Immunity For National Assembly Presiding Officers Misplaced, Self-serving By Seun Awogbenle

Let’s put it clearly, the bill seeking to alter section 308 of 1999 constitution, to extend immunity to presiding officers of the National Assembly is not only misplaced, it is morally repugnant, self-serving and a brazen abuse of legislative powers. It is irreconcilable that in this season of anomie, mass killing, kidnapping, banditry, complete breakdown of security and total disregard for lives and limbs, those who are empowered with the responsibility to protect Nigerians are only preoccupied with protecting their excesses and shielding themselves from public prosecution.

I am deeply sad, that at a time when almost everywhere in the country is turning into a graveyard, the legislators can show this level of disregard for the feeling and mood of the Nigerian people. Tragic!  In typical Orwellian fashion, the idea of immunity for presiding officers of Nigeria’s legislature, betrays the principles of social justice and will constitute a cog in the progress of the administration of criminal justice system.

I am shocked that the legislators would be demanding for another brand of immunity for presiding officers, when matter-of-factly they presently enjoy immunity from words and actions in parliament as part of their legislative rights and privileges. On January 27, 2018 President Muhammadu Buhari signed among other bills into law the Legislative House Power and Privileges Bills, the law grants members of the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly immunity from prosecution for actions taken in plenary or committee proceedings of the house committee. By simple deduction, the legislators simply do not want to be held accountable for actions even outside the precincts of the parliament, including those of public service corruption, fraud and money laundering! One thing is clear that the legislators want the principal officers of the legislature to live beyond the law and be judged by a different set of parameters. A bill that protects the interest of the elite and powerful is oppressive and must not be allowed to stand.

I read that one of the members of the House of Representatives, Hon Toby Okechukwu, a PDP member from Enugu State, while contributing to the bill said that “the former presiding officers of the Senate were chocked with litigation which affected the entire parliament, though the officers were later acquitted, the activities of the Senate and indeed the National Assembly was affected”. I am thoroughly alarmed at the lack of depth in this statement, because we all know that this is a lazy argument that falls flat at the slightest interrogation. I recall that the prosecution of the former Senate President, did not impair the last Senate from doing considerably well in terms of law making compared to what we have previously had since 1999. As a matter of fact, as at May 2019, the 8th Senate had passed record 293 bills compared to the 7th Senate with 128 bills passed, 6th Senate with 72 and the 5th Senate with 129 bills.

Nigeria is in dire need of policy solution, self-serving bills like this one seeking to extend immunity for principal lawmakers is not one of them. At this time in our country’s history, when public trust and confidence has been eroded, we cannot afford to make Nigerians feel like they do not matter. Our policies must reflect the true demands of our people and restore their faith in government to keep and secure them particularly at a time when there is total collapse of security.

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