By Owei Lakemfa
WE need to thank the Honourable Members of the House of Representatives who passed for second reading, the patriotic bill to deregulate the immunity clause. It is patently unjust and undemocratic for only the President, his Vice, state governors and their deputies to enjoy constitutional immunity.
If this bill were to pass, it means that some 1,500 Distinguished and Honourables in our National and StateÂ Assemblies will be added to the immunity list.
Titled:Â â€˜AÂ bill for an Act to amend the LegislativeÂ Houses, Powers and Priviledgesâ€™,Â it is primarily meant to shield our law makers from the arbitrariness of our law enforcers. The mover, Hon Henry Dickson from the torn umbrella party argued that: â€œThere is the need for the House to propose a procedure that will be followed on whether a member commits a crime or not before he/she is picked up by security officers. We need some laws that will give us protectionâ€.
Other Honourables like Nkiruka OnyejiochaÂ argued for the bill as they claim that legislators in the country are being arrested arbitrarily by security agents ( like the EFCC?) without recourse to due process and the rule of law. I think it is a basic law of self preservation for our legislators to use their position as law makers to protect themselvesÂ and possibly their families.
There are some of my compatriots who argue thatÂ with the executive unreachable by the electorate because they are ensconced in speeding convoys with menacing armed policemen and agents, only legislators are accessible and that granting them immunity would alienate them from the people. This is a sound argument except that granting legislators immunity may encourage them to work harder at whatever they might be engaged in.
Still others argue that immunity would portray legislators as people who are above the laws of the country they themselves make. This is not a sound argument as the executiveÂ arm is also above the laws of the country. In any case, the Honourables have not told us to do what they do, we are simply to do what they say.
I have heard arguments that the bill is dangerous as there might be criminals in the legislativeÂ houses. This is not a matter of speculation, it is a reality. There is the former Deputy Inspector General Of Police, Nuhu Aliyu, a highly distinguished three-term Senator who revealed that there are a number of criminals in the National Assembly some of whose files he handled when he was in service. His fellow senators intimidated and shut him up.
In any case, we are all familiar with the case of Hon Maurice Ibekwe of the House of Representatives who was exposed by government as a kingpin of Advance Fee Fraud (419) in the country who unfortunately died during trial. But this is not a cogent argument as criminals also exist in the executive arm, yet they enjoy immunity.
Donâ€™t we know that most of the governors in the 1999 to 2007 era were accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of looting the treasury ? Can we claim that we are unaware of the fact that even as those of them charged are employing diversionary and delaying tactics, two of them have already been convicted?
We must realise that to be a politician in Nigeria is a thankless job. Secondly, to win or rig primaries and elections is a very costly investment. That is whyÂ most of those who get into elective office play tricks with public funds to recoup their investment. But while those in executive office have immunity, the Honourables do not. For equity, we need to balance the polity.
In any case, if ordinary diplomats and ambassadorsÂ we send out have immunity in their country of posting, why not the legislators who screen them?
Immunity is designed to allow the beneficiary, the undivided and needed presence of mind to carry out state business otherwise, our country may end up like Italy where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been stripped of his immunity and now has to run around to defend himself against at least three criminal charges.
The charismatic Italian leader is accused of bribing British lawyer, David Mills to give false testimony to protect his businesses, of tax fraud and false accounting in the purchase of television rights by his company, and trying to corrupt opposition senators, in the manner of Nigeriaâ€™s infamous â€˜Ghana-Must-Goâ€™
Needless to say, this is all unsettling and distractive for a Prime Minister who otherwise should have his mind preoccupied with matters of state. This prompted Berlusconi to assure his people: â€œ Nothing will happen, we will go forward. The trials they will hurl at me in Milan are real farces. I will take time out from taking care of government to go there and show them to be liars”.
Rather than our leaders and legislators having to take time off government or law making like Berlusconi to answer criminal charges, we need to clothe them in the armour of immunity.
All I want of our legislators is that they should not forget the rest of us who are at the mercy of security agencies; in a democracy, we need to democratiseÂ the immunity clause to cover us the masses.
We need immunity from arbitrary arrest, needless detentions, extortion on the roads and immunity from corrupt politicians and public officers who privatise the public treasury. We need immunity from hunger, poverty, homelessness and deregulation of fuel prices.
Most importantly, as 2011 approaches when the big politicians would unleash their thugs on the electorate, we need immunity from thuggery and stolen mandate by the year 2010.