe, who said the Senate was yet to receive a copy of the bill, said the upper chamber would be surprised if the move ultimately aimed at securing immunity for legislators outside the chamber.
Abaribe emphasized that seeking immunity clause for lawmakers would only be necessary if the current law which guarantees immunity for them is found to be inadequate and needs further adjustment.
The senator also said the only privilege for lawmakers is that they cannot be arrested within the National Assembly because they are protected by law.
He said: “I think that the Legislative Powers and Privileges Act already gives every legislator immunity for whatever he or she says on the floor of the chamber so that is already a settled law and fact. It has not been brought to the floor of the Senate yet. The matter, as discussed in the House, we do not have that bill yet. I guess when that bill comes to us, that is when we will see the different provisions so I will be very surprised, if somebody is asking for immunity outside of the chambers of the National Assembly.
“Why will anybody ask for such because we do not want to grant anybody such immunity? I do not think that that will pass the floor of the Senate. Whatever you said inside there is already covered under the Privileges Act. If we see such a bill, then we consider the merit and whatever anybody will bring to us, stated what we have now is inadequate, that is when we will consider the bill.
“If I remember, I had brought up this matter of privileges, something that happened on the floor of the National Assembly and I think I brought it up when they tried to arrest somebody within this place by either the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or so and I think that that is a breach of our privileges.
And anybody who comes here to give evidences is granted immunity to say the truth and nobody can arrest him, he can do that outside the chamber. The same thing is applicable to us who are legislators. No legislator will seek immunity outside the chamber for whatever he does outside of the parliament.”
Since the bill had scaled through second reading in the Green Chamber various interest groups have been expressing their disgust over the bill that the lawmakers claimed that it would deepen democracy when passed into law.
The Save Nigeria Group, human rights lawyers and political groups, had advised the National Assembly not to pass the bill canvassing immunity for the legislators.
Human rights lawyers, Messrs Fred Agbaje and Festus Keyamo, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders and Igbo Youth Congress described the bill as “provocative”.
SNG spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, described the bill as an “aberration” that should be challenged by all Nigerians.
He said, “When Nigerians are talking of removing immunity clause completely from the constitution to checkmate corruption, the legislators are coming up with their own bil.”
He, however, said the group was not surprised by the lawmakers’ move to get immunity for themselves to cover up their acts.
“It is only in Nigeria that legislators will be asking for immunity, which they do not need, except they have plans to contravene the law,” Odumakin added.
In his remarks, Agbaje urged the lawmakers to disregard the bill immediately and address more fundamental issues in the nation.
“This is why there is so much corruption in Nigeria. Rather than putting in place laws that will enhance good governance, the lawmakers are busy thinking of laws that will shield them from corrupt charges.
“This bill is mundane and cannot enhance Nigeria’s national growth,” Agbaje said.
Keyamo said, “The lawmakers are provoking Nigerians. If they pass such a law without constitutional amendment, it will be null and void.
“The constitution guarantees immunity and has covered it all. The bill is inconsistent with the existing law.”
Also, the CACOL Coordinator, Mr. Debo Adeniran, observed that rather than making laws to suit the purpose of those they were representing, the legislators want to constantly compete with the executive.He, therefore, urged the lawmakers to jettison the idea in the interest of peace.
Meanwhile, a former Minister of Youth Development, Senator Olasunkanmi Akinlabi, has called for the abolition of immunity clause for the nation’s president and governors.
Akinlabi, who has declared his intention to contest Osun State governorship election in 2014, spoke at his Ode-Omu country house, on Sunday.
The representative of Osun-West Senatorial District in the Senate between 2003 and 2007 said “There should be no immunity clause for elective office holders on criminal matters. If any elective office holder is involved in a civil matter, I support immunity cover for him or her.
“But if the allegation has to do with an offence that is criminal in nature, I do not think that immunity clause should cover such an elective post holder.”
With the passage of the bill into law acclaimed Mr. “integrity” Farouk Lawan will definitely be out of the hook of judiciary. At the long run National Assembly will now given birth to many “legislooters”, it will be an opportunity for them to collect as many bribes as they want and the police can not prosecute them because they have an immunity to protect  them.
We should not forget that many governors have used the immunity clause in the constitution of the country to siphon the monies that are meant for development of their various for their personal aggrandizement.
The implication of the law to the country is that none of Nigeria political office holder would ever be tried by law because many corrupt governors are still under the watch of Economic Financial and Crime Commission (EFCC) will find a heaven in the National Assembly

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