A similar bill seeking immunity for the presiding officers of the National Assembly had been rejected by the Eight Assembly.
The House of Representatives Special Committee on the Amendment of the 1999 Constitution has rejected a bill seeking to confer immunity on presiding officers of the National Assembly and judicial officers.
The presiding officers of the National Assembly are the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy Speaker of the House.
The bill, sponsored by Segun Odebunmi (APC, Oyo) is titled “An Act to alter section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to extend immunity to cover presiding officers of the legislative institutions.”
Mr Odebunmi is the sponsor of the controversial National Broadcasting Commission bill and the Nigerian Press Council bill. He also chaired the Committee that approved the suspension of Twitter by the federal government.
Immunity for legislators.
A similar bill was introduced in the 8th Assembly by the then Minority Leader, Leo Ogor (PDP, Delta). The bill was, however, rejected by the lawmakers then.
At the public hearing on the bill on Tuesday, Abdulhamid Mohammed, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is one of the consultants working with the committee, presented the position of the consultants to the lawmakers.
Mr Mohammed said even though the bill allows citizens to seek the leave of the court to sue any of the mentioned public officials, it will create a conflict of interest, particularly as it relates to the judicial officers.
He noted that the bill did not indicate which court has the competence to hear such cases.
“it seeks to restrict that immunity– that you can sue with the leave a competent court, but actually, the bill did not go further to indicate which of the court within the federation that will have the competence to grant the leave for you to sue the public officer concerned.
“We need to consider what are the conventions all over the world, in terms of immunity. All over the world, public officers are……it is really unconventional all over the world for judicial officers and presiding officers to have immunity. It could also be self-serving from the angle of morality.
“There could be a conflict of interest if the immunity is now extended to judicial officers and that you need to go to the judiciary to seek leave to sue the officers concerned, you are now going to apply before the judicial officers because these are courts of competent jurisdiction. There are perhaps issues of bias,” he said.
He added that “the immunity is not absolute.”
Speaking against the bill, Uzoma Abonta (PDP, Abia), said immunity should only cover issues regarding duties and functions of those public officers, not criminal acts like rape or murder.
He noted that even though there are examples of abuse of process by the executive against the legislature and judiciary, he, however, argued that blank immunity is not acceptable.
Mr Abonta said: “I want a slight modification as it affects duties of the office. Should a governor come out and shoot somebody, is he covered by immunity? Should an officer go out there and be involved in rape, should he be covered? I should think, in fairness to the public, immunity should be for things pertaining to his office, like giving a verdict in his court. As regards the performance of duties, they should have 100 per cent immunity. But for crimes outside, there should be no immunity. It should not be a blanket.”
The deputy speaker, in his reaction to the submission by Mr Abonta, said legislators are already covered by immunity on activities on the floor of the House by virtue of the powers and privileges act.
He added that even though there are instances where some executives have been “reckless” in action against lawmakers and judicial officers, it is left for the House to decide on the bill.
Rimamnde Shawulu (PDP, Taraba) in his contribution, said he has a bill on the floor of the House seeking to strip the executive of immunity. He stated that fast-tracking the bill will be the right step to go.
Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos), suggested that the bill should be stepped down, but argued that Section 308 of the constitution should be amended to allow citizens to sue executive officers by the leave of the House.
However, Mr Wase ruled that the bill should be stepped down.