Senators and speakers of some state Houses of Assembly on Saturday proposed immunity for presiding officers of the legislature.
The decision was taken at a two-day retreat on constitution review, organised by the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Constitution Review, with the theme, “Towards Ensuring Governance Accountability in Nigerian federalism.’’
If the proposal succeeds and is inserted in the constitution, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who is being prosecuted for false and anticipatory assets declaration as well as alleged forgery, may enjoy some reprieve.
His deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, may also have the forgery case against him dropped.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that 21 lawmakers voted in favour of the proposal while 15 voted against.
The lawmakers argued that presiding officers in the legislature ought to enjoy immunity since the executive and judiciary were enjoying it.
The Chairman Senate Committee on Works, Kabiru Gaya, said the essence of immunity was to guard some public office holders against any form of distraction while discharging their duties.
He said, “there are three tiers of government and only two arms enjoy immunity.
“See what is happening to the President of the Senate now. We are not saying the case in court should be stopped.
“But even yesterday we read in the papers that there is a fresh case of forgery of Senate Standing Rule against the presiding officers and some other persons and all is to destabilise us.’’
Also, the Leader of the Senate, Ali Ndume, who is being tried for allegedly aiding the Boko Haram sect, supported the proposal for immunity for all presiding officers in the three arms of government.
However, he argued that such immunity should be limited to civil offences committed by the officers.
According to him, “for criminal issues there should be no immunity but for civil offences there should be immunity. Whoever it is that is involved in a criminal matter should be prosecuted.’’
The Minority Leader of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, proposed that all National Assembly members and Houses of Assembly members should be given immunity.
He explained that elected officers, who were saddled with the responsibility of ensuring good governance should be allowed to carry out their functions without any form of interference.
“I propose that all principal officers of the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate, should enjoy immunity like the executive.
“So all parliamentarians who have criminal cases can be investigated but they should serve their punishment after office,’’ he said.
However, the Deputy Senate Leaders, Bala Ibn N’ Allah, argued that Nigerians might misconstrue the proposal for immunity for the legislature to mean that they were arrogating so much power to themselves.
He suggested total removal of immunity from all arms of government, adding: “Let us remove immunity from everyone and let there be balance.
“If you give immunity to everybody, a legislator may rape a lady and wait to finish his tenure before being prosecuted because he has immunity,’’ he said.
In a similar development, the lawmakers agreed on rotation of governorship positions among different ethnic groups in states.
They arrived at the consensus with 15 lawmakers voting in favour and seven against.
The lawmakers also proposed that independent candidates should be allowed to vie for political offices and voted against diaspora voting.
Section 308 of the Nigerian Constitution provides for immunity from prosecution for persons holding the offices of President , Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor.
The section reads, “(1) 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 whom 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:
“Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.
“(2) The provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party.
“(3) This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.”
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