PROF Itse Sagay is a legal luminary on constitutional matters. In this interview with Vanguard, Sagay faults the move by members of the House of Representative over plans to give them immunity. Excerpts:
THIS move by the house is a symptom of the depraved elite. What they are saying is that they now want to join in the convoy of those who can loot our treasury and get away with it brazenly without any consequence, they believe they can commit crimes without being questioned. Thatâ€™s what they are saying.
When you follow the argument that because the governors and the President enjoy immunity, they should enjoy. But why shouldnâ€™t the whole country enjoy, why are they different from the rest of us.
This part of the brazenÂ immorality of the political class, a shameless group of depraved people who are not entitled, who are not fit to hold any public office.
This is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard at a time that the very immunity of governors and the President is being questioned and infact, there are very strong suggestions that it should be reduced or removed entirely.
We have a group of people who themselves have been involved in a lot of corruption cases in the house and in the Senate; a lot of them have been arrested for gross corruption and corruption over areas they are supposed to be supervising in the executive arena.
They (lawmakers) are equally corrupt, they conspire with those they are meant to supervise and take money at the expense of this country and allow projects to be uncompleted or even not started at all and they allow the country to continue to rot for their own private criminal gains.
Like these people now who want us to allow them to do this (immunity) without any consequence. I think it just shows you the kind of people in the house ruling this country who are not even afraid or ashamed, coming out like that with such a criminal suggestion.
I am so enraged, I cannot even discus this. What it shows is that we have people who are so totally unfit to serve in public life, occupying those positions, because, of course, they rigged the elections, they got there fraudulently, they donâ€™t represent anybody, they represent themselves.
They want to go there and loot what is left of the little resources of this country, thatâ€™s all. Nobody should listen to them.
It’s unwarranted, saysÂ Prof Oyebode
PROF. Akin Oyebode, former Vice-Chancellor of University of Ado-Ekiti ( UNAD), presently teaching international law at the University of Lagos spoke to Okey Ndiribe (Assistant Political Editor) on attempts by federal law makers to enact a law conferring immunity on themselves. Excerpts:
The efforts of members of the House of Representatives amount to an overkill. The normal parliamentary practice and convention is for legislators to enjoy immunity as to whatever they say within the precincts of the assembly; in fact that immunity does not cover them as soon as they leave the premises of the assembly. It is just like the immunity which consular agents enjoy which is functional. Diplomats enjoy full immunity for what they do in office and at home. In the case of the consuls they enjoy immunity for actions taken within their offices.
That isÂ why I say that parliamentary immunity is roughly analogous to consular immunity. For legislators to now elevate themselves to the status of diplomatic agents is excessive and totally unwarranted. I am not sure that Nigeria wants to set a precedent that would reduce the country to a laughing stock and present us as if we donâ€™t know our right hand from our left . This is very unusual andÂ contrary to parliamentary convention; it should not fly. I think they are trying to fly a flag that should not be acceptable to the rest of us Nigerians.
Bill to protect lawmakers from prosecution
A Bill seeking to restrict security agencies from arresting and prosecuting members of the Legislature within the precincts of the National Assembly awaits second reading in the House of Representatives.
The Bill sponsored by Rep. Henry D. Seriake(PDP Bayelsa), also seeks to make it mandatory for the National Assembly and all State Houses of Assembly to electronically record their voting and other legislative businesses.
The Bill titled â€œAn Act to Amend the Legislative Houses, Powers and Privileges Act, CAP.L122004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and for Other Related Purposesâ€, in its section 29 under the sub-heading â€œProcedures for Arrest of a Member of the National Assemblyâ€, lists stringent conditions for the arrest of a lawmaker for certain offences.
The Section states in part thatâ€œA member of Legislative House to which this law applies, shall not be arrested without warrant duly issued by a Judge of the Federal High Court, High Court of the Federal Capital Territory or High Court of a State except in the following circumstancesâ€”
(a) Upon a reasonable suspicion or allegation of commission of treasonable felony against the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(b) When the member is physically caught in an actual commission of treason or treasonable felony against law or the law of the State.
(2) A warrant duly issued in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1) above for the apprehension of a member of the National Assembly shall be deemed to be duly executed, if such warrant is served on the presiding officer of the Legislative House through the Clerk of the House.
