Nigerians have continued to react negatively on the proposed bill coming from lawmakers to grant immunity for all its presiding officers at the National Assembly.
The bill is proposing 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.
Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives 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 seeks to alter Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution to extend immunity to cover presiding officers of legislative institutions.
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. 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.
The bill before the House of Representatives titled “‘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,’ seeks to extend immunity to four presiding officers of the National Assembly and those of the state Houses of Assembly, two in each of the 36 states.
Debating the bill in the House of Representatives, Odebunmi said the proposal was to protect the legislative arm of government. He said: “Extending immunity to the presiding officers of the national and state assemblies is not a means of shielding them from answering any question generated by their actions, or preventing members of the House from exercising their powers of choosing or changing their leaders when required as provided for by the laws, but a genuine way of protecting the most sacred institution in a democracy.”
Many lawmakers opposed the bill, including the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, who noted that he would only support the proposal if it would take effect from 2023 after the end of the tenure of the current leadership. Nevertheless, the House resolved to take the bill to Nigerians to either reject or accept it through a public hearing.
But Nigerians on social media specifically on urban Express-News Platform on Facebook are saying there are more important things that are affecting national development that our lawmaker should rather focus on and not “immunity clause for presiding officers of the National Assembly”
Kolawole Bamigbade, a follower of urban express news fan page say “providing immunity for presiding officers against crimes of corruption is tantamount to ripping up the constitution. It’s a blatant assault on the rule of law and breach of public trust.”
Oluyinka Raheem said: “It’s a huge setback for the rule of law that the same privileged and powerful leaders of parliament that regularly make laws that consign ordinary, powerless Nigerians to prison for even trivial offences yet again want to establish elite immunity to protect themselves from any consequences for serious crimes of corruption and money laundering.
“So, I think they want a legal provision that would enable them or their principal officers to perpetrate crime. That is why I said that it is in very bad taste; they should kill it. It is an embarrassment both nationally and internationally that it went up to the second reading. It shouldn’t go beyond that. If it goes to public hearing they will be so thoroughly embarrassed by what Nigerians will say. So, they should just save themselves from such embarrassment.”