Home Latest News Immunity for NASS, States Assembly presiding officers

Immunity for NASS, States Assembly presiding officers

Lawmakers accuse FG of neglecting Eastern Ports

*Gbajabiamila threatens to resign if…

*Elumelu, SERAP kick

*As bill seeking amendment to Constitution pass second reading in House of Reps

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila on Tuesday kicked against the passage of a Bill seeking immunity for presiding officers of the National Assembly, saying it should be deferred to 2023.

He stated this while commenting on the Bill during the debate on its general principles, adding that if the Bill is passed now to give him Immunity, he would resign his position as speaker.

The Presiding Officers are President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy President of the Senate and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Speaker and Deputy Speakers of all State Houses of Assembly.

The House on Tuesday passed for second reading, the bill seeking the amendment of the 1999 Constitution in order to extend immunity to Presiding Officers of the legislature.

In a swift reaction, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has condemned “the passing of a bill seeking to give leaders of federal and state legislatures immunity from prosecution for corruption.”

Responding to the development, SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “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.”

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; and for Related Matters, the bill scaled through second reading after several debates.

Sponsor of the bill, Odebunmi Olusegun (APC, Lagos) said it is intended to protect the institution of the legislature from the distraction caused by unnecessary legal actions against Presiding Officers.

In a lead debate on the general principles of the bill, Olusegun said, in spite of the uninterrupted concentration required for carrying out an effective legislative duty, the institution has suffered serious distractions in the past.

He argued that either genuine or not, such distractions have had a serious negative impact on the quality of legislation, and discouraged presiding officers of the legislatures at national and state levels from “taking the bull by the horn” or take certain critical decisions when necessary, for fear of the unknown.

He said: “Therefore, for our democracy to continue flourishing, no action meant to strengthen the legislative institution could be out of proportion. 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 action 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 democracy”.

But before the commencement of the debate, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila insisted that it should have a commencement date of 2023 when the present leadership of the National Assembly must have ended their tenure.

According to him, “The Bill must be tweaked in such a way that the present presiding officers will not benefit from it, make it futuristic in terms of the commencement date. The commencement date should be 2023 when the present leadership of the National Assembly tenure elapses”.

Disagreeing however,  Hon.  Luke Onofiok (PDP, Akwa Ibom) said it is a constitutional amendment and as soon as when passed and assented to by the President, the bill will start immediately, hence commencement date was not necessary, adding that, “since we are in the process of constitution amendment we should include it there”.

Gbajabiamila insisted that implementation should be deferred to 2023, adding that “someone like me may not support such moves now, and will not hesitate to step down from my position as speaker if necessary”.

Speaking in favour of the bill, the Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa said it should be passed for the simple reason that it provides protection for leaders of the legislature considering the important works of the legislature.

Also, Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, said it will guard against the compromise of the legislative arm, as according to him, “We are all witnesses to how the presiding officers were subjected to trial. We should avoid such from happening again”.

Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu who opposed the bill told the lawmakers that their primary interest should be welfare and security of their constituents and faulted the timing of the bill.

“Outside there, our people are being killed and butchered. We are coming up with a bill on the issue of immunity while some of us are saying that people should be held accountable for what they do. I think it is wrong and it should not be allowed”, he stated.

The Bill was passed when put to question and referred to the special ad-hoc committee on constitution amendment when constituted for further action.

Meanwhile, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has condemned “the passing of a bill seeking to give leaders of federal and state legislatures immunity from prosecution for corruption.”

Responding to the development, SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “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.”

SERAP said: “The leadership of the House of Representatives must immediately withdraw this obnoxious bill. We will vigorously challenge this impunity.”

The statement read in part: “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.”

“Whereas countries like Guatemala have voted unanimously to strip their president of immunity from prosecution for corruption our own lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction.”

“The message seems to be that in Nigeria, powerful and influential actors must not be and are not subject to the rule of law. It’s simply not proper for lawmakers to be the chief advocates of immunity for corruption.”

“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 are above the law.”

“If the House of Representatives should have their way, this will rob Nigerians of their rights to accountable government.”

“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.”

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