â€œThe presiding officer of the Legislative House concerned shall within seven legislative days endorse or cause the said warrant to be endorsed to or served on the member against whom it is issued and requiring the said member to appear before the issuing Court within fourteen legislative daysâ€.
The Bill if passed into law will ensure that any move for arrest and prosecution of a lawmaker is duly authorised by the National Assembly authority.
â€œWhere a member of the National Assembly is (a) arrested or detained in custody upon the warrant or order of a court or sentenced by a Court shall, as soon as practicable, inform the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, accordinglyâ€, it states in part.
Recall that Rep. Morris Ibekwe, who represented Isiala-Mbano/Okigwe/Onuimo Federal Constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives from 1999-2003, was arrested on May 28, 2003 by the then newly established Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) within the precincts of the National Assembly over allegations that he swindled a German business man, Mr. Munch Klause of $350,000.
The charges against the Late Ibekwe, who was the Chairman, House Committee on Internal Security, were that â€œhe allegedly obtained $300,000 and $75, 000 Deutshmarks, $45, 000, under false pretenceâ€.
The accused died on Saturday, March 20, 2009 at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
Since his death, there has been a debate among lawmakers and in the public domain on what the Legislature can do to stop the unfettered arrests and detention of lawmakers over cases of fraud or alleged fraud.
The National Assembly in the course of the Billâ€™s second reading may even consider tinkering with section 308 of the 1999 Constitution that protects the Presidency, Governors and their Deputies from arrests on what ever charges while they are still in office.
The Sponsor of the Bill, Mr, Seriake was the Attorney General of Bayelsa, during the Administration of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
‘Itâ€™s a cover up against accountability’
Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin is President of Campaign for Democracy (CD).
The move by the lawmakers get constitutional immunity against prosecution is a threat to accountability in the country. It is a continuation of the fact that the lawmakers are making themselves above the law. It is instructive to note that the same period our lawmakers were trying to make themselves above the law was at a time Italian constitutional court stripped its topmost politician of his immunity.
Egyptâ€™s Parliament last year also stripped two of its lawmakers of their immunity as parliament members, clearing the way for their arrests, because under Egyptian law, lawmakers often enjoy immunity from prosecution unless the Parliament gives the clearance for a legal investigate.
The House of Reps want to imitate so of these democracies where lawmakers enjoy immunity from trial but we know our experiences here in Nigeria. No House will ever clear any of its members to face prosecution once that bill is passed. Take for instance the attempt by the EFCC to arrest some of the Senators to face trial. One of them was an ex-governor. They went into hiding and wanted to evade arrest at any cost. What do you think will happen when they pass the bill and grant themselves immunity?
Their effort to get immunity for themselves goes show everybody that they do not want all citizens to be equal before the law. Many lawmakers have committed atrocities against the people and having immunity will be an icing on the cake. It is a bid to entrench lack of accountability and shield those who have cases to answer from facing the wroth of the law.
Those who seek immunity our those who have something to hid. The Nigerian people should take their destiny in their hands because our vote did not count in bringing many of them to power. That is why they have left cure for leprosy and are looking for cure for eczema. It is a pity that instead of making laws that will engender good governance, they are thinking of how to protect looters from prosecution.
Comrade Agba Justin Jalingo, President, Nigerian Renaissance Movement (NRM)
It is a very importunate development that portends a lot of tendencies for our polity. In a rapidly progressive world where nations are making frantic efforts to increase accountability by public officials, perfidious and mendacious Nigerian legislators and seeking infamous ways of shielding themselves from the pangs of the law.
Recently, the Italian supreme court stripped Silvio Berlusconi of immunity because the court felt that it was prejudicial to the constitutional provision that all Italian citizens are equal. In Cambodia, the courts also recently stripped their lawmakers of immunity in a bid to improve accountability by public officials.
In Ghana, two ministers resigned last week over allegations of collecting bribes over a decade ago; but in my country, lawmakers who where not even elected inÂ a free and fair election are desirous of inane and elusive aspirations that seek to create another caste of untouchables in our polity by seeking to be immuned from prosecution while in office.
The danger is that since law makers do not have a limit to their terms of office, they can as well continue to commit crimes, pillage the public tilt and take the money home to rig elections and remain in office forever and evade justice. On the other hand, any erring Governor can just steal enough to become a lawmaker after leaving office and that will present a perfect orifice for them to escape justice for their chicanery. Nigerians must resist this attempt and ensure such persons pushing the bill do not return to the National Assembly.