Immunity For Legislature Will Weaken The Anti-corruption Crusade

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Nigeria is a complex, funny country, with myriad of problems demanding attention: Very long queues in filling stations across the country, supposedly the world 6th highest producer of crude oil, ASUU temporarily called off six months old strike with a 2- week relieve to continue negotiations, we are into the second week now, yet, mum is what we get from the Federal Government on the issue. Is the comatose power situation news again? Don't think so.

Just as if this problems are not enough for the helplessly oppressed citizens, our lawmakers, the supposed voice of the people, the so called Honourable? members of the House of Representatives, fresh from a two months vacation, decided that the first most important course of action to take is pass an urgent bill to grant federal and state legislators, some immunity from prosecution. This is outlandishly, it is bizarre.

There is no denying the fact that this is too self-centered, ignorant and arrogantly abusing the sensitivity of the Nigerian populace. Of course, these lawmakers care very little what the people think or feel. Their needs, their welfare is all that matter to them.

Up until now only, the President, Vice-President, Governor and their Deputies who enjoy the grant of immunity according section 308 of the 1999 constitution, which stated that they can only be investigated but not prosecuted till their tenure in office expires.

The proposed bill is only a demonstration that they are in the National Assembly for their own selfish interest. Already, the bill “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses and Privileges Act, Cap L12 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and Related Purposes, 2009' sponsored by Henry Dickson from Bayelsa State has passed the second reading. If the bill sails through, God forbid, that will be license to steal and go scot free.

It would be recalled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, recently arrested and charged to court, Ndudi Elumelu, Chairman the House committee on power, his deputy Mohammed Jibo, and Igwe Paulinus of the Rural Development committee, with Senator Nicholas Ugbane for their alleged involvement in the N5.2 billion Rural Electrification Agency frauds. It is to guard against this sort of humiliation that the lawmakers are pulling all strings to ensure they enjoy same privileges by making the bill to protect their wrongdoings while in office.

If the bill is passed into law, we would be having millions of untouchables as against the 74 Nigerians –the president, governors and their deputies- who are already above the law, courtesy of the immunity they presently enjoy as provided in the Nigeria constitution.

This will, no doubt be inhibiting the works of the anti-corruption agencies like EFCC and ICPC

We have other important bill to pass like the Freedom of Information Bill which will benefit the country and help the anti-corruption crusade.

Fortunately, there is still time to make amends and stop the Bill from going to the final reading. In this case, the members of the committees on Judiciary and Human Rights must quickly distance itself from anything relating to the Bill.

We the masses are saying NO to this BILL, our representatives should have our interest at heart, they should fight for noble cause, and they are there for us and not for their selfish interest

There is no denying the fact that majority of Nigerians believe that stripping the immunity guiding the governors and even the presidency would make the fight against corruption more efficient. This is arising from a survey conducted in my master's thesis, concerning public office holders and their immunity, indicates that 85 percent of respondent were in favour of simplifying the procedure to strip governors of their immunity, thereby, allowing them to be held legally responsible of their crimes while in office.

The survey was conducted on 23rd and 28th of October, 2007, in a total of 25 Nigerian cities and towns in the six geo-political regions, and it involved a sample of 1600 respondents.

The country's anti-corruption commission, the EFCC, has previously expressed its support for reviewing procedures to removing the immunity clause from the constitution.

From the premises above, the issue of legislatures clamouring for immunity will rather hamper the anti-corruption war that is championed by EFCC. While the generality of the public is agitating for the passing into law, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, the legislature only returned from their two weeks holiday, unconcerned with the ASUU strike, only to try to make laws that will weaken the anti-corruption crusade.

Instances can be sited on the case of Elumelu and his counterparts in the senate concerning the rural electrification agency project. The immunity clause would have hindered the EFCC from arresting and prosecuting them for their roles in defrauding the people of money meant for power projects.

In as much as we know that the beneficiaries of corruption will fight back, with every means possible, including making pro-corruption laws, Nigerians must be at alert to thwart the ignominy called “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses and Privileges Act, Cap L12 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and Related Purposes, 2009' . In a decent society, the likes of Dickson the sponsor of the Bill will not continue to remain in the National Assembly as a lawmaker.

Incidentally, this is a period when most developed countries are striping public office holders of any immunity from prosecution, which is helping the anti-corruption war; but in Nigeria, our legislatures are busy canvassing for the legislative immunity in other to cover up their corrupt practices. Ordinarily, the legislature ought to be the most powerful over-sight institution, an independent, resourceful, pro-active, dedicated legislature, and the representatives of the people. But what do we have? What we have is a legislature that has become facilitators of grand corruption by pursuing their own selfish agenda. They are there favouring bills that will prepare soft landing for their corrupt practices.

It is a “verifiable and cogent” fact that some of these legislatures don't even visit their constituencies as they have constituted themselves into the status of Abuja Lawmakers; and are demanding for legislative immunity. The other time, it was the leadership of the senate calling for automatic ticket for 2011. What the hell are all these people up to? It's high time they know that Nigerians are not as docile as they want to take us for.

Zainab Tersoo

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