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LEGISREPORTS EDITORIAL: Reps’ Misguided Quest for Legislative Immunity

Members of the House of Representatives on Thursday March 7, 2013 debated in second reading, a bill to provide legislative immunity for federal lawmakers in the conduct of their duties. After mostly positive reviews and commentaries by the seemingly self-indulgent legislators, the bill was passed to an appropriate committee for further legislative action. The import of this piece of legislation which seeks to make it a constitutional provisional for national assembly members to perform their duties without fear of legal action from any quarter, is that our lawmakers want a cover of protection for their offensive deeds in office.

They want their own Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which guarantees the president, vice president, state governors and their deputies, immunity from criminal and civil prosecution while in office. Incidentally and in line with prevalent public mood, the lawmakers are currently trying to amend the said section which has been mindlessly abused by many governors in the country. But pray in all good conscience, how can our legislators give to Paul (themselves in this case) what they seek to take away from Peter?

But let us, for the sake of objective argument, remove the issue of conscience and natural justice from this proposal by the members of the House of Representatives. What does this bill in question seek to achieve? And in what way is it different from an already existing immunity and privileges platform guaranteed by the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act? And how does it advance the image of the legislature in the eyes of the public? And how does it advance the cause of good governance and democracy which should be the primary objective of patriotic lawmakers? These are critical questions the House members may not have seriously attuned their minds to in seeking to pass this bill.

For the records, the bill reads: “A Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) by providing immunity for members of the legislature in respect of the words spoken or written at the plenary or at committee proceedings, to guarantee that freedom of speech, debates and proceedings in legislative Houses are not impeached or questioned in any Court or place out of Parliament and for related matters.” For the purpose of juxtaposition, the extant Act makes provisions to “declare and define certain powers, privileges and immunities of the Legislative Houses established under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and of the members of such Legislative Houses; to regulate the conduct of

members and other persons connected with the proceedings thereof and for matters concerned therewith.”

If the difference between the existing Act and the Bill is basically a matter of form and not content, then it suggests that our Representatives are on a chase to enshrine a shield for themselves against the repercussions of their misdeeds.

And the antecedents of these lawmakers have shown that they are not to be trusted by Nigerians on the motives of this bill even if genuinely noble as professed.

Several cases in point are of note here. The Farouk-gate bribe for clearance scam on oil subsidy involving Femi Otedola’s Zenon Oil is highly instructive. Though the matter is now finally in court after almost a year of dilly-dallying by the prosecuting authorities, the assumption is that Mr. Farouk Lawan would perhaps have been made to benefit from the intention of this bill if it had become law before now. Even if this assumption is wrong, to the extent that such a bill brings to mind that unsavoury incident to that extent is the image of the House diminished in the eyes of the public on account of this bill.

And then there is the case of Mr. Herman Hembe, the exuberant sacked chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market who got his fingers burnt on bribery allegations against him by the boss of the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Arunmah Oteh.

Nigerians are also rudely reminded of the recent case of Mr. Aliyu Gebi, who was dragged to court in a humiliating manner by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over debts and dud cheque issuance issues.

These sore points do not place the House of Representatives on a sound footing to consider the bill on legislative immunity as it is doing now. It smacks of insensitivity to the feelings of Nigerians and this does not tell well of a House which promised to be on the side of the masses.

LEGISREPORTS NG calls on the Senate to distance itself from this bill for now while we urge the House to purge itself of unpopular pursuits.

Nigerians are desirous of laws and legislative interventions that will improve their lives and make the country a better place. This should remain the primary concern of our House members.

